Saturday, November 28, 2015

Barry Malzberg: Queen's Gambit

A posting to Rara Avis, that mystery discussion group. 

Patti Abbot, bless her, fails to see the fragility, the passion, the divided self and agonizing struggle of Elizabeth Harmon to supersede her damaged history and psyche, Patti Abbot mistakenly sees this novel as ideologically centered (anti-Commie) when politics is the shell, not the meaning, the distraction, not the soul.  She does not appear to understand the complexity of the characters, all of them or that they are all in thrall to chess itself which in this great novel is no metaphor but is the shape and expression of our condition.

In 1964 in Syracuse, my wife and I saw THE HUSTLER in a local theater (the second time I had seen it) as did our friend, the great poet Trim Bissell who said then "It's a nice film but I have come to the conclusion that it is _only_ about pool."  And I did not have the wit to give him the proper response until years later after he had jumped bail and gone underground for seventeen years meaning that when they finally caught him we surely would have had other matters to discuss.  So I must settle again for giving that proper answer to rara avis, such empty (but always earnest) forum: "Trim, you are right.  Of course you are.  But in being right you have isolated not the weakness of the work but its stunning power.  Because if if a work of art is truly about something, embraces its subject wholly, explores it to the absolute, then it has taken the world itself."

Poor Trim.  (1942-2002)   Poor Elizabeth Harmon.  Poor Boris Spassky.  Poor Bobby Fischer. 
The world in all its elegance, intricacy and darkness.
Barry N. Malzberg


pattinase (abbott) said...

I don't think I once gave a thought to it being any sort of critique of communism. They might as well been playing in the UK for all the meaning I took from that.
I was too busy trying to follow the chess, a game I have never once played, and secondly, to follow its indictment of drugs used at that time.

Todd Mason said...

I don't see why Barry sees Patti's review as a political comment. But I now must read THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT, which I've been vaguely meaning to read for, well, decades now. Inasmuch as I"ve finally picked up a copy of Richard Farina's novel.