Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The body is a trench coat

I have found myself again and again thinking of this passage from Lionel Shriver's Double Fault (here were my extended musings on the novel last year). The protagonists--both aspiring professional tennis players--are having sex on a tennis court, giving rise to the main character's musing on what a different writer might call body and soul: “She always felt naked playing tennis, each blemish on her character laid bare: every unjustified conceit or nascent timidity, the least laziness, flagging, or despair. The body, in comparison, was a trench coat." I don't know enough about tennis to see character blemishes in someone's tennis game, but of course the thing this is really true of is writing. There is something magical about really clean pure naked writing that will survive this level of scrutiny, and surely the only ultimately really exciting thing in life is holding ourselves to the highest possible standards in this regard. It is very much like running, you work with what you've got & it's a question of doing your utmost within the limits of your natural abilities rather than hankering after something outside your capabilities. Laziness in particular becomes a kind of dishonesty; this may be the single most common weakness among otherwise talented writers.


  1. Hi Jenny:

    I don't know if you remember me but I have been happily reading your blog for a while and was really glad to see this book mentioned. I read it in manuscript back when I was working as an asst editor at FSG and loved it and knew we wouldn't publish it. I have thought of it a million times since for many reasons but mostly because it is the perfect example of the kind of book that the publishing industry just doesn't have the guts to handle -- too edgy, too female, too unhappy, or finally (though I never read the finished book) just too relentless. Shriver is a relentlessly unlazy writer. And sometimes I think that is her downfall. I remember reading that manuscript and really feeling like I kept wanting to pause, there were so many great moments/sentences she wasn't giving me time for. I'm not advocating laziness, of course, but what I mean is, if you're going to be naked as a writer, there's something to be said for hanging around the house and relishing it.

  2. Of course I remember you! Yes, that's well put, I totally agree with you about the book & Shriver's writerly nakedness. I must say I love it, and the unrelenting pace with which she brings it on!

  3. Goodness you're fast I guess I can see why you like that in a book. And yes don't get me wrong, I like it too, that pace, that ruthlessness, but I like rue too, and padding around without the sneakers on. For some reason what I also remember from the MS was a metaphor about an (athletic) butt like a tire, and I remember feeling distinctly that it didn't work, but years later still remember it, and sometimes I turn it over in my mind, wondering if that means it did work. It's just a bit of weird geometry, getting the tire to fit right into the butt, but of course the firmness comes across. I am trying to describe a little of her difficulty I think. Also not used to blogging.