James Purdy: In a Shallow Grave

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James Purdy In a Shallow Grave
  • Название:
    In a Shallow Grave
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  • Издательство:
    GMP Publishers Ltd
  • Жанр:
    Современная проза / на английском языке
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  • ISBN:
    0 85449 093 0
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In a Shallow Grave: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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When they sent Garnet Montrose to Vietnam they told him he’d go out a boy and come back a man. But he comes back a freak, so hideously scarred that no one can stand to look at his face. The explosion which destroyed his company has skinned him alive. Living as a recluse on a storm-battered Virginia farm, he dreams of the days when he was eighteen and king of the local dance hall, kept alive by his obsession with the untouchable Georgina Rance. It seems this half-life will never end – until the arrival of Daventry, offering him total love or total destruction… ‘A marvellous tour-de-force. A novel that engages as it entertains, draws the reader in as it draws something out of him. In other words, a very impressive book’ – Publishers Weekly. ‘Mr Purdy writes like an angel, with accuracy, wit and freshness, but a fallen angel, versed in the sinful ways of men’ – The Times.

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James Purdy

In a Shallow Grave

First published in the USA in 1975.

This edition published in October 1988 by GMP Publishers Ltd

PO Box 247, London N15 6RW, England.

© James Purdy 1975

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Purdy, James

In A Shallow Grave

I. Title


ISBN 0 85449 093 0

Printed and bound in the European Community

by Nørhaven A/S, Viborg, Denmark

For John Uker,

Robert Helps,

and George Andrew McKay.

“WHAT you will need now you are about to be separated from the Army,” my captain had told me as I was picking up my mustering-out pay, “is what in the days of my grandfather they called a valet or maybe a hired man. Unless of course you want to stay in the Vets’ hospital, which you have more than every right to . . . But you will need someone to watch over you now . . .”

I didn’t think about a valet and/or hired man until I was back home in Virginia for a week or so. Somehow all I thought about the first few days was how many birds there were singing in the early or premorning hours, I never heard such a fuss. I thought some too about my parents who had died whilst I was in service, and I thought about somebody else whom I am coming to very presently. I felt also a certain kind of angry satisfaction, if not gratitude, for all the money I had on hand, not to speak of some my uncle had willed me, I say angry or grim satisfaction owing to the fact that both the captain and me knew there would be no valet, hired man, even slave who would want to come and stay with me, not to mention eat with or touch me, for I may as well explain at once that owing to my war injuries which took place near the South China Sea, my appearance is such that anybody’s stomach is turned at the sight, enough to make him throw up, if not to faint.

I kept sort of grinning thinking over the captain’s advice about valets and servants and hired men, but as another soldier who was being mustered out at the same time as me had quipped, “When you can’t even find anybody to shine your shoes anymore, let alone somebody to watch over you.”

But behind all these practical considerations and worries, there was this flitting dim thought never absent but never put into words at this time, that down the road about two mile was living Widow Rance, who had been, though this seems a thousand years ago and must surely have passed out of her mind entirely, my childhood sweetheart.

But though I thought of her every moment asleep or awake, under the sound of all those bird choristers, it finally wasn’t my lifelong crush on her that made me hold my breath with panic but what was I to do with the little that was left of myself.

The Army doc, just before he signed my papers, had said, “Although your skin bears a total disfigurement from your war injuries, you ought to bear in mind, despite your outward appearance you have a wonderful fine and strong bone structure, and it is the bones that are the real measure of a man’s bearing and good looks.”

In the darkness now sometimes after my return I would take out a large hand mirror and look at myself as if searching for the bones that he had said I should be so proud of. By moonlight it is true, I looked sort of almost normal, the scars, gashes, and discoloration sort of melting into the night . . . Yes, I needed a servant, I kept returning to this. No woman would take the job, that’s certain, though I would have preferred one. It would have to be not only a man, but a young one, for already you see I had my plan, and I would run his legs off. So I put some notices in the local papers advertising for him, for I knew then that I would court the Widow Rance through these letters I was going to write to her.

But it was maybe my greatest sorrow since I was hurt so bad in the war when the ads started to be answered and the applicants began coming in person. I had never interviewed anybody before, and always been the one to have to answer all the questions, and here I was about to ask these young men if they would care to accept employment. But there were few questions asked, let me tell you, and almost no answers, for all the young men acted the same way, that is they took one look, and their gorge started to rise, and they would strain and cough, wanting to vomit as they looked over at me. After that, they would get up, knocking over a stool or taboret somewhere, some mumbling “No thanks, buddy” or “Sorry about all your trouble over there.” One even started to shake hands with me, but when he saw the disfigurement had reached as far down as my fingertips he thought better of it, and hiked out faster than the ones who had left almost as soon as they caught sight of me.

I am glad the doc has left me a generous medicine cabinet, for as soon as an applicant had retched and knocked over the furniture and hurried out, I would take more than my usual handful of pills.

I presided over fifty acres here, left me by my grandfather, who in turn had it from his father. Nearby is the ocean, which sort of follows my moods, that is sometimes even when the sky is bright he thunders and thumps and howls and even cries like a little child. And speaking of crying, my doc says my injuries have not really damaged my lachrymal glands, but I think on this score as on many others, he must have blundered, for I cannot weep, and if I start to I feel a great pain in these said glands, like there were sharp rocks or millstones being drawn through raw nerves.

I don’t know what I would do without the ocean, come to think of it.

At first I wrote down in diary form my thoughts, but I burned them one morning. The pages from my diary though began with one sentence which from then on seemed to float through the air like smoke rings from a billboard cigarette, I am the color now of mulberry juice.

It’s as though any chair I sat on was a red-hot stove, my bed is like ground glass, and even when walking, from my scalp down to my big toe I feel I am on fire . . . “It is memory,” said the docs, “you have recovered from your war injuries, it is your memory which keeps you in pain, learn to forget and you will be well again.

But if I do have memory, like they say it is buried to the core of the earth, for I really have trouble recollecting one day from the next.

The “interviews” and the “advertisements” for hired help took all of a year. Even now I can see the long line of young men who came to apply for a job nobody could want.

I thought once, and wrote it out on a scrap sheet from a ledger, The lowest slave in the world wouldn’t accept the job of tending me if he was to starve to death.

Only it finally “came” to me in the night that somebody desperate was going to apply, and as soon as this thought warned me of his coming, I got sort of quiet even for me, and slept.

There was a little old pump-organ upstairs, and I used to go up and pump it and play folk songs on it, and even sing, but it only made me more uncomfortable in my head, for the purpose of folk songs whether they admit it or not is to get you to weep.

None who came, then, as applicants could bear the sight of me, all turned aside to retch or to groan or to sit down too faint to stand, and would beg for a glass of water. The hired girl I had at this time used to let them in, and almost as quick let them out. One applicant who lingered a little longer than the others while the girl waited at the door to allow him to leave opined that when winter came he feared the house would be too skeletal and thin to keep the big winds and ocean blasts out. I nodded, as cold was the last thing on my mind, and I reminded him that in the summer it is breezy and cool here when the rest of the country is sweltering and broiling.

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