Monday, March 12, 2007

Ragged Threads

Sometimes I think I should retitle this blog "Ed Picks Up the Paper." Having said that...

I've been reading Daniel Menaker's 1998 novel The Treatment (which has been turned into a film). Last night I came across a passage in which the analyst character (Dr. Morales) asks the narrator (Jake Singer) whether he gives his real name to the doormen at his new ladyfriend's fancy apartment building on the Upper East Side. "I say I'm Judge Crater—what do you think?"

The name rang a distant bell—but it was late and I didn't feel like crawling to the computer to Google/Wiki the allusion. I read on:

"I do not care if it is putting a kanjaroo back into the pouch or cramming a blackbird back into a pie or even up the rectum of the king. Wordplay cannot make emotions disappear, Mr. Singer."
"Like Judge Crater," I said.
"Very good, Mr. Singer. I would wager that your father occasionally referred to this man who vanished and—"
"Sometimes referred."
"—and that you learned about this story from him. [...]

This morning I picked up the Times and made my way through the Arts section, then read a few things in the Metro section . . . and came across this (on the front Metro page):

Mr. Chait [who disappeared while a student at Columbia 35 years ago] never fueled the national intrigue that followed the disappearance of Judge Joseph Force Crater, who stepped into a cab in Midtown Manhattan in 1930, never to be seen again.
A (small) mystery solved, then . . .
* * *

The chance sequence of two Craters brought to mind another bit in The Treatment, a nice passage about unbidden repetition:

It's funny what happens when you're in psychoanalysis—there are periods when your life takes on the eerie, overdetermined quality of an analytical session, or of the dream you recount in that session. It's as though someone were pulling all the ragged threads of your days into a tight, dark pattern. Conversations echo other conversations, gestures in the present parody gestures from the past, you meet five hairy accountants in the same day, you develop a toothache while watching a movie about a dentist. Your life turns into something like fiction as you bounce from the couch to the allegedly real world and back again, trying to interpret the earliest chapters of your childhood and your work in progress in a way that will lead the later chapters, the ones yet to be written, toward a happier ending than they might have had without such relentless exegeses of the psyche. For me the two weeks following my recollections of Coach Hayes and Chick 'n' Charlie's took on the aspect of a precocious, callow writers' workshop short story, so loaded and worked with resonating themes and images that I'd never have cared about it or even believed it if I'd been reading it in a book.

And talk of these "ragged threads" leads us back to (where else?) our man Harry Stephen Keeler, waxing philosophical about his novel-writing technique:

It is this artificial relationship, this purely fictional web-work plot, this bit of life twisted into a pattern mathematically and geometrically true, that fills the gaps in one's spirit which rebels at the looseness of life as it apparently is.

The quote appears on the inside front cover of every issue of the exemplary Keeler News, edited (for a decade now) by the brilliant and indefatigable Richard Polt.

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