Words to Live By
Comic stories interrogate reality, history, and language itself
Someday This Will Be Funny
by Lynne Tillman
$14.95 List Price
Lynne Tillman's characters inhabit language the way others live in rooms and cities. It's not that they are made only of words—all literary characters are—or that they don't have their own versions of material longings, needs, attachments, and obstructions. What's different is that they are attuned to language. They fraternize with words even when they are not talking. They treasure clichés and ready-made phrases as if they were messages or hints, turning them over to find their wisdom, or at least the joke wrapped inside them. In her collection This Is Not It (2002), when a woman makes a "last-minute decision," she very soon wonders what a "first-minute decision" would look like. There is an echo of this thought in Tillman's new story collection, Someday This Will Be Funny: "The decisive moment was an indecisive one for her." We instantly start adding up our own moments of that sort, finding far too many.
Words, for these characters, provide a way to question the world while taking part in it, to interrogate the forces of family, history, even language itself. "Like sin," we read in one of Tillman's earlier stories, "one's own history is not original, but it weighs heavy." Yet another character tells us she has "invented an epic, The Lost City of Words." She says that "it's unwritten like the journal I don't keep" and that the title "ensnares and encircles everything I can't find words for." In Tillman's hands, even this lost place has an elegant and ironic verbal life; ensnaring and encircling everything is far from being nothing.
Tillman is the author of four volumes
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