04 January 2009

A Genre with No Name

(June 26 to January 4? I have no bad excuses and no good reasons. OFW.)

I am eagerly reading Love and Longing in Bombay by (sigh) Vikram Chandra, whose writing grabbed my brain, heart, and ear when I read Sacred Games. What I had initially thought was a novel turned out to be an 800-page commitment that I loved reading until about page 350, when I fell into a swirling, breathless, synapse-popping adoration of every word, phrase, and character.

But Love and Longing in Bombay is called a collection of five stories and it is not a group of stories, at least not any more than The Women of Brewster Place or The Men of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor, Sylvia Watanabe's Talking to the Dead, and other books that are of a genre that may have begun with Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. There are others that I am having trouble remembering. The Temple of My Familiar, my favorite work by my favorite writer, Alice Walker, may fall into this genre, although it has been a long time since I last read it, and my memory--- well, let's just say I do much better in the memory department than I have a right to, and I will leave miracles well enough alone.

All of these writings are the offspring of novels and short stories; their sections may be read separately, but when combined, they are greater than the sum of their proverbial parts. It may be that the characters interact in many tales and/or the themes collide and/or there is a frame that unites seemingly dissimilar narratives.

There are enough of these writings to merit their own name. So what do we call them?
  • "Portmanteau" comes to mind, but it carries too strong a whiff of Lewis Carroll whimsy, and I don't know that the French would approve or that they deserve the credit.

  • "Nova," a back-formation blend of "novel" and "novella"? Nah, the plural would be "novae," which is too unwieldy, and goodness knows, smacks of the villain elitism. [How did it become a social sin to be articulate? Don't we want world leaders to be both educated and thoughtful? I'll leave that rant for another time.]

  • "Helix"? It works as an apt metaphor; the amino acids accomplish together what they can not do alone and form something totally different in the meantime. It is derived from a Greek word descended from the Latin word that means "to roll, wrap," according to our friends at webster.com. In DNA, a helix takes on a third dimension that "spiral" does not, and the depth of the interactions among connected narratives is what makes this my favorite genre. But, the plural is "helices" or "helixes," and the term may require more explanation than it's worth.

  • My mind initially tossed up "masala" before another part of my brain shot it down, ground the idea under its heel, and kicked the mushy scraps into the gutter. The word comes from the Hindi-Urdu term for "materials, ingredients, spices" and, from the phrase garam masala, a blend of "hot spices," [Thanks again, Webster-ji.] is often used to refer to the mixture of genres in Hindi movies, which can have major strands of romance, religious tolerance, political activism, and thrillers without sweating from the effort. "Masala" is used too often for my tastes, if you will pardon the pun. At least it has not become as cloyingly ubiquitous as "awesome," one of my least favorite verbal tics in English. Of course, someone who uses "great," "cool," and (yes, dear Dog, yes,) "neat" as often as I do should not complain.

  • Hmmm. "Tenement tales"? I liked it for a moment, as it refers to many inhabitants and their separateness and connectedness within one structure, but the connotations are not pretty. It does get points for alliteration, but there is the air of an urban setting that is not always accurate.

  • "Condo stories" has the opposite class connotations, and "condo knitting," a style of faux knitted lace in which rows are knit alternately with one small needle and one very large needle, really frightens me, and I don't scare easily. I couldn't find any pictures that convey the horror well enough. Maybe there are sorts that do not bring about fiber nightmares.

  • In addition to the DNA image, there is a woven-ness in this genre with no name that could be fuel for naming, if I knew anything about weaving. "Shuttle," "warp," "weft," nope: in order they smack of sci-fi, sci-fi and/or twisted ugly shit, and a word that will need to be explained every time.

  • "Herringbone" just caught in my throat, and I am "acking" like Bill the Cat.

Any ideas?

To get back to where I started, one of the things I am enjoying about reading Love and Longing in Bombay is that some of the characters from Sacred Games show up in a prequel tale. (Celie and Shug Avery from The Color Purple turned up in The Temple of My Familiar, and I think I cried.) The character Sartaj Singh may in some way be based on the real-life police officer Vijay Salaskar who was killed during the attack on Mumbai in late November. Salaskar was interviewed for Maximum City: Bombay, Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta and may have been part of Chandra's research, as the two traveled together at times; see here for my blog entry about reading this.)

I have been feeling a rereading of Sacred Games coming on since I finished it. I had read about 100 pages and set it aside, then I was given a copy [Thanks, Mom!] and I read it after photocopying the 18-page glossary and using it while reading so as to not wreck my concentration or the binding of the book. I liked the novel Red Earth and Pouring Rain well enough---it is also made up of interconnected tales, but the frame story is overt enough to call it a novel--- but Sacred Games and Love and Longing in Bombay make me want to read everything Chandra has ever written.

But first, I have to read more introductory paragraphs to research papers. This example is from the writing of a 16- or 17-year-old student with no diagnosed learning disabilities; I have modified it slightly in order to protect the indefensible. I gave students guidelines about what an introductory paragraph should be, such as no first- or second-person referents and the inclusion of the thesis statement therein, but it is not evident from his writing.

My project is on the life of otter's. I'm going write on the haBitat, what they eat, How they Breed, even how they catch there food. I want to learn all about this fantastic animal.

Thesis: I am writing on how otter's live, Breed, eat. This will Be a fun project.

"Sweet Jesus, child," I thought. "It won't be fun for me. I wasn't planning to teach fourth graders how to write high school research papers. Do you believe in euthanasia?"


P.S. I tried adding links to titles as I wrote, but the different colors and my constant parenthetical injections made the page look as if I hadn't taken my ADD meds today, but I did, even if I have used blogging today as one of the most blatant excuses to avoid grading papers. So, here are links to the books written about above. Please don't tell me I "referenced" them; I'll cry.

Love and Longing in Bombay by Vikram Chandra
Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor
The Men of Brewster Place [the independent bookstore search engine wants to sell only as audio cassettes, for some damned reason] by Gloria Naylor
Talking to the Dead by Sylvia Watanabe
Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker
Maximum City: Bombay, Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta
Red Earth and Pouring Rain by Vikram Chandra

1 comment:

Linda said...

I will work on it. are you on ravelry?