Index card fiction

Index card fiction

“Language leads a double life—
and so does the novelist”
—Kingsley Amis, “The problem
with Nabokov,” The Guardian,
14 November 2009

“As Laura was unfinished and Nabokov often wrote the middle section of his stories last…”

Ah yes, there’s the rub: “Nabokov often wrote the middle section of his stories last…”

Getting the beginning going—and having the narrative ending firmly in mind. That’s the easy part I’d think.

The hard part, the fun part—that would be the ludic playing out of the Montreux meanderings in the middle. At least for me—that Nevernever land of the Lewis Carroll “Hunting of the Snark” middleground—that for me would be the ultimage chessgame-like compositional fun & games part of the process…

The actual living-day-to-day family life part of the novel—the thing Faulkner talked about and didn’t want to leave. The Sound and the Fury scenario—falling in love young Caddy and her dirty drawers up in the tree. Benjy, Jason and Quentin—that whole ongoing Yoknapatawpha stream of consciousness reverberating through Deep South decadence and oozing south of the border thanks to Borges.

It’s that long lovely “Ada Archipelago” process—that’s the fun part.

Puttering around in the comic evening charascuro of Pale Fire’s “in-between” otherworldly garden.

Taking Lolita to the Bijou—letting her choose which matinee lover she liked the most. Cool ironic James Mason—or blubbery-lipped morose Jeremy Irons?

Meandering in the pale afternoon sunlight—beneath the palatial ruins of the Montreux Palace Hotel. Thumbing through some index cards…

Enjoying another lovely Montreux matinee day—with no class to teach or papers to read. Just sitting out there in front of the hotel alone on a bench. Enjoying what every writer surely loves to do—letting something like Poe’s “The Oval Portrait” extrapolate luxuriously in the clean cool Swiss mountain air.

The Montreux Palace hotel—that charming old chateau, a pile of commingled gloom and grandeaur. Nabokov’s apartment up there in the topmost remote turret of the building—where Peter Ustinov once lived and tromped around above Vladimir’s head. Creating the trompe l'œil illusion of a Fresco dome “loud” painting on its low vaulting—like some church in Vienna done by Andrea Pozzo.

But now, after Peter moved out, how lovely to be there in Ustinov’s apartment—with nobody above him and Vera. Not even a likeable fellow Russian émigré friend.

To enjoy once again that St. Petersburg rich luxury so suddenly taken from him—but given back to him just as that Speak, Memory dream with Uncle Ruka predicted. With the help, of course, of a lucrative Lolitaesque movie contract—and years of American exile learning the strange English language with all its fascinating poshlust peculiarities and Wild West motel peccadillos.

To bid Vera goodnight—to close the heavy shudders and pull the fringed curtains of black velvet closed which covered the bizarre chateau’s windows. To contemplate the lingering chariscuro light of the tall candelabrum standing by the head of the bed.

To peruse perhaps a small volume of verse, propped up by some convenient pillows. To daydream once again as Poe did—about Aurora Lee or was it Laura Lee—or how many other young teenage Lolitas across the land, framed in richly gilded filagreed Moresque, vignetting momentarily in his vaccuous imagination, the life-likenesses of how many young subdued Lauras, contemplating all those confounding virgins bored in the backrows of his boring lectures at Wellesley and Cornell, with Vladimir droning on with Nikolai Gogol-like ogling eyeballs and obscene subversive Snozzola smirks, opining on dreary Monday mornings about poor Franz Kafka’s cockroach transformations, the yawning Cornell football players heavy with their all-American hangovers from the weekend before, to say nothing of what’s his name and those troublesome short stories Ultima Thule and Solus Rex…

Perhaps it’s the best this way—leading a double life. To have lost it all—and then to have gotten it all back again. To have been matured by frightening WWI weltschmerz and terrible WWII world-weariness. To have written all the novels he wrote—to have played all the Pnin chess games he was obliged to play. Rather than ending up a spoiled Russian playboy—in some haunted Europe without the Revolution or the wars. Just think of all the schadenfreude shed for others that he missed out on—that ironically ended up aimed at him instead?

Sadistically fickle fat fate—as Kingsley Amis and Humbert Humbert call it. But cheer up—the reader gets to vicariously languish and die with Nabokov the late great but still dying Russian author in his hospital bed. It’s not just the short story “Laura”—in this new book that’s struggling toward being novella. It’s the whole compositional process—that gets “The Man with the X-Ray Eyes” Ray Milland literary treatment.
Nabokov’s loathsome belly moaning and groaning, his elephantine constipated stomach clogging his thoughts, the heartburn and indigestion from too rich restaurant food, then embarrassment of doing number one and two confined to a bed, depending on some lovely young nurse to wipe his ass, to find himself regressed from his once proud handsome Monarch butterfly status—to nothing but a pusillanimous pupa or lepidopteral larva lump of you know what…gasping for air.

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