Some Comments on The He and She of It
This novella about graduate students in a Midwest English Department might seem to some readers a bit raw as to its sexual scenes even in our own raunchy times, and in such regard rather counter-traditional in that it is set back in the supposedly prim 50s.
The piece started out as a notion for a novel, but as I played with its voices, it kept tightening. I'm a follower of Baudelaire in believing that one should think as a poet while writing prose (while doing anything, for that matter) so I liked the fact that the events I had in mind clipped along briskly in short chapters that gave me the chance to tuck in examples of the poem-work of the two main male characters. Cutting and tightening has always been for me the key working habit in messing with poetry drafts, and that's what happened here. I love the novella form when it captures the gist of the cross-country slog of a novel in its own condensed, more sprint-like way.
The writing allowed me to press against the false notion that sex hadn't been discovered by American young people before the revolutionary period of the 60s-early-70s. I'd lived a rather rowdy life as a university student in the supposedly placid, Leavitt-town decade of the 50s, and reflecting this became the heart of the tale. All the details are invented, of course, but in the way of fiction they carry the writer's own experience, made more dramatic.
My life has primarily been a history of women, my thought and writing an effort to understand and celebrate them. My problem with the work on this novella -- or long story -- was to come clean with a threesome-plot's sexual material -- some of it maybe shocking to more Puritanical taste -- without slipping into the ugliness of pornographic miasma. The solution, I feel, was the creation of a rather arch, literary feel to the piece, Nabokov's solution to the same problem in Lolita.
This emphasis on writers and writing serves also to bring the period more faithfully alive as an ongoing evocation of what "English-majoring" felt like, sounded like, in those self-important days.
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