Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Denis Johnson's "Emergency" and Jayne Anne Philips' "Home"

Denis Johnson's "Emergency" was a strange, albeit entertaining story about a guy and his friend who work together in a hospital. The story transitions from a scene in a hospital where his friend Georgie is cleaning up a big mess to a scene where a man comes in with a knife sticking out of his eye, to a scene where the narrator and Georgie are driving around randomly and it turns into a small adventure so to speak. This story was strange because it seemed to be a collection of random thoughts, or memories the author had struggled to put together. He even mentions one time towards the top of page 283 that he is not sure whether the events he is describing really happened that way. The events transition suddenly, almost as if the story skipped forward randomly in time. Sometimes I wasn't really sure how much time had passed, or how each part of the story fit in with the last. After finishing the story, I've concluded that a lot of the parts didn't go together and I should stop trying to make the connections. I thought the title of the story was ironic. "Emergency" implies urgency and awareness and worry. This story contained none of those things. Time seemed to just roll onward in the story. Nobody seemed to care much about anything, or act with a sense of urgency. Even when Terrence Weber showed up with a hunting knife buried to the hilt in his left eye no one acted like it was an emergency. And I still don't understand how Georgie, high as a kite, pulled the knife out of Terrence's eye without killing him, or at least causing him to bleed out. My favorite part though had to be the random excursion into the woods in the snow where they stumbled upon the drive in theater. I thought it was pretty funny when the narrator thought he was seeing angels descending from on high and it made such a huge impact on him, until Georgie told him he was looking at a movie screen. The bunny part was sad and pretty disgusting. This whole story makes me wonder whether you can believe any of it happened the way it did. The narrator was obviously on an acid trip or something while riding in the car and wandering through the woods, and their conversations definitely reminded me of the kind of stuff a couple of overbaked stoners would talk about. So this story was strange and hard to make sense of, but very entertaining.

"Home" by Jayne Anne Phillips was a bit harder for me to get through. There doesn't seem to be as much to say about it as the first story. It's about a young woman who comes back home to live with her mother after college because she ran out of money. The mother and daughter do not get along. They bicker about little things and they don't agree with each others life style. The daughter doesn't like how her mother just sits on the couch all night watching TV and knitting. The daughter says she doesn't like how the mother never does anything. And she questions her mother's marriage to her father. The mother doesn't like that her daughter is somewhat promiscuous, proven at the end of the story when she hears her daughter having sex with Daniel in the morning before he left. This story had a few disturbing parts, like the dream that the daughter had about her father coming to her and trying to do dirty things to her in the night. Or when they were in the bar called the Rainbow, and she was recalling a time that she was pinched by a senior when she was twelve, and he then proceeded to rub up her thigh. On an unrelated note, the father obviously had problems because he sat in the dark all day and night in that blue chair and just smoked. He apparently didn't sleep much either because he was always climbing up and down the stairs in the middle of the night. I thought it was funny how the mother and daughter were so comfortable around each other physically and emotionally, yet they often did not get along. They could stand around each other naked all the time and talk about their naked bodies and talk about orgasms, but they couldn't talk out their problems without it turning into a fight like on page 417. My last thought was that it showed a bit of a never-ending cycle in this story. The mother only gave herself to her eventual husband, but got trapped in an awful marriage for 20 years. The daughter didn't want to end up like that, so she compensated by sleeping with several different guys. In the end they both had relationship problems and ended up alone and sex starved. The only difference was the mother continued to not have sex for fear that she would want it all the time, and the daughter handled it by calling up an old boyfriend and having a one night stand for "old times' sake". I also thought it was ironic that the mother had spent a long time taking care of her mother before she died, doing all the nasty things that had to be done. Now the narrator has come home and is sort of taking care of her mother, or at least keeping her company through what are apparently some rough times. Some more of the never-ending cycle stuff. Anyway this story wasn't bad either, although it made me feel a little uncomfortable at times. But at least it was easy to read.

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