A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 2 – The Itch, by Don DeLillo

Crow Collection of Asian Art
Sculpture Garden
Dallas, Texas

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 2 – The Itch, by Don DeLillo.

Read it online here:
The Itch, by Don DeLillo

But nobody showed up, so he sat awhile looking at the wall. It was one of those Saturdays that feel like Sunday. He didn’t know how to explain this. It happened intermittently, more often in the warmer months, and it was probably normal, although he’d never discussed it with anyone.
—-Don DeLillo, The Itch, opening lines

I have read some of Don Dellilo’s work… not what I would say a lot of it… not by any means all of it. The most notable absence is the massive novel Underworld which I have been meaning to read for a couple decades. Tomes of that weight and size require a commitment that I have been unable to grant for some time. Maybe soon.

Maybe before I die.

At any rate, I loved his novel White Noise enough that the other things he has written pale in my mind. That novel rotates around a bucolic modern scene that is interrupted by an Airborne Toxic Event of some kind… something that I am sort of familiar with in real life. It is an entertaining and haunting work of fiction.

In modernist fiction, there is an interesting difference between novels and short stories. In a novel, the strange detachment of modern life has to be dealt with and resolved… at least partially. In a short story, the author is free to wallow in the surrealism of daily life in this best of all possible worlds.

In today’s story that surrealism takes the form of an itch. The protagonist bounces from doctor to doctor… getting no help, and towards a possible love interest. But always present, if sometimes latent, is the itch, possessing a strange and fearful symmetry, and a perverse unpredictability. It doesn’t make life unbearable, but it probably makes it less fun. Which seems pretty unbearable.

Interviews:

I’m thinking of two dimensions of a screen or a page on which people read. We hope, writers hope, that in fact their characters are living in a three-dimensional world, first in the writer’s mind, then in the minds of readers.

When I’m conceiving a scene, do I see it in three dimensions? It’s not so easy to answer what appears to be a simple question. I see it — I see characters, I see people, I see streets, cars — and they seem to exist in this special level of mental reality. I could not distinguish the features of a character’s face when I have an idea concerning this character, when I see him or her in a room, and in most cases the room itself is fairly generic — except when I’m actually describing a room — this does happen somewhere in “Zero K” — and then I see a room much more clearly.
—-from an LA Times Interview

INTERVIEWER
Do you have any idea what made you a writer?
DON DeLILLO
I have an idea but I’m not sure I believe it. Maybe I wanted to learn how to think. Writing is a concentrated form of thinking. I don’t know what I think about certain subjects, even today, until I sit down and try to write about them. Maybe I wanted to find more rigorous ways of thinking. We’re talking now about the earliest writing I did and about the power of language to counteract the wallow of late adolescence, to define things, define muddled experience in economical ways. Let’s not forget that writing is convenient. It requires the simplest tools. A young writer sees that with words and sentences on a piece of paper that costs less than a penny he can place himself more clearly in the world. Words on a page, that’s all it takes to help him separate himself from the forces around him, streets and people and pressures and feelings. He learns to think about these things, to ride his own sentences into new perceptions. How much of this did I feel at the time? Maybe just an inkling, an instinct. Writing was mainly an unnameable urge, an urge partly propelled by the writers I was reading at the time.
—-From The Paris Review

Crow Collection of Asian Art
Sculpture Garden
Dallas, Texas

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2 responses to “A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 2 – The Itch, by Don DeLillo

  1. Hi Bill.

    I was glad to see you are doing another short story month.

    Maybe I wanted to learn how to think. Writing is a concentrated form of thinking. I don’t know what I think about certain subjects, even today, until I sit down and try to write about them. Maybe I wanted to find more rigorous ways of thinking.

    I had this exact thought this afternoon while driving. I was thinking about what it takes to write a book and how people who do write must really be commended for the amount of thinking that is required. All those thoughts, all that consideration of the framework of writing, all the thinking to get it down on a page.

    Have you read any of Donna Tartt’s books? I really loved the Gold Finch and The Secret History, especially the detail and research that obviously went into them: lots of thinking on her behalf.

    I look forward to the rest of the month.

    Cheers,

    Cath

    (from Australia)

    • Thanks for the thoughtful reply – I’m glad at least one person is interested. I read The Secret History and really liked it – The Goldfinch is on my to-read list (unfortunately, it’s a very long list, and getting longer, not shorter).

      I don’t think of writing as being that much work – mostly because I have no choice, it’s my addiction. Editing, on the other hand, is difficult, unpleasant work.

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