‘I Can Say Many Nice Things’ by Ben Marcus

I Can Say Many Nice Things by Ben Marcus, 2013

The magic trick:

Using the commentary in the creative writing workshop scenes as symbolism related to the overall story

It’s Ben Marcus Week on the magic trick website, and we start with a real treat. You might not like it at first. It’s a little gimmicky. The humor maybe seems a little pleased with itself. I went with it, though. Carried through. Got to the end. Thought eh, whatever. That was all pretty much like the story they critiqued in the story: not much happens. Oh. Wait a second. I get it. I get it! Hold on. Wow! I get it!

Maybe I’m a little dumb. Maybe you’ll get it immediately. Maybe it’s obvious. But regardless, I thought a lot more of this story two hours after I read it than I did while I was reading it.

Marcus treads treacherous territory: recreating and satirizing a creative writing workshop. That stuff can just get self-referential. It really can be too much. But this story very cleverly manages to make everything mean one thing in the story and something else entirely on a larger scale. Yeah, I get it, symbolism. I probably sound dumb here. It’s just very, very clever use of symbolism. The way the stories and comments from the workshop courses get turned in on the story itself, well, it’s really cool. And that’s quite a trick on Marcus’s part.

The selection:

In Timothy’s story an old man sat on a bed and thought back on his life, which featured some activities he regretted, which he would now tell us about at great length. The end.

A woman named Shay started the critique. She shrugged, said she had trouble believing it, and then paused, failing to elaborate.

That did rather sum things up, Fleming thought. A brave piece of thinking. Maybe true of almost everything created ever: paintings, books, houses, bridges. None of them are finally believable, when you really think about it. But, well, there they are. Whole schools of philosophy had fought with that one. Looking at Shay and the confidence she projected, it was clear that belief was her holy grail and she probably rarely found it. She didn’t believe this, she didn’t believe that, it was all so unbelievable. Many years from now Shay would be dying somewhere nonspecific — Fleming’s imagination couldn’t piece together a good deathbed location — and she would declare that she just couldn’t believe it.

Did Shay want to suggest anything Timothy could do to make his story more believable? Fleming asked.

“No. I don’t believe in meddling with other people’s art. No way. And I don’t want anyone to meddle with mine.”

Well put, and good on you, he thought, but then what the fuck are you doing here?

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