Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Remission - Mavis Gallant

Mavis Gallant Born, August 11, 1922

I have found that with my research into the author of this short – Mavis Gallant, that I developed and appreciation of the story much more after dashing through her life bundled together for me on the net.

With my years of searching, finding, distilling out the most useful parts of a requested subject, and delivering clean material - my ability to absorb important and meaningful information happens pretty rapidly.

One of the reasons why I need to slow down when I am reading these stories – to ingest them as I would pre-Google. There is something to be said for quick absorption but a slow digestion has its merits.

Discovering Gallant has been pleasurable. Once again, Elkin presents a “longer” story and I initially found it difficult to push through this one.

I actually wrote a post concerning my difficulties with this BASS volume but I am holding onto it a bit longer so that I may continue to gauge my problems.

When I assemble these posts, my first step is usually to find a picture of the author. This allows me to get slightly closer. Look into their eyes, to imagine what they were thinking when they wrote the story. Who are they? What have they done? What will they do?

I found several shots of Gallant and included my favorite with this post and my second in the next post. Both are of her when she was a few years younger. She remarked in an online article for Slate that a more recent photo of her looked like a boiled potato. A bit harsh on herself.

I was quite taken by the above photo. Where is she? What is she looking at? And, let’s be honest - she is in short – very pretty.

After I find a photo of the author, I do some back grounding of the author. Birth date, awards, quotes.

I then write a little piece about what the story gave to me and will offer my opinion and usually end up writing a bunch of nonsense.

Again, this whole project is for me. Talking to myself.

I have found that putting it online is convenient and will give those who stumble across it a little surprise or two. (Especially a living author who Googles themselves and happens across their name associated with an old story). I often think that my children will discover it someday and know a little more about their father. Children I don’t even have.

Below are some quotes that really stood out as I looked into Gallant.

Timothy Foote called Gallant "one of the prose masters of the age," and added that no modern writer "casts a colder eye on life, on death and all the angst and eccentricity in between."

Dictionary of Literary Biography essayist Ronald B. Hatch observed that the subject of children, "alone, frightened, or unloved," recurs often in Gallant's work.

Gallant told the New York Times: "I think it's true that in many, many of the things I write, someone has vanished. And it's often the father.

Foote (again) "Gallant rarely leaves helpful signs and messages that readers tend to expect of 'literature':

And it is this last observation that really stood out to me in retrospect as I assessed what “The Remission” gave me.

Within “The Remission” I found a lesson that has been presented to me in other forms in previous stories.

As much as we like to think that we are the center of the universe, the world keeps spinning... or stops spinning regardless of the influence we think we have over it. People around us, our family and loved ones, live their lives, lives that are both known to us and those that are secret. Changes occur within them that we can measure by alterations in their physical shape as well as their mental standing...but the most significant are usually the changes that occur within them that are only known to them.

We die and the world does not crumble as we disintegrate into the earth...days, weeks and years pass and finally, someday, we fail to exist even as a memory.

We have a short time on this earth. And then- we are gone forever.

Mavis gave me a needed gut-check with this story.

Score - 8 out of 10.


  1. Hey-

    Just found this blog and am overjoyed. I've done this same thing (to a lesser and much less admirable) extent over the past five years, since I began collecting BASS books. I've been trying to get all that were ever in print, but I only have from about 1980. The sort of jewel of my collection though is a 1962 BASS that has a Thomas Pynchon short story in it.

    Anyway, I wanted to say thank you and tell you how impressed I am with your project. It's really nice to feel like someone else cares about the form and the series to a great extent. I enjoy your posts a great deal as well and am looking forward to reading through the backlog.


    Arna Hemenway

  2. Actually, I just realized the 1962 Thomas Pynchon story was in the O. Henry Prize Stories, which I also collect. Sorry about that. The earliest BASS I have is 1972.