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My Response to Nabokov’s “Spring in Fialta”

Recently, I had to read and respond to Vladamir Nabokov’s “Spring in Fialta.” Here was my response.

Instructions on how to make a weak story seem clever:

Do you have a weak story you don’t what to do with? Do your characters have almost nothing to lose in the conflict? Is it a love story where the passion is about as hot as the spice in Dutch-American cuisine? Here’s how you fix it:

Step 1: Bombard the reader with unnecessary and confusing details and setting instead of story. Remember, it’s not about the story, it’s about how clever you sound.

What luscious elation I felt rippling through my veins, how gratefully my whole being responded to the flutters and effluvia of thai gray day saturated with a vernal essence which itself it seemed slow in perceiving! My nerves were unusually receptive after a sleepless night; I assimilated everything: the whistling of a thrush in the almond trees beyond the chapel, the peace of the crumbling houses,the pulse of the distant sea, panting in the mist, all this together with the jealous green of bottle glass bristling along the top of a wall and the fast colors of a circus advertisement featuring a feathered Indian on a rearing horse in the act of lassoing a boldly endemic zebra, while some thoroughly fooled elephants sat brooding upon their star-spangled thrones.

Step 2: Never use a short word when you can use a long one.

… as if woman’s love were springwater containing salubrious salts which at the least notice she ever so willingly gave anyone to drink.

Salubrious is defined simply as healthy or health-giving. But if you use those words, you won’t send your reader running to the dictionary, and how clever will you seem then?

Step 3: Lots and lots of semicolons.

She was sitting in the corner of a couch, her feet pulled up, her small comfortable body folded in the form of a Z; an ashtray stood aslant on the couch near one of her heels; and, having squinted at me …

Fill your piece with semicolons. Could something be two sentences? Sure. Could you use a conjunction once in a while? Of course. But semicolons are a great way to show the reader how clever you are. Remember, Kurt Vonnegut once said of semicolons, “All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

Step 4: Since the story has such low stakes for the characters …

I did not experience any inner emotional collapse, the shadow of tragedy did not haunt our revels, my married life remained unimpaired, while on the other hand her eclectic husband ignored her casual affairs although deriving some profit from them in the way of pleasant and useful connections.

… be sure to only introduce real conflict to the story pretty late (the last page of a sixteen page story, if possible). That way, you’ve starved the reader of anything interesting, and even a weak conflict will be delightful.

‘Look here—what if I love you?’ Nina glanced at me, I repeated those words, I wanted to add… but something like a bat passed swiftly across her face, a quick, queer, almost ugly expression, and she, who would utter coarse words with perfect simplicity, became embarrassed; I also felt awkward…. ‘Never mind, I was only joking,’ I hastened to say

Step 5: Be a famous writer.

Look. Let’s face it, if you were an MFA student or worse, a writer without a college education (Impossible!), there’s no way you could get away with this. But if you’re a famous writer whose work critics and professors have blessed with their highlighters because they were able to see the emperor’s new clothes, the “genius” of such a piece, then no one would dare question you. You’re untouchable. For fun, screw with people and write an intentionally nonsensical piece. It’s likely that it’ll be received as a modern Finnegan’s Wake.

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