Saturday, November 25, 2006


A student wrote an essay-story whose purpose was to end a text with the sentence, "When I woke up, I felt alive."

This reminded me of a one-sentence short story cited by Italo Calvino in Six Memos for the Next Millennium (which means for us): "When I woke up, the dinosaur was still there."

I found a reference to this on the web: it appears to have written by a Guatemalan writer named Augusto Monterroso. The Wikipedia page on Monterroso provides a different version of the story, in the third person! I don't have Calvino's book (I read it long ago, having borrowed it from a friend or the library), but I am sure he quotes it in the first person.

I also remember (perhaps incorrectly) how Calvino refers to Monterroso in his section on "quickness," but also refers to Robert Musil's The Man without Qualities as a book characterized by brevity, despite its being well over 1000 pages long (and unfinished). "Quickness" is a matter not only of length, but also of focus.


mrjumbo said...

My favorite short story is a line from Rain Dogs:

"She said she'd stick around till the bandages came off."

Not dead yet, so I must still be quick.


Andrew Shields said...

I was checking the context and discovered that the line is from "Time" (which is, of course, on the "Rain Dogs" album) and not from the song "Rain Dogs."

I know: Picky picky picky! :-)

Donald Brown said...

Ok, let's all cough up our favorite "novel or story in a line" from Waits:

Sitting in a sycamore in St. John's Wood/ Soaking day-old bread in kerosene

but there are so many...

I've always loved "as the dish outside the window fills with rain"

he got 40 years for lovin' her/ from some Oklahoma governor,/ said 'everything this doughboy does is wrong'

and of course "if you think that you could tell a bigger tale/ I swear to God you'd have to tell a lie."

Andrew Shields said...

"Telephone's ringin'; it's your second cousin" is one of my favorite snapshot stories in a TW song.

Which I always think of when I hear Bob sing "Floater":

I'm in love with my second cousin
I tell myself I could be happy forever with her

mrjumbo said...

Not to be a niggler for detail, but what makes that first line a story and not just an image is that it's got the full arc of a relationship in it:

They were together. Something happened. It's over. He's in bandages. She's done with him, but not so hard-hearted she'll leave before he recovers.

It's all implied, like the bull under Picasso's single curving line. (But check out how the mobile spins if you decide she's the one wearing the bandages.)

So it's not just a moment, or a frozen image. The shape of the line includes the memory of the rest of the story. And that's an efficiency to love.

Every time I drive past Tenkiller Reservoir, I think of that guy who got 40 years for lovin' her. And there's still nothing strange about an ax with bloodstains in the barn.

Donald Brown said...

Good gloss, but what I like about the sycamore in St. John's Wood is that I can't figure it out. There's GOT to be a story, it seems, but what it is isn't clear.

I guess the lines that occur to me that do what the bandages lines do, sorta is:

I begged you to stab me, you tore my shirt open, and I'm down on my knees tonight/ Old Bushmill's I stagger/ you buried the dagger/ in your silhouette window light.

Here I get that there was this "you might as well kill me" scene which she didn't follow through on; now our drunk hero staggers by her window and sees her in silhouette with someone -- which effectively buries the dagger after all.

And I'll never kiss a Gun St. girl again.