"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Eng. 252: John Banville and other Literary Crushes

It's no secret among those who know me that I have intellectual crushes. Yesterday a high school friend teased me for posting about my crush on Placido Domingo (he appeared on The Colbert Report the other day)--a crush I've had since I was a kid and saw him on Sesame Street with Placido Flamingo. It was the day I learned what "namesake" meant. But I also sent word to my three high school English teachers that the incredible William Kent Krueger was going to be in Park Rapids next week and if they didn't know his work, they should. Two of my teachers are retired (and I know they would love Krueger's mysteries), but one teacher is still teaching and I had a brief moment of wondering whether she would spread the word to her students, maybe take a few to listen to him. When Krueger Skyped with my 252 last semester, that might have been the highlight of the whole term for my students.

Yesterday, in my 252, we talked about John Banville, another of my literary crushes. I read The Untouchable during my MFA and loved it. An excerpt from Mefisto was in our anthology, so we read that on a day we were talking about voice and pacing, the Friday before their short stories are due on Monday. I paired that with the first few pages of The Untouchable and the first few pages of Christine Falls. And I remembered that Dawn Duncan, my mentor with whom I'm collaborating with Joseph O'Connor, she loves Banville, so I sent her a quick email--to which she replied that she and her students were boarding their plane for Ireland (it's spring break where she teaches) and I was instantly insanely jealous. She's going to meet up with O'Connor, I think, so I'm doubly jealous.

I did post an interview with Banville, talking about his writing and his alter ego, Benjamin Black (who wrote Christine Falls). One of my students wished I hadn't told him that Banville and Black were the same person. We talked about how a writer can so clearly choose his style and his voice depending on the story s/he's trying to tell. If we didn't know better, we would have no idea that the man who wrote The Untouchable and Mefisto is the same writer who wrote Christine Falls. The basic sentencing is different, the tone, the voice, the mechanics of it. But above all, at the most basic level, though, is a man who loves his sentences.

I suppose I expected that my students would want to turn the pages on Christine Falls the most out of the three, simply because it is a crime thriller and the first few pages set up enough questions to make the reader want to turn the pages. But I was surprised how many students really were intrigued by the other two excerpts, Banville's excerpts. I can't wait to talk about that a little more with them next week. I'm really interested to see how they're reacting, as writers, to the texts we've been reading. They're not the most cheerful of stories, but then, that's not confined to the Irish--"Hills Like White Elephants" and "Everything That Rises Must Converge" and ZZ Packer's "Brownies" and all the other American stories we've also been reading aren't cheerful either. Makes me doubly curious for the kind of stories I'll see when they turn them in on Monday

I'm glad it's Saturday, and a sunny one at that. I have reading for my women's rhetoric class to do, but then I have high hopes for a pot of Maritime Mist, a Cadbury Creme egg, and some quality time with Banville.

1 comment:

  1. As I started reading Untouchable, I kept anticipating something to happen, anything. For me, this was a slow moving book, with just enough to happen to where it kept me reading. While Scott O'Connor doesn't put a label on any of the characters, so as the reader, you come to find out what they are experiencing and/or suffering from. Scott O'Connor does a fabulous job painting a picture of what is happening, how the characters are feeling, and the reader is left to decipher what it all means. In a way, this book left me confused, but I don't have any personal experience dealing with the issues that surround this book.