Writing as Art digs deeply into the literary, structural, and poetic devices that make writing an art form. The excerpts and short fiction presented are chosen from a list of submissions sent by authors around the world. The purpose is educational and based off of the idea that we can all learn from each other. I start off the conversation by incorporating annotations every few paragraphs. (These are surrounded by parenthesis and written in bold) But my annotations are only the starting point. I encourage you to comment, critique, disagree, agree and argue the literary merit of each piece.
For this week, we have an excerpt from Henry Martin’s novel Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality. Enjoy, and let me know what you think of it.
from: Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality
The food sits comfortably in my stomach, washed down with a few glasses of Riesling wine. Strange bar, strange city—but for all its strangeness, no advancement has been achieved today. The wine, the food, and the atmosphere were making me sleepy, drowsy, and indifferent—in a nonchalant way. Nice, the land of art, beaches, riches and fame—the land where one should be fortunate to be. Do I feel that way? No. Across the sea, across the border, across a zillion stories lies the place I want to be. Where? I do not know, but I am certain that it is not here. Perhaps my quest will never come to an end; perhaps I am never to feel peace and harmony. The stillness and lethargy of the Pyrenee annoyed me, yet, the indifference and apathy of the Cote d’Azur is not proving to be a better medicine. Only a few hours ago, I thought Nice was nostalgic, colorful, friendly, and refreshing. Now, under the veil of darkness, it shows its true face. Or, it is that my eyes have opened? Am I finally seeing things for what they are? Will I ever find a place that will not reverse my perception after only a few hours?
(Martin blends form with content intelligently in this opening paragraph. Let’s start with content. The narrator, unnamed in the paragraph, first appears in a liminal state, a purgatory, stuck in a “strange city” miles from where he “want[s] to be.” Yet, he’s seems to be at the cusp of a realization. Perhaps it isn’t the city that irritates him. He acknowledges that Place doesn’t matter. Regardless of where he goes, his “perception” spoils “after only a few hours.” To express this, Martin chooses both his words and setting carefully. This takes place in Nice, a beautiful city on the French Riviera. But at the same time, the word “Nice” in it’s common form has a separate meaning of it’s own. Nice could also mean nice. It could also be interpreted as it’s philosophical form “Niceness.” While the narrator believed that the “Pyrenee” and “Cote d’Azure” would be “friendly and refreshing,” he only found “stillness” and “apathy.” While these places promised to be “Nice,” he realizes that it looks different “under the veil of darkness.” He uses diction and juxtaposition to create this ironic effect. The philosophical form “Nice” as well as the city of Nice transform into darkness as the sun sets. Friendliness is stillness. Refreshing is apathy. The positive becomes the negative as he asks “Am I finally seeing things for what they are?” And the questions are important too. The questions further reflect the narrator’s liminal state even after his “eyes have opened.” Another part of this paragraph that interested me was the ambiguity of the second sentence: “no advancement has been achieved today.” For who? I’m not sure, but I think the ambiguity puts the reader in a similar state of mind as narrator. The line “across a zillion stories” had a similar effect. What stories?)
Leaving the bar behind me, I stroll back towards the harbor. This time my eyes are open, as if the short experience in the bar had corrected my vision. Nice at night is not the same as Nice during the day. The air remains warm, only now it seems to be charged with perfumes, scents, and electricity. While I was inside, enjoying my late meal, someone had turned the street upside down, replacing all the well–dressed couples and families with hookers, pimps, dealers, and lonely men driving around, aimlessly looking for an exciting fuck. Everywhere I turn, there is a whore. Some are eating the flesh of their clients right on the street; some have the decency to hide their profession in shadowed entryways. On the hood of a Renault sits a woman old enough to be my mother. Her exposed skin hangs loosely over her leather skirt, which is rolled up well above her hips. Her hair, dried out and bleached, is tied in a ponytail; her eyes and face are covered in so much make–up that it almost overpowers the presence of the man penetrating her with swift moves—her legs thrown over his shoulders. Pandemonium, circus, humanity. Amidst the trash, the cigarette butts, the luxurious yachts, and the cars and buildings lies a street where human genitals are pre–positioned, dancing with each other, dangling in the air, ultimately swallowing one another like the mating dance of a praying mantis—Ballare, Ballare, a formal dance in this informal setting. Yet the justification to dance is a righteous one, as long as they are touched and held.
(Martin further develops the ironic reversal of Nice by describing the ugliness of the streets at night. Again, this is done mostly through word choice and negative connotation. Check out this line: “Everywhere I turn, there is a whore. Some are eating the flesh of their clients right on the street.” Ugly right? Prostitutes don’t have to be ugly, but when they are “eating the flesh of their clients,” they’re definitely ugly. Check this one out: “Her exposed skin hangs loosely over her leather skirt, which is rolled up well above her hips.” Pretty ugly. And yet, I found the final line perplexing. He seems to excuse the ugliness for the basic needs of human nature)
These streets may as well be the streets of Constantinople. These prostitutes are but Roman whores, sitting on the steps of the ancient basilicas, and these lonely men, searching for the cheapest and the most exotic of meats almost mirror the anxious warriors of the Empire, returning from some bloody war—eyes and hair shining through the night, diluted and dyed in phosphorus—smiles so innocent and evil at the same time, resembling a poisoned strawberry, glowing with a lustrous sheen. Lust, lust, lust—like an unexpected avalanche the covetousness and cupidity knows no feelings, no boundaries. Sex to kill the boredom, sex to feel better about the self—does that really work? The worm made out of the two counterparts in this trade keeps swirling and swishing, growing wider and larger with each new arriving client. Concubines and business suits take over the harbor and the surrounding streets, while the bums jerk off in the alleys. Not befitting to this unorganized orgiastic swirling, I leave the harbor behind, marching away like the soldier of God, left, right, left, right…until the scent of sweating bodies can no longer be found in the air, until the trees and bushes provide me with a comfortable hideout. The street lamps glow far below, their light reflecting off the water like a burning inferno, but up here, I am alone, a cigarette in my mouth, watching the true life show before I settle for the night.
In the morning, I awake to the sounds of sea horns, traffic, and birds. Like a mad shivaree for civilization rather than newlyweds, it bounces off the green leafage, vibrates through the leafhoppers, and comes out of their tiny buttocks in the form of a sound, spreading everywhere like cosmic dust. I brush away the few leaves dropped on me as I slept, stand up, light a cigarette, and inhale. Exhaling a puff of smoke into the brisk morning air, I take a look at the harbor. Nothing left resembles last’s night imagery—the calm sea gently rocks the docked ships; the street is deserted. I descend back onto the main road, my body rested like royalty. It is no wonder that I feel like royalty; the castle in the background, standing proud on top of the hill, is certainly suitable for royalty of any kind, including me. I smile.
(I felt a certain sense of closure with the final sentence. “I smile.” Short sentences tend to have that effect. Now that the narrator sees the civilized world for what it is, “unorganized orgiastic swirling,” he’s happy to find his Place amongst the “green leafage” and “trees and bushes” describing the natural world as a “castle in the background…suitable for royalty.” I guess I’ll have to read the rest of the novel to see if the natural world also “shows it’s true face.”)
And that’s it. Here’s a link to the rest of the book: Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality. If you have an excerpt from a novel or a short piece of fiction, please e-mail submissions to Ericjamesolson1@gmail.com And as always, please comment. It helps us all out.
Henry Martin was born in 1977. Aside from his regular job at a preschool, he spends his nights writing fiction and poetry, which predominately deals with the often-overlooked aspects of humanity. He is the author of three novels: Escaping Barcelona, Finding Eivissa, and Eluding Reality; a short story collection, Coffee, Cigarettes, and Murderous Thoughts; and a poetry collection, The Silence Before Dawn. He is currently working on a joint project with an Australian photographer, Karl Strand, combining one of a kind images with short stories. He lives with his family in the Northeast. Check him out on Goodreads: Henry Martin