Friday, June 15, 2007

Crows & stories of owes

A public apology is partly what this is. I may be the worst correspondent in the history of letter-writing. My nasty habit of failing to write to my most dearly-loved old friends is appalling. It's baffling. It's something I really must stop doing. (Note: there are also people I don't write to because I don't want them to write back, which is a very different thing, and I'm hoping that these two sets of people can easily self-identify)

But mostly because yesterday I went to my college pigeonhole, and pulled out a small brown paper package, within which was this:

A tiny book made of folded paper and card, somewhat smaller than a matchbox.

Crow books are two a penny. Some are very, very bad. Some are middling. Some are excellent (I'm writing a review of an absolutely wonderful one for a magazine right now). But this is the best one of all. Here are a few pages from the beginning. Glorious stuff.

Bill is one of my oldest friends. We were undergraduates together, a long long while ago. Bill, if you're out there reading this, I promise to keep in touch better from now on. I owe you about 300 emails.

Bill has also written a vast number of superbly surreal and wondrous stories. Among which is one of the most inspired, funny and smartest things I have ever read.

"What are you working on at the moment?" I asked him once.
"Oh" he said. "A short story. I'm re-writing The Story of O, but without the sex."
Reader, I was baffled. And then, much later, I read it. And was so delighted when I saw what he'd done. Yes, the sex had been entirely written out. But it was exactly the same. It had become a dark tale of dominoes, crosswords and chess.

It is so, so much better than the original.

I hope, Bill, that is ok for me to post a tiny excerpt from it here.

One evening René said to O: “There’s someone I’d like you to meet. An Englishman.”
“Oh ?” said O.
“He’s called Sir Stephen. He’s sort of my brother or something.”
A grey haired, athletic-looking man appeared. O liked him all the more when she discovered how well he could play chess. He had a FIDE rating of 2374. They played a long game of chess that evening, while René stared over her shoulder with stupefied admiration at Sir Stephen. Sir Stephen’s rooms were tastefully furnished in dark English mahogany and pale silks. On the walls were paintings of ancient worthies, holding up their fingers like smoking guns. Sir Stephen played White. 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 Nf6 4 d3 How he seemed to hold himself back, O reflected. How willing he seemed to take his time. 4 ... d6 5 c3 g6 6 Nbd2 Bg7 7 Nf1 0-0 8 Ba4 “You will find me a more redoubtable master than those you have been accustomed to, perhaps,” Sir Stephen said. “If you mean those at ‘Fernlea’,” O replied, “they were absolutely rubbish.” Sir Stephen chuckled mirthlessly 8 ... Nd7 9 Ne3 Nc5 10 Bc2 Ne6 11 h4 Ne7 12 h5 d5 “Yes,” said O, “I could even beat them blindfold.” 13 hxg6 fxg6 14 exd5 “You should be careful,” said Sir Stephen. “You don’t know who you might be talking to.” ... Nxd5 15 Nxd5 Qxd5 16 Bb3 “Yeah right,” said O, and thought: like you were one of them ... ... Qc6 17 Qe2 Bd7 18 Be3 Kh8 19 0-0-0 “Well,” said Sir Stephen, “I’ll grant that you’ll receive different treatment here.” ... Rae8 20 Qf1! a5 21 d4! exd4 22 Nxd4 Bxd4 and what Sir Stephen did next greatly surprised her, 23 Rxd4! and O gasped and then blushed ... Nxd4 24 Rxh7+! while Sir Stephen smiled coldly ... Kxh7 25 Qh1+ Kg7 26 Bh6+ Kf6 27 Qh4+ Ke5 28 Qxd4+ “Should I resign myself ?” O wondered, but something would not let her, some pride, some desire to be brought low, to be brought really to her knees, and she said nothing Kf5 29 g4 mate.
“Oh bravo !” said René, “Sir Stephen, you are clever !” He picked up the knight. “What’s this funny piece that jumps all over the place ?”
Why some hotshot publisher hasn't snapped Bill up is beyond me. Really beyond me. One day, he's going to be very, very famous.


Heidi the Hick said...

Please tell Bill that I LOOVE the crow book!

And I'm so bad at writing letters too. That's why I blog. aaaahhhhhh!!!!!!

Mary said...

O, I love the crow book, too, and O I love the chess-mated story of O.

Prairie Mary