With Barth, the house would become the thing, a true funhouse, a backdrop brought forth and converted, imperceptibly at first, into a catalyst. To venture down the hall, not in fear, but as an act to challenge the bravery of the mind. Corner shadows harbor cave entrances to worlds, not monsters. Shut doors are reasons to wait for the colored lights to snap on at dusk. The memory of the moment in the den connects to the same of 8 years ago, understated to the point of being nearly hidden from sight, muted, like reluctant phone calls - the news of death, the beginning of an affair.
Maybe Calvino. Yes, the hall, the murderous phone, not some inner angst to turn inward and double with his own. No, rather the walk outside to see his wife standing there - the crux of the piece, not postponed but met head on - flattened and again only to be layered within itself as he recalls a play he once read that unfolded the same way. The line of oak in the distance blurring to include editors' marks, on the leaves - page numbers tentative at best. His wife stands by the clothesline. She doesn't see him yet. He watches her talking to herself. As he closes the gap to confront her about the letter, she retrieves a packet, reads some lines , then repeats them looking up. "Oh, I didn't hear you come out." She repeats them verbatim to him as she turns to see him. First, a suspicious letter, now scripted lines to guide the evening's discussion? His knees weaken. Not merely confused to the bone, but the scene unfolds precisely as it does in the play he remembers, from which this scenario has undoubtedly been lifted. He would have thought it Gadda, had her cousin, or his, suddenly died at this very moment of a heart attack, after seeing this very scene transpire in the swirls of her coffee.
But not, we are already at reality, the mystery diluted by the deft strokes of Lish. He has his reasons, as he always does. As I write this I am convinced they are tied to this very attempt to remix his world of constricting possibilities. Like replaying the night she broke your heart and changed the way you view the future, it has happened. The letter was hers. Magic dies. The real world floods the remaining passages to ensure all embers extinguish before sunrise.
by Michael K. Gause