“But the truthfulness of juxtapositions and deductions is sometimes better preserved on the near side of the verbal fence.” – Vladimir Nabokov, The Gift
Maybe it should be called: Inside The Brain of a Writer 101, by Vladimir Nabokov. The sausage making process in all of its fantastic wonder. The only problem is that his sausage tastes so good I can’t think of why I’d ever bother to make my own. I am left with my sad offerings of “bleeding stumps of verse,” Nabokov’s euphemism for excerpts and quotes. Chagrined but not deterred, I continue –
“But sometimes he envied the simple love life of other men and the way they probably had of whistling while taking off their shoes.” (178)
I think it is the word “probably” in that sentence that makes me love Nabokov so much. He is so astoundingly authentic in his description of life lived in the interior; he admits uncertainty, but come on -let’s have a little fun. He is never so profound and joyful as when he is at his most flippant:
“Because of her I almost forgot butterflies and completely overlooked the revolution.” (161)
Nabokov understands that all experience is sensual, even writing- especially writing. He is not one to leave out bodily or mental functions, and I love him dearly for it. This was Nabokov’s last book written in Russian, and I wish I had a deeper understanding of Russian literature with which to fully experience it, but my limited love affairs with Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Pushkin will have to do.
“Leave Pushkin alone: he is the gold reserve of our literature. And over there is Chekhov’s hamper, which contains enough food for years to come, and a whimpering puppy, and a bottle of Crimean wine.”
I like to think he is referring specifically to one of my all time favorite short stories, Chekhov’s The Lady With The Dog, I can’t remember if her dog ever whimpered, but there was a shared melon that stays with me…After all, does it matter if I comprehend every reference? At least I am getting to a point in my life where I know what I don’t know. Progress.
“And not only was Zina cleverly and elegantly made to measure for him by a very painstaking fate, but both of them, forming a single shadow, were made to the measure of something not quite comprehensive, but wonderful and benevolent and continuously surrounding them.” (189)
Yes. Perhaps my favorite description of love I have ever read, whether or not it is true I am left to wonder, but I like it all the same. “Made to the measure,” – it’s a lovely notion. A lovely image.
One can get lost inside Fydor’s mind, I think even he gets a little lost in his own mind at times. But the final chapter may just be one of the sweetest I’ve ever read and funny as well with a nude amble through a park’s woods that is forcibly protracted when his clothing is stolen.
There is much about you I don’t like- your Petersburg style, your Gallic taint, your neo-Voltaireanism and weakness for Flaubert- and I find, forgive me, your obscene sporty nudity simply offensive.” (353)
Fydor’s gift is his writing, or rather it is Nabokov showing us his writing from the inside out in a way that is of course a ridiculous impossibility to show, right up until the moment the words find your eyes and it becomes clear that it is an effortlessly obvious thing to show. What was I thinking?
“I have been reciting a fictitious dialogue with myself as supplied by a self-teaching handbook of literary inspiration.” (88)
Oh good, I’m not the only one.
In Nabokov’s view, Fate, apparently, is sweet to some, tenaciously, even insistently, bearing the gift of love. It’s delicious.