Simon and Julie – a Fragment

Simon and Julie is intended to be a long short story (perhaps a novella), involving various characters from the two as yet unpublished novels The Ethical Hitman and Raven of Dispersion. The story (and those novels) are set in and around the long, hot summer of 1976. The protagonists and antagonists are at that happy stage between A-levels and Uni (or A-levels and work ) – technically young adults, but these are not YA stories. As I work on this story, I will throw odd fragments here in the blog. In this section, Simon and Julie have been out for a walk. As usual, for that summer, the night is warm, the sky is practically cloudless. They are lying on a patch of brown, dried grass at the edge of a housing estate, only dimly lit by streetlights, and looking at the sky. They have been talking about a mutual friend, Sarah.

Julie picked at some of the brittle, brown grass. “Do you like Sarah?”
“Sarah is pleasantly pneumatic,” Simon said.
“Pneumatic?” Julie said. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s from TS Eliot. Uncorseted, her friendly bust /Gives promise of pneumatic bliss.”
“Oh, I see. I think.”
“And Huxley uses the word too, in that sense. He describes Lenina Crowne as Wonderfully pneumatic.”
“Are we talking about breasts here?”
“Maybe.”
“Are we saying … I mean, are you saying, Sarah has large breasts?”
“Perhaps.”
“Well, haven’t I?”
“To be honest,” Simon said, “I’ve never really noticed your breasts. I mean I’ve looked at them, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think you’re a boy or anything.”
“I am relieved.”
“But I’ve never really thought about their… err… size. They are not the thing I notice first about you.”
“Well, what do you notice first, then?”
“Your eyes.”
“My eyes?”
“Yes. They are light blue. And they sparkle.”
“But aren’t they rather narrow. Don’t I look like Clint Eastwood?”
“Yes. Clint Eastwood with breasts. I just don’t know their size.”
“My eyes or my breasts?”
Simon laughed. “Your eyes may be narrow. I cannot properly gauge that. I mean, obviously you’re not doe-eyed–“
“Obviously. Thank you for reminding me.”
“But.. and there is a but… your eyes shine. They coruscate. I like to make you smile, because then the light dances and dazzles in your eyes.”
“Really?” Julie smiled, and light danced and dazzled in her eyes. Simon fell for a moment, a giddying moment in which the Earth lifted and spun and itself danced. And just in that moment there was not enough breath in the whole world. And then Julie punched him lightly on the arm.
“You great big enormous flirt,” she said. She brushed some strands of his long fair hair away from his face. “I’ve always liked your eyes, too. A deep blue. And flirty, like you.”
They were silent for a few moments. Simon rolled over on his back. He tipped his head and saw long stalks of grass. He slowly pulled one from its sheath, and put the moist green end of it in his mouth. “Arrr, ” he said. “You know, we also call her the Coventry Climax.”
“Who? Sarah?”
“Yes.”
“Why?”
“Well, she works in the banana factory­–”
“Sometimes it’s like Innuendo City around here.”
“Yes. Indeed. Anyway, they have fork lift trucks there. That’s their name. The make and model. The Coventry Climax. Pneumatic Sarah, the Coventry Climax.”
“I hope you would never call her that.”
Simon shook his head. “Why, of course not. When I say we, I mean Nick, Mark and Gaz. Nick named her thus.”
“Ah yes, Nick. A cad and a bounder.”
“He is. I shake my head and tut loudly whenever the epithet is used.”
Simon rolled over onto his side. He wanted to see Julie’s eyes. Julie was already on her side, her head leaning against her hand, looking at him. “Take that piece of grass out of your mouth, Si,” she said. “It is not cool.”
“Oh. Don’t you actually think two bits would be cooler? Wouldn’t I look dapper?”
Julie smiled again. The world tilted slightly, then  Julie looked at her watch and righted it again. “We have to go Si,” she said. “You’re a lazy-arse student, but I have to be in the shop at 8.30.”
Simon sighed. “Alright.”
Julie leaned over and kissed him lightly on the lips. The world whirled. “We’ll meet up again soon, yeah?”
Simon could barely gets the words out. “Yes, of course.” He stood, and then offered his hand to Julie. He pulled her up. She smiled. If only she would stop smiling the world might successfully and uninterruptedly spin and orbit, and he might walk her home securely attached to its surface.
Julie slipped her arm through Simon’s and they began to walk towards Julie’s house. “You can tell me more of the names Nick has given people.”
“I will. They are, quite literally, Nick-names.”
“Oh, very good. Do I have one?”
Yes, Simon thought. Miss Lovely

Review: White Noise

White Noise
White Noise by Don DeLillo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I read “modern” novels of the “literate” variety, I am often perplexed at the dissonance that occurs between what I am feeling as I read, and the blurbs and puffs and reviews I glance at as I pick the book up and put the book down. “Splendidly funny”? “Macabre comedy”? Apparently, “nobody could complain that” the “novel isn’t funny.” See me? I’m holding my hand up.

Apparently, it’s “social comedy meets science fiction”. I laughed until my jetpack fell off. In the sense that there’s a “disaster”, and there’s a newly-invented drug, and there’s some colourful sunsets caused by the “disaster” it is a kind of science fiction; SF-light that contains the sort of vague techno-jargon that appears to make non-science-fiction-reading reviewers weak at the knees.

Of course, it couldn’t be a contemporary American novel without exposing “the absurdities” of “American existence”, observing “small town culture”, and “examining the ways in which American culture alienates people”; and apparently White Noise duly does. Although all I found was a slightly wry look at extended familial relationships in an age of easy divorce and serial monogamy. Yes, there were some pokes at post-modern academic life with the protagonist’s Hitler Studies and his colleague’s ramblings about popular culture. However, the colleague, while an able foil, falls out of the book unnoticed, and the point of their dialogues, apart from the arch amusement they provide, is difficult to fathom.

In the end, the characters seem thinly drawn, and motivations seem lacking; this lack of motivation is particularly telling when it came to the denouement, I felt.

Nonetheless, I read the novel through to the end, and I might even read it again one day. There was enough wryness and archness to keep me vaguely amused. The writing style was interesting enough that I might consider other DeLillo novels in the future.

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