Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Startling Subterrane of Demons

Source unknown

Ironically, the advanced fiction class I'm taking leaves little time for writing, but it affords big reading opportunities. Like Mary Gaitskill whose short, Tiny, Smiling Daddy, I read last week. Gaitskill's writing is not comfort food. It doesn't warm your palate. It's a cup of coffee laced with hot, hot, hot sauce (yes, I've tried thisunwittingly). It burns and curdles inside. And Gaitskill doesn't walk hand-in-hand with you through the park on one of those perfectly cloudless summer afternoons. Rather, she tends to push and poke you through a dark, sweaty, stalactite and stalagmite studded cave that appears to be closing in on you. Mighty spears threatening to impale and devour from head to toe.

But what is so terrifyingly good about Gaitskill's writing is that she gets to our demonsthe base, primordial madness of neither good nor bad peopleexposing demonic sensibilities and the way we live and/or cope with them (or the way we bury them in that Cimmerian cavern, or drown them in its murky pool). And she's master of matching simple plot with thorny theme and narrative.

This past February The New Yorker *uncharacteristically* published  her short story The Other Place. (Perhaps, a turning point for The New Yorker?) It is a haunting piece about a father's obsession with violence. Women and violence. Bad thoughts that dangle out there in the periphery. In that other place. And because this story begins perfectly normal (however that my be defined) and naturally, it is all the more jarring. Because she writes it from the father's point of view, makes it all the more real.

Gaitskill's story examines that other place inside us all. The darker place. It's a place I often try to write about in my fiction. While my writing here tends to be light and airy, my fiction takes on much darker themes. Maybe that's because I'm keenly aware of the light and dark sides, and the common wall they share. I think being a parent sort of nudges that. Or maybe it's that I feel I'd be less aware if I were not so responsible for the shaping of little ones.

Good and evil reside in all of us, but it's our conscience that holds the keys to the duplex's doors. Gaitskill explores more of that here. I can't seem to stop exploring it everywhere.


  1. The dark side can be a cathartic exploration. This is why I enjoy playing villains on stage.
    Also, I'm giving you a triple word score for using "sagaciously". Bravissimo. :)

  2. I'm not familiar with Gaitskill-thanks for the recommendation.

    I think it's good to have a voice for the blog and then an entirely different voice for fiction. That's what I enjoy about blogging, using a different voice than the one I'm using in my book.

  3. I for one would like a sampling of your darker voice. It's funny how many voices we have. My novel is narrated by a nine yr old girl, and the darkness she experiences is very adult...yet filtered through an inexperienced mind.

  4. ooh, that story was a fun read. I've only popped by your blog a few times now and enjoy your posts, but i have to say i am quite intrigued by your mention of your darker side for fiction. i hope you consider sharing it with us sometime! :)

  5. Advanced Fiction Writing Class leaves little time for writing? i'm not saying nuffin... as for the dark side, i know nothing about that, i like to keep my little vignettes all light and fluffy.

  6. thought provoking post as always Jayne.I have always found authors who explore the dark side more rewarding

  7. Also not familiar with Gaitskill, another book, I'll never catch up.:/

    The nice thing about blogging is that you get to experiment as you wish, no one to limit creativity or poor grammar. (Too lazy to rewrite a comment):)

  8. I compleely agree with your beautiful concluding sentemces: "Good and evil reside in all of us, but it's our conscience that holds the keys to the duplexes's doors".

    I'm afraid the evil, dark side is the more real one and the more difficult to deal with both in fiction and in reality.

  9. I've spent most of my life overcompensating for my dark side. Since a young age I've always known I could do pretty bad things and at some point along the way I realized that doing bad things didn't really bother me the next day. If I hadn't been raised around people with strong moral compasses that surrounded me with strong, positive influences I think it's possible I could have become a sociopath.

    In a way my nature of indifference and indulgence nurtured my need to develop characteristics of virtue and compassion. Often, I feel those feelings strongly and passionately not because they are within me, but because I know I should feel those things. To this day I still make myself remain morally vigilant from the fear that one day I'll just stop faking it.

  10. Yeah well, I put my dark side down to my lack of parental guidance.
    Now...I do like that little metaphorical twist that we all have a good and dark side with our conscience holding the keys to the duplex's doors...sweet.
    C'mon, show us your dark side J-Girl ;

  11. I haven't read the author, but now, I absolutely have to...I don't know if I ever would be able to write about the dark side...though I know for sure, I have one that I have to work hard to keep under leash...

  12. There you are, then, get writing that fiction story in your dark side voice. Don't hold back! And don't worry about perfection or mistakes . . . "If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original . . . " - Sir Ken Robinson

  13. I think it takes both sides to make a whole. Would there be light without dark, sort of thing. Great thought.

    What happen to the B-Ball tourney?
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  14. DB- So you get to ACT out your darker side?! That's very cool. And I'll bet you put on a good show. Thanks for the triple points - I just love words that slither. ;)

    Tim- Your book? Do tell! Am I missing something on your blog. Guess I'm going to have to pop over there and scour more. Definitely Read Gaitskill, if you have time. She is skilled.

    Leah- Ah, yes, the dark side! I think I may have hinted to it in some of my posts labeled fiction- but certainly not as much as my fiction--which is short stories too lengthy to post here (and I'm saving them for submission, maybe, at some point!). But now you've got me thinking about a dark flash fiction piece... and curious about your novel! I want to hear more about that! :)

    id- There's a part of me that wants to keep this little place very upbeat. But then, life is not always that way, is it? Hmmm... got me thinking... ;)

    Kono- I know, huh?! The class has turned out to be much more than a simple workshop. What I mean is that I'm responding (writing) to all these class prompts, reading reams of short story, and working on my own short story which I have to submit in a couple of weeks, so I don't have much time to write brilliant stuff here (like ever do).
    And nobody does light and fluffy like you, K. ;)

  15. In a long-ago fiction workshop, the teacher was strongly aligned with the dark and our reading included much which fit that description. I am not familiar with Gaitskill, so thank you for her. Our model then was Jayne Anne Philips. The painful introspection necessary to find those savage parts of our own nature which allow us empathy, or at least understanding that the world is dark and light in equal measure, is one of those fearful acts about which we pretend ignorance. (And Lin Ann, quoting Sir Ken Robinson..he seems to be the spokesman of the week.)

  16. David- Yes, very rewarding. It's not every author who can tackle tough subjects. Especially the deep, dark ones. ;)

    Antares- If there were only more time in a day! And yes, exactly, experiment! Always. ;)

    Duta- You are so right. Very difficult to tackle the darkness in both reality and fiction--although I think the lines between the two are very blurry.

    Christopher- So insightful! You see the importance of good parenting?! I's that moral foundation, and inner voice that keeps us from sliding over to the other side. Precisely what sociopaths are missing. ;)

    Dan- Yep, this is what my kids will be saying when they're adults... all my parent's fault. And it will be, of course. I am sometimes quite frightened by what I might be passing along!

    Cat- I think we all have at least one we want to keep caged! Definitely read Gaitskill. :)

    Linn Ann- I'm working on it! There are some times, some days, though, that I just don't want to go there. I'm afraid I'll never come back! ;)

    Jules- Yes, we need that balance, that contrast. Oh, and the girls lost their first game and we were back home by Sat. night. But they, nonetheless, had a ball! (In that literal and non-literal sense.) I'm ready for track and lacrosse now! Thanks for asking. ;)

  17. I've never heard of Gaitskill but I do love that short story you shared from the New Yorker. It's very dark... and I love her writing style.

  18. Marylinn- Yes, Jayne Anne Philips is very adept at this, too. Equal parts, so why do we pretend? I admire writers who really mine the depths of savagery. And I sent Lin Ann your link. I knew she'd appreciate it. Thanks for that. ;)

    Beer- She has several books w/gems of short stories tucked inside. Worth the read! She's quite a character herself, too. ;)

  19. I've been looking for some new reading material, I will have to check out Gaitskill in my spare time. Interesting post.


  20. TheGirlTDD- Gaitskill forces us to look at dark truths in a very unforgiving way. Great reads for filling spare time. ;)

  21. We're all bi-polar. It's just a matter of degrees separating the sane from those considered insane. And the more we're aware of the dark side in us, the more easily it is controlled for our betterment, IMHO.

    Nicely written.

  22. I hadn't heard of her either. I will have to read the short.

  23. Ooh, ouch. More a warning for a retired psychotherapist than a recommendation. Note to self: Beware of Gaitskill, but stay ever faithful to Suburban Soliloquy...for both dark and light.

  24. It's fun exploring the dark side in my fiction. Less fun in my own person life. ;)
    Great post!

  25. sometimes my conscience drives me crazy. is there a way to turn it off?

  26. Suldog- Yes, I think your HO is pretty accurate. I know I have my manic days! (Ordinarily, not Mondays.)

    Chris- Get reading! (After you answer all your questions.) ;)

    Nance- You, especially, I think would appreciate Gaitskill. You must be in the mood though... for she will rain on your parade. Ouch, indeed!

    Lydia- Yes, at least we can, for the most part, keep it at arms length in our fiction!

    BP- Now you know that flippin' the switch would be a very dangerous thing. Better to let it drive you crazy. (Hmm... maybe we ought to ask Nance about that??) ;)

  27. I agree that it is the juxtaposition that makes things interesting.

  28. You have introduced me to Gaitskill's writing. Very different from what I usually choose to read, but so easy to be drawn into. It's hard to be exposed this side of ourselves. It reminds me of the boy on our school bus who would flip his eyelids up and freak me out. I didn't want to see it, but I couldn't look away.

  29. Laoch- Yep, keeping it balanced, I guess...

    Leonora- I knew that same boy! Freaky. Can't-get-enough-of-that-grossness freaky. So true. It scares and delights all at the same time.