Sunday 30 June 2013

A Little Less Conversation Please!

Edward Hopper's Room in New York... And there is a link to
this week's Short Story Sunday, I promise... Just read on...
It’s Sunday again (it does seem to come round very quickly), and that means it’s time for another short story, so out of my wonderful Persephone anthology comes Here We Are, by Dorothy Parker,  which I didn’t really like.  I’d never read any of her fiction before, and I’d expected something sharper, wittier, more satiric.

Written in 1931, set in America, it features a young couple travelling by train to their honeymoon hotel. They’ve been married exactly two hours and twenty-six minutes, though to her it already seems longer, and here they are, alone together, not knowing what to say to each other.  They are obviously nervous, and slightly embarrassed, but their conversation is so strained I really do wonder if they have anything in common at all. It would seem not, for at one point Parker writes:

“I don’t know,” she said. “We used to squabble a lot when we going to together and then engaged and everything but I thought everything would be so different when you were married. And now I feel so sort of strange and everything. I feel so sort of alone.”

Despite their protestations that they ‘won’t fight or be nasty or anything’ they are very quarrelsome couple– especially her. They bicker about her new hat, her old admirer, bridesmaid Louise and how they should spend their wedding night... she has letters she ‘simply must’ write, while he suggests going to see a show. And even if he apologises and tries to placate her, she turns things around so he’s still in the wrong, and she seems to take everything he says the wrong way, and to twist it, reading more into it, and making it mean something he never intended.

Somehow I feel their future as husband and wife is going to be terribly bleak and empty, and that she will become even more petty-minded, spiteful and downright vindictive, punishing him because nothing will ever turn out as she hoped. And he, easy-going, will be just as dissatisfied but will do anything to please her, for the sake of a quiet life, and will never understand what it is that he has done wrong.

I would have to say I loved the opening of this tale as the nervous young man in his new blue suit spends too long arranging their ‘glistening luggage’ in the Pullman carriage – obviously putting off the moment when he and his bride must communicate in some way. In fact, not only do they never seem to connect mentally or emotionally, but there is no contact between them, for they sit opposite each other and the girl, who looks ‘as new as a peeled egg’ finds it hard to meet his eyes, and prefers to gaze out of the window. These two never touch. They are strangers, and it’s like one of those Edward Hopper paintings, where people always seem so lonely, even if they are together. I think Room in New York, painted in New York in 1932  kind of captures the feeling of separateness of this couple, who are headed for a hotel in the city.

Parker manages to create the image and atmosphere in very few words, and to place these two in their social class through the description of their cheap shiny luggage, and their cheap shiny clothes. And they’ve got a new life to match their new possessions but, sadly, it will be no better than the old. I thought this first page was so well written, and I had high hopes of what was to come, but as far as I was concerned it was all downhill after that, because it was all dialogues. Eleven-and-a-half pages of dialogue. 

You can tell I’m not keen on lots of dialogue, except in plays, of course. Personally, I blame Walter Scott, because I’ve had an aversion to conversation-dominated fiction since studying Guy Mannering at school, with all that incomprehensible, archaic Scottish dialect. It put me off Scott for life as well. Am I the only one who feels that too much dialogue in a novel or short story is a bad thing? And has anyone else been that influenced by something they read and hated when they were young? 
Dorothy Parker

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