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  • Writer's pictureAlan Bray

Time For Rascals - My Lord You


One of the characteristics of James Salter’s writing style is the way time makes big leaps, a feature that is especially evident in his longer works. But in My Lord You, time is also episodic and at times, able to leap tall buildings in a sudden bound. Gaps occur in the narrative, and one gets the sense of the author selecting certain moments for the story out of a continuum. Of course, this recalls our old friend Umberto Eco, and his observation that only pornographic films present continuous time. Fiction generally does not, always making a choice about what to show, and this is a reminder that fiction is not about showing only a mimesis of imagined life but rather, that there is a purpose in what it shows—telling a story.

My Lord You begins at the dinner party where the protagonist, Ardis, meets Brennan. The next scene is taken from events on the following day, when Ardis journeys to the local library to read something of Ezra Pound, whom Brennan had quoted to her at the party. She asks for Brennan’s own books but is told he removes them from the library because he doesn’t think anyone is capable of understanding them.

Sly humor here from Mr. Salter.

The next section (set off by a paragraph break) shows Ardis by herself at the beach, a scene full of sensuous description. The librarian had told her Brennan is out of town, and Ardis goes to the house she’d seen driving home from the party, the “gypsy house.” The implication is that she guesses that the house belongs to Brennan. It is not specified exactly when this scene occurs. Is it the same day she goes to the library? The next? It follows smoothly after the library scene; it feels like the next day, or the day after. It doesn’t matter exactly when, only that it occurs close to the events already related. However, this is one of those leaps I was talking about. The events so far may have occurred over at least two, maybe three days. What else occurs in Ardis’ life during this time? Probably a lot (if she were a real human) but Salter has chosen only these specific things as part of the story.

Still within this scene, Ardis goes to what she imagines is Brennan’s house and finds it deserted—except for a large dog which will figure prominently in the story. (More to say about the dog later. Woof!).

After another paragraph break, the next scene is situated in space/time: “That night in a cotton robe she was preparing for bed, cleaning her face, the bathroom door ajar.” She and her husband make love. Then the text tells us: “The next morning, she said…” Then, a few paragraphs later: “In the evening they went to a party.”

So there are three scenes here. Time is collapsed; significant events are picked out of an apparent twenty-four-hour period.

After a paragraph break—by the way, the use of these breaks is itself a feature of style. An alternative would be to have a continuous narrative along the lines of, “Ardis went to bed and slept. In the morning…” Here the gap in time would be more masked.

‘Kay, after the break, we are in a new scene the next morning. The dog is outside her house, and she decides to escort it home—to Brennan’s, she assumes. The house is again deserted; the dog wants to go inside. Ardis decides the dog is hungry. The door is unlocked; she lets the dog in and, rascal that she is, begins searching the house in a kind of listless way. Hopefully, she feeds the dog, although this is not shown. Then in a long, beautifully rendered scene, she takes off her clothes and imagines Brennan finding her—even though this is unlikely. Well, sure, most people would do that. The dog studies her. “You’re a big fellow,” she says. (?) Then she hears a car and dresses in a hurry. However, it is her husband, Warren, who’s come looking for her. He seems a bit suspicious about what she’s been doing but accepts her explanation that she was trying to feed the dog and finally drives her home.

After another paragraph break, we are told: “Late that day…” The dog has come over again. Ardis and her husband have dinner, and Ardis confronts her loneliness: “My life has meant nothing, she thought.” At dinner, she says to her husband; “We have to do something.” This comment is ambiguous in that it may refer to Ardis saying they must do something about the dog. However, it may also be a comment on the marriage. More on this to come.

The narrative shifts abruptly to Warren’s perspective, presenting another stylistic feature of Salter. Many writers would stick to Ardis’ perspective.

The couple goes to bed, and we are still in Warren’s head. “He lay in bed without moving. His wife’s back was turned toward him. He could feel her denial.”

The dog is there again, and Warren checks on him, returning to report that he believes the dog is dead. The story’s perspective shifts back to a distraught Ardis who goes outside to be with the dog. “Let me go,” she says to her husband.

She goes to the dog, but he is alive and runs off. And we get a lovely passage that is in Warren’s perspective. “She ran after him. Warren could see her. She seemed free. She seemed like another woman, a younger woman, the kind one saw in the dusty fields by the sea, in a bikini, stealing potatoes in bare feet.”

This is a powerful moment. Impressionistic, I think, almost cinematic in the way we the reader gets a view of Ardis that she could not herself present, it being impossible to see yourself. It’s supposed to be from her husband’s perspective, observing her as she leaves, but I believe it’s also the implied author showing us what he is seeing—what the story is seeing.

After this climax, a final paragraph break creates a section that skips ahead over days and weeks, reporting that Ardis did not see the dog again. We are told she does see Brennan again, “one night in August,” but that he does not acknowledge her.

“Kay.

I’ve tried to give a sense of how time is presented in My Lord You. It is episodic; the story picks out particular scenes that propel the story forward and tells the tale. Next week, let’s consider what this story is about.

Till then.

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