The Aspirin Papers

Henry James’ novella, The Aspern Papers, is about an unscrupulous obsessive who tries to deceive two vulnerable women to obtain the objects of his desire, the letters of a long-dead poet.

This, “The Aspirin Papers,” is about a group of unscrupulous obsessives who try to deceive all of America to fulfill their obsessive desire: a return to an ancient dreamtime when men ruled the universe and women, when not dutifully and passively prone before their masters, kept their mouths shut.

Reference is made, obviously, to the following comment from Foster Friess the Fabulous Plutocrat and Rick Santorum mega-contributor:

You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.

Friess was commenting on the wildly anachronistic dust-up over contraception, during which some Catholic bishops and other members of Friess’ all-male club decided that employers ought to have the right to deny insurance coverage of contraceptives to their female employees.

The scoundrel and narrator of James’ story, says, “It is not supposed easy for women to rise to the large free view of anything.” Friess & Company agree, I assume, and call upon science to confirm that “the large free view” is simply unavailable to womankind owing to the decumbency of their holy and true vocations, pleasing men and birthing babies.

Implicit in Friess’ statement is the belief that women are always there before their male superiors, their legs open and inviting. Depending upon circumstances, this is, in the Friess frame, either proper, wifely duty or such devilish temptation that it is too much to ask even god-faring men to resist. Therefore, steps must be taken. Here, ladies, please hold this aspirin in place with your knees until you are called upon. Continue reading “The Aspirin Papers”

The Sex Was Better Than It Felt: The Literary Power of the Barb

MARK_TWAIN_459382gm-bOf  Wagner’s operas, Mark Twain said, “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.” That’s a lot like a disappointed lover saying, “No worries. The sex was better than it felt.”

Twain could shoot, and he was hard to hit. William Faulkner called Twain:

[a] hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven ‘sure fire’ literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.

Faulkner falls a bit short of Twain in the critical barb business.  I almost want to seek out a tricked out skeleton. Anyway, nothing in Faulkner’s criticism of Twain is as good as Twain’s remark about James Fenimore Cooper:

In one place in Deerslayer, and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offences against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.

Martin Levin of the Globe and Mail has a piece about writers’ attacks on writers, “You Suck and So Does Your Writing.” Levin includes some fine examples, including this one:

Consider Tibor Fischer’s celebrated execution of a Martin Amis novel: “Yellow Dog isn’t bad as in not very good or slightly disappointing. It’s not-knowing-where-to-look bad. … It’s like your favourite uncle being caught in a school playground, masturbating.” The review gained Fischer more attention than his novels ever had.

Ouch. Then there’s this: Continue reading “The Sex Was Better Than It Felt: The Literary Power of the Barb”