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Posts Tagged ‘break-ups’

Post-Breakup Fiction; Comma Stutterers

January 27, 2012 | by

I recently got out of serious relationship. Since then I have not been able to read, though I usually love sad, sappy love stories. Can you recommend some books that have zero romance or love in them? Some good post-breakup fiction?

Readers of this column know my high opinion of the Jeeves books and Life on the Mississippi. They cheer me up, and are rigorously free of mushy scenes. Sam Lipsyte’s Home Land is a post-breakup book, I mean the hero has been dumped by his wife, but really that's the least of his problems—and the one time they get back together (for about two and a half minutes) it’s enough to cure you of the whole idea of coupledom for at least the rest of the day.

Also: How do you feel about dogs? It’s not fiction, and it is full of love, but something tells me J. R. Ackerley’s 1965 memoir, My Dog Tulip—about the unlikely romance between a crusty, middle-aged English bachelor and his German shepherd—might make a welcome distraction.

Dear Lorin,

I was talking to another writer-friend recently about the use of commas. I tend to err on the safe side, slipping too many of them, perhaps, around phrases I think are supposed to be identified. But is this precious or old-fashioned or out of style?

In this Paris Review interview with Mary Karr, she claims to have had a comma stutter in The Liars’ Club. Do you think there’s such a thing as a comma stutter, or is it more like a sentence stutter, reflecting hesitation, or something, from the writer? I’d like to smooth out, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Comma Stutterer in Manhattan

A good comma stutter never goes out of style. Where would Henry James be without his commas—or that real-life stutterer Charles Lamb? Here is Lamb on his gruff but cowardly friend John Tipp: “With all this there was about him a sort of timidity—(his few enemies used to give it a worse name)—something which, in reverence to the dead, we will place, if you please, a little on this side of the heroic.”

You can, of course, write in comma stutters then simply take out the punctuation. That is what Henry Green liked to do, for example when he describes what it was like to be unpopular at Eton:

These were the days when to be alone was to feel one had escaped for the moment not from any overt bullying but from what appeared to be the threat. There was a strain in trying to keep up with new friendships which probably did not exist. There was the dread of going into a friend's room to find one was not wanted, to be abandoned by the two leaders now that they were too busy to bother and worst of all the self questioning as to why this should be, the fear it might be a peer or one of the school’s racquet players and of what this meant if true. The best was to get away in those few hours we had on our own, to chance being seen lonely in the effort to forget.

Green teaches the reader to hear his pauses, to anticipate his hesitations, and, thus, to think like a man of his class and sensibility. Such is the magic. When women say of a good dancer that he knows how to lead, this must be what they mean.

Then of course there is Gertrude Stein, who so loved the comma stutter that she would abolish the punctuation altogether. This is the typographical equivalent of burning the village to save it:

A long complicated sentence should force itself upon you, make you know yourself knowing it and the comma, well at the most a comma is a poor period that lets you stop and take a breath but if you want to take a breath you ought to know yourself that you want to take a breath. It is not like stopping altogether has something to do with going on, but taking a breath well you are always taking a breath and why emphasize one breath rather than another breath. Anyway that is the way I felt about it and I felt that about it very very strongly. And so I almost never used a comma. The longer, the more complicated the sentence the greater the number of the same kinds of words I had following one after another, the more the very more I had of them the more I felt the passionate need of their taking care of themselves by themselves and not helping them, and thereby enfeebling them by putting in a comma.

The point is, if your sentences are guided by your feelings, you can race or hesitate as the spirit moves you. Your reader will understand. Read More »


Larry David Humor; Fairies and Mushrooms

July 22, 2011 | by

I'm a huge Curb Your Enthusiasm fan and totally addicted to Larry David’s brand of car-wreck-that-I-can't-stop-watching humor. I was wondering: can you think of a book that induces the same cringe-worthy yet high-inducing experience? —Hannah, NYC

That, Hannah, I can tell you in two words: After Claude. While I can’t pretend Iris Owens’s 1973 novel of a humilating New York summer is great all the way through, the first two-thirds are so great, and so cringe-inducing that I’d be remiss not to bring it up. And given that it takes place during a particularly blistering heatwave, anyone on the eastern seaboard will be able to relate all too well.


Do you believe that when a circle of mushrooms spring up around a tree, it’s proof that a fairy lived and died there? —Kim


I broke up with my boyfriend and he told me I was never going to love anybody because I’m Blanche Dubois (!). I’m really upset, but primarily because he meant it to be insulting. I can’t help but identify with a desire for incessant fantasy—does that make me a bad person? Or more pointedly, which character can I accuse him of being? —NOT Stella

Well, without knowing the specifics of the case, it’s hard to know what would be especially apt (or, for that matter, especially cutting). I know one friend who was really insulted to be compared to The Razor’s Edge’s Elliott Templeton. I once called someone an Ellsworth Toohey, which has the added sting of invoking Ayn Rand. But as to all-purpose digs? Well, I can’t imagine anyone would be thrilled to be likened to Uriah Heep.

As to your other question: craving escape through fantasy certainly doesn’t make you a bad person, just human. And if you have a tendency to retreat too much from reality, well, being aware of it is probably a good sign, no? But as a general rule, I don’t think it’s a good idea to put too much stock in anything said in the heat of a break-up—particularly when literal drama is invoked.

Have a question for The Paris Review? E-mail us.


Assholedom, Henry James on Facebook

June 11, 2010 | by

Boy Reading, by Thomas Pollack Anshutz.

I am leaving my girlfriend and I keep trying to be “nice” about it, but I don't think it's helping either of us. In fact, it's just making this painful process take longer. I really need to be an asshole and steep myself in assholedom. Any suggestions for where to start? —E. Stigler, New York City

“Where to start"? Where to start? What kind of asshole are you? You could try to pick up another woman and install her in your apartment, like Jean-Pierre Léaud in The Mother and the Whore. This will require a sidewalk cafe. Or you can nerve yourself up with Leonard Michaels's novella Sylvia, all about a “nice” young man who stays in a miserable marriage, with disastrous consequences. Some guys swear by The Genealogy of Morals or the Maxims of La Rochefoucauld, or you could wallow in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men or that godawful Neil LaBute movie In the Company of Men. But if assholery doesn't come naturally to you (and clearly it doesn't), I recommend the eccentric but wise (and utterly absorbing) study Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love, by the late Dorothy Tennov. Dr. Tennov argues persuasively that the kindest breakups are those that leave no room for hope. Be a mensch—pull the plug.

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