Gabriel Rosenstock - “...everything emptying into white”
For some people there is a second, or perhaps two, when, if the right word is said or the appropriate gesture made, they will come together, emphatically, and that will be that. A romance, sparked in an instant. For others, the second is noticed later, sometimes a little later (minutes, hours, days), but more often a long time later (weeks, months, years). With the wisdom of experience and age, and the clear vision of hindsight, we can step back from the immediacy of the experience and analyse it – of course, if I had done that she would have been mine. Of course, if I had responded that way to his words, we would be together. But now it's too late.
Gabriel Rosenstock's ”...everything emptying into white” is concerned with an unnamed Irish scholar visiting Slovenia for a conference. His guide, Miljana, is there to look after him in the unfamiliar country, providing translations, eating tips, and other generally useful information. The scholar is too concerned with himself to notice much about her other than she is friendly and attractive. He is a deeply self-absorped person, ceaselessly shifting from mundane thoughts of geography and activity to myths and legends (his scholarly specialty).
Hard to detect from her tone, her inflexion, if the observation contained irony or not. Myths and legends, their origins, that's my field, yes, but that doesn't mean I believe in fairy horses. Like most scholars, I'm a rationalist. I don't know if I ever met a colleague who – that's not quite correct. Finlay, from Edinburgh. He went a bit funny in the end, didn't he?
And that's about as regular a paragraph as one will find in ”...everything emptying into white”. The narrator's mind can't seem still (he notes this off-hand); he associates everything with his knowledge of and fondness for myths. He can't stay in the present or the particular, which makes the story an effectively and strongly narrated piece, but all the more infuriating for it. He's a scatterbrain, unaware of his surroundings in anything but the most superficial of senses.
Nonetheless, Miljana has been assigned to look after him for the duration of the conference, and so she does. She tries to engage him in conversation, but she is a person and not a myth, and thus, he doesn't see the signals. Oh, the narrator understands that he is missing something, but he doesn't quite know what, or what he would do if he did.
”Am I in love with my wife? Now,” I exclaimed, “had you asked me that, our conversation would have been more personal.”
“Are you?” she shot back.
But the challenge is dropped, the narrator's attention diverted. He worries about whether he has taken his blood pressure tablets.
The story ends soon afterward, with the narrator reflecting from a period four years later. He knows, now, that he has missed something, but still can't figure out what. He notes he never saw her again, and that he is reminded of her at times.
The problem of the story lies in the missed opportunity. To us, Miljana comes across as young, excited, and enthusiastic about the potential of, well, anything. There's no indication that she loves the narrator, but there's enough there to suggest she would fall into his embrace if it were offered. But it isn't – what to make of this? The reader knows more than the narrator, which makes him a bit insufferable. It's hard to sympathise with him, and while it's not necessary for a narrator to be a pleasant character, they should at least be engaging. The narrator's wilful rejection of the concrete world in favour of his scattered thoughts concerning horses and nymphs is distracting and irritating. Rosenstock has created a strong character, but it's difficult to understand the purpose of the story or its characters. Are we to take from ”...everything emptying into white” that it is a tale of missed love? Well, shouldn't both the characters be worthy of the love that is missed? Doesn't that add to the feeling? On the other hand, if the purpose of the story is to indicate that the narrator only realised too late (which is true), then shouldn't this realisation extend to more than a four sentence conclusion paragraph?
It's complicated, which is undoubtably the point. ”...everything emptying into white” is not an easy story to like, but its theme is strong and, for all it irritates, remains consistent. Love isn't easy, whether it's attained or not, and the suggestion that even a missed love story should be melancholy and sweet is, of course, an overly idealised, “Hollywood” appreciation of the concept. No, instead, ”...everything emptying into white” shows us what happens when an absent-minded scholar bumps up against a woman who would be there for him if only he knew how to ask. He doesn't and we do, and that's the end of it.
“...everything emptying into white” by Gabriel Rosenstock is a short story from the Dalkey Archive Press' anthology, Best European Fiction 2012
Other stories from the Dalkey Archive Press' anthology, Best European Fiction 2012, include:
------Belgium (Flemish): de Martelaere, Patricia - My Hand is Exhausted
------Croatian: Hrgović, Maja - Zlatka
------Spanish (Galician): Fernández Paz, Agustín - This Strange Lucidity
------Polish: Rudnicki, Janusz - The Sorrows of Idiot Augustus
------Hungarian: Bán, Zsófia - When There Were Only Animals
------Swiss (Rhaeto-Romanic and German): Camenisch, Arno - Sez Ner
------Portuguese: Zink, Rui - Tourist Destination
------Georgian: Dephy, David - Before the End
------Irish: Hogan, Desmond - Kennedy
------Russian: Davydov, Danila - The Telescope
------Czech: Kratochvil, Jiří - I, Loshaď
------Estonian: Kõomägi, Armin - Logisticians Anonymous
Best European Fiction 2011 short stories under review
Best European Fiction 2010 short stories under review
Index of titles by The Dalkey Archive Press under review
Index of short stories under review