Here’s the first paragraph of Teju Cole’s new short story “Farewell Tour” —
Frank Low told me this one Friday night in Times Square. He said he’d been transfixed by “Lavoisier and His Wife” at the Metropolitan Museum that past Wednesday afternoon, and in telling me about it, he had the hesitant manner of someone trying to remember the precise wording of a poem. When his words came, they came complete. He had read the wall label next to the painting and noted that 222 years had passed since it was made. The text read: “Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794) and His Wife (Marie-Anne-Pierrette Paulze, 1758-1836)”. The picture was, historically speaking, an intake of breath, a preparation for what was to come. Within a year after David painted it the Bastille was stormed. When it came to revolutions Low himself would rather there were none. He preferred order, lived as he liked, in a world of well-kept invoices and precise appointments, a world in which he never spent beyond his means. The Jean-Georges dinner on Tuesday night had been an unusual extravagance that he hadn’t mentioned to his wife. She might have thought it odd, rightly so, given that he hadn’t worked in three months.
Read the rest of “Farewell Tour.”
4 thoughts on “Read “Farewell Tour,” New Short Fiction from Teju Cole”
Reblogged this on Progressive Geographies and commented:
Biblioklept links to a new short story by Teju Cole.
I don’t know why, exactly, I mean I can’t quite put my finger on it just yet, but I can’t stand his diction, his syntax, his style. Very plain, and not the way Bolaño’s (translated) style is plain. (Whenever I read Bolaño’s (translated) prose I’m reminded of Beckett’s commentary, after reading The Castle, on Kafka: ‘I am wary of disasters that let themselves be recorded like a statement of accounts.’ Not so, I.) Cole is boring and boring through and through, the best I could say about his work is that it’s not an agonizing boredom of the like most American and British writers turn out lately from their workshops and their conferences and their weekend writers’ groups. But I’m young, 26, an unlettered high school dropout, what do I know.
I love his style. I think what he’s really, really good at is producing the illusion that there is no style at work in the text—that there’s little or no mediation between the speaker and what the speaker is presenting to the auditor. It was one of the things I liked most about Open City—the gap between what the narrator Julius presented as truth and the other story, just under the surface.
You might like it more later, although maybe not—who knows. Taste changes. Still, I think Open City is really, really good, one of the best new novels by an American in ages. I’ve tried to read Proust half a dozen times and just Don’t Get It. I also hated Faulkner forever and then something clicked and I fell in love with his stuff.
It’s funny to hear you say Bolaño’s style is “plain” — which I suppose it is in places — because I tend to think of it as vacillating between this dark romantic stuff to this tone that ironizes and mocks the romanticism to that very flat, “plain,” almost procedural rhythm. But I guess it’s all about what voice he’s inhabiting.
I don’t think it’s an illusion. I think others’ comparisons of Cole to Sebald are accurate, but they end there: comparisons, that’s all. There’s a similarity. But I’d rather read Sebald, Cole’s superior in every way, I think. I was eager to read Open City after coming across some of the reviews for it. Perhaps—perhaps—it’s my dislike of so-called 9/11 novels, 9/11 fiction, whatever. I don’t know. It’s Christmas Eve eve, I’m tired, and wikipedia tells me Cole’s been compared as well to Joseph O’Neill and Zadie Smith, two writers I hate. I suppose it’s a problem I have with contemporary Anglo-American writers generally. Only Josh Cohen (an acquaintance, admittedly) writes originally and well, it seems, and his work isn’t especially interesting to me either.
There’s style and then there’s tone. Even Bolaño’s extravagance is plain, but yes, the tone changes, doubles back on itself, reverses course against the wind. His (translated) prose plainness is wholly complementary to his aims, and so too his tone, together.