So, what did I glean from Daniela Crăsnaru’s The Grand Prize and Other Stories? It’s taken me a while to finish the collection, so even with notes, some of the earlier tales are a little hazy. Nevertheless, there’s a semi-frequent theme here of missed opportunities, whether past or present, left unresolved and/or unaddressed thanks to personal inertia. Said lack of movement isn’t always something for which we can hand out easy condemnation; in “The Grand Prize,” for example, the protagonist’s allowing a mistake to go uncorrected probably had a lot to do with legitimate fear, and permitted him to save himself in the end– in terms of practical living conditions and lack of hassle from the authorities. The faded husband’s inability to extricate himself from an unpleasant marriage in “Mr. Eugene” in part reflects his acknowledgment that he’s the one responsible for getting into this situation in the first place– and for bringing someone else along for the ride. And then there’s the good husband of “About Happiness,” undergoing the unsolicited realization that he has and will continue to accept a state of not-joy.
|George Romney, Sketches for Languid and Prostrate Figures|
We can all probably relate to being stuck, and to not knowing how– and/or being too fearful– to escape the situation. But is the inertia Crăsnaru describes merely individual? Are we supposed to see some larger national/cultural characterization here? I’m not familiar enough with Romanian history, especially of the post-1989 variety, to know whether I’m justified in posing this question. But when large numbers of people have a difficult, more or less common past (or even present) to face, it would be surprising if a good percentage didn’t just feel like submitting to the way things are or have turned out, instead of, midway through life, making a brave foray into something completely different and assuredly uncertain.
Definitive leaps or breaks, such as the one in “The Fallen Cork Tree,” may result in brief outbursts of new, even if frustratingly confusing, life– outbursts which might also be followed up by inexplicable catastrophe. Asserting yourself to achieve just one individual thing beyond the average, as in “The European Mechanism,” could culminate in the earth–or your own invention–rising up and swallowing you.(1) And so maybe it really is safer to stick to the uninspiring and predictable, to cheat yourself out of something grander in favor of a degree of security and the bits of enjoyment you can pull out of the smooth flow of foreseeable events.
The responsible thing to do would be to undertake a bit of investigation on this author: find some interviews, find some other commentary, see what her intent was. For now, though, I’m satisfied with what I’ve got, and feel more compelled to move on to other things. Maybe I’ll cheat myself out of a variety of insights due to my own literary inertia– but the possibly great thing about being phlegmatic in this instance is that I’m unlikely, years hence, to fall into bitter reverie and regret about the Googling I didn’t do. We can hope, at least.
(1) With this particular story, though, I have to wonder what sort of commentary on striving to be part of “Europe” might be present. Especially with the semi-mysterious figure who encourages our man to go ahead with his project and his desire to claim himself as a stand-out individual, this tale has echoes of an industrialized, un-bloodthirsty Macbeth.