Rain, Rain

Rainy January

Why yes, a huge storm did blow out the power for millions of people in Northern California and it did indeed dump a ton of snow on the Sierra. And yes, we are all of us pretty wet here. But really, how bad a storm can it be when the princess plant outside your window still has big, blowsy purple blooms all over it, and the only snow you encounter is snow you’ve voluntarily driven to be in? (Which is the case with my husband and two of my boys, who are skiing this weekend, happy about all that snow, even though they’ve been warned that there is a LOT OF IT.)

We are weather wimps here in the Bay Area, we really are. That is why I’m a little nervous about my trip to London next week. What passes for cold here in the Bay Area looks a lot like spring to the good people of Great Britain. Do I have gloves? Well, no, unless ski mittens count and I’m afraid in an urban environment I’ll look like a total idiot if I wear my ski mittens to the theater, and anyway they’re so bulky I won’t be able to bring books if I bring them. A hat? Yes, in fact, I do. I asked for one for Christmas and it does cover my ears. But I know already I’m not going to do well in the coat department, in my Bay Area coat that I so rarely button up that I’m not sure it even has buttons. I’ll have to run from pub to pub, gloveless, and keep warm through the good offices of a lot of beer and tea. But not at the same time. I have standards.

Okay, here’s the literary part of this post. Today, in a cafe with the son who did not go skiing, I read A Comedy of Errors. The comedies are lovely books to take on a trip, because they are small. The Yale Shakespeares I checked out of the library are particularly small — that’s mostly because they don’t contain a lot of annotations and definitions. So you have to guess sometimes at what sexual joke is being made. You’re pretty likely to be right if you guess that a word or phrase refers to (a) a cuckold; (b) a woman’s willingness to engage in sex; (c) a man’s penis. Sometimes I go with all three, just to see what might happen.

A Comedy of Errors, for those who only dimly remember, is the earliest comedy, and the broadest and most slap-stick of them all. It involves twins named Antipholus — the sons of a merchant — separated at birth in, what else?, a shipwreck. Separated with them are another set of twins, named Dromio, who are their servants. Plausible? Well, no. But it is still very funny when the twins who are the travelers in search of their lost brothers come to town. Apparently, Syracuse, where they end up, is a very small town, because they keep running into each other with very funny results.

There is a lot to say about Shakespearean comedy, but today I am really only interested in one thing, which is plausibility. That subject arose when I mentioned the opening chapter of my new novel to my husband, a chapter in which a woman, who has run away to London to escape from trouble in her life back in San Francisco (no, this is not autobiograhical!) and packs in her suitcase a huge amount of cash, realizes, when she is waiting to go through customs, that she is not supposed to bring all that cash into the country. I thought this would be funny and interesting. My husband thought it was not plausible. She is a lawyer, he said. She would never do something that stupid.

Ah, but there you have it — in fact, people in books MUST ALWAYS do stupid things. You can’t have a book full of sensible people. That would be a how-to guide — you know, a book in which someone like Suzanne Summers tells you how to eat right and be fit. In a novel, Suzanne Summers would be secretly packing away quarts of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, while lecturing the world about how to be fit until her personal assistant, a plucky young woman from New Jersey named Margo, tells someone when she is drunk about the Ben & Jerry’s and then someone begins to send Suzanne Summers blackmailing letters in which she is told to do increasingly insane things, all of which are for the good of some segment of the population she despises like people who are a little fat (or a lot) and people who have big noses. Obviously, I would much rather read (and write) the novel than the how-to book.

And so it goes in A Comedy of Errors, the least plausible of plays. Does anyone care? I don’t think so. And that’s because we all want to laugh, and we want to be entertained, and we want to see just how far things will go before they are set to rights. That is the promise of comedy, I think, and the promise of the new novel I am writing. Just how much trouble can my characters get in before things are settled? I am looking forward to finding out, while I warm my hands by whatever heating system is in the pub closest to my brother’s apartment.

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9 thoughts on “Rain, Rain

  1. Susan, I’m glad you’re feeling better — what a week to be sick in, huh? Pretty soon I’m driving up to the mountains with son number 3, and it’s only because of massive amounts of tea that I’m able to pull myself away from our easy chair, and implausible comedy to do it. xo

  2. Lily, the great thing about London, and in fact Britain, is that no matter how weird you look, there always be someone weirder. It is very liberating. When my daughter was in primary school there was one mother who used to walk her children to school still wearing her pyjamas. Some people just aren’t early morning kinds of people! Don’t worry about wearing skiing gloves to the theater. Or indeed your furry slippers…

  3. You see? This is just what I’ve been thinking about, too: how, in novels, people have to do stupid, non-sensible things, and get themselves into scrapes–both plausible and implausible–or else, where’s the story? And how are they going to move forward in their lives if they’re already doing everything so well? It seems that they either have to have everything perfect and then lose it through acting badly…or else they have to be non-sensible to begin with and then learn how to make their lives good. Having said that, I must confess that I hate going to movies in which the characters behave so out of character that it suspends disbelief–but I find the world much more interesting when people behave just the way you’ve described: like Suzanne Summers secretly hoarding Ben & Jerry’s in her suitcase while she’s lecturing to others about health. That would be a great situation, wouldn’t it? Have fun on your trip to London. And stay dry!

  4. Hello Sandi — There is some sort of tea-powered connection between rainy northern California and cold Connecticut, I am convinced. I cannot wait to hear what scrapes your people get in to. And thank you for that insight about the sensible people who behave badly and those who are non-sensible to begin with. I forget about the latter, and should not, because they are such interesting characters, aren’t they?

    Dear SigNo (Don’t worry, I will come up with something better and soon….) I love your new novel, first of all. And welcome to the world of blogging, second of all. And third of all, thank you for that comforting insight into the fashion habits of the British people. I will be packing my furry slippers next to my ski gloves, next to my pajamas and I will not have a further worry about cold weather fashion.

  5. The other option to running if you do find that your fingers are chilly, BlogLily, is that there will probably be sales on and you can pop into almost any high street boutique and buy yourself an elegant little pair of gloves for very small pounds.

  6. Oh God, men and plausibility! How many of my fictional stories crashed on exactly those rocks? It all seemed fine to me, because let’s face it, life isn’t that plausible to begin with, but many a tale was laid down with a sorry shaking of the head. If I can read detective novels and wonder all the time why the conversations in them never go the way I think they should, then you can have a suitcase full of money in the arms of an otherwise smart woman.

    Oh and it’s a bit nicer here today! Bring your thermal vest and all will be well!

  7. Glad to know that the storm isn’t too bad where you are,Lily. I have been waiting to hear about the storm from my Bay Area friends, so it is good to know that things are not too bad there. I was getting worried about the power outage and the forecast of “few feet” (!!!) of snow.

    I think one really appreciates the Bay Area weather when one goes away. I visited for Thanksgiving, and as soon as I stepped out of the plane in San Jose, I felt the familiar pleasant evening breeze and knew what I had been missing for three months.

    Thanks for your comment on the blog. A happy new year to you as well!

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