On Ann Bogle‘s “My Crush on Daniel Ortega
by Bill Yarrow

What I love about Ann Bogle’s “My Crush on Daniel Ortega.”

  1. The cool title. Grabs me instantly.
  2. Beginning with “A week later.” Very funny. Very Un Chien Andalou.
  3. “In this room.” Immediately, the “this” sets up a real place and the reader is there in the place “where love was spilled on the oldest bed.” “Oldest” is very nice also—unexpected and provocative. There’s a whole unwritten novel in Ann’s small, perfect details. To wit:
  4. “the song about the eye.” What I love about this and the other details in the story is that it, defiantly, is not explained. There’s a feverish eagerness and oily determination in beginning writers to explain everything—right away! That inconsequential over-elaboration ruins many poems and stories. The better writers let things be. In this story, things merely exist.
  5. “the song about the eye” leads to “the dream about the clarinet.” I like the parallelism. (See also “I am crouching, and I am waiting.” The humor of crouching redeems the banality of “smoke and drink coffee.”) “Clarinet” is perfect—unexpected but plausible, not stupid, not outlandish.
  6. The first entry ends with “begin again.” Wonderful, because this is a diary story and it is the nature of a diary to constantly “begin again.” Every entry is a new beginning in a way that a new paragraph in a story never achieves.
  7. The diary form (and the diary voice) are very compelling and Ann exploits both to advantage here. Readers interested in the form should read Lorna Marten’s The Diary Novel and then check out Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman,” Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, Kierkegaard’s Diary of a Seducer, Soderberg’s Doctor Glas, Hamsun’s Hunger, Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Sartre’s Nausea, Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, Dorothy Parker’s “From the Diary of a New York Lady,” Barbellion’s The Journal of a Disappointed Man, and A Last Diary, Gaugain’s Intimate Journals, The Diaries of Franz Kafka, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, and many others.
  8. “The week of the election, I do my taxes in North America.” Droll. Perfect.
  9. “Violetta Chamorro travels again and again to Washington. She limps in on crutches. She is here for the better medical care and to take our money.” Everything about this is great, particularly “our money.” Killer. Budding writers: note Ann’s use of strong verbs: travels, limps, take…
  10. “Politics kills romance.” Aphorisms (particularly wacky ones) are enormously effective in diary stories (any story really) because they are so absolute. No room for perhaps in an aphorism! This one comes at the reader almost like a challenge.
  11. March 27: the “you” (unexplained—yes!) enters. The sheets you wrinkled.” Yes, but not only that: “the sheets you wrinkled, sleeping with my friend”! All of the March 27 entry is extremely rich: “she can forget me and your wives.” Wives! Plural! I love writers who are in absolute control of their material.
  12. “My throat is sore, but I won’t quit. When I get the prescription, I’ll take two and go out. It’s raining. I dance along the street with my headphones on and keep my eye peeled for Daniel Ortega.” Has a Donald Barthelme quality I really enjoy.
  13. “We talked so much. We lost the toothpaste.” Good writing is all about juxtaposition.
  14. “The most reliable suitors are the traitors”—another great aphorism.
  15. “We read the book about Anna and Levin without being Anna or Levin.” The tone is just perfect here.
  16. The Tom Petty reference in the April 3 entry comes out of nowhere. And that’s exactly the nature of thought. The journey of this story is an internal one and it’s a fun ride.
  17. “Time advances. One space between words, two between sentences. When I’m not working, I rehearse the language of newspapers: teez, pica, reefer, jump, hed, sig.” This is also wonderful. We are reading thinking.
  18. “Until man knows woman, he cannot know himself.” And the reader nods in assent.
  19. “He let the whole-wheat carob brownies burn in the oven, as the men lit up the ladle with the gray, thickening cocaine.” Writing is all about not the accumulation of but the selection of detail.
  20. And in the middle of the story, the CAST (in order of appearance)! Fabulous. [The Jean Rhys inclusion is deft!] Self-referentiality. The story calling attention to itself as a story. Diderot. Multatuli. Nabokov. Calvino. Sorrentino. Long history.
  21. “He says he’ll call at eleven. At eleven I’m eating old macaroni, hoping he’ll call, planning to ask him over and to kick him out early, but I don’t get the chance. He doesn’t call.” I love this on many levels, not least for its rhythm!
  22. “In my rearview mirror, I see Frankie, the mafia [Mafia?] son. This town is too small. I don’t want to live here anymore. I go straight home, with a firm plan to straighten the upholstery.” There are periodic paragraphs as well as periodic sentences. This is a periodic paragraph.
  23. “He meets me in the middle of the street and kisses me. He takes my hand and points me toward the pizza shop at the corner, but we never get there. He walks, and I float beside him. He wants to know how my infatuation is coming: Am I over him yet? No, I tell him, it’s still with me. I like to be near him to intensify my suffering. He asks me who the man in the car was, and I ask him if he wants coffee. By then he has walked and I have floated down the street and through the park. He pauses to wave at the news anchor in the intersection. I wave, too, not realizing that I only know the news anchor from TV.” Some great examples here of indirect free style, the essential 20th and 21st century technique that originates in the 19th century with Flaubert.
  24. “I think of meeting the Texan in the Dewar’s profile. That wouldn’t be love, but it could be fun.” Real thought. Honest. Quirky. Not boring.
  25. “I want him supple, and he wants merely to be soft. No amount of mercy will change that.” This language is deliciously precise.
  26. “My husband reads Jean Rhys to me over the phone at four in the morning, and I can’t remember why I left him. Neither of you rides a horse. Anna Karenina crumbled in the stands when Vronsky fell off his horse.” An allusive end but I like that. This is a story that is not ashamed of its intelligence. I like that. This is a story that not only makes demands of its readers but also it repays close attention. In other words, it aspires to art. I like that. Fav.

Fictionaut Faves, a series in which Fictionaut members recommend stories on the site, is edited by Marcelle Heath, a fiction writer, freelance editor, and assistant editor for Luna Park. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

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