Six Sentence Sunday, 20 May 2012 (The Reincarnations of Miss Anne)

Like this fellow, for example, the one to whom she owed nominal obedience as a soldier to his officer.  Yes, she understood the necessity of obedience and discipline; she had been schooled in those notions since childhood, but now she understood as well her mother’s canny female view, expressed not in words but in glances out of sight of the menfolk, that one had to choose husbands carefully, lest one find oneself owing obedience to a fool.  Elsa looked at her superior, her officer in the intellectual armies of the new order, and saw a beanpole of a fellow, pale except for a bit of sunburn across his nose—which showed, after all, that he’d been out in the sun but for a brief time and not with due prudence—with pale, thin hair and steel-rimmed spectacles, with a sardonic mouth and a nose that might not be quite Aryan enough (she wondered what admixture of the East had tainted his Baltic ancestors), with eyes pale enough to be Nordic but somehow watery… 

All the things that might be listed in the inventory of the proper Nordic male, but which did not add up to the splendid specimen in the posters.  To take but one example: the lips were thin enough, no hint of Africa or Arabia about them, no suspect ruddiness or excessive curvature, but instead of making his face that of an ubermensch, he looked rather like… a fish.  Yes, Elsa smiled to herself, rather like something you might turn up in a fish-market on the North Sea, and subsequently fillet and pickle, to serve with a nice sour cream sauce. 

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16 Responses to Six Sentence Sunday, 20 May 2012 (The Reincarnations of Miss Anne)

  1. I’m an instant follower. This is fantastic writing. Not just good writing, but excellent writing. You have done something marvellous here, and I envy your casual, simple eloquence that conveys so much and flows so smoothly. I suppose this is only flash fiction, if I read correctly? But it is remarkably well written, and I can’t wait to read more.

    What is your background in writing? Have you been published? I want to read your work, this tid bit here has really inspired me.

    • epbeaumont says:

      This is a carefully curated six-sentence excerpt from a novel in progress (64,500 words). If it reads like flash fiction, then I did my job right; the art of the excerpt balances narrative arc against the tension of unresolved questions. To see additional excerpts, click on the tag ‘The Reincarnations of Miss Anne’ to the right. I’ve been running excerpts from this novel for the last few months, to see how readers react to them.

      Click on ‘Excerpt’ to see snippets of the current work. The ‘Works in Progress’ tab will give you an idea of the projects currently in play (since approximately 2008, though properly we began serious production in late 2009).

      Under the tag ‘Genre Trouble,’ see the entry ‘The MFA I don’t have,’ for a discussion of the background. The short of it: I have long since passed the 25 million word mark, in fiction and nonfiction; additionally, nearly every day job I’ve held over the past decades has paid me to write. Some shorter fictional works will be available in early July (look for news on the blog and the Twitter feed).

  2. Elin Gregory says:

    This is a terrific turnaround – ubermensch to fish! Love it.

  3. susanroebuck says:

    Poor guy! He doesn’t sound too savoury – something a Swedish housewife would serve up for lunch. Great description – I can see him, smell him…and I just know he’s got bad breath 🙂

  4. Sue says:

    All the boxes checked but still looked like a fish. And going to say it yet again–love your sentence structure–the more so since I had to break up a long one of mine into pieces.. No doubt he would go better with a nice sour cream sauce; a good sauce is substantial tasty and satisfying. All the adjectives this fishy man is not.

  5. There’s always this little, delicious twist in your writing. Yes, we have Elsa’s damn near scientific analysis of her superior, the peek into her past and the things that shaped her mind, but it all boils down to the summation of this man: someone, treated like a “something,” that she could eat. She’s like a cat.

    “…rather like something you might turn up in a fish-market on the North Sea, and subsequently fillet and pickle, to serve with a nice sour cream sauce. “

    • epbeaumont says:

      This particular form of the twist I learned from Alexander Herzen (see his novel Who is to Blame? for numerous examples). Elsa’s re-imagining of her boss as lunch follows directly on their first meeting (see last week’s excerpt). One may not have power to strike back directly, but one has the power to observe…

      … so I ought as well to add Langston Hughes to the list of influences, in particular his brilliant short-story collection The Ways of White Folks, where sharp-eyed observation is perfectly married to social commentary, with a side order of hilarity.

      • How much you put into your craft is humbling. You’re really an artist, you know?

      • epbeaumont says:

        Print addict, actually. 🙂 I’m grateful to Langston Hughes for making me laugh (sardonically) at just how much hasn’t changed in America (as well as giving me a clue as to what ‘American writer’ might mean, as a calling). Herzen is my unacknowledged older brother in the craft; I watched his moves for years before I had any idea how to use them myself. We imprint on what we love.

        Being an artist means that everything goes into the mix: the morning slant of light, annoying details from the day job, lines of poetry, songs on the radio (or curated on the iPod), scenes from film… and it all comes out, somewhere.

        The other ally–is Time. Live, read, write, repeat.

  6. daezarkian says:

    Wow. I LOVE the sentence structure. It’s hard to turn what could have become run-on sentences into precise staccato prose isn’t easy, but you somehow managed to pull it off. Bravo!

    • epbeaumont says:

      Thanks! And a bow in the direction of my eighteenth- and nineteenth-century forebears, who pulled this off regularly. In particular: Edward Gibbon, Henry James, George Sand (second-longest sentences in French after Proust), Alexander Herzen (who exploits the full power of the subordinate clause in Russian).

  7. epbeaumont says:

    The Reincarnations of Miss Anne is one of the most non-fictional pieces of fiction I’ve ever written. The character of Elsa Einhorn-Auslander was inspired by a young academic described in The Architects of Annihilation: Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction by Gotz Ally and Susanne Heim, which might be retitled The Blood Guilt of the Demographers. See in particular chapter 5, “Living LIfe as a Member of the Master Race,” section titled “Emancipation,” which discusses the careers of the young women academics in the context of the Government-General (Nazi-occupied Poland).

    Mine is not the only literary creation inspired by Ally and Heim; the contemporary playwright and choreographer Ellena Schoop wrote a short play, Hitler’s Mandela, which includes this work among its sources.

  8. Wow, this is very powerful on so many levels– her reflections on how she relates it to the lessons learned from her mother, which we then realize as she looks at her superior we realize this is not one she’d pick. Then it builds through the description of his face and how it doesn’t quite add up to the ideal this man probably believes in, and then the punch at the end, with her finding a way to turn it around in her mind to, in a way, make him less, make him lunch.

  9. Your stuff always reads esiy while making one thing.

  10. Oops–I meant easily and think.

  11. devinharnois says:

    You manage to use cold observation that borders on chilling, and then twist it into humor. Bravo!

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