Academic journal article The Hudson Review

How Dosty Did It

Academic journal article The Hudson Review

How Dosty Did It

Article excerpt

How Dosty Did It

MANY YEARS AGO I ENROLLED IN A CREATIVE WRITING WORKSHOP that had all the usual prerequisites for the first session; a dozen tyros gathered around a large conference table, each with a novel in progress that begged for criticism and would find willing critics in all the others; the instructor, a graduate of a prestigious MFA program outlining her goals for the group; and fifteen minutes later, a bearded young man with intense eyes and a rucksack on his back who opened the door, stared for a moment, and looked for an empty seat.

"I'm afraid this course is full," the instructor said in a firm but kindly manner. "Everyone who registered is already present, and the class has limited enrollment."

"But I need to be here," he said with a rising intonation in his voice.

She courteously repeated her edict, but he took a seat and began unpacking a manuscript, perhaps eight hundred typewritten pages, wrapped in plastic and secured with large rubber bands.

"You'll have to speak with the registrar and find another class."

He shook his head and lifted the bale of paper. "But I have it all done, I've been working on this for three years," he said, his words now colored with annoyance bordering on anger. His eyes were wide, hair disheveled, the beard bushy and unkempt.

"You will have to leave now or I'll call security," the instructor said, concerned that he had more threatening things in his pack.

He gritted his teeth, put away the manuscript, then stormed out.

The class was deathly silent while the instructor looked apologetic but in need of validation.

"I hope the young Dostoevski doesn't go home and stick his head in the oven because of you," one student said. (So much for validation.)

All of us wondered what the pages contained: words of genius, mystical rhapsodies of writing, or just the ramblings of a disturbed person. But I suppose Dostoevski inspired the same reaction at first glance. His books are filled with desperate types and troubled times, stories that are told with urgency, but I suggest the master's method was a controlled urgency, if that isn't an oxymoron. Forming raw emotion and experience into drama requires a structure to keep a pace and lead one scene into the next in some coherent fashion. Aim is as important as ammunition. Few writers can attain Dosty's level, but some new novels considered herein exhibit this principle of control without diluting the passion.

John Banville has won many accolades as the creator of serious literary fiction, but writing under the pen name Benjamin Black (is it a pen name if you reveal it on the book jacket?) has created a crime-suspense novel1 that transports us back to Dublin of the 1950s, a damp, smoky, whiskey-stained place where the aristocrats who live in fine houses in Merrion Square try to distance themselves from the down at the heels men poring over the racing forms in the cheap bars of Grafton Street, but who in truth only conceal their secrets and scandals better.

Malachy Griffin and his adopted brother Quirke, sons of a prominent judge, both become physicians who marry sisters and suffer the burdens of close connection through their whole lives. Mal is an obstetrician, cool and correct, the man who tells women what they should do, while Quirke, the more morose personality, opts for death and disease. "I'm no more morbid than the next pathologist," he says in describing himself. But the darkness of the laboratory and the comforts of drink give him safe harbor from the even more dispiriting world of the living. "Quirke, still in his gown and green rubber apron, sat on a high stool by the big steel sink, smoking a cigarette and thinking. . . . The cold tap in one of the sinks had an incurable slow drip, and the fluorescent bulb in the big multiple lamp over the dissecting table flickered and buzzed."

When the body of Christine Falls is brought in for his examination, Quirke becomes involved in the mystery not only of her death but the circumstances of her life. …

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