Lace curtains

Superintendent’s house, Fayette, Michigan, a ghost town.

Looking back at my overall impressions of fiction published in English over the last hundred years or so, I keep thinking most stories are best in the first third, and weakest in the last third. Few, however, achieve the elegance Jim Harrison invests in the opening lines of The Beast that God Forgot to Invent:

The danger of civilization, of course, is that you will piss away your life on nonsense. The discounted sociologist Jared Schmitz, who was packed off from Harvard to a minor religious college in Missouri befoe earning tenure when a portion of his doctoral dissertation was proven fraudulent, stated that in a culture in the seventh stage of rabid consumerism the peripheral alwyas subsumes the core, and the core disappears to the point that very few of the citizenry can recall its precise nature. Schmitz had stupidly confided to his lover, a graduate student, that he had in fact invented certain French and German data, and when he abandoned her for a Boston toe dancer this graduate student ratted on him. This is neither specifically here nor there to our story other than to present an amusing anecdote on the true nature of academic life. Also, of course, the poignant message of a culture spending its time as it spends its money; springing well beyond the elements of food, clothes, and shelter into the suffocating welter of the unnecessary that has become necessary.

Not only is this fine fiction, but it is provocative. After all, is rabid consumerism really a foregone conclusion in civilizations? Do you in fact spend your time as you do your money, or are you more parsimonious in one than the other?

What among the unnecessary has become necessary for you? Beyond the internet, I mean….

Read a longer excerpt of Harrison’s story here. Or make the tale “necessary” and dig it up at your local library or bookstore….

Comments are closed.