4 Followers
25 Following
localcharacter

localcharacter

Attempts at a Life

Attempts at a Life - Danielle Dutton I'm not always sure what Danielle Dutton is doing in these seventeen experiments, but it's still a lot of fun to watch. I don't call them stories, because some of them don't quite cohere narratively—sometimes they miss by a mile—and that's clearly not the point. It's something instead at the level of the sentence, more a poetics than anything else.One of the sections of "Everybody's Autobiography, or Nine Attempts at a Life" begins "My husband was born in 1887 in Germany after World War I": even within the sentence things don't cohere. But the entire story hangs together as a cubist view of the lives of (never numbered, never named) modern artists, and that's a sort of cubism at the level of the sentence. The title alludes to Gertrude Stein, but since I've never read her I can't say whether Dutton is mimicking or responding to her. Probably both."Selections from Madame Bovary" seems to use a technique more like erasure, but radical: the book is reduced to less than a thousand words. And yet those words are enough to hint at not just Flaubert's original, but a particular reading of it. In Part I we get "Partner-swaying to violinist's doorways, to pale low gentleman. Spanish curtain and violin." Part II: "Boring—completely—Madame was there." And Part III: "Close-fitting spineless love." (I'm erasing further by selecting these samples from Dutton's selection.) As Grant Cogswell said of Marion Zioncheck's suicide note, you miss the syntax but you get the passion."Hester Prynne," though, is a straightforward internal monologue that begins "I sit and watch a ship creak under its burden. Months might pass until I hear that another has sunk, popping from its fittings, flailing through darkness, breaking up under cover of sea. But I have a daughter and she is rare as anything." What's subversive here is the content of Hester's thoughts, which range far outside of any context we're given in The Scarlet Letter.It's like Dutton is calibrating the scope or range of an instrument. While it seems to be some sort of scientific instrument, it turns out to make music too.