Category Archives: Books

The Name of the Monster

"I'm under your chair right now..."

Pretentious  Literature  Questions (PLit Q’s) that I ask myself after reading Rebekah Frumkin’s “Monster” in the sixteenth issue of Post Road Magazine:

  • Elaborate on the idea that the anthropomorphic, entirely-malevolent Panther Man (Man Panther?) haunting his home is a projection of Danny’s burgeoning, frightening emotional awareness of the tormented lives of the adults in his world. Don’t talk about the Panther only as a projection of his father. How does the consistent lack of communication between all parties involved inform the various appearances of the Manther? Why do big cats often take the fall as symbols of menacing emotional dread in short stories (e.g.  “Tooth and Claw” by T.C. Boyle)? Talk about all of the references to the PanManther’s metallic teeth for bonus points.
  • Does Danny’s entire fear of the baby in the ice box and his confusion over it signal more than just the early terrors of sexual awareness? Doesn’t the unknown sex act becoming known sort of also bring up even more terrifying questions about life and death, and the complete lack of intimacy in Danny’s family exacerbates this most terrifying aspect of losing innocence?
  • Speaking of innocence, how does Emma fit into all of this? Does her character represent only the persistence of naive innocence, or don’t her touches and affections just feed into all of the scary stuff that Danny’s trying to figure out without any sort of language to guide him?
  • How does Danny’s latent emotional awareness compare to Djamel’s at the end of the story? Couldn’t his (Djamel, that is) gauntness and unspecified fasting represent a physical response to a lot of the same existential problems with which his equally harried, Western pen pal continues to grapple?
  • There’s no way you’re still reading this, but I’ll ask this two-parter anyway: what exactly is the name of the Monster, and how did this college junior get into the 2009 Best American Non-Required Reading?

Alright, that last one was a bit of a loaded question. Most of us can probably guess at the name of the monster by the end of the story, and it got into that anthology because it is really damn good.


Traitor and Hero, Borges and Nolan

The Dark Knight - Hero and Traitor

"He understands that he forms part of Nolan’s plot... this too, perhaps, was foreseen."

The Dark Knight was on this weekend; for some reason, the overtly moral nature of the film struck me in way that seemed incredibly familiar. Somehow, it reminded me of a Borges story that I read a long time ago. A quick search later and I recollected the principal narrative of “Theme of the Traitor and the Hero”. Batman’s eventual decision (spoiler alert) to take the fall for Harvey Dent/Two Face’s spree of murderous retribution is described in a little more pointed detail in Borges’ story. Borges makes a point to highlight the cyclical nature of rebellion and the transference of societal power: one group of conspirators or agents create a narrative of moral, political and social triumph–not only at any cost of life but also at cost of fact and distortion of reality.

The weird thing about the piece that I linked is that the narrator who notices the cyclical nature of the conspiratorial story and the inherent duality at the heart of the revolutionary cause is named James Nolan. Is it a coincidence that the same themes are expressed in Christopher Nolan’s film? Is it nothing more than a fun literary exercise to imagine that Christopher Nolan playing on the theme of the hero turned traitor (living “long enough to become the villain”) was ordered in the same unknowable, cyclical nature that Borges described? Was he, like the other historian in the story, preordained to hit upon the truth of the story in the future, and laud its cinematic variation?

It’s probably just a coincidence; then again, it’s that sort of assumption that keeps the prefigured cycle going.