Monday, September 12, 2016
Book 66: So, um, I was going to write about the book but then one thing led to another and now I am air-guitaring my way around the living room
Anyway, The Clasp was a bit of a surprise, and was better than I'd expected. The basic storyline is this: three old college friends (Victor, Nathaniel, and Kezia) reunite at the wedding of another friend of theirs from college. While there, Victor (who has recently been laid off) hears a story from the groom's mother about a necklace that she has a drawing of, which supposedly was confiscated by the Nazis and is hidden in a French chateau. Victor does some research and becomes convinced that this is the necklace immortalized in a short story by Guy de Maupassant. He sets off for France to try to find it at the same time as Kezia has to travel there to try to salvage her boss' line of jewelry, which has -- aha! -- a problem with the clasp, in that it (the jewelry clasp) is too weak to hold the weight of the necklace (which, as it turns out, ties into the necklace of Victor's short story.) Nathaniel tags along to Europe mostly because as an unemployed screenwriter, he's got nothing better to do.
As a story, The Clasp could have been another humdrum story like The Nest; uninteresting people trying to do interesting things. But it was better than that, and a fairly enjoyable story that deviated from the expected enough to make it feel fresh.
What I think helps elevate The Clasp is the way it incorporates, and builds on, the short story The Necklace. I've never read that short story, but it's explained in the book as: poor woman borrow necklace from friend to go to a ball, loses necklace, replaces it without telling friend, having to work her whole life to pay off the replacement she bought, only to learn at the end the original necklace was a fake. As a story, it seems to be right up there with other twist-y short fiction from that era like that of O. Henry, and therefore not of much interest to me.
But in the book, the three friends were all in class when their professor, who had recently gone through a divorce, has sort of a breakdown in talking about The Necklace, which is part of why it stuck in Victor's mind, it seems, inadvertently taking on a larger significance than it might have had Victor not had the class or the professor been more stable, and that slight twist of events helps set into motion the rest of the story.
There was, I think, a word for a song or story that incorporates or builds on another story; I learned about such things a while back when I found out that John Allyn Smith Sails was about the poet John Berryman's suicide; that song uses snippets of Sloop John B to good effect, making John Berryman's life a sort of living re-creation of the voyage of the Sloop John B.
(John Berryman, it turns out, is quite the muse for songwriters: another favorite song of mine, Stuck Between Stations is also about him:
I love that song. It is a song as big as I want the world to be. When I hear it, all I can imagine is being in a car, the windows down, with me and my family on the way to something... something new and exciting and wonderful. Knowing that it is about Berryman's suicide doesn't change that for me. It is a song, I think, that captures the poignant feeling that exists between this life and the perfect life. No matter how good your life, there are bound to be troubles, Those troubles will overwhelm you, as they did Berryman, if you cannot lift your head and stare at the horizon and feel, in your heart and in your bones and in the tiny hairs on the back of your neck lifting up by the electric impulses in your own mind, feel that there is something better just a bit ahead. When you cannot feel that any longer, you might give up. But this song helps me feel that, helps me remember that you can never, never give up.)
That was quite a digression. I should end there. I will.