Tag Archives: distance

Girl with Curious Hair: Uncomfortable Closeness

The story of “Girl with Curious Hair” is like a magnifying glass. “Girl with Curious Hair” plays with distance–the distance between characters within the story, the distance between the speaker and the reader, the distance between the reader and the subject of the text. In particular, “Girl with Curious Hair” removes the usual, normative, comfortable distance between objects and between people. As a result, the story creates a closeness that induces immense discomfort for the reader as well as the characters.

In “Girl with Curious Hair,” the speaker narrates in a way that extracts the context from the story. In The Broom of the System, when Lenore critiques the relationship between the story and the context in the Fieldbinder story, she argues, “Shouldn’t a story make the context that makes people do certain things and have the things be appropriate or not appropriate? A story shouldn’t just mention the exact context it’s supposed to try really to create, right?” (335). To Lenore, a reader, a story should create context–an environment, background, setting so that a word, a sentence, a passage can be understood.

“Girl with Curious Hair,” however, neither creates nor simply mentions context. Instead, the story removes chunks of context that would help the reader understand a phrase or passage and inserts them into the story at a later point, making the reading experience much more difficult. For example, the story opens with: “Gimlet dreamed that if she did not see a concert last night she would become a type of liquid” (55). Upon reading this, the reader has no clue who Gimlet is, how Gimlet is related to the narrator, or what is going on at all. The narrator hesitates (in the form of a comma) and then proceeds to offer a bit of context: “therefore my friends Mr. Wonderful, Big, Gimlet and I went to see Keith Jarrett play a piano concert at the Irvine Concert Hall in Irvine last night” (55). In thrusting information onto/into the reader without first providing the surrounding picture or circumstances, the text becomes similar to a magnifying glass and difficult to grasp.

Furthermore, the speaker bombards the reader with an endless array of details. The details, however, instead of moving the story forward, keep the story static–as if the story would remain frozen, forever scrutinizing the hair of each character and the effects of LSD on each character. By presenting an infinite series of detail and imagery without first offering a larger picture or explanation, the story radiates the effect of a magnifying glass–blowing up the details while cropping out the context. As a result, the story creates an uncomfortable and unusual proximity between the reader and the substance of the text. The reader is not brought into the story from far away, but immediately placed next to and among the characters, assaulted with their curious behaviors and peculiarities.

Likewise, distance collapses within the confines of the text: between the characters in the story. Each moment of contact or moment bordering contact engenders a poignant discomfort for one character or another. For instance, Cheese putting his hand on the sleeve of the narrator’s sportcoat makes the narrator uncomfortable, “for his fingernails were unclean” (68), and in a later moment, the narrator removes “Cheese’s hand and unsightly nails from the wrist of the sleeve of [his] sportcoat” (74). Here, Cheese seems to have a propensity to touch the narrator, to make contact, to eliminate the distance while the narrator cringes at the lack of distance and the unclean touch of Cheese.

Similarly, the story progresses toward a dwindling of distance between Gimlet and the girl with the curious hair. Gimlet, like Cheese, has the desire to physically grasp another–only in Gimlet’s case, a girl’s hair. In “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way,” D.L. writes, “‘The subject of a story is what it’s about; the object of a story is where it’s going'” (261). In “Girl with Curious Hair,” the girl with the curious hair seems to be both the subject (according to the title) and the object of the story. The story ends with an image of the girl with the curious hair. Moreover, the final image is compounded with Gimlet’s hands ultimately reaching and “moving in the girl’s radiant hair” (74)–an arrival at convergence and erasure of distance. And this closeness is disturbing and discomforting and unpleasant.

Repetition of Images throughout Girl with Curious Hair

Did anyone else happen to notice different imagery or themes reoccurring in different stories?   Maybe I’m crazy, or maybe I was just confusing the plots of the different stories in Girl with Curious Hair as I read it late at night, but I kept noticing similar images popping up throughout the collection.   I don’t know if this repetition really holds any meaning, but I think it might be worth bringing up.

For example, the concept and meaning of distance is discussed in both “Lyndon” and “Here and There.”   In “Lyndon” on page 115, when Lady Bird invites David to her home for tea while her husband is on his deathbed, she tells him, “Love is simply a word.   It joins separate things… these words, he says, are understood by you youths of America to be nothing but arrangements of distance.”   David responds, “Two close people can’t love each other, even in a sort of Platonic way?”   This discussion of distance seems to be less about physical distance than it is about having a personal boundary and sharing your defined Self with another defined Self (Broom…).   But in “Here and There” discussions about distance take on a physical aspect.   The boy loves the girl best when they are not physically together, when they are separate.   And distance is also thematic in “Here and There” when the boy tries to explain his concept of art becoming more technical and mathematical when he says that words will be “Here in the most intimate way… the cold, the new, the right, the truly and spotlessly here” (155).

The image and importance of the sky also struck me in a few stories.   The first lines in “Little Expressionless Animals,” the first story of the collection, immediately place importance upon the sky: “It’s 1976.   The sky is low and full of clouds.   The gray clouds are bulbous and wrinkled and shiny.   The sky looks cerebral.   Under the sky is a field, in the wind.”   I don’t know what exactly the sky is supposed to represent here, but it sure seems important.   And then, in “Lyndon,” Lady Bird says to David, “He says you are the sky whose presence and meaning have become everyday,” (116).   And again, in “Here and There,” the boy says, “In this dream I am afraid of the sky… it is full of clouds… In all my dreams the world is windy, disordered, gray” (165).   Perhaps the sky is meant to represent something that we take for granted, because we see it everyday, but at the same time we can never actually reach the sky.   Not because it is at a great distance, but because it is something intangible that we can never physically be near.  

I also thought it was strange that “Lyndon,” not “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way,” contains a passage about heading west: “Go as far west as the limit of the country lets you… and keep making that line, west, farther and farther,” (117).

This is all pure speculation, and I have no idea if DFW intended it to hold any meaning (and I wouldn’t want to commit the Intentional Fallacy anyway), so take it with a grain of salt.   Unless maybe I’m not crazy?   Has anyone else noticed this going on?

Close, But Yet, So Far

I think my favorite story so far as been “Here and There.” After “Girl with the Curious Hair” and “John Billy,” Wallace quickly takes us back down to earth with what is a basic, honest to goodness love story. Boy meets girl in high school, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl go to different colleges, boy and girl have a long-distance relationship that doesn’t work out, boy and girl break up. Yet, in playing with the complex idea of distances, Wallace turns this simple love story into an intricate tale of desires, dreams, and space.

From the very beginning of the story, the question of distance is manifest Bruce’s kissing of what is now his ex-girlfriend’s senior photo. It seems as though Bruce enjoys kissing the girl’s picture more than he enjoys kissing the actual girl. She even says, “He didn’t really like to kiss me” (151). But, from his description of the photo (“It’s cloudy from kisses” (152)), Bruce has obviously repeatedly kissed the picture. This strange situation arises because Bruce’s feelings of distance and closeness seem to be inverted. While kissing the girl (in person), Bruce describes that “at the time, with her, yes, I’d feel vaguely elsewhere” (151). It is in a moment of close physical contact that Bruce feels far away from the girl, hence his dislike for kissing her in person. But, it seems that it is only when he is away from the girl, when he only has her picture, that he is able to love her and feel a closeness and a connection.

The reason for Bruce’s inverted sense of connection seems to stem from the fact that Bruce was only able to love the girl because he made her, in his head, what he wanted her to be. And it was only when the girl was away from him that he could “invest” the girl with the qualities that he wanted her to have. The psychologist points this out, explaining how Bruce “never regards her as more than and independent from the feelings and qualities [Bruce] is disposed to invest her with from a distance” (156). When he was able to, essentially, “make her up” in his imagination he felt closest to her. But when they were together, he realized that “she is just plain different from whatever [he] might have decided to make her into for [himself]” (157). So, again it is only when they are apart, when he is free to dream, that he can feel a connection to the girl.

This also connects to why the girl had that impression that Bruce never likes to have, instead “he really likes to want” (159). If he has something, he has to take it for what it is, for how it presents itself, but, if he wants something and doesn’t have it yet, he is still free to dream about it. Bruce needs space, needs a distance between himself and an object in order to connect to it. The second that Bruce feels at home in Maine is the moment that he needs to leave: “Maine becomes another here instead of a there” (164). Bruce can’t have “here’s,” he can only handle “there’s.” He needs to feel that burn of desire, that want. We can only desire things that we don’t have, otherwise it would no longer be a desire. Bruce likes the desiring–the object doesn’t much matter.

Beyond the content, the very structure of the work suggests a play of and with distances. The story seems to be a therapy session between Bruce and a psychologist. But, the girl is present, too. Or is she? At first glance it might appear so: the conversation seems to flow and her responses do, for the most part, follow after Bruce’s comments. But, after re-reading the story, I’m pretty sure that, in fact, Bruce and the girl are in separate rooms, relating their accounts of their story at different times. Though this could definitely be up for interpretation and I would love to hear what other people think, I think there is an ever so subtle feeling that Bruce and the girl are talking just past each other. (Connection to Rick and Lenore, anyone?) In this one moment where both sides of their story finally come together, Bruce and the girl are actually apart, separated.

Ultimately, in this deceptively simple story, Wallace raises many important questions about the nature of human relationships. Do we all try to keep ourselves separated from the ones we love in fear of finding out that they’re not the people we thought them to be? Is the desire to want stronger than the desire to have?