When i was reading Tess gunty’s The Rabbit Hutch in e-book i started to highlight sentences and paragraphes all the time, at every page.(1) It quickly seemed ridiculous; whenever i felt like highlighting something i rarely wanted to highlight only one sentence or one paragraph. I refrained from highlighting wholes paragraphes and wholes pages.. Because really, what i was going to do is highlight page after page, whole chapters, one after another; i could as well highlight the whole book from the first to the last page. [And what usefulness it there to that?]
Parallel to my more usual reasons to not liking doing that too much, i didn’t feel very comfortable pulling too many sentences out of the context of its whole, this novel, to transform them into ‘quotations’ or extracting whole paragraphes in a similar way. More specifically about this novel, reading it i was already conscious i could just really open it at random and extract any sentence or paragraph and it would make a great quotation.
It felt like doing a disservice to this novel: Hundred quotes that are only partial, cut-off pieces, amputated and orphaned parts. It didn’t feel that interesting or honest to present those out-of-context pieces of writing.
Clearly, surely, it would look like a lot of bon mots, thousands of clever pieces of writing/language. Many other pieces of clever and/or funny dialogue, of characters interactions… And so on. [I’m lacking the words/vocabulary or even ‘concepts'(? to convey what i want right now].
And what would be the problem with that? Not much exactly, all these pieces would still shine, but it’s not enough.
None of these little parts can’t capture enough of what i liked and enjoyed of this novel (and similarly of most of the novels i enjoy the most).
It would say or show absolutely nothing of what makes this novel what it is. Of what or why i enjoyed it, of my experience of reading it. [And what lingered on afterwards.]
((I guess… I’d feel more like a butcher there to proudly show you this one interesting beautiful little piece… Whereas on the floor next door lies the rest of the dismembered corpse, completely lifeless, a text that was once whole but now only a messed puzzle with holes.))
There isn’t much I’m capable of saying about it. When i closed the book i was most struck by the way the characters were written. To put it in the same simple (or simplistic?) way it went through my mind at that moment, what struck me is the compassion. At the heart of the writing of these characters, it was this complete permeating compassion. And the way it felt so refreshing.
[And i don’t know if this is the most precise word/term i could use; it’s what went through my mind. But i have no clue. Here, i guess, was an attempt at saying the only thing i knew i could say right when i closed this book. A very long convoluted way to unconsciously authorise myself to type this one simple thing.]
— 1/ Note: Highlighting when i read on an e-reader is something i rarely/seldom do. I later continued my reading on a paper-made book, in the original American English and some from the French translation that came out in March.
Here’s a video with the author about the novel, at the 27min mark, an argument for “incremental revision”, coming from George Saunders (i believe?) about ‘bringing every single self to the text over time.’
Another thing, badly quoting/paraphrasing: “One thing about the structure […] this professor asked us to create a map of our work. I decided to put major events and major ideas on note cards and put them around my room in Brooklyn, so I lived within this kind of, you know, the four walls of my book for about a year and i kept moving them around and everything like that, and it was this kind of mad detective display. But that really helped me think through […]”
The other thing is i still somehow wanted to uhm, share a few excerpts… All the while knowing what i was doing was cutting off some parts too short every time. Following are fourth excerpts. And here is one longer excerpt published online in LITHUB.
// page references the Oneworld Publications edition, 2022, ISBN 978-0-86154-365-6.
“Joan doesn’t care much about the Valley development—she could take it or leave it—but this event does unnerve her. Especially the voodoo dolls. Although she would never admit it, Joan is positively drugged with superstition. The supernatural—witchcraft, God, bad luck, astrology, time travel—has a death grip on her. She remembers the spectral girl at the laundromat last night, inquiring about the afterlife. Some odd name. The girl was pale, white-haired, elven, thin. Pretty in a strange way. Phantomized. Come to think of it, the girl was exactly as Joan imagines the Ghost of Christmas Past whenever she rereads A Christmas Carol. She thinks of the women who starved themselves—the fiancées of Jesus. Sweating blood.
Suddenly, Joan wants witnesses. Could anyone else see that girl?
Joan quits the browser in a spasm of disgrace and spins. Her superior, Anne Shropshire, stands at the entrance of her cubicle. When Rest in Peace downsized two years prior, offices became stalls. To increase each employee’s sense of audial privacy as spatial privacy diminished, a white-noise soundtrack was installed in the ventilation. The office now sounds like a transatlantic flight. As a result, Restinpeace-dot-com employees do enjoy intensified audial privacy, but they also frequently scare each other on accident. The office is rather tense.”
“Now, in the Valley, certain sentiments boil and spit in her chest. What I love most about you, she wants to say, is your piano. Weren’t we safe until you got your shiny, pricey Bösendorfer involved? Yes, I wanted to touch your stubble, drink your coffee, and wear your glasses. Yes, I wanted your mind and your words and your face and your sadness and your sensitivity and your power and your talent and your age and your imagination and your hair and your music, but ultimately—ultimately—I wanted to fuck your piano.”
“The story took root in the lore of the city. Teachers gave lessons on the benzene contamination in middle school. The residents were relieved to find a vessel for their anger. Even the children born well after Zorn closed needed someone to blame for their permanently overcast skies, the needles in the alleys, the robberies. Everyone wanted an enemy.
Graffiti now splashes across the exteriors of the factories. Once, Blandine bought a disposable camera to photograph the distressing pandemonium of expression she found there. go fuck your umbrella. fjp southside. mayor barrington is a fascist. marry me, jessie. @baxter_billionaire: boss dj. lock up the socialists!!! Someone painted over black lives matter to write blue lives matter. Another sprayed over both to write all lives matter. Another drew an arrow to the chaos of messages and graffitied a weeping Earth. A machine gun. Angel wings. A falcon wearing an American flag as a cape. A marijuana leaf, grinning. legalize happiness, says the leaf. get a job, someone wrote in response. A poster depicting a fetus between two burger buns. obama burger, it says. The pope with an anti-Semitic speech bubble. Many cocks. Many hearts. Many initials. Messages and symbols of manifold xenophobia. A peace sign. A red rabbit in a crown and a despotic glare, nine feet tall, holding a smaller white rabbit by the scruff of its neck.
Taken in sum, the graffiti on the Zorn factories looks just like the internet.
Look at me, everyone says when no one’s looking.
Downtown, as she nears the Valley’s entrance, Blandine passes an alley of garbage cans, against which a large blue sign leans. welcome to vacca vale, indiana: the crossroads of america. The city speaks to her. Won’t stop speaking to her. As she walks, she can hear the dead Zorn factories, even though she can’t see them. She can always hear them. A hum, chilled and wet and dissonant. In 1967, a group of men tried to burn down the factory where they once worked, but its interior was too damp to catch fire. The factory’s voices are loudest at night, in February, and after a week of insomnia. The factories pollute the air with their history, just as they once polluted it with dark chemical smoke. The price of overabundance.”
” Eventually, Blandine approaches the table and waits for them to speak. She knows that she is not a good waitress—she lacks a pleasing disposition, often aims to displease—but she is too exhausted to counter her deficiencies today. The mother orders pancakes with a side of avocado, a grapefruit juice, an apple juice, and an extra plate. The father orders coffee, blackberry pie, bacon, and eggs. “Really runny.” He grins, his teeth snowy, his eyes flicking to Blandine’s chest. “Basically raw.” He winks.
Customers often wink at Blandine. After the wink, they tend to offer unsolicited, intimate facts about themselves. Unaware of her odd beauty—indeed, repulsed by her body—she suspects the phenomenon has to do with her compulsive eye contact. Last week, while his wife was in the bathroom, an elderly man revealed that he’s “center right, on the spectrum of sexuality, far right being fully homosexual.” The next day, a teenager confessed that she provides topless photos for her middle-aged youth minister. “He’s in love with me,” the girl said hopefully. Just yesterday, a park ranger from Michigan admitted that he sometimes leaves cutlets of raw salmon near campsites, hoping to see a bear.
Blandine does not enjoy lugging around the secrets of strangers. She wants to transcend herself, wants to crawl out of the grotesque receptacle of her body. How can she accomplish such a thing when strangers treat her as a storage unit for their heaviest information? She frowns at the winking father.
“We don’t have blackberry pie,” she says.
“Because I’ve had it here before.”
“We’ve never served it.”
“Yes, you have,” the man insists. “I ordered it the last time I was here.”
“No,” Blandine replies, aware that she is sublimating her general opposition toward this man into one pointless opposition, but unwilling to surrender.
“Maybe it was before your time.”
“I’ve worked here since it opened.”
“Well, it’s a real shame you’re not serving it today.” The man scowls. “A real shame. What’s on offer?”
Blandine turns to the blackboard at the front and reads, “Lavender lamb, avocado rhubarb, black mold, strawberry tomato vinegar, banana charcoal, and broccoli peach.”
It’s as though she told him that their pies are stuffed with shredded human thighs. Horror fills the man’s face, rapidly setting into rage. Sensing danger, the woman busies herself with a tissue, unsuccessfully exhorting the child to blow her nose. […]”
And from my bookmarks, perhaps something only tangential at best but here it is, from undark.org “Opinion: As Flint Reeled From a Water Crisis, Words May Have Caused Harm“
/But it’s also very possible that what we’re seeing in Flint is partly a “nocebo” effect. In other words, the constant narrative that the city’s children would struggle to learn may have created a self-fulling prophecy.
The nocebo effect — in which falsely telling someone they have been harmed causes actual harm — was infamously demonstrated in a 1939 experiment. University of Iowa researchers, seeking to better understand what was then known as stuttering, repeatedly and falsely told orphaned children they spoke poorly. Some of those children developed speech impediments and suffered lifelong trauma. The professor who led the experiment had, himself, suffered from a speech disorder and wanted to help others. But the only thing this unethical “Monster Study” proved was that wrongly labeling children can cause great harm.
Labeling children as “poisoned” and “brain damaged” may have had similar adverse consequences in Flint. For the last seven years, these students have been subjected to a drumbeat of hyperbolic messaging from the media, celebrities, politicians, teachers, doctors, and scientists like us. They were repeatedly told that they would have learning difficulties. We witnessed such negative labeling ourselves during a science outreach program in Flint schools, where several teachers openly expressed their belief that the children had been brain damaged by lead in the water, and were therefore incapable of learning. We met many children who’d internalized that message.”/