Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Michael Darling does Morley Callaghan doing Ernest Hemingway

I'm working away this evening copy editing John's Shut Up He Explained. As I've said elsewhere, this is a brilliantly odd bird of a book: part literary memoir, part travelogue and part criticism. It's also very entertaining, a problem as I copy edit: I keep getting drawn into the damn thing and have to go back to reread passages, and make sure I haven't missed anything.

I'm reading -- copy editing -- at the moment a chapter on Morley Callaghan. In it, he quotes CNQ contributing editor Michael Darling doing a parody of Callaghan's writing, using Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." I found it incredibly funny, and think he's got it spot on. Hopefully he won't mind me posting it here.

If Morley Callaghan Had Written Earnest Hemingway’s

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”

For years Johnny Wilson had been a regular customer at Al Smith’s café. Johnny was an old man with thinning grey hair and a wrinkled red face. He liked to sit in one corner of the café where it was neither light nor dark but partly both, and think despairingly about his need for identity and a sense of self-worth.

On this particular night, two waiters stood watching him. Bill Jones was a burly old man with white hair and a shiny red face. Fred Brown was a thin young man with straight black hair and a smooth red face. He was engaged to Molly Smith, Al Smith’s niece, a tall blonde girl with really swell legs. Fred rubbed the end of his smooth red nose and grinned as he thought of Molly’s swell legs. Molly was a really fine girl and they were going to get married as soon as they could.

“Last week Johnny tried to commit suicide,” said Bill Jones in his deep but slightly cracked voice, brimming with sorrow and compassion. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his shiny red face, thinking to himself, “I could be Johnny, sitting there and drinking, and wishing I could stay in this clean and well-lighted café.”

The look on Bill’s face brought a strange feeling to Fred Brown, who suddenly looked at Johnny Wilson with a puzzled, shy, wondering look on his face, feeling that there was something about the old man that might someday be important to him, something that went beyond Molly Smith’s swell legs. It seemed to him that this was the first time he had ever looked upon Johnny Wilson.

“Maybe he just has insomnia,” suggested Bill Jones gently, hoping to spare Fred Brown the painful realization of his own mortality. “Many have it.”

Fred Brown nodded sadly, his smooth red face suddenly becoming wrinkled and old. Now when he tried to think of Molly Smith’s swell legs, all he could visualize was Johnny Wilson’s thinning grey hair. He stood beside Bill Jones in the shadows of Al Smith’s café and thought to himself, “Golly, a clean, well-lighted place might be fine too.”

Open up almost any Callaghan at random: you'll see how close Michael got.

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