Saturday, September 7, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 137: Djuna Barnes, “Come into the Roof Garden, Maud” (#128)

Djuna Barnes, “Come into the Roof Garden, Maud” (1914) from Writing New York: A Literary Anthology:

In college, I dated a poet; and she told me that, in potry-writing classes, when people had no idea what to say to critique a bad poem, they just said something like, "I think you're playing with sound a lot in this piece."

Djuna Barnes, I think you're playing with sound a lot in this piece.

This piece is a semi-journalistic account of the tony life that includes drinking and dancing at rooftop watering holes in New York; the sort of life that includes mention of dangerous (i.e. fast, sexy, desperately hungry) women and New York's elite Four Hundred. But like some early example of New Journalism, Barnes's account is much more impressionistic than factual. Her POV is sort of free-roving, popping into a few conversations, taking a god's eye view of the rooftop party experience. The result is compelling in a way, largely since sentences go on and on, dragging the reader to the finish line. But that compulsion is tempered by the fact that her sentences don't move directly ahead and her word use reminds me occasionally of an ESL student I once taught. There's something interesting in that sort of first-time grappling with a subject or word; and it takes a lot of talent to pull it off (or a sincere misunderstanding of language). But this isn't a piece that makes me want to pick up more of Barnes's work.

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