Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Excerpt from 'Boomer Flats'

I'm studying Lafferty's short story 'Boomer Flats' right now for my forthcoming essay for Feast of Laughter volume 3.  Just had to share the following excerpt.  Up to this point in the story, the style has been fairly plain (but Lafferty's prose at its plainest still tends to be graceful, taut, and often lyrical - even if the difficult concepts and narrative experimentations sometimes obscure his generally mellifluous style).  I suspect the sudden change in style here reflects the new and strange and heightened setting the characters have suddenly found themselves within, for they have entered a sort of 'shadow' town not shown on maps, in search of monsters. 

Dr. Velikof Vonk twinkled his deep eyes in their orbital caves: perhaps he cogitated his massive brain behind his massive orbital ridges: and he arrived, by sheer mentality, at the next step. 
“Have you a menu, young lady?” he asked. 
“No,” she answered simply, but it wasn't simple at all. Her voice didn't go with her prettiness. It was much more intricate than her appearance, even in that one syllable. It was powerful, not really harsh, deep and resonant as caverns, full and timeless. The girl was big-boned beneath her prettiness, with heavy brindled hair and complex eyes. 

“We would like something to eat,” Arpad Arkabaranan ventured. “What do you have?” 

“They're fixing it for you now,” the girl said. “I'll bring it after a while.” 

There was a rich river smell about the whole place, and the room was badly lit. 

“Her voice is an odd one,” Arpad whispered in curious admiration. “Like rocks rolled around by water, but it also has a touch of springtime in it, springtime of a very peculiar quality.” 

“Not just a springtime; it's an interstadial time,” Willy McGilly stated accurately. “I've noticed that about them in other places. It's old green season in their voices, green season between the ice.” 

The room was lit only by hanging lamps. They had a flicker to them. They were not electric. 

“There's a lot of the gas-light era in this place,” Arpad gave the opinion, “but the lights aren't gas lights either.” 

“No, they're hanging oil lamps,” Velikof said. “An amusing fancy just went through my head that they might be old whale-oil lamps.”

“Girl, what do you burn in the hanging lamps?” Willy McGilly asked her. 

“Catfish oil,” she said in the resonant voice that had a touch of the green interstadial time in it. And catfish oil burns with a clay-colored flame. 

“Can you bring us drinks while we wait?” Velikof of the massive head asked. 

“They're fixing them for you now,” the girl said. “I'll bring them after a while.” 

Meanwhile on the old pool table the Comet was beating the hairy man at rotation. Nobody could beat the Comet at rotation. 

“We came here looking for strange creatures,” Arpad said in the direction of the girl. “Do you know anything about strange creatures or people, or where they can be found?” 

“You are the only strange people who have come here lately,” she told them. Then she brought their drinks to them, three great sloshing clay cups or bulbous stems that smelled strongly of river, perhaps of interstadial river. She set them in front of the eminents with something like a twinkle in her eyes; something like, but much more. It was laughing lightning flashing from under the ridges of that pretty head. She was awaiting their reaction.

Velikof cocked a big deep eye at his drink. This itself was a feat. Other men hadn't such eyes, or such brows above them, as had Velikof Vonk. They took a bit of cocking, and it wasn't done lightly. And Velikof grinned out of deep folk memory as he began to drink.
~R. A. Lafferty, 'Boomer Flats' (1971) 

I think it's a pretty good example of Lafferty's odd yet robust prose when he really lets it out of its cage (though he can wax even richer and wilder than this).  The dialogue sparkles, humour abounds, yet the language becomes injected with imagery of the huge and redolent, hinting at a dark, green, muddy, deep vitality beneath the effervescent chatter.

This exchange between the 'eminent scientists' and Crayola Catfish (the waitress) is followed by plenty more fearful wonders and laughing horrors in 'Boomer Flats', but the high-ish prose style here starts to crack and recede, probably to reflect one of the characters' stubborn unbelief in the redemptively monstrous nature of the place and people they've encountered (and which they discover is in themselves as well).

The description of Velikof's eyes here also reminds me of some passages in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian where men's eyes are described similarly, as caves and the like, but I'm not going to go hunt up the exact references right now.  Here too the woman's voice is said to call forth deep geological time, green spring times between ice ages - deep geology being another theme dear to McCarthy also, especially in Blood Meridian.  Both McCarthy and Lafferty share a tendency to describe human features - soulish as well as bodily - in the imagery of landscapes (as well as other aspects of ecology).  Another example from Lafferty that springs to mind is the enthralling description of a man's large and contoured hand at the opening of his short story 'Hands of the Man' (1970).  

Here in 'Boomer Flats' you can see the clear connection Lafferty is making between ecology and people, between the non-human and human, troubling a complete disjunction, re-enfolding subjects into objects. Notably in this story, outside of the excerpt above, Lafferty folds regional fauna and humanity together as well, especially catfish and bears.  These kinds of anthropo-eco boundary blurrings and hybridities are part of what I mean by the  'ecomonstrous' and what I'm researching in Lafferty's writing.  (The PhD is now 100% funded by the way, thanks to the generosity of a lot of kind and supportive folks out there.)

('Boomer Flats' was first published in IF magazine, then the collection Does Anyone Else Have Something Further To Add?; but I'm obviously not the first to see the story's eco implications as it was also later included in this 1994 anthology)

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'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it.'
(R. A. Lafferty, The Devil is Dead)