Saturday, April 29, 2006

"An Act of Reparation" by Sylvia Townsend Warner

New wife and old wife meet and it all ends up in a tale of ox-tail soup and a subtle sort of revenge. What the husband doesn't know... well, perhaps he will never find out. Read by Scoot. Time 23:59.

Pity poor Sylvia. Gangly, bean-pole, four-eyed Sylvia, sent home from kindergarten and home-schooled by a mother who may have really resented her. All set to go to Germany in 1914 to study with Arnold Schoenberg, until World War I had to go and quash her dream to be a composer. The man she loved was over two decades older than her--and married. Her other lover, a "poetess," died too soon of breast cancer. And then there were the critics. But pity not poor Sylvia! She did have a successful literary life, touching upon Bloomsbury and the "Chaldon school," and her stories would be published in the New Yorker and other magazines for over forty years. She wrote several biographies, helped prepare books on English church music and travel guides, was active in the Communist party when that was still a good and brave thing to do, and collaborated with her longtime partner, Valentine Ackland, on volumes of poetry. In the quiet villages of Dorset and Somerset she created quite a stir with her novels and ended happily mixed with the ashes of Valentine, so it sounds like her pains were worth it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"The Glow-Worm" by Frederic Prokosch

The celebrated Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova comes to visit Texas in the early twentieth century and leaves a lasting impression on a young boy and his family. The dancer ignites something in the lad which he perhaps has not realized before, a longing to visit "realms and passions immeasurably remote from Austin." Read by Scoot. Time 5:56.

There is a long line of books on a shelf in our study, all by Frederic Proksoch, and most all but forgotten today, in a world of chick-lit and manly thrillers. But once upon a time Mr. Prokosch made a huge splash with his first novel, The Asiatics, in 1935, and managed to carve out a literary career for the next several decades as he traveled the globe, until his death in France in 1989. He invented what has been termed the "geographic novel," and landscape does indeed often play a bigger role in his works than human characters. Which is to say that they are truly sui generis, some of them both sloppy and overwritten, but most of them brilliant in their own peculiar ways. Interestingly, considering today's news of plagiarizing novelists and fake memorists, Prokosch ended his days tainted with the discovery that he had forged poetry volumes here and there and probably invented much of what he relates in his still beautifully composed last book, the autobiography of sorts, Voices (1983). Which is why we're including this vignette here: because he never wrote short stories, and because many critics considered the chapters of this last book to be little fictions--ironically, the one we present here might be among the most truthful of the whole book. Since he is our favorite "pet author," we could go on and on here, but advise you instead to start scouring the usual places for those foxed and faded copies of his books which can still be found.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

"At the River" by Patricia Grace

Amongst the many Maori stories we have posted, we still haven't had featured one about eel-hunting, and so we felt compelled to introduce to you this sweetly sad episode set most likely in the New Zealand highlands. The last days of a tribal elder cause his wife and descendents to rethink their attitudes not only to eel-hunting, but to life. Read by Scoot. Time 10:01.

Here's the entire Wikipedia entry about author Patricia Grace: "Patricia Grace
QSO (born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1937) is a notable Māori writer of novels, short stories, and children's books. She currently lives in Hongoeka Bay, Plimmerton." From an external link at that venerable site, we see that she has been a writer-in-residence at the University of Wellington in Victoria. (The "QSO" means "Queen's Service Order," a badge of merit for public servcie, by the way.) And elsewhere they say that Plimmerton, where Grace now lives, is quite lovely. Anyone have anything else to add?