A Love Episode

“It was always the same; other people gave up loving before she did. They got spoilt, or else they went away; in any case, they were partly to blame. Why did it happen so? She herself never changed; when she loved anyone, it was for life. She could not understand desertion; it was something so huge, so monstrous that the notion of it made her little heart break.”
Émile Zola, Une Page d’amour

A Love Episode, Emile Zola

 

I am now a good chunk into Emile Zola’s twenty volume Rougon Macquat series of novels. Attacking this pile of books in the recommended reading order:

  • La Fortune des Rougon (1871) (The Fortune of the Rougons)
  • Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876) (His Excellency Eugene Rougon/ His Excellency)
  • La Curée (1871-2) (The Kill)
  • L’Argent (1891) (Money)
  • Le Rêve (1888) (The Dream)
  • La Conquête de Plassans (1874) (The Conquest of Plassans/A Priest in the House)
  • Pot-Bouille (1882) (Pot Luck/Restless House/Piping Hot)
  • Au Bonheur des Dames (1883) (The Ladies’ Paradise/Shop Girls of Paris/Ladies’ Delight)
  • La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret (1875) (The Sin of Father Mouret/Abbe Mouret’s Transgression)
  • Une Page d’amour (1878) (A Lesson in Love/A Love Episode/A Page of Love/A Love Affair)
  • Le Ventre de Paris (1873) (The Belly of Paris/The Fat and the Thin/Savage Paris/The Markets of Paris)
  • La Joie de Vivre (1884) (The Joys of Living/Joy of Life/How Jolly Life Is/Zest for Life)
  • L’Assommoir (1877) (The Dram Shop/The Gin Palace/Drink/Drunkard)
  • L’Œuvre (1886) (The Masterpiece/A Masterpiece/His Masterpiece)
  • La Bête Humaine (1890) (The Beast in the Man/The Human Beast/The Monomaniac)
  • Germinal (1885)
  • Nana (1880)
  • La Terre (1887) (The Earth/The Soil)
  • La Débâcle (1892) (The Downfall/The Smash-up/The Debacle)
  • Le Docteur Pascal (1893) (Doctor Pascal)

The next one up was A Love Episode.

At this point I have finished the last of the books from the Mouret section of the Rougon Macquat books. The Rougon section dwelt mostly on the upper classes, especially on the mad ruthless speculation in L’Argent. Then came the Mouret branch of the family – middle class workers fighting to get ahead – and not always succeeding.  Now, after A Love Episode I will move into the Macquat  books – where poverty, drunkeness, and madness await. I’ve read four of these already – will have to decide whether to re-read them or not.

One characteristic of the last few books has been elaborate, extensive, florid, and detailed description. In A Love Episode this mostly consists of pages of description of the appearance of Paris out of the window of the protagonists suburban apartment. The changes in weather and light over the magnificent city reflect the inner turmoil that the main characters are experiencing.

It’s a short book, the easiest so far to read, that details… as the title suggests, a romance. The love story is between a beautiful young widow and the doctor that lives next door. He comes to her aid when her daughter falls ill. This is Paris, so the fact he is married is not an immovable obstacle, even though she is of sound moral character. The daughter, however, is sickly and very jealous, which leads to complications and, this being a Zola novel, an ultimate disaster.

A quick, fun, read… with a nice bunch of interesting characters – folks like those that you will still meet today.

If you look hard enough

The Sin of Father Mouret

“Albine now yielded to him, and Serge possessed her.
And the whole garden was engulfed together with the couple in one last cry of love’s passion. The tree-trunks bent as under a powerful wind. The blades of grass emitted sobs of intoxication. The flowers, fainting, lips half-open, breathed out their souls. The sky itself, aflame with the setting of the great star, held its clouds motionless, faint with love, whence superhuman rapture fell. And it was the victory of all the wild creatures, all plants and all things natural, which willed the entry of these two children into the eternity of life.”
Émile Zola, La Faute de l’abbé Mouret
Film of Sins of Father Mouret

Book Cover, Sin of Father Mouret

I am now a good chunk into Emile Zola’s twenty volume Rougon Macquat series of novels. Attacking this pile of books in the recommended reading order:

  • La Fortune des Rougon (1871) (The Fortune of the Rougons)
  • Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876) (His Excellency Eugene Rougon/ His Excellency)
  • La Curée (1871-2) (The Kill)
  • L’Argent (1891) (Money)
  • Le Rêve (1888) (The Dream)
  • La Conquête de Plassans (1874) (The Conquest of Plassans/A Priest in the House)
  • Pot-Bouille (1882) (Pot Luck/Restless House/Piping Hot)
  • Au Bonheur des Dames (1883) (The Ladies’ Paradise/Shop Girls of Paris/Ladies’ Delight)
  • La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret (1875) (The Sin of Father Mouret/Abbe Mouret’s Transgression)
  • Une Page d’amour (1878) (A Lesson in Love/A Love Episode/A Page of Love/A Love Affair)
  • Le Ventre de Paris (1873) (The Belly of Paris/The Fat and the Thin/Savage Paris/The Markets of Paris)
  • La Joie de Vivre (1884) (The Joys of Living/Joy of Life/How Jolly Life Is/Zest for Life)
  • L’Assommoir (1877) (The Dram Shop/The Gin Palace/Drink/Drunkard)
  • L’Œuvre (1886) (The Masterpiece/A Masterpiece/His Masterpiece)
  • La Bête Humaine (1890) (The Beast in the Man/The Human Beast/The Monomaniac)
  • Germinal (1885)
  • Nana (1880)
  • La Terre (1887) (The Earth/The Soil)
  • La Débâcle (1892) (The Downfall/The Smash-up/The Debacle)
  • Le Docteur Pascal (1893) (Doctor Pascal)

The next one up was The Sin of Father Mouret (among other titles).

It was only a couple days ago that I wrote about The Ladies’ Paradise – but in actually, in the real world, I’m finishing up three books ahead – my episode has put my writing behind my reading.

One interesting thing about the Rougon Macquat novels is that even though they are about the same family (if very disparate branches of said tree) in France during the same period of time – the books are often very different from each other. The Sin of Father Mouret is particularly unique.

It is divided into three distinct sections. The first is a fairly dry (though interesting) depiction of a devout priest in a poverty-stricken rural area – hanging on by pure faith in a run-down threadbare church surrounded by a population with less than perfect spiritual lives. Eventually the stress (plus the inherited family madness that runs through all the books) causes him to crack and suffer a complete mental breakdown. He has complete amnesia and is placed in the care of a wild, almost feral, young girl that has the run of an old garden – a giant park run wild with ancient plants gone to seed. This place, Le Paradou is described in intricate detail – a place of unbelievable fecundity in the midst of a barren landscape – set off by a high stone wall. Comparisons with the Garden of Eden are obvious, along with the ideas of the knowledge of good and evil and of original sin.

Eventually, a glimpse through a gap in the stone wall brings Father Mouret’s memories back and he is faced with the choice of returning to his church or remaining in the garden.

The language and description of the couple’s life in Le Paradou is luscious, flamboyant, and prolonged. The contrast between life within the walls and without is so great it almost reads as being unreal. I took it that way – reading in as more of an allegory than as actual fact – and that made the book more enjoyable, in my opinion.

It is an interesting read. I have never soldiered through any book like it. A significant change of pace in the string of twenty books.

 

The Ladies Paradise

“I would rather die of passion than of boredom.”
Émile Zola, The Ladies’ Paradise

Cover of Au Bonheur des Dames by Emile Zola

I am now a good chunk into Emile Zola’s twenty volume Rougon Macquat series of novels. Attacking this pile of books in the recommended reading order:

  • La Fortune des Rougon (1871) (The Fortune of the Rougons)
  • Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876) (His Excellency Eugene Rougon/ His Excellency)
  • La Curée (1871-2) (The Kill)
  • L’Argent (1891) (Money)
  • Le Rêve (1888) (The Dream)
  • La Conquête de Plassans (1874) (The Conquest of Plassans/A Priest in the House)
  • Pot-Bouille (1882) (Pot Luck/Restless House/Piping Hot)
  • Au Bonheur des Dames (1883) (The Ladies’ Paradise/Shop Girls of Paris/Ladies’ Delight)
  • La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret (1875) (The Sin of Father Mouret/Abbe Mouret’s Transgression)
  • Une Page d’amour (1878) (A Lesson in Love/A Love Episode/A Page of Love/A Love Affair)
  • Le Ventre de Paris (1873) (The Belly of Paris/The Fat and the Thin/Savage Paris/The Markets of Paris)
  • La Joie de Vivre (1884) (The Joys of Living/Joy of Life/How Jolly Life Is/Zest for Life)
  • L’Assommoir (1877) (The Dram Shop/The Gin Palace/Drink/Drunkard)
  • L’Œuvre (1886) (The Masterpiece/A Masterpiece/His Masterpiece)
  • La Bête Humaine (1890) (The Beast in the Man/The Human Beast/The Monomaniac)
  • Germinal (1885)
  • Nana (1880)
  • La Terre (1887) (The Earth/The Soil)
  • La Débâcle (1892) (The Downfall/The Smash-up/The Debacle)
  • Le Docteur Pascal (1893) (Doctor Pascal)

The next one up was The Ladies Paradise.

The overall story is a very thin romance between a poor, country girl that comes to Paris and finds work in a new, rapidly expanding department store and the owner of the store. He is Octave Mouret, the relentless womanizer of the book before this one – Pot-Bouille. His desire to possess women has now metastasized into the need to dominate them commercially by creating a retail establishment that they cannot resist – literally a ladies’ paradise.

But the real protagonist of the story is the store itself – the eponymous Ladies Paradise. Large swaths of text are dedicated to detailed dreamy descriptions of the store, its wares, and the elaborate displays set up to show off the goods and lure in the women of Paris and, most importantly, to separate them from their money.

As the book progresses the store grows and grows, taking over building after building, until it dominates the area and all retail commerce. There is a heart-tearing description of the woeful ends of the various small shopkeepers of Paris – trying to scrape out a living selling cloth, shoes, or umbrellas – until they are inevitably ground under the heels of the behemoth growing through the streets – their owners are driven into bankruptcy, poverty, and madness.

The book was written a couple of centuries ago – but it is a story that is still going on today. We have all seen small businessmen destroyed by large corporate chains that offer lower prices, bigger selections, and spectacular shopping experiences. It is a story that could take place in the last couple of decades.

Except today, even those huge conglomerates are being driven out of business by a technology that Zola couldn’t even imagine – online shopping. Though, now that I think about it, The Ladies Paradise puts together a company of horse-drawn delivery vans, with advertisements plastered on the side, that resembles today’s fleet of Amazon-Prime vehicles.

The novel’s fictional department store was modeled after a real place – Le Bon Marché in Paris. The store is still open.

This was an enjoyable tome in the series, though the long, detailed descriptions of ranks upon ranks of goods placed on sale went on too long for my taste – but probably necessary to drive home the point of the plot. It was simultaneously a record of the past, an reverse echo of the present, and a warning of the future.

Short Story of the Day – We Are Other People Tonight by ​T Kira Madden

No wonder her daughter hated her, what a bore she has become. If only she could have something of her own, something for which she could be recognized: horn-rimmed glasses, a special rhythm to her walk, a nickname. She imagines a scenario in which several suited men lean in close over cigars in a dimly lit restaurant. Her name is mentioned. Oh Ramona, one of them would say, And what a woman she is.

—-T Kira Madden, We Are Other People Tonight

Crystal Beach, Texas

We Are Other People Tonight by ​T Kira Madden

from Midnight Breakfast

About the Author:

T Kira Madden

T Kira Madden is an APIA writer, photographer, and amateur magician living in New York City. Her work has most recently appeared in The Kenyon Review, Tin House Online, Puerto del Sol, and HYPHEN. She is a 2014 and 2016 MacDowell fellow, and the founding Editor-in-Chief of No Tokens Journal.

 

About the Story:

 

Boca Raton means “Rat’s Mouth.” Well… not really….

The Spanish named it Boca de Ratones. Although Boca translates, literally, as mouth, here it means inlet. Ratones, literally, means mice, but it was also a term used by navigators to refer to sharp rocks below the surface of the water. … The name Boca Raton shifted to a new inlet that formed later.

Short Story of the Day – A Bruise the Size and Shape of a Door Handle by Daisy Johnson

Until Salma turned thirteen the house was just a house. It was too big for the two of them, an up-and-down warren of rooms neither of them had the compulsion to fill. She did not have friends to invite round, did not like those girls at school, their careful observations of one another, the way they moved and talked. Sometimes she wondered why her father did not bring back dates, long-legged women filling the house with the smell of bacon and eggs, wearing her father’s dressing gown and slippers, their thin lips purple from the cold. She liked to think it was because he could not imagine there being anybody other than her mother. She liked to think he thought of her by the minute, her dark hair wrapped around his fist, her angry words in the crevices of his mouth.

—-Daily Johnson, A Bruise the Size and Shape of a Door Handle

House Being Remodeled, The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

A Bruise the Size and Shape of a Door Handle by Daisy Johnson

from American Short Fiction

About the Author:

Daisy Johnson

A British novelist and short story writer. Her debut novel, Everything Under, was shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, and is the youngest nominee in the prize’s history. For her short-stories, she has won three awards since 2014.

About the Story:

This short coming of age tale does not end like you think it will, although you are warned… you don’t pay attention. Delicately written, fine turns of phrase conceal the evil and power beneath.

It reminds me of one of my favorite (even if it is unnecessarily twee and gimmicky) novels – House of Leaves. One of the interwoven stories is about a man that discovers that the house he lives in is a few centimeters larger on the inside than on the outside. Then all hell breaks loose.

A section of the book is used in the Poe song “Hey Pretty” (the author, Mark Z. Danielewski, is the singer, Poe’s brother).

Kyrie suggested we go for a drive in her new 2-door BMW coupe In the parking lot, we slipped into her bucket seats, Kyrie took over from there.

At nearly 90 miles per hour she zipped us up to that windy edge Known to some as Mullholland, that sinuous road running the ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains Where she then proceeded to pump her vehicle in and out of turns Sometimes dropping down to 50 miles per hour, only to immediately gun it back up to 90 again Fast, slow, fast fast slow Sometime a wide turn sometimes a quick one she preferred the tighter ones The sharp controlled jerks, swinging left to right before driving back to the right

Only so she could do it all over again until after enough speed, and enough wind, and more distance than I had been prepared to expect Taking me to parts of the city I rarely think of and never visit…

I can’t remember the inane things I started babbling about then, I know it didn’t really matter, she wasn’t listening She just yanked up on the emergency brake, dropped her seat back, and told me to lie on top of her On top of those leather pants of hers, extremely expensive leather pants mind you, her hands immediately guiding mine over those soft, slightly oily folds

Positioning my fingers on the shiny metal tab, small and round, like a tear Then murmuring a murmur so inaudible that even though I could feel her lips tremble against my ear, she seemed far, far away Pinch it, she said, which I did, lightly, until she also said pull it, which I also did, gently parting the teeth, one at a time, down under and beneath, the longest unzipping of my life…

We never even kissed, or looked into each other’s eyes, our lips just Trespassed on those inner labyrinths hidden deep within our ears, Filled them with the private music of wicked words Hers in many languages, mine in the off-color of my only tongue, until as our tones shifted and our consonants spun and squealed, rabbled faster, hesitated, raced harder Syllables soon melting into groans or moans, finding purchase in new words, or old words, or made-up words Until we gathered up our heat and refused to release it, enjoying too much the dark lane which we had suddenly stumbled upon

Prayed to, carved to, not a communication really, but a channeling of our rumored desires, hers for all I know gone to black forests and wolves, mine banging back to the familiar form, that great revenant mystery I still could only hear the shape of Which in spite of our separate lusts and individual prize, still continued to drive us deeper into stranger tones, our mutual desire to keep gripping the burn Fueled by sound, hers screeching, mine… I didn’t hear mine, only hers, probably counter-pointing mine A high pitched cry, then a whisper dropping unexpectedly, to practically a bark, a grunt, whatever, no sense anymore, and suddenly no more curves either, just the straightaway

Too bad dark languages rarely survive…

 

 

Short Story of the Day – A Hundred and Twenty Muscles, by Rachel Heng

When it came to Lea’s turn, she held him up to her face. He wriggled between her hands, a warm, alive thing. She felt his delicate ribs under the flesh and fur, thin bones interlocking like puzzle pieces, protecting some squirming secret within.

—-Rachel Heng, A Hundred and Twenty Muscles

H.O.P. Rabbits, by David Iles

A Hundred and Twenty Muscles, by Rachel Heng

from The Offing

About the Author:

Rachel Heng

Rachel Heng is the author of the novel, Suicide Club  (Henry Holt / Sceptre, 2018). Suicide Club was a national bestseller in Singapore, named a most anticipated book of the summer by the Huffington Post, The Millions, Gizmodo, Bustle, New Scientist, ELLE, Bitch Media, The Independent, Stylist, The Irish Times, NYLON, Tor.com and The Rumpus, and will be translated into 10 languages worldwide.

Rachel was named one of The Independent’s ‘Emerging Authors To Look Out For in 2018‘, won Singapore Women’s Weekly’s Great Women of Our Time (Arts and Media) 2018 Award, and has been profiled by the BBC, The Evening Standard, The Telegraph, The Straits Times, Channel News Asia, Electric Literature, Library Journal and The Rumpus. Rachel’s short fiction has received a Pushcart Prize Special Mention, Prairie Schooner‘s Jane Geske Award, and have been published or are forthcoming in Glimmer TrainKenyon Review, Tin House, Guernica, The Offing and elsewhere. She has received grants and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Vermont Studio Center, Kenyon Review Writers Workshop and the National Arts Council of Singapore.

Rachel was born and raised in Singapore. After graduating from Columbia University with a BA in Comparative Literature & Society, she spent several years working in private equity in London. She now lives in Austin, where she is a fiction fellow at UT Austin’s Michener Center for Writers.

About the Story:

Not a very pleasant story, but a well-written one. You feel the vitality and the delicacy of the pet bunny… and… well, read it to find out. There are monsters among us, and they don’t even know what they are.

I reminds me of something recent – I wrote about it only a couple of months ago:

We have had Isaak, our dog, our rescue, for a year now. We don’t know exactly how old he is, but he was a young puppy when he came to us, so he is a bit over a year old. He’s pretty much as big as he’s going to get, but still has a lot of puppy spirit, for good and bad, in him. Other than excitement over tennis balls and the squirrels in our backyard trees that taunt him – he’s a well behaved and relatively calm dog.

We also have my son’s black lab with us – he and Isaak get along great. It isn’t unusual for us to have other people’s dogs too – kept as a favor for friends while they are on vacation or foster dogs (especially ones that need some socializing) or people pay us to watch their pooches.

The other day, we had another black lab mix staying, a little smaller than my son’s dog. So we had three… if not big, then good-sized dogs at the house.

I was having some trouble sleeping, and it was work the next day, so I was laying in bed, awake, trying to relax and get some rest before having to go back into the breach the next morning. A little after midnight… the guest dog wasn’t too comfortable with the doggie door, so Candy got up and let the three of them out the back door.

I’m not sure why she did this, but as the dogs ran by she reached out and flipped on the light switch for the back yard (I mean… the dogs can pee in the dark, can’t they?) and there, right in the middle of the yard, illuminated by a circle of spotlights, sat a rabbit.

The dogs went nuts – all three bolted for the bunny – and the rabbit made a mistake. The rabbit ran to the east side of the house, where the fence runs along the wall, a few feet away, until it ends near the front. The rabbit hit that dead end and had nowhere to go but to turn around. The three dogs were on him.

Our dog, Isaak, like most dogs rescued from the Dallas pound, is a pit bull mix. He doesn’t really look like a pit (he has long legs and a long snout) but is, according to his DNA scan, one quarter American Staffordshire Terrier – which is a polite term for Pit Bull. The poor rabbit didn’t have a chance. He was dead in a few seconds.

Candy, of course, went crazy. You see, to her the dogs are like people. They live in the house, most of the time, eat the food you give them, and chase tennis balls around. But right under that domesticated surface is a wild animal… and seeing a big fat rabbit standing there right in the middle of their territory, the back yard, is enough to bring that wild animal boiling out in a split second.

I jumped out of bed, chased the dogs back inside and, with more than a little trepidation walked around to the side of the house (at this time, I didn’t know what had happened); I only knew that the dogs had run down something. There was the rabbit, a big one, freshly dead with a big hunk missing from its side.

Isaak was walking around, coughing.

“We need to take him to the emergency room,” Candy said.

“Naw, he’ll be alright, though you’d better keep an eye on him, he’ll probably yakk up a big ball of rabbit fur any minute,” I said.

So it fell to me to go out and pick up the poor dead rabbit and throw him over the fence. We live on a creek lot so I went around and took the body down by the water, so the coyotes will have a snack sometime later that night.

I feel bad about the bunny, but not too bad. There are hundreds of rabbits along that creek after all. I wonder why the rabbit ventured into our yard. Surely they have some survival instincts and our yard smells of dog as much as any – it’s like the rabbit tried to sneak into a kennel.

I didn’t get much sleep – Candy and my son’s dog were freaked out by the whole thing. Isaak was just excited.

He’s a city domesticated pit bull mix – this was probably the high point of his entire life.

Short Story of the Day – Hall of Small Mammals, by Thomas Pierce

We were at the back of a very long line that began near the Panda Plaza and wound all the way around the Elephant House. Nobody was very interested in the elephants or the pandas at the moment. Everyone was at the zoo for the baby Pippins. If just one of the three Pippin Monkeys survived to maturity, it would apparently be a major feat for the zoo, since no other institution had been able to keep its Pippins alive for very long in captivity. The creatures came from somewhere in South America. They were endangered and probably would go extinct soon. But before they did, Val wanted to see one up close: the gray fuzzy hair, the pink face, the giant empty black eyes. Val wanted to take a picture to show his friends.

—-Thomas Pierce, Hall of Small Mammals

Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Another Short Story available online:

Hall of Small Mammals, by Thomas Pierce

from Literary Hub

The Author:

Thomas Pierce

The following is the title story from Thomas Pierce’s collection, Hall of Small Mammals. Pierce was born and raised in South Carolina. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Oxford American, and elsewhere. A graduate of the University of Virginia creative writing program, he lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife and daughter.

The Story:

A man and a slightly obnoxious diabetic twelve-year-old boy are waiting in line at a zoo exhibit. The line is going slow and the boy is not the man’s son. The boy’s mother is beautiful, but the man has his doubts about the relationship.

We all have to wait in line and we all have to decide how much we are going to take. We always have to wait too long. Sometimes we take too much. Every day. Every damn day. And that line moves to slow, until you need it to wait and then it speeds up.

I looked up “Pippin Monkeys” and they don’t exist outside of this short story. Shame, I’d like to see one, though I never really liked monkeys. I wouldn’t wait in line very long, however.