Page 3 of 6
At least that is the story Clive almost wrote. Because there were sloppy parts, too almost anachronistically offhanded, as if Clive werent really trying, or we werent worth it. Whole pages of dialogue were smushed together without paragraphing. End quote marks bumped into the next opening quote marks. And the crucial surprise was detectable, I thought, maybe a half-page too soon. Clive could have fixed all this in an extra half-hour or two. Why didnt he?
By week three we had our own in-joke tradition: that of the scripted, slightly hammy oral critique. Clives delivery was part academic, part BBC entertainment anchor: He kept referring to the exotic setting of my Super Bowl story (for the assignment The Bully Speaks) as an American football match.
We were at Macy and Hollis house in Fox Hills, with Formica and great slab steppingstones and beams and light: an oasis with designer kitchens. A famous writer might live in this house, but only if he got famous before buying it. The talented Macy had angel-fine red hair and marvelous freckly skin and wore cute Capri pants a vision not of mens advertising but of womens, the sort of childlike beauty who wins a husband and designer furniture by preserving her complexion and her heart. She was showing me the yard, because Hollis was still tapping away at the last of his critiques. Hollis, I think, was either barefoot or in a robe he looked like a boyish Hefner. Clive asked some interesting questions about the landscaping with his hands behind his back until Hollis emerged, papers flapping in one hand, waving hello with the other.
My bully-story narrator had been a new-breed football player who violently, remorselessly disgraced his older opponent, one of the games legendary gentlemen. Hollis dove right into his suave critique. Right out of the bucket, he said, in a lusty cackle, this guy grabbed me with his no-apologies philosophy.
He even read some of my lines out loud, passing them around like the most outrageous contraband.
Folded over him like I was packing a bag!
Full beers flying!
Then Macys crit: a deft, approving squeeze. She pointed out my storys enchanting and manly phrases. Two separate times, not to analyze this too closely, she interjected the stylishly potent dangler Love it. Memorably: Im getting a feel for the Alan Rifkin style love it. My own full name rubbing up against the words feel, style and love, with only a couple of flimsy prepositions and articles between them, is a very good sentence, a sentence worth keeping, a sentence I would walk home to put under my pillow while forgetting my car.
We hit some trouble discussing Clives piece. That was a confusing development, because Clives bully story, if possible, was even more brilliant than his Harvard one. A philosophical joy ride in the voice of a criminal psychologist who plumbs the heart of evil in a barroom after hours, it surpassed all of us, surpassed Mailer, surpassed De Lillo all of us said so. But we confessed, too, that we had struggled just slightly to keep some of Clives characters straight, because within the story, the characters themselves were telling a story. Which meant that there were quotes within the quotes. And all the quote marks were the funny British kind, so that the outside quotes were single ones, and the inside quotes were double ones. Clive had started the story, actually, with a triple inversion in effect, a quoted quoted quote.
How do you mean? Clive said when we pointed this out.
Well, the quotes within quotes, I said. That, along with the British style it just raised the level of difficulty for me. As a reader.
Clive tried to swallow this input. I cant believe Im hearing this.
We all searched ourselves. Hearing what?
He looked both betrayed and disbelieving. I feel a little as if I were black and youd called me a nigger, he said.
Macy and Hollis were having none of that. They stood their ground, firm and world-weary, as if pushing their alcoholic uncle back into his chair. All the while I kept flailing to rephrase myself. (What happened to the onus of retaining focus? As the evenings chairperson, by alphabetic progression, it was on me. For I cite Clive: It is not appropriate for the reviewed to interrupt . . . nor is it appropriate for other members of the group to interject . . . This is very important. On rare occasions, and then only unwillingly, the chairperson may interrupt to keep focus or to arbitrate if the discourse becomes unruly.)