Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Be James Bond

A year or so ago I took the old James Bond novels out of the library on a whim. What a surprise. Read the first ten pages of "From A View to a Kill" alone (terrible title and proof positive that Fleming never intended these stories to be an entertainment franchise) and you find a James Bond who is lonely, depressed and can't get a girl. Ever. OK, unless he pays, and then gets mugged by her pimp. (Oh, excuse me, this takes place in Paris, so we must call this pimp a maquereau.)

We meet Bond for the very first time thusly:
James Bond had his first drink of the evening at Fouquet's. It was not a solid drink. One cannot drink seriously in French cafes. Out of doors on a pavement in the sun is no place for vodka or whisky or gin. A fine a l'eau is fairly serious, but it intoxicates without tasting very good. A quart de champagne or a champagne a l'orange is all right before luncheon, but in the evening one quart leads to another quart, and a bottle of indifferent champagne is a bad foundation for the night. Pernod is possible, but it should be drunk in company, and anyway Bond had never liked the stuff because its licorice taste reminded him of his childhood.

Not everyone could sit in a cafe in Paris and be depressed, but Bond is a guy who has seen too much in the war and feels at odds with the post war exuberance in Paris, the tourists and the traffic. Try it out. Take an ordinary scene and write ordinary details, but make sure everything has that air of sadness. 

Myrna pushed her shopping cart first to the produce section. She was afraid of the apples, which had been so inexpertly stacked that to remove one would cause an avalanche. The grapefruit looked waxy under the fluorescent light, and the bananas were still so green, even after their long trip from South America. It soured her mouth just to look at them. In the next aisle she found the lettuces sagging under the cold mist meant to keep them fresh during the long day. She picked up a bag of baby carrots, judged the water content inside and then put them back down. The brussels sprouts looked good, still tight fisted, but Bill hates those. She grabbed the packet of carrots and turned her cart toward the fish counter, already steeling herself not to look at the lobster case with its murky water, the things crawling and waving their bound claws. No one needs to see that in the morning.

Horrible? Absolutely. But good fun, too. Try it.

Later, in FAVTAK we get several gloomy paragraphs in which Bond remembers losing his virginity in Paris. He lists the restaurants he visits and why. A waiter serves him and snubs him all at once. Then Bond reminisces about a recent failed assignment in which someone died. Abruptly, in the middle of that paragraph, he has a fantasy. James Bond's fantasy is to find a woman who isn't a prostitute and pay her for companionship and sex. It goes like this:

Today had been so beautiful--one of those days when you almost believe that Paris is beautiful and gay--and Bond had decided to give the town just one more chance. He would somehow find himself a girl who was a real girl, and he would take her to dinner at some make-believe place in the Bois like the Armenonville. To clean the money look out of her eyes--for it would certainly be there--he would as soon as possible give her fifty thousand francs. He would say to her, "I propose to call you Donatienne, or possibly Solange, because these are names that suit my mood and the evening. We knew each other before and you lent me this money because I was in a jam. Here it is, and now we will tell each other what we have been doing since we last met in Saint-Tropez just a year ago. In the meantime, here is the menu and the wine list and you must choose what will make you happy and fat." And she would look relieved at not having to try anymore, and she would laugh and say, "But, James, I do not want to be fat." And there they would be, started on the myth of "Paris in the Spring," and Bond would stay sober and be interested in her and everything she said

THE EXERCISE: Detail a depressive's sudden fantasy. Fleming does it in nine sentences, with three bits of dialog. Feel free to use m-dashes liberally, as he does, to squeeze in cynicism, and to begin sentences with and, or to string together thoughts with conjunctions. The word "and" is a great one because it allows the paragraph to skip along as thoughts do and to take odd jumps to cover more ground. The dialog can be as corny as you like.

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