Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What's with "Verging on Pertinence"?

I am not too clever by half, quarter, eighth, nor even thirty-second. I am more the Wal-Mart/K-Mart shopper who has sneaked into (when it used to be) Lord & Taylor when the guards were distracted by the blinding reflections from some other shopper's jewels. I'm brown-bagging at Le Bec Fin until the Maître de spies me and gives me Le Heave-Ho. I'm a borrower and a borrower who almost always gives credit to the borrowee. Lately, pangs of guilt have kept me awake at night, twitching in bed like shrimp on a hot plate. I've been doing this blog of self-delusion for over 3 years now and have never written anything about this blog's title.

Well, it's basically a cannibalization of this book's title. Nothing to read into the short story, "Verging on the Pertinent", contained within the book. Simply a strong draw on my part to the book's (and story's) title. Nothing more.

I came upon Verging on the Pertinent by Carol Emshwiller back in the very early '90's. I'd never heard of Ms. Emshwiller before; the title of her book at a bookstore simply caught my eye. An odd combination of words and a suggestion of a sly joke, it seemed to me. The selection of short stories in this book number only 17. The book has just a little over 135 pages. 135 dense pages. In a few of the stories, I felt as if I dropped in on a party that's been in swing for a few hours. From the first sentence, I was trying to catch up to something all of the characters in the story already seemed to know about and weren;t willing to let me in on. I wanted to psssst! and ask one of them some questions, before the story got way past my ability to comprehend it. So, I'd simply turn back pages to the beginning and start again. Ms. Emshwiller considers herself a science-fiction writer and her other books certainly demonstrate that genre nicely. This book, however,reminds me of the short stories of Katinka Loeser, Peter DeVries' spouse (whom he met when she was "when she was bouncing quatrains off the moon, too". The stories begin within the confines of a humdrum reality and then take off to visions that test the reader's patience at times while inducing one to re-read the stories almost immediately. Her stories don't stick with me in their entirety, but certain portions of her stories are permanently embedded. Like Loeser's writings, Emshwiller's are quite frustrating. In a good way. Both are quite accomplished word-smiths; it's just that their products, for me at least, lack a smoothness that promotes a continuous read. Perhaps that is their intention. Read one story. Mull it over. Put the book down. Come back a week later and commence with the next story. I would not recommend any of Loeser's or Emshwiller's books because you'd most likely be cursing me midway through any of their stories, although you'd probably trudge on and finish them anyway. Let me just label both of these writers as frustratingly enjoyable and leave it at that.

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