JUDY KRAVIS

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Wednesday, 8 June 2016

I ought to like Frederic Tuten (Self Portraits: Fictions), a second-generation american as I am second-generation english, but the music isn't there; he moves between romance and cultural icons as in an amusement park under a layer of volcanic ash. Last Year at Marienbad is one of his favourites, and indeed mine. Finding someone else under the sway of Delphine Seyrig is not as reassuring as I would have thought; he would like to meet a woman who has her weariness and detachment; leave her at the hotel in Marienbad, I say, with that bit of chiffon about her throat.

One way of clarifying why a writer doesn't do it for me is to read another in the same breath.  Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky for example, the story 'Thirty Pieces of Silver', a fantastical history of the common era, so-called, through the metaphorical yet obstinately real thirty pieces of silver, one of which could turn up in your weekly pay packet, dear reader. And 'Postmark: Moscow', a series of letters to no one in particular. (I used to write those.) These are dry, long-legged sketches, savage yet polite, a riff more than a story, written in Moscow of the 1920s and 30s by a Ukrainian in a state of perpetual bewilderment and ever-narrowing focus; he pays fine attention to walls and windows, the lay-out of streets.

Frederic Tuten inhabits a cosier world of women, films and nostalgia. He cruises about in his cultural Luna Park. Krzhizhanovksy is edgily, defiantly, darkly closer to his (subfusc) meaning. Tuten, whose family is from Sicily via the Bronx, doesn't need meaning, when he quotes Marx it is to bask in old ideals before returning to a park on fire. Dreamlike but not dreamy.

What is the difference between the fire of state-repressed writing, the habit of concealment and the word-image-bath of the second-generation migrant to the free world? The prisoner who paces about Moscow is largely on his own; the free man has the companionship of an entire culture. Frederic Tuten dedicates this book to his friend Alain Resnais. The writings of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovksy, on the other hand, were not published until 40 years after his death.

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