To the editors.
My mother gave me Best American Short Stories 1987 this year for Christmas and I was thrilled. I’ve set it aside, however, half-read, thanks to the tedium noted by Sara Frankel in her review, “Tedium Is the Message” [April 1].
So far, I have different favorites, mine being “Men Under Water,” by Ralph Lombreglia, and “The Lover of Women,” by Sue Miller. Both stories delighted and frightened me by catching the cruelties and distances, frank humor and constant irony, and incessant senseless swirl of our lives, but, like Frankel, I read Beattie’s introductory essay and the other stories looking in vain for the point.
Finding none, I continue to assume that the authors write about characters dragged down in pointless lives because that’s what they see. Writers have always written about what they see. Today’s picture isn’t pretty. I walk down the street remembering Yeats’ line, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” Seems like we’re whirling pretty wide of the falconer these days, if there is one.
Writers have been bemoaning the meaninglessness of life since they began to feel it. Maybe the contemporary writers are in a transitional stage, post-pointlessness, on the way to or on the way back to something. (I don’t know what.) I know I live in a kind of dilemma summed up as, “I can’t do anything I don’t believe in, and right now I don’t believe in anything.” But I’m hoping to conquer that, not by believing in falconers or false gods, but by doing something anyway, or in spite of. In spite of what?: the apparent fact of pointlessness.
Maybe these Best American writers are saying, however tediously, that since we can’t put meaning back into a world bereft of meaning, it’s better not to notice, better just to get on with our apparently pointless lives. Maybe we’ll end by doing something, er, pointed . . . or even, perish the cliche, meaningful.
I may be wrong. The tedious writers may be merely cashing in on a trend. I may never understand the “hip literature.” I never understood the hip humor, either–I mean the David Letterman Show, etc. But it does seem to say, “Isn’t this stupid? Isn’t this trivial? Aren’t we hip? We, who understand that it is not worthwhile to make sense or to seek meaning or to communicate? Isn’t it better, I mean, more fun, just to disengage?”
Well, time, not I, will tell on the trendy, as has always been the case. And if, in time, no one bothers to read or is able to remember these tedious stories, the authors themselves will have to deal with the question, “So what was the point of writing them?”
Tedious and briefly yours,