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Posts Tagged ‘Evan S. Connell’

What We’re Loving: Marionettes, Ducks, and Connell

October 25, 2013 | by

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I was about to describe Barbara Comyns’s hyper-vivid little novel Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (1954) as Ivy Compton-Burnett on acid. Then I googled Comyns. Top result: “Barbara Comyns Is Not Anyone on Acid.” Thank you, Emily Gould. But why do so many readers reach for the same cliché? Who Was Changed is trippy from sentence one: “The ducks swam through the drawing-room windows. The weight of the water had forced the windows open; so the ducks swam in. Round the room they sailed quacking their approval; then they sailed out again to explore the wonderful new world that had come in the night.” The real trippiness of the novel—about an English village struck by a mysterious epidemic—lies not just in its eye-rubbingly bright details, but also in its moral sensibility. Flood, fire, madness descend on Comyns’s characters without any of the usual narratorial handwringing, occasionally accompanied by ducks. Comyns is so matter-of-fact as to be surreal, and irresistible. —Lorin Stein

Until recently, I had never read Evan S. Connell; quite the faux pas when you consider that Mrs. Bridge originated as a short story in the Fall 1955 issue of The Paris Review. In this, his first novel, Connell paints a brilliantly handsome and moving portrait of a woman by the name of India Bridge and her unspectacular Kansas City family. We follow the quotidian concerns of a woman plagued by upper-middle-class luxury, and while her obsession with all things bourgeois lends humor to the novel, Connell refuses to pass any sort of judgment on his protagonist. And yet we feel the muted despair of a family divided by perpetual boredom, isolation, and the complete inability to connect. We ache for a mother’s attempt (and failure) to mother, a wife’s desperation to be loved, a woman’s unending struggle with herself. Connell’s prose is decisively, and artfully, quiet; yet the silence he weaves into the novel’s 117 chapters brims with the same fervor and frustration buried in his characters. —Caitlin Youngquist Read More »

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What We’re Loving: Connell, Lewis, Cupcakes

September 27, 2013 | by

Upside-down cupcakes, Sally Bell's Kitchen.

Upside-down cupcakes, Sally Bell’s Kitchen.

Just as in Evan S. Connell’s The Connoisseur, a pre-Columbian figurine caught my eye—in this case, on the book’s cover. I had enjoyed the understated yet resonant interview with Connell we published earlier this year (the man knew how to change the subject!), and I was equally moved by the book, the story of a Manhattan insurance executive who becomes hopelessly, inextricably obsessed with the aforementioned figurines. There are no frills, plot twists, or explosions: simply a series of small choices that can change a life forever. As the protagonist reflects near the end of the book, “[H]e has acquired a little knowledge, perhaps no deeper than a root trace, which can’t be lost.” —Justin Alvarez

I have a terrible feeling that A History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps may be a hard sell for some readers. But trust me: Chris West’s cultural history is fast paced and engaging, and the organizing principle takes the narrative in all kinds of unexpected directions. Sure, there’s a little light philately in there, but even those who only communicate electronically will be glad they picked it up. —Sadie O. Stein Read More »

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Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, 1927–2013

April 3, 2013 | by

ruth-prawer-jhabvalaIt was announced this morning that Ruth Prawer Jhabvala died today at her home in Manhattan, at the age of eighty-five. Jhabvala is best known as an award-winning screenwriter for Merchant Ivory Productions. Together, with the late producer Ismail Merchant and the director James Ivory, she helped make twenty-two films. Perhaps, like me, you have watched her adaptation of E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View dozens of times, which garnered her an Academy Award for screenwriting in 1986. Or perhaps you, too, lusted after a Kelly bag after watching her adaptation of Diane Johnson’s Le Divorce. Over the course of three decades, she helped project the stories of writers such as Forster, Henry James, Evan S. Connell, Jean Rhys, and others onto the screen. Often, though not always, these films captured a lost era. One where women were chaperoned to Italy, where a stolen kiss on a hilltop could cause scandal, where class was never directly discussed, and fortune was hunted like prey. And today we must mourn the loss of a kind of filmmaking that took care to not appear superficial in obsessing over the past. (Much as Merchant Ivory always got the look right, one never said that the best part of the movie was the costumes. Look, for example, at Hollywood’s latest adaptation of Anna Karenina.) As Jhabvala explained to Philip Horne around 2001: “The main purpose is that I have such a good time. I mean, think of all that marvelous material. Just think of spending all that time in The Golden Bowl and the other James and Forster books we have done. But especially Henry James because he has such marvelous characters and he has such strong dramatic scenes. You just put your hand in and pull them out.”

This is because Jhabvala read as a writer. Despite—or perhaps because of—her many successes, she called herself a novelist first and foremost. And with reason. Heat and Dust was awarded the Booker Prize in 1975. She was given a MacArthur in 1984, and her short stories were published in The New Yorker throughout her career. “I was never interested in adapting classics at all,” she told Horne. “I’d written four novels. I was never interested in film. Never. I never even thought of it. I never thought of it until Merchant and Ivory came to India and filmed one of my books—they said: ‘Why don’t you write the screenplay?’ I said I’d never written a screenplay and I hadn’t seen many films because I was in India by that time and hadn’t really had any opportunity to see new films or art films or classic films or anything. So they said, ‘Well, try. We haven’t made a feature film before.’ So that was really my introduction into film.”

Thessaly La Force is a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and coauthor of My Ideal Bookshelf.

 

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Notes from a Bookshop: March, or Waiting for Redbird

March 15, 2013 | by

Picture 16

“The sky was darker than the water
it was the color of mutton-fat jade.”
—Elizabeth Bishop, “The End of March”

On more Saturday afternoons than not this month, I’ve watched swirls of snow blow past the blue door of our bookshop. The parking lots in town have small mountains of mud-encrusted snow piled in their corners, monuments to the length of this winter. At home, the firewood is running low, our freezer is nearly empty of the lamb we split with our neighbors back in the fall, and the local farmer’s market offerings have dwindled down to the last rutabagas from the root cellars. This has been a long winter, and everyone who comes into the bookshop looks a bit tired, drawn, impatient for spring and the promises that come with it.

My favorite customer came in three weeks ago with his pregnant wife, her hair and eyes glowing, everything about her bursting with her own impending spring. Her husband is my favorite customer because he is my good luck charm—on the bookshop’s first Saturday he walked in and poked around until he found our poetry section. He gaped, not believing our little cache of modern poets. He revealed he was also a poet, had written his graduate thesis on Franz Wright. He’d grown up in town and I thought the presence of a local poet on one of our first days open was an auspicious sign. Read More »

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A Visit with Evan S. Connell

January 15, 2013 | by

Evan S. Connell, who died last week, was eighty-six when I interviewed him at Ponce de Leon, a nursing home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he had moved after selling his condominium at Fort Marcy. He had lived an incredibly solitary life. One of his caretakers mentioned that some of the other residents assumed at first that he was mute. I wish that the transcribed text that follows better reflected Mr. Connell’s timbre, because you’d be able to hear the way his inarticulacy was equal parts reticence and modesty. He had a wonderful laugh, a huh-huh-huh, gentle and self-deprecating. You could tell he was accustomed to downplaying his erudition. But he clearly wanted to communicate what he considered important.

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The Beau Monde of Mrs. Bridge

January 11, 2013 | by

Our great contributor Evan Connell died this week. His best-loved novel, Mrs. Bridge, began as a short story in the Fall 1955 issue of The Paris Review. See below for the full text.

PARKING

The black Lincoln that Mr. Bridge gave her on her forty-seventh birthday was a size too long and she drove it as cautiously as she might have driven a locomotive. People were always blowing their horns at her or turning their heads to stare when they went by. The Lincoln was set to idle too slowly and in consequence the engine sometimes died when she pulled up at an intersection, but as her husband never used the Lincoln and she herself assumed it was just one of those things about automobiles, the idling speed was never adjusted. Often she would delay a line of cars while she pressed the starter button either too long or not long enough. Knowing she was not expert she was always quite apologetic when something unfortunate happened, and did her best to keep out of everyone’s way. She changed into second gear at the beginning of any hill and let herself down the far side much more slowly than necessary.

Usually she parked in a downtown garage where Mr. Bridge rented a stall for her. She had only to honk at the enormous doors, which would then trundle open, and coast on inside where an attendant would greet her by name, help her out, and then park the formidable machine. But in the country club district she parked on the street, and if there were diagonal stripes she did very well, but if parking was parallel she had trouble judging her distance from the curb and would have to get out and walk around to look, then get back in and try again. The Lincoln’s seat was so soft and Mrs. Bridge so short that she had to sit very erect in order to see what was happening ahead of her. She drove with arms thrust forward and gloved hands tightly on the large wheel, her feet just able to depress the pedals all the way. She never had serious accidents but was often seen here and there being talked to by patrolmen. These patrolmen never did anything partly because they saw immediately that it would not do to arrest her, and partly because they could tell she was trying to do everything the way it should be done. When parking on the street it embarrassed her to have people watch, yet there always seemed to be someone at the bus stop or lounging in a doorway with nothing to do but stare while she struggled with the wheel and started jerkily backward. Sometimes, however, there would be a nice man who, seeing her difficulty, would come around and tip his hat and ask if he might help.Read More »

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