This game of echoes is common enough. An image, phrase, or paragraph strikes your fancy, sinks into the brain’s loam and lodges in the bedrock of your memory. Then another, years later, makes it gleam or ring out in the dark recesses, so you rush to dig through your books, looking for what it reminds you of. Sometimes you can prove connection: citation, satire, inversion, influence. And other times it’s sheer coincidence—no allusion intended, no reference even possible (though this can rarely be proved absolutely). These are the best, I think: the unintended echo, yoking disparate, unlikely works together through space and time.
Juxtaposing this particular set of paragraphs seems a fine send-off for my Marcel Schneider posts. A scene from Kem Nunn’s 1992 novel Pomona Queen sent me back to a favorite story of mine by Schneider, “The Tortured Breast” (1985). Nunn, inventor of the surf noir subgenre, sets his lowdown crime stories among specific Southern California subcultures with terrific realism.
Buddy Brown had been knifed in the abdomen. The wound itself was dark and puckered and if one looked closely one could see inside, where bodily fluids still oozed among scarlet folds. It was a situation in which, the more one looked, the more one saw. Dean looked for some time. Once started, it was somehow difficult to stop. He looked until the wound began to move in a slow, undulating fashion, at which point he found it necessary to put out a hand to steady himself.
Schneider’s tale of brigand rebels and militiamen is set in a fictional borderland between European duchies, not unlike his native Alsace, in something like the late 18th century.
Augustin moved the ill-fated woman’s stiff hands aside and examined her chest. Above her left breast, an irregular gash was taking shape, growing deeper with each passing moment. The lips of the wound were in constant motion, opening and closing as if some spirit sought to speak through the partition of flesh. Fascinated by the horror, Augustin and his aide-de-camp could not tear their gaze from that tortured breast. The tear grew larger…
In both cases, facing death through the very intimate portal of a knife wound seems to extend the experience into another dimension, although Schneider, with his embrace of the supernatural, literalizes what Nunn must dispel as illusion–a momentary metaphysical vertigo.