Thursday, March 26, 2009

New Yorker Short Fiction - "Julia and Byron"

The March 30, 2009 issue features Craig Raine's "Julia and Bryon"

"Julia and Bryon" reads like a poem reworked as prose.  It is sparse, terse, and full of imagery.  In many ways it reminds me of the material in Lydia Davis' Samuel Johnson Is Indignant.  This is probably because the piece's author is Craig Raines, author of a number of poetry collections and founder.editor of the literary magazine Areté

The story starts with Julia, discovering she has cancer.  Thanks to an experimental drug called Mandragorax, things quickly go downhill.  Once off the drug she recovers, but only briefly, as her doctor prescribes an experimental course of chemo that eventually kills her.

Byron is (or was) Julia's husband.  The rest of the story deals with him finding Julia's diary and discovering that she found him extremely difficult as a husband. 

Some things I noticed:  Bryon may be a reference to the poet Lord Byron, but I can't find anything in Lord Byron's personal life reflected in Raine's story.  Early in the story we find this passage: "The medication had a beautiful name.  Mandragorax.  Made by a pharmaceutical company that knew its Shakespeare."  The Shakespeare reference referrs to the bard's use of the word in both Anthony and Cleopatra (Act 1, Scene 5) and in Othello (Act 3, Scene 3).

There are also a number of references to poems by A.A. Milne in the text.  Julia quotes "Sneezles" in her interactions with the doctor and Byron reads "Us Two" at Julia's funeral.

Overall I really enjoyed the story.  It was short, but like any really great short story it leaves a lot of space and room for interpretation and personalization. 

"Julie and Bryon" was written by Craig Raine and appeared in the March 30th issue of The New Yorker.

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