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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Bovary spinoffs

I've read Madame Bovary several (maybe 3?) times, and I'm always surprised and distressed at how elusive this novel is to me: I really couldn't give you much of a plot outline if my life depended on it, and what I remember are the isolated moments or scenes: the wedding procession, Emma in the loft above town hall with her first lover (Rodolphe?) as the town fair goes on beneath them, the carriage ride through Rouen, running through the fields to meet his lover, the ghastly conclusion, and of course the great phrases from Flaubert: mirror held up on the side of a highway; his writing as banging on a drum for bears to dance to when what he wanted to do was move the stars (such an under-evaluation of his talent). Karen Russell's story Madame Bovary's Greyhound, in Best American Short Stories 2014, made me a bit jealous - that she knows the novel so well - though maybe she was working with the text at her side. In any event, she has a good idea - developing a story based on a minor element of MB. This is sort of a literary trick and it's been done before with varying success re other great works of lit - there was a recent novel Ahab's Wife, for ex., and of course the great Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead. What's unusual about Russel's foray is that her protagonist is a dog, who, apparently, sprints off into the woods while the Bovary family is moving to a new location - off, and out of the novel. Russel imagines the dog's experience as at first beloved and then ignored by the narcissistic Emma, much like husband Charles, when you think about it (Russell does not make that point). Russell has unusual facility at entering the consciousness of an animal - and she gives the story a neat plot twist at the end as well. It's not the kind of story that generally appeals to me - leaching off the powers of a much greater work - but it can work from time to time and this one does - although I'd have to say the bar for MB spinoffs in short fiction is very high: can anyone every top Woody Allen's The Kugelmass Episode?

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