|That Body of Work
Author: JHeartbreak PM
I'm taking looks at different authors on Fiction Press, trying to make sense of it all. A mix of a READING GUIDE and LITERARY CRITICISM. Updated whenever. As far as I can see, all the stories will be SLASH.Rated: Fiction T - English - Chapters: 14 - Words: 32,692 - Reviews: 42 - Favs: 21 - Follows: 35 - Updated: 10-08-12 - Published: 01-18-12 - id: 2989614
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That Body of Work – Special Edition
This isn't an ordinary segment of "That Body of Work". No, tonight I'm looking at an author I've already talked about, but going more in-depth.
I wrote an article on xanthofile a while ago. I had a lot to say, but in the end I had to conclude that it was beyond my powers to really dig into their work. I singled out "Wyatt" and "Letters to Maine" as their two strongest stories.
Well, I've been giving it some thought, and I have more to say on the subject. Please read on.
While xanthofile's writing spans many different kinds of people, old people, young people, people of all races and many cultures, people who would never think of certain things (like incest) and others who can think of only those things, people from the distant past and future. However, all the best writing that they have put out falls into one fairly narrow category. Which is my way of saying: xanthofile can go broad, but to go deep, they have to stick to one patch of ground.
The stories that are the most powerful, the most impressive, the most memorable, all have a few things in common. In this category I include "Wyatt", "Pony", "My Perfect Uncle", "Step-Brothers" and, let's say, their most recent story, the rewritten "Self-Proclaimed Messiah". If you go and read these stories, you will understand what I mean.
Firstly, their protagonists are somehow very overwhelmingly alone. Some, like Drew from "My Perfect Uncle", make themselves alone, but most, like Colt from "Pony", or Wyatt from the story of the same name, are simply introduced to us that way. This is a painful aloneness. The character can't always see how much in pain he is, but the reader can. Like Saul from "Stepbrothers", who doesn't let on how much he is hurt by his mother's indifference and his assault by his friend's older brother, but is shown clearly by his actions to suffer.
The one tiny gap in this aloneness is the protagonist's relationship with his lover. That's what produces such emotional storytelling in each case, the tension between this incredible suffering and aloneness, and the very tiny and practically insignificant love of another person that somehow makes it all worthwhile. It's the sensation that we are presented with something infinitely valuable that is also infinitely fragile. That the slightest change in circumstances could end up with a double-suicide (or equivalent).
This comes out most clearly in "Wyatt", which I think is why I found it to be the best. The loneliness is made so complete – and illustrated as all-encompassing by the length of the story – and the love is so fitful and emotionally dangerous. And, in the end, we are given not assurance, but the hope that things could work out, if we're lucky.
The relationship between the two lovers is usually a microcosm of that same relationship with the universe. Xanthofile's lovers frequently fight, misunderstand each other on the most basic level, and seem to have some kind of fundamental ambivalence about each other. They push each other away, and pull each other back. Without this push and pull the stories would have none of the dramatic conflict and tension which make them so enjoyable.
This is my 'rule' for xanthofile's stories, just a generalization that will of course not cover all of the options, but seems to fit alright to me. It explains, anyhow, how the stories go about their work, if nothing else. But there is one big glaring exception to this rule
The second story I mentioned as being xanthofile's best is "Letters to Maine". This story does not match my description in the least. The characters aren't lonely, aren't ambivalent about each other, and their misunderstandings are only temporary. After I wrote about it last time, I reviewed it. Here's my review:
"I came back to reread this story, and it's even better the second time. There's something very Edenic about it. The first scene is set in some green natural place, and most of the later scenes are set doing yard work. I'm not sure how to reconcile that to the feelings of melancholy and wistfulness that predominate until Henry's return, but it's palpably there. It also occurs to me that this story is set very much on the cusp of adulthood. It has Trent getting his first job, getting his first bank account, and dealing with the troubles of growing up. Not to say it's a 'coming of age' story; I think it is more like a 'threshold' story. This story is just so endlessly rewarding. I feel like I could read it again and again."
It also occurs to me that this story is set very much on the cusp of adulthood. It has Trent getting his first job, getting his first bank account, and dealing with the troubles of growing up. Not to say it's a 'coming of age' story; I think it is more like a 'threshold' story.
This story is just so endlessly rewarding. I feel like I could read it again and again."
That Edenic thing that entranced me, I think I understand it now. The Garden of Eden, of course, is the Biblical place where people were made, ate from the tree of something or other, and 'fell' into the world we know today. When I was calling it Edenic, I meant that it felt like before that Fall, like a world before the harsh strain and hurt of this one.
Henry and Trent, the protagonists, know almost nothing of the loneliness and solitude of Wyatt or Colt. They are so firmly each other's and together, that it is hard for me to imagine anything that could genuinely separate them. The worst that happens is their little misunderstanding over letters, which is based all around love (Trent's desire to surprise Henry with his new muscles) and ends without anyone's feelings hurt.
Although I put an emphasis on 'growing up' in my review, and my whole comparison with the Garden of Eden implies a fall into something else, I don't think that the world of "Letters to Maine" would Fall into the world of "Wyatt" just because the characters grew up or something. Wyatt grew up in a lonely world, and Henry and Trent didn't, and that's their separate business.
What I believe is that these two expressions of reality only really make sense side-by-side. Such a vivid depiction of human suffering requires a picture of human comfort. A story so completely soothing implies something needing to be soothed. Of the two worlds, I think the hellish one is more predominant – not only because more stories of xanthofile's depict it, but because it doesn't require the Edenic world as much as the Edenic one requires it. Perhaps.
What I am trying to do, the point of this whole article, is to give us a sense of what animates xanthofile's world. What makes their sad stories sad, their happy stories happy? There is still a lot we need to know to figure it out; for example, the place that sex has in this whole situation hasn't been addressed. But I hope I've provided a kind of framework for us to see how all of their stories interrelate, and form one big galaxy of stories.
I have other author's I would really like to get working on for "That Body of Work", but lately, most of my criticism energy has been going to my music blog. Hopefully sometime soon though. I want to mention author's I would like to write about, and who you can go check out now if you want: Kris Quinn ("Unavoidable Boundaries" is a must"), dustmouth, Happy Hippie, GreenGrass1, and SeventhSwan of course (for whom most of you will need no introduction.)