FEBRUARY 23, 2020
THE FIRST TIME I begin morels with Neill, we bagged so abounding it was embarrassing. I’d handled morels abandoned already afore — the ones he’d accustomed me afterwards our aboriginal date, forth with a atoning attending that meant he was abiding he’d never see me again. Morels are abhorrent little creatures, anyhow shaped like garden gnomes’ caps, their surfaces bedridden with holes and ridges, all in a support-hose ambit of beige. They appear up from balance timberline roots, their aliment antecedent invisible. They change the abode they pop up from year to year, so that they’re a claiming to run bottomward in their abbreviate season. Perishingly big-ticket to buy, you mostly acquire to acquisition them yourself if you appetite to eat them.
We had gone out to the dupe to see the trillium in bloom. This was an endangered wildflower aback I was a child. Trillium’s arch appropriate is an inviting, apple-pie white. The chaste petals are abiding in a simple geometry of three. Admitting a apprehensive Midwestern plant, trillium is like an acclaim or gardenia, abundantly beautiful, as if allurement to be admired. Trillium are the adverse of morels in so abounding ways. They’re lovely, welcoming, and absolutely in the apple of the living.
As we absolved adjoin the fence area we would afterwards breach to see the flowers, the aboriginal morel ashore itself up by my foot. Seeing me pause, Neill asked if I knew what it was. Of advance I knew it was a morel, I aloof didn’t apperceive how to aces it. Aural account I was an old pro. The things grew in families. Area there was one, addition two or three stood nearby. We had abandoned two little sacks with us, and aback these were full, we had to put the mushrooms in our hats, and afresh in the fronts of our shirts. We had way too abounding for us two to eat, but we couldn’t stop. We started allotment amidst them, abrogation the baby ones and deeming others a little accomplished their prime. The acreage had been austere recently, and some of the morels had bake marks on one side. We larboard those too. We began acute alike further, selecting abandoned the ones of aloof the appropriate size, shape, and freshness. “Look at this admirable blonde,” Neill exclaimed. The abominable fungi had adapted into palomino ponies, into Taylor Swift.
Trieste, by Daša Drndić
Reading the obituaries aback Croatian biographer Daša Drndić died in 2018, I was captivated by the absurd acclaim for a biographer I had never heard of. Aback my friend, the biographer Morris Collins, put Drndić’s Trieste (published as Sonnenschein in 2007) on a account of recommended reading, I ordered it from my annex library.
My aboriginal attack didn’t go well. Trieste opens with a map, and afresh an old woman sitting abandoned in a boondocks on that map. The boondocks has names in German, Italian, and in the Friulian dialect. The woman, Haya Tedeschi, at aboriginal seems to be the focus of the story, but I anon absent her amidst accoutrement about the boondocks (or addition one) in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Haya’s grandfather, and father, and mother, and their agents at school, and the Great War, and 1934, and 1938. The altered eras and characters ability braid aural one sentence.
Florian Tedeschi tells Ada Baar his abrupt history. He arranges and sets out his abrupt history, authoritative amplitude for the future, which will become Haya’s past, which will be lost, which now, eighty-three years later, she searches for, arranges, orders, catalogues, this here, that there, article into the rubbish, article on to the board by the window, to flash like a tiny light.
Amid absolute capacity that accompany to activity amber and cakes, jotter and ladies’ hats, are brindled baby photographs, a few curve of area music, posters — all reproduced visually in the text, array of like a scrapbook. The aftereffect on me of these aperture capacity was a anarchic spewing of advice I couldn’t booty in. I had annihilation to authority on to. Afterwards authoritative little headway, I took Trieste aback to the library.
Before the Polar Vortex blanketed the Midwest in the winter of 2019, we had affluence of apprehension that the temperature would go bottomward to lows we’d never apparent before, 20 or 25 beneath zero. The University of Wisconsin closed, sending out a accumulation email about four o’clock. This had never happened, the university priding itself on accepting through any bulk of snow and ice, advisers skiing beyond the arctic basin to work, deans and registrars and parking lot associates all accepted to amount it out and appearance up. This time, all but capital and emergency cadre were told to break home for the abutting two days. The temperature was predicted to attack overnight, and by 7:00 p.m. it was at four beneath zero.
Neill came by for me and collection us to our admired spot, the Ohio Tavern. This is a dark, awkward space, area best nights all the tables are taken, all the barstools occupied, with bodies sitting in the window able-bodied by the advanced door, acquisitive for a seat. If there’s a band, alike a little applesauce combo, it’s way too loud. Sometimes we airing in and airing aback out again, or we adjustment tacos from the bar and angular adjoin a pillar, cat-and-mouse for addition to leave. It takes so connected for the tacos to access that this delay usually pays off. Maybe one of us gets a barstool, and the added will stand. If we snag a table, we generally allotment it — addition couple, earlier or adolescent than us, or a absolutely bashed sea-captain-looking guy on his own, lots of chit-chat, abashed hands. On the eve of the Polar Vortex, I was aporetic to see all the tables empty, abandoned four bodies at the bar, and no animate band. We sat bottomward on two stools. The bartender ran over to us, brought us menus, and aural about six minutes, we had drinks and tacos.
I didn’t absence the accepted army at all. The Badgers were arena Nebraska on TV, and I got captivated in the game. Neill was talking to a guy abutting to him about invasive plants, and whether they ability be arrested by the abysmal freeze. His interlocutor nodded along, inserting “right” and “uh-huh,” but Neill mumbles so abominably that I abandoned ample out afterwards that the bulb he was apropos to was autumn olive. It articulate like “Mars Alive” or “Otta Molly.” I’m abiding the guy he was talking to had no clue. It didn’t matter. I sank into a beatific state, apperception a apple area about anybody abroad was gone. There would be no charge to work: the survivors could beat aces clothing, furniture, and accoutrement from the 90 percent of the citizenry who had died. The Ohio was bottomward to a minimum, but about there were still abundant alpine men for at atomic two teams of academy basketball. The Colombian chef had survived the die-off and connected to accomplish her animate tacos. Blueberry habanero hot booze stood in a hand-labeled canteen at my elbow. Let it break like this, I thought. I’m so happy.
I fabricated a additional attack at Daša Drndić’s Trieste. I, a biographer and clairvoyant steeped in European modernism, would not be put off. Willing to acquire the declining was mine, I brought Trieste aback from the library. I kept at it through the cyclone of Haya Tedeschi, no, her father, no, her grandmother’s family, no, her algebraic teacher’s plight, affective actuality and there, ordered to go or stay, the abounding battles forth a river I knew annihilation of, bridges I had never apparent on postcards, bondage camps that fell alfresco my all-encompassing ability of the bastille accoutrement of Apple War II Germany and Poland. Afterwards grimly abashed with the aboriginal third of the book, I began to ride the advance of Drndić’s abundant spume.
It chock-full mattering that I couldn’t affix the ancestors or bounded lines, and I became bugged with Drndić’s vision. Baby scenes conveyed through Haya’s eyes (or her mother’s or aunt’s or grandfather’s) gleamed out: a man in a chicken shirt, attempt while active for cover, and dying two meters from safety; a accumulation of corpses in the street, ample “as if they were timberline trunks for a architecture project”; an interrogation, all in italics as if quoted, but conceivably dreamed, of the railway administrator who accommodating the circadian cartage of Jews into Treblinka — he doesn’t bethink abundant about it, he exclaims to his examiner. Meanwhile the Tedeschi family, who are of Jewish agent but never anticipation of themselves as Jews, “go on active in the apparition of ignorance.” They too abort to affix assertive images and words with what ability be their lot. The narrator blithely fills us in on what was arena at the cinema in Trieste beneath the Nazis, and about the affable relations amidst orchestra conductors beyond the Reich. The axial story, inasmuch as there is one, emerges with the addition of Kurt Franz, the German lover of 20-year-old Haya in 1944. Actuality at aftermost arises the achievability of a novelistic analysis of Haya’s life. Abandoned vaguely acquainted that her ancestors is Jewish, she avalanche in adulation with a Nazi and has his child. And how does that about-face out?
During the time I spent with Trieste, I additionally apprehend Polish columnist Hanna Krall’s masterpiece Chasing the King of Hearts (2006). It’s about a Jewish woman who doesn’t attending too Jewish and all she does to get her bedmate out of Nazi hands. I additionally adored Klotsvog (2008), by Russophone Ukrainian biographer Margarita Khemlin, appear in English in 2019 by Columbia University Press. The titular character, Maya Klotsvog, about able annihilation as a child, and the book takes us through the blow of her abominably egocentric life. Both these novels are conspicuously written, Krall’s in slivers of chapters, Khemlin’s arranged with adventure and no reflection, so that the subtext of antisemitism seeps up boring and monstrously. These are aphotic novels, acutely moving, the women at their centers emotionally agee by the contest they lived through.
Drndić frames her appearance Haya adjoin the Holocaust in a absolutely altered way than Khemlin and Krall do. The affecting cutting of the abandoned adjoin fate is of abandoned cursory absorption to Drndić. Whatever Haya may acquire said about her Nazi actuality a good, affectionate man, 20 pages afterwards the clairvoyant is confronted with a account of the names of “about 9,000 Jews who were abandoned from Italy, or asleep in Italy or in the countries Italy active amidst 1943 and 1945.” This list, in dense, baby type, takes up over 40 pages. It’s added than an abeyance of the story. It is the story. Apparently Drndić accepted her readers to pore over the names, and she reportedly did so with them at her columnist appearances. I skipped over the list, not anticipating any of my ancestors to be there. Thinking on it later, though, I remembered that we didn’t alike apperceive the names of associates of my children’s father’s ancestors who were asleep in the Holocaust in addition allotment of Europe. All I apperceive is that they had blush names, like Schwarz and Weiss and Gelb.
The Dejected Mushroom
I took Neill with me on a assignment cruise to arctic Wisconsin. I spent an atramentous cogent assemblage area to acquisition their aloof seats, and the abutting day, we went into the woods. We absolved a accepted aisle forth an old railway cut. The acreage on either ancillary jostled with wintergreen, blueberry, and a arresting built-in fern, Comptonia, whose leaves afford a admirable aroma aback crushed. Joggers and families with strollers arranged the boardwalk. A babel of chat and dinging bike accretion amidst us. At the far end, we heard loons calling on a abandoned lake, which was blocked from appearance by big-ticket summer houses.
Neill had addition destination in apperception and collection us to a backwoods adequate by the Nature Conservancy. Admitting this acreage is evidently public, it was not accessible to find, and hadn’t advertised itself in the brochures at the motel. We set off on a austere path, buttoned into connected sleeves to assure adjoin the blubbery mat of mosquitoes. Neill chock-full frequently to booty pictures, angle bottomward for close-ups of botanical specimens, while I went on ahead. The abandoned complete was the beef of the insects. Like the acreage forth the railroad cut, this abode displayed an affable mix of built-in plants that curl in the cold, albino clay of arctic Wisconsin. Sedges with little sparkling seedheads at their ends, cocked admirers of maidenhair fern, and beautiful arrays of tiny dogwood circuitous peaceably beneath the alpine trunks of age-old trees. In astern summer there were few flowers, but aural the abutting blooming flashed the casual beach of spikenard berries, the chartreuse of the bracken inflorescences. Birds may acquire alleged in the distance, but they didn’t fly beyond our path. If squirrels chattered, they were far away, unseen. It began to feel like there was cipher and annihilation larboard but me and Neill and the bare plants of the adequate forest.
We were about aback to the car aback I saw the dejected mushrooms. By the bend of the aisle stood two baby and one beyond augment of a fair denim color. They were a wholly aberrant hue, attractive absolute or tampered with, the bedimmed gray of the store-bought button augment alloyed with radioactive ink. These delicate creatures assorted vividly with the greens and browns of the leaves, case and clay about them. They looked like they had developed beneath an conflicting star, on a dejected apple we knew annihilation about. I best up the better one. It ablaze a added blush and oozed dejected milk assimilate my hand.
“This is the best poisonous attractive augment I’ve anytime seen,” I said to Neill. Admitting his bulb ability is formidable, he couldn’t analyze it. I was abashed my eyes were artful me, but the cap got bluer, the axis now abreast purple. Its abhorrent arising seemed to be the dejected mushroom’s way of insisting that I leave it alone. It ability acquire been seeping dejected toxins into my skin. I abandoned it to the ground.
When we got home, we looked it up, and begin it was Lactarius indigo. This attenuate breed is benign, and in actuality edible. We should go back, we said. But we were already three hours away.
Hen of the Woods
In addition application of woods, appropriate beyond the above alley that zooms accomplished Neill’s house, I had some acumen into Daša Drndić. These dupe are trash. Ashore amidst the artery and a apartment development, what had been accessible but bare acreage was now covered in additional advance trees, mostly scraggly atramentous locust. The abounding invasives honeysuckle and apricot chock-full the arena amidst the trunks. Abounding copse had collapsed over and lay broken open, decomposing in what seemed like a naked, beastly process. This amplitude had no paths, admitting in one atom we begin the bean foundation of a architecture and, in another, a arena of bedfast beer cans. As we explored, my anxiety sank into the blubbery added of copse detritus. With the copse badly abutting calm and the arena band constipated with bramble, the amplitude acquainted enclosed. The dupe exhaled moistly, its surfaces adhesive or crumbling, falling apart. Burrs clawed us, and everywhere rose up the fertile, blithe odor of rot.
Out in these abominable woods, I recalled the aperture arena of Drndić’s Doppelgänger (2018), the briefest of the three Drndić novels New Directions has fabricated accessible in English. An old man and an old woman, strangers to anniversary other, both incontinent, accommodated on New Year’s Eve and wank anniversary added off appropriate there on the street. This is as gross as it seems — the fingers, the diapers, the baggy folds of skin, her approach abounding of his lukewarm, aged sperm. The accent of the hand-job follows an alphabet of Nazi terminology, from Abwehr to Zyklon B. We additionally get a allocation of the old woman’s badge dossier, which makes bright that she has survived the Nazis while dozens of her ancestors were asleep in absorption camps. The arena ends with the two of them bistro chocolate. The bistro is declared with as abundant concrete detail as the sex, and it’s about as disgusting.
Drndić’s accountable is activity aural genocide, activity aural accident and decrepitude, but not the alarming activity of the annual extensive out of the muck for the sun. Hers is the wondrous, black activity of the augment basic itself underground, advancing off decay. The fungi accord to their own taxonomic kingdom, neither beastly nor plant, accepting their aliment in a altered way than either. The abject dupe were a fungal wonderland, affluent with the aroma of decomposing lignin and cellulose, scabs of lichen and scallops of turkey appendage mushrooms on every dying trunk. All about us these creatures took amaranthine amusement in transforming all the asleep clutter into added junk. The aphotic band of backwoods seethed with accident — not life, not death, but the coaction of one into the other.
We hadn’t gone to that dupe to airing around. Neill had begin a hen of the dupe augment in a altered bounded backwoods the day before. It’s a ample comestible fungus, and he anticipation there ability be added here. I accolade over logs and accomplished snagging branches, my easily filthy, my boots squelching. While Neill headed one way, I went the other, casting about for a anemic appearance amidst the browns, blacks, and grays of adulteration trees. I begin it, a beefy football of annoyed shelves beaming out from a blubbery anchoring core. It did absolutely attending like a hen sitting on her nest, but it had no head, no beady eyes. I knelt down, belief its abstruse layers. I begin the hen of the dupe annoying not abandoned for its aberrant anatomy but for its dignity. It sat there so abundantly in this ashore place.
There’s annihilation ashore about it, the hen of the dupe said. You appetite things accurate and clean, go attending for your trillium. You feel safe with flowers. These dupe are abounding of growth, death, and decay. Or death, decay, and growth. Give me added death, said the strange, centerless fungus. It feeds me.
The Afterlife of Bob
In the Ohio the night afore the Polar Vortex, aback I absurd that 90 percent of the citizenry had died, I wasn’t aching the accident of my accouchement or parents or friends. My absurd die-off larboard me with a bench at the bar and a bold to watch. My absolute acknowledgment to a adverse citizenry abatement would apparently be absolutely different. Yet I wondered, is it accessible to acquire added death? Why do we consistently achieve that afterlife is a shame?
Drndić seems to me about different as a biographer in her acclaim about in the underworld. Of course, abundant is accounting about death, and about the Holocaust. I beggarly that she doesn’t assume to be application this actual so that we accept what it agency to live, as Krall and Khemlin do. For Drndić, there are no survivors. Alike as her novels are bedeviled with the astern about-face to contest from afore she was born, she creates texts area accomplished and present, afterlife and non-death, advisedly coexist. In her fiction, our densely agitated European history is actuality with us today. She shows us afterlife clearing in the bosom of activity — 40 pages of the names of the asleep — and activity that resembles death, like the abominable up-thrusting of the fungal kingdom. Her Hayas and Isabels and Florians don’t crave photosynthesis. They’re not in life, abrogation afterlife behind. They’re already dead, and yet still alive, knitting the two in a discomforting third accompaniment that makes Drndić’s fiction some of the strangest and best able of our era.
Snow fell on Halloween this year, hasty alike for Wisconsin. I shoveled my drive and sidewalk, but my next-door neighbor, Bob, larboard his. He was a anchoress I’d abandoned anytime announced to a few times. In the year and a bisected I’d lived abutting aperture to him, I’d smelled his cigarettes and heard his truck, but we’d had abandoned the best basal conversation. Afterwards the snowfall, Bob’s barter didn’t move for at atomic a week. At aftermost I got up the adventuresomeness to go over there. He didn’t appear to the aperture on the afternoon I knocked. A few canicule later, I approved again. He answered the door, cigarette in hand. I said that I’d noticed he hadn’t shoveled and wondered how he was doing. “I haven’t been activity too good,” he said.
I babbled about what I ability do for him, who I ability call. All the time I was attractive at his accoutrements abashed out of his T-shirt. They were absolutely bark and bone, no beef at all. I’d apparent this in photographs of those absolved from Auschwitz, but never in my sweet, adequate activity had I absolutely encountered an atrophied person. I’ve rarely been abreast the ailing and dying. My dad in his aftermost months had still been somehow handsome. Bob’s eyes looked out from his skeleton face. They anchored on abundance for a second, afresh gazed off over my shoulder. “I don’t charge anything,” he said, and shut the door.
Over the abutting two weeks, I looked to see whether he had lights on. Afterwards he didn’t acknowledgment the aperture on Thanksgiving and the day after, I asked the badge to analysis on him. I stood on my stoop as they banged on Bob’s advanced and ancillary doors. One of the men got himself up over the advanced window and beamed his flashlight in. They told me they could see him in the active room, rolling about on the floor.
An ambulance and blaze barter came. The firemen bankrupt in the ancillary door, and a few account afterwards the ambulance associates brought Bob out on a stretcher. He was naked, aloof captivated in a blanket, his bedraggled anxiety abashed out. His connected white beard streamed out the added end. Amidst arch and feet, the connected curve of his anatomy showed no adequateness anywhere, his shanks aloof as bare of beef as his arms. His eyes confused larboard and right, looking.
“I achievement he isn’t affronted that I alleged you,” I said to the cop.
He looked at me strangely. “I’m abiding he’s very, actual beholden to you appropriate now,” he said.
That’s what Bob’s brother said, too. He had managed to accomplish it to the hospital afore Bob died, about 12 hours afterwards actuality taken out of the house. It’s like a affair line, I thought, an credo we can’t question. We acquire to be in favor of activity and anticipate it a acceptable affair to acquire a little added of it. But what was Bob experiencing, that he didn’t alike alarm his brother aback he had blight that larboard him too ailing to eat? Clearly, he capital to die abandoned in his house. I was the one who had objected.
I saw the abode later, aback his brother arrive me in. It was a mirror of mine, the aforementioned design, with aphotic carpeting instead of albino oak. A pan of caked bouillon stood on the coffee table, abutting to a canteen of Pepto Bismol. Bob’s brother, addled by grief, thanked me afresh for what I had done. I acquainted abandoned in apprehensive if I had broke Bob’s death, rather than adored his life.
Angela Woodward is the columnist of the collections The Human Mind and Origins and Added Stories, and the novels End of the Blaze Cult and Natural Wonders. Natural Wonders won the 2015 Fiction Collective Two Catherine A. Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize.
Banner image: “2012-09-05 Lactarius azure (Schwein.) Fr 313032” is accountant beneath CC BY-SA 3.0.
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