|"Synesthesia," by Kandinsky|
Aside from synesthetic pleasure, I was--and to coin the noisome gobbledygook--underwhelmed, and that despite getting it all the more (though certainly not completely) upon the second go 'round, at which point I was still underwhelmed, though less so (good sign). Thus the problem of unrealistically elevated expectations. See, when I read All the Pretty Horses (which is still too close to my heart to objectify for a decent review), I started thinking, "Come on, it can't really be as good as all that!" I was wrong. Woefully, pathetically, dismally wrong.
As I mentioned in the previous post, I read the introduction to the collection before I read the first story. Usually this is a good thing, and at the very least I did gain some perspective on Joyce and Dublin, but man! Either this lady totally hero-worships Joyce, or Joyce truly is the greatest writer ever to put pen to paper. Blindly, and with mounting excitement hell-bent for certain disappointment, I turned to the first story, "The Sisters."
At its most basic: a boy's Catholic priest mentor dies, the boy's unsure whether to be sad or not, he has a dream where her flits off to Persia, and the next day goes, under escort of his aunt, to the dead priest's place to pay his respects, where the priest's two sisters talk about the deceased, who apparently went a little off plumb toward the end of his life.
Despite the story's size--or lack thereof--there's a heck of a lot here, the problem is I don't know how to put it all together, nor do I have a context, generally lent by a title, with which to frame it. The context of the whole thing is Dublin, the place, about which I should be able to draw a mental landscape (indication of needed research!) for the stories; one story isn't enough, but I should be able to gain something of the city--or potentially so--from these eight pages. Not much. But if so, then, well, it's unlikely Joyce thought much of his hometown, especially if Charlie Bucket's pathetic Dahl-ian home is my first point of comparison.
For example, the whole story smells like crap. Really. It's dirty--brown and yellow--and redolent as the old priest's snuff-laden teeth and for-surely charnel-house breath.
While the overall significance of this story is, to me, ambiguous--especially the title, which, for crying out loud, references two entirely ancillary, or so-seemingly, characters--there are two particularly telling elements:
The Dream: After a long walk, during which the boy reminisces at length ("length," anyway, compared to the overall brevity of the story) on the dead man, and wondering why he "felt even annoyed at discovering in myself a sensation of freedom as if I had been freed from something by his death," he goes to bed and dreams of the old man's gray face, swinging lamps, and Persia. And perhaps here we get an early glimpse at the great skill involved in the story's composition: this dream is told in two segments. In fact (and it's only in looking back for the sentence referring to the gray face that I make this separation), it's the previous night and before he goes for the walk that he dreams; it is toward the end of his walk that he remembers the dream, including portions he'd earlier forgotten. All of this, flashbacks, etcetera, flow together seamlessly, as if the entire story were also, surprisingly, a dream--a really morbid dream.
The Priest's Decline: I get the sense that Father Flynn (made me think of Doubt, by the way, and I wonder if there's a tribute there from Shanley to the one-eyed author) wasn't much of a priest; and the sisters say this outright in the end, and that he was nervous.... The family friend, Old Cotter, speaks poorly of Flynn and no one--not a soul--attends the funeral, not even Father O'Rourke, who came to help the sisters clip off the loose ends, which he likely did not for the good of the deceased by for the sisters. It turns out that Flynn's gone a bit off the twist, which started, apparently, with the dropping and breaking of a chalice, which he happens to hold on his chest now in death. I'm guessing he dropped it during the throws of an early stroke, the same ailment that ended up doing him in. The last sentence we get in the story includes the puzzling information that one of his last appearances in the church was sitting in his confessional laughing. Death and paralysis indeed! And he was a simoniac to boot, apparently. Hmm.... Perplexities.... (Pointedly placed ellipses....)
A couple other tidbits: 1, Both the sisters and Old Cotter have a tendency, deplorable to the boy in Old Cotter, though left unmentioned regarding the old girls, to drop their sentences off in ellipses; and 2, three words the boys mulls over as he watches Father Flynn's window in the opening: gnomon, simony, and paralysis, all of which sound "strangely in his ears."
I don't have any great "therefore-what." I've got a lot of thoughts--and more than what I've got put down here--but I can't draw a conclusion, not without putting it in context of the rest of the book, or at least another story or two.
Interesting, though: just the effort and second/third looks it's taken to write out this little entry has piqued my curiosity and interest--both appetizingly held at bay against a future read (during which time some nostalgia might even set in?) --for what more there might be between the lines here that I haven't seen, let alone comprehended, yet. Like I said before, there's a lot here, most of which I can't even see; but I just don't know how in the world to put it all together. What's my context? My framework?
And I'm not going to cheat! I will discover it for myself!
One story down, fourteen to go.