Thursday, May 06, 2010

A short act of perfection

"We were talking about some of the older castles in Touraine and we touched upon the iron cage in which Louis XI imprisoned Cardinal La Balue for six years, then upon oubliettes and such horrors. I had seen several of the latter, simply dry wells thirty or forty feet deep where a man was thrown to wait for nothing; since I have such a tendency to claustrophobia that a Pullman berth is a certain nightmare, they had made a lasting impression. So it was rather a relief when a doctor told this story — that is, it was a relief when he began it for it seemed to have nothing to do with the tortures long ago."

Two cheers for brevity (three is overkill). I have always wanted to be a short, concise writer who nails something with the bare essentials and walks away clean. I've clearly had only mixed success, despite having access to the works of masters. The Long Way Out is one of F. Scott Fitzgerald's later short works: you can find the entire story here. It won't take you long to read and might take you years to forget. It's an almost perfect short story, clocking in at just under 1800 words and painting a perfect portrait of limbo. I read it at a relatively early age and keep hoping that I can put something across with such simplicity.

Nobody can accuse Fitzgerald of writing an 'upper' by any stretch of the imagination, which is pretty much what you'd expect from an alcoholic who was no stranger to sanitarium visits (both he and Zelda had their share of time in the wards). By the end of his story, you realize that 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' doesn't always work; 'ain't broke' isn't the same thing as 'working properly.' Sometimes 'functional' is the best you can hope for. At the very least, it beats the alternative.

May 2010


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