17 February 2010

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

The last week of school was a flurry of packing, typing, plane reservations and phone calles home, for everybody but me. I had no need to finish my papers early because I had nowhere to go; I could pack at my leisure, after the dorms were empty. Bunny was the first to leave. For three weeks he had been in a panic over a paper he had to write for his fourth course, something called Masterworks of English Literature. The assignment was twenty five pages on John Donne. We'd all wondered how he was going to do it, because he was not much of a writer; though his dyslexia was the convenient culprit the real problem was not that but his attention span, which was as short as a child's. He seldom read the required texts or supplemental books for any course. Instead, his knowlege of any given subject tended to be out of context, that he happened to remember from classroom discussions or believed himself to have read somewhere. When it was time to write a paper he would supplement these dubious fragments by cross-examination of Henry (whom he was in the habit of consulting, like an atlas) or which information from either The World Book Encyclopedia or a reference work entitled Men of Thought and Deed, a six volume work by E. Tipton Chatsford, Rev., dating from the 1890s, consisting of thumbnail sketches of great men through the ages, written for children, full of dramatic engraving.
Anything Bunny wrote was bound to be alarmingly original, since he began with such odd working materials and managed to alter them further by his befuddled scrutiny, but the John Donne paper must have been the worst of all the bad papers he wrote.
Somewhere, Bunny had heard that John Donne had been acquainted with Izzak Walton, and in some dim corridor of his mind this friendship grew larger and larger, until in his mind the two men were practically interchangeable. We never understood how this fatal connection established itself: Henry blamed it on Men of Thought and Deed but no one knew for sure. A week or two before the paper was due, he had started showing up in my room about two or three in the morning, loking as if he had just narrowly escaped some natural disaster, his tie askew and his eyes wild and rolling. 'Hello, hello', he would say, stepping in, running both hands through his disordered hair. 'Hope I didn't wake you, don't mind if I cut on the lights, do you, ah, here we go, yes,yes...' He would turn on the lights and then pace back and forth for a while without taking off his coat, hands clasped behind his back, shaking his head. Finaly he would stop dead in his tracks and say, with a desperate look in his eye: 'Metahemeralism. Tell me about it. Everything you know. I gotta know something about metahemeralism.'
'I'm sorry. I don't know what that is'
'I don't either', Bunny would say brokenly. 'Got to do with art of pastorialism or something. That's how I gotta tie together John Donne and Izzak Walton, see.' He would resume pacing.
'Donne, Walton, Metahemeralism. That's the problem as I see it.'
'Bunny, I don't think "metahemeralism" is even a word.'
'Sure it is. Comes from the Latin. Has to do with irony and the pastoral. Yeah. That's it. Painting or sculpture of something, maybe.'
'Is it in the dictionary?'
'Dunno. Don't know how to spell it. I mean'- he made a picture frame with his hands- 'the poet and the fisherman. Parfait. Boon companions. Out in the open spaces. Living the good life. Metahemeralism's gotta be the glue here see?'
And so it would go, for sometimes half an hour or more, with Bunny raving about fishing, and sonnets, and heaven knew what, until in the middle of his monologue he would be struck by a brilliant thought and bluster off as suddenly as he had descended.
He finished the paper four days before the deadline and ran around showing it to everyone before he turned it in.
'This is a nice paper, Bun-,' Charles said cautiously.
'Thanks, thanks.'
'But don't you think you ought to mention John Donne more often? Wasn't that your assignment?'
'Oh, Donne,' Bunny had said scoffingly. 'I don't want to drag him into this.'
Henry refused to read it. 'I'm sure it's over my head, Bunny. really,' he said, glancing over the first page. 'Say, what's wrong with this type?'
'Tripple space it,' Bunny said proudly.
'These lines are about an inch apart'.
'Looks kind of like free verse doesn't it?'
Henry made a funny little snorting noise through his nose.
'Looks kind of like a menu' he said.
All I remember about the paper was that it ended with the sentence 'And as we leave Donne and Walton on the shores of Metahemeralism, we wave a fond farewell to those famous chums of yore'.

My essay writing technique appears to be uncannily similar to Bunny's...

1 comment:

  1. Hahaha.. me too!!! I just googled this quote because of my latest tweet: "also, my essay style resembles Bunny's from The Secret History."

    Love Bunny..