It had been some years since I’ve read any Nabokov, which I can only blame a youthful use of mind-shrinking substances or a two-mile-long to-read list. But recently, I made a full-length audiobook of Dustin Long’s Icelander, whose completion set me on a mission. I’m not going to shill Icelander too much (ahem, only five bucks! And I get a piece!), but there was no way for any reasonable person — or even myself — to finish it and not start thumbing through the old master’s treasures, all of which I’ve loved plenty at some point or other. You’ll see what I mean if you listen to Icelander (ahem: Iambik Audiobooks, who released it, features plenty other Miette-approved titles in its inaugural selection).
So there I was, splayed out on the floor surrounded by cracked copies of Pnin and Pale Fire and Ada and all the rest, just madly paging through a title, locating its place within the vast underworld of my memory, enjoying the moment of recognition, then putting it aside and grabbing the next… and then I reached for the stories.
One of the nicer books in my library of the beaten and battered is a lovely hard-cover of the collected stories, and toward the end of it, the Vane Sisters, which proved to be the reminiscent equivalent of a half-ton of Madeleines force-fed by aliens. Not only had I forgotten how imbued this story was with everything I love about literature, but in its way, it seemed to be a sort of Ur-text for Icelander. No fooling: if you’ll pardon the connect-the-dots of the subject matter, this was not unlike being poked in the neck by the very ghosts the story conjures. Spooky stuff, for a girl on the floor of her own dusty library.
Two clues to solving the story’s puzzle:
1> You may need to listen to it twice.
2> You may need to see this, the final paragraph, to make sense of things:
I could isolate, consciously, little. Everything seemed blurred, yellow-clouded, yielding nothing tangible. Her inept acrostics, maudlin evasions, theopathies – every recollection formed ripples of mysterious meaning. Everything seemed yellowly blurred, illusive, lost.
PS: Wanna hear some of Icelander
by Dustin Long? The entire first chapter is ready for your ears.
Okay, done shilling. Back to Nabokov:
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