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Hortense Calisher Biography - Hortense Calisher Comments:

novel time story life

(1972) False Entry and The New Yorkers are connected novels; either may be read first; together they are a chronicle perhaps peculiarly American, according to some critics, but with European scope, according to others. Journal from Ellipsia was perhaps one of the first or the first serious American novel to deal with "verbal" man's displacement in a world of the spatial sciences; because it dealt with the possibility of life on other planets it was classed as "science fiction" both in the USA and in England. The Dublin Times understood it; its review does well by it. It also satirizes male-female relationships, by postulating a planet on which things are otherwise. In category, according to some, it is less an ordinary novel than a social satire akin to Erewhon, Gulliver's Travels, Candide, etc. The Railway Police and The Last Trollery Ride—the first is really a long short story of an individual, the second a novella built around an environs, a chorale of persons really, with four main parts, told in the interchanging voice of two men.

I usually find myself alternating a "larger" work with a smaller one, a natural change of pace. Textures of Life, for instance, is an intimate novel, of a young marriage, very personal, as Journal is not. After the latter, as I said in an interview, I wanted to get back to people. The New Yorkers was a conscious return to a "big" novel, done on fairly conventional terms, descriptive, narrative, leisurely, and inclusive, from which the long monologue chapters of the two women are a conscious departure. Its earlier mate, False Entry, has been called the only "metaphysical" novel in the America of its period—I'm not sure what that means, except perhaps that the whole, despite such tangible scenes as the Ku Klux Klan and courtroom episodes, is carried in the "mind" of one man. It has been called Dickensian, and in its plethora of event I suppose it is; yet the use of memory symbols and of psyche might just as well be French (Proust and Gide)—by intent it does both, or joins both ways of narration. The New Yorkers is more tied to its environs in a localized way; part of its subject is the environs.

Queenie is a satire, a farce on our sexual mores, as seen through the eyes of a "modern" young girl. As it is not yet out at this writing, I shall wait to be told what it is about.

(1986) Standard Dreaming: short novel narrated through the consciousness of a surgeon who believes the human race may be in process of dying off. Herself: the autobiography of a writer, rather than of the total life. Included are portions of critical studies, articles, etc., as well as several in toto (including one on the novel and on sex in American literature), and commentary on the writer's role in war, as a feminist, critic and teacher. Eagle Eye: the story of a young American non-combatant during and after the Vietnam War. Just as Queenie, in the novel of that name, confided in her tape-recorder, Bronstein addresses his computer. In 1974 some critics were bemused at this; time has changed that. The Collected Stories: preface by author begins with the much-quoted "A story is an apocalypse, served in a very small cup." On Keeping Women: Herself had broken ground in some of its aspects of what feminists were to term "womanspeak." I was never to be a conventional feminist; conventional thought is not for writers. But I had always wanted to do a novel from within the female feelings I did have from youth, through motherhood and the wish for other creation. This is that book. Mysteries of Motion: as in Journal from Ellipsia I continue concern for the way we live daily with the vast efforts and fruits of the scientists, and the terrors, without much understanding. Begun in 1977, before shuttles had flown or manmade objects had fallen to earth from orbit, this story of the first civilians in space is I believe the first novel of character (rather than so-called "science fiction") to be set in space. Because of that intent, the lives of all six people before they embark are an essential part of the story. What may happen to people, personality—and nations—in the space race, is what I was after. Though I researched minimally—just enough to know the language, or some of it—one critic commented that its technical details could not be faulted. I imagined, rather than tried to be faithful to the momentary fact. And again, time has caught up with it, sadly so in the matter of "star wars." Saratoga, Hot: short works, called "little novels." Writing novels changes the short-story pen—the stories become novelistic, or mine do. The intent was "to give as much background as you can get in a foreground." The Bobby-Soxer: the story of the erotic and professional maturing of a young girl of the 1950s, as narrated by the woman she has become, it is also a legend of American provincial life, akin to the early novellas.

I have just completed a short novel called Age, and am resuming work on a novel set in Central Europe and the United States.

(1991) The working title of the book I refer to above as "a novel set in Central Europe and the United States" is In the Palace of the Movie King. I've been at work on this longer book in the background behind the shorter works that have emerged since the last longer work (Mysteries of Motion). It is certainly a more overtly political novel than any of the others, although that concern has been present in my work since the first stories.

This time the scene is Central Europe versus the U.S., as seen through the eyes of a filmmaker, Russian in origin, who grew up in Japan. Part of my interest has also been to see the U.S. as the visually obsessed nation it has fast become—through the eyes of a man who sees the world visually, rather than verbally. I hope thereby to free the book from what I think of as the de Tocqueville syndrome.

I am currently working on a shorter novel, set in England, where I have lived from time to time.

(1995) The "shorter work," set in England, is the novel, The Small Bang, published psuedonymously under the name Jack Fenno, to distinguish it from the other novel shortly to be published. As its title indicates, it poses the "small" bang that is human life against the "big bang" world views of the physicists. In the publisher's catalogue it is billed as a "mystery;" I wrote it as a novel purely, any novel being in a sense a "mystery" until its end.

On In the Palace of the Movie King: there comes a time for many of us when we feel seriously separated from the international intrigue that is happening all around us—and from the national picture also. Yet our domestic lives, urban or suburban or land-based, are always on that edge. I came to feel that I ought to be writing of what I thought of as "the long adventure"—that panorama, with documents, which would move through what we've been too trained to think of as the "thriller" novel. At the same time I must unite this with the domestic scene.

That's a nineteenth-century ambition, from the books I cut my teeth on: Dickens, Victor Hugo, Mark Twain, and in my teens, the Russians. I miss their scope—if not necessarily their size. A sentence can embody the long view. But a novel so conceived will concentrate along that axis. What will the reader allow me to do for our twentieth century time? Meanwhile—my century feeding me what I ought to be seeing—in both the subtle and monumental. I was seeing the whole metaphor of "the third world." Censorship, yes, torture for the dissident, death because one differs. But the crux of it: they—the citizens of that third world I happen to know best, Middle Europe—they were locked in. My country was not. Is not.

The Gonchevs, the couple I wrote about, emerged through those mists, along with a vision of the whole wide-screen planet we are now. The time is just before that savage Balkan conflict we are now witnessing. When Gonchev, an apolitical man entirely, is shipped to the U.S.A. and cast in the role of "dissident," my own land emerges, as seen through his eyes. One strains like the devil not to be "author," authoring. There the emigrants and transcontinentals I've known all my life surely helped.

At times Gonchev's story is taken to be satirical, even hilarious. That's a relief.

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