Anne, of the excellent blog Fernham, couldn't be with us this week because she's been busy having a baby. (We gave her a pass this time. Congratulations, Anne!) However, she prepared a post in advance on the use of language in The Girl in the Glass. Without further ado:
My heart sank a little when I began reading The Girl in the Glass. Since then, the very thing that first made me wonder if Jeffrey Ford could pull it off brought me joy. The language samples exuberantly not just from one specialized palette, but from many. What a wicked, lovely ride. He pulls it off. Lucky us who get to read it.
In the first paragraph, we read “the orange dot on its lower wings told me it was an alfalfa, Colias eurytheme.” Oh dear, I thought, butterflies. Impossible to write of them without recalling Nabokov; impossible to recall Nabokov without the present book disappointing.
Then, a page later, chapter two begins: “Every time the widow Morrison cried, she farted, long and low.”
Jeffrey Ford is not Nabokov nor is he trying to be. I love that “long and low”: something so sweetly comic in the plaintive fart.
The Girl in the Glass is set in Depression Era New York. In the mansions of Long Island where these charlatans hold séances for the rich and grieving, it is possible to imagine bumping into some of the minor, shadier characters at the edges of Gatsby’s parties. But this is another world, populated by intelligent autodidacts, odd, confident, and marginal like the men in Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn or Moehringer’s memoir, The Tender Bar. This lets Ford sample the lingo of petty crime, carnies, magic and mediums, entomology, literature, psychology, and general Depression Era slang. In itself, this is an exuberant, amusing list: I was not surprised to learn that Ford has a Ph.D. and that he claims to have spent most of his time in graduate school paying attention to other things than his studies: his writing has just that delightful, amazing energy of that guy you always want to buy another pitcher of beer in the grad school dive bar because he’s just so funny to listen to.
What makes it all sing are those moments when the worlds collide. Here Diego, who is at once posing as a young Kim-like Swami and being tutored for better things, tries to figure out what it means that his surrogate father, an extraordinary charlatan of a medium, has seen a ghost. What I love in this passage is the easy marriage of tough talk and Freud:
”He’s taken people six ways to Sunday for years. So he sees a little girl. What’s a little girl?”
“What?” I asked.
“Innocent, he said.
“Antony,” I said, “you should move to Vienna and hang a shingle.”
“Hang my ass.”