It’s a Silky Name

I spent a lot of the afternoon reading the most recent issue of susurrus: the literature of madness. Most of the stories had strong surreal elements. I’m ambivalent about this. I like speculative fiction, and I like weird stories, but I also want a strong feeling of connection between events. I like plots that make sense.

The stories I particularly liked really held onto plot, while reserving their surrealism mostly for setting and color. In R. Thomas Hogg’s “Sine Nomine,” for example, a woman loses her name, and asks the narrator to help her find it. They’re in a strange location — a long and seemingly unending staircase. But if you ignore these specifics, the plot is fairly straightforward: two people are searching for something that is lost. Personally, I like this kind of setup. It gives the author room to get as weird as he wants without losing the reader. Because I understood the basics of what was going on, I was OK with characters appearing and disappearing, and with people speaking strangely. Hogg is freed by the simple structure of his story. For example, he writes:

“What kind of name is it? That might help us.”

The drawn woman lets go. She creases her brow. “It’s a silky name. Not tinny or woody.”

“French, maybe? Or Russian?”

When you’re searching for something, of course you need details about it. The actual details, when they come, are strange and poetic, and I enjoy wondering what a “silky” name sounds like.


4 responses to “It’s a Silky Name

  1. I read the story you linked to, and I’ll contribute my two-cents. The most interesting thing to me was not the surreal element of the story – the woman looking for her name, with all the power-symbolism attached.

    To me, the narrator was more interesting. Why exactly does he help this pathetic, fearful, “surreally feminine” woman, other than the fact that she begs him, and he would be an inadequte man otherwise?
    Truer to character, he stands idly by while she assaults another woman, this other one professional-looking, self-sufficient, non-crazy.
    This is a realistically-drawn character.

  2. My personal opinion as to why he helps her is that he does it out of guilt: ” I keep my hands in my pockets as I watch all this. The urge to intervene fades as I thumb their contents. I should feel guilty. I did at first. I should now more than ever. But I don’t. It’s a far better name than mine.” He’s the type of person who steals something, and then helps you look for it.
    You’re very right that there’s something interesting going on here with gender — the pathetic woman vs. the self-sufficient one. I want to think about that more. Gender seems to play a role, too, in that the woman who’s lost her name trust the narrator’s denial when he says he doesn’t have it, and yet is so certain that the professional woman stole her name. Thanks for pointing it out.

  3. Pingback: what’s in a name? « out of thin air

  4. A silky name , I believe, is a name for someone who is liberated. Someone who is fluid and part of their surroundings.

    Her name was a silky one because she had some special role before she lost it. That role involved the chubby information attendant. She was a person who lost their purpose and was thus deprived of everything. Sanity, appeal, color, even dimension.

    Clearly the name symbolizes this encompassing concept of persona. But only to characters other than the narrator. To Johnson Jackson(?) His name is bland and irrelevant to him. But he is seen as neutral, as we are, and makes the story more easily interpretable through his viewpoint.

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