Issue No. 80
Fence is a deceptively small charitable nonprofit with several complementary literary publishing programs, all of which share the mission of promulgating “very contemporary” literature. Very contemporary literature does not depend upon experiment or innovation or the quest for new forms of literature, but rather maintains that Exigency = Authenticity = The New. That a writer must feel free to follow her impulses without over-determination by market forces, be they academic or technological or even those of the nonprofit sector. At the same time Fence recognizes that these impulses are, like everything else in the world, in response to material conditions and circumstances, and that writing is, like every other art form, a conduit of information and ideas about our circumstances—oppressions, freedoms, joys and ills—here on Earth. Fence is an encouragement to writers to constantly refresh their freedoms.
When I want to publish a book, or a poem or story or text in Fence, it is because I am pleased by that writing in a special way that has to do with its lack of compromise with the mysterious forces. Like Deborah Eisenberg’s “Your Duck is My Duck.” Her brilliant story coolly articulates the positions taken by givers and receivers of patronage, and one singular episode of such at a privately owned coastal retreat far away from yet easily accessible to the coasts of Manhattan.
I love the ease with which the narrator, a painter somewhat nonplussed to find herself newly under the ill-favored wing of seasoned arts patrons, slips in and out of insufferable situations, dining rooms and clinches, almost without comment—all the while acting out the seriocomic effluvia of a lost love, one who has apparently recently sold the patronizing couple a painting she had given him, a rather large canvas.
Eisenberg’s writing is flagrant and defensive and provoked and responsive. Despondent and indicative. I am pleased by it and I want to share, to spread, to not shut up about it but to disseminate and propagate its trails and implications, make indelible the inscription of the conditions that made it possible for that writing to take place.
Support Recommended Reading
Subscribe to Fence
By Deborah Eisenberg
Recommended by Fence
Way back—oh, not all that long ago, actually, just a couple of years, but back before I’d gotten a glimpse of the gears and levers and pulleys that dredge the future up from the earth’s core to its surface—I was going to a lot of parties.
And at one of these parties there was a couple, Ray and Christa, who hung out with various people I sort of knew, or, anyhow, whose names I knew. We’d never had much of a conversation, just hey there, kind of thing, but I’d seen them at parties over the years and at that particular party they seemed to forget that we weren’t actually friends ourselves.
Ray and Christa had a lot of money, a serious quantity, and they were also both very good-looking, so they could live the way they felt like living. Sometimes they split up, and one of them, usually Ray, was with someone else for a while, always a splashy, public business that made their entourage scatter like flummoxed chickens, but inevitably they got back together, and afterwards, you couldn’t detect a scar.
Ray had a chummy arm around me and Christa was swaying to the music, which was almost drowned out by the din of voices in the metallic room, and smiling absently in my direction. I was a little taken aback that I was being, I guess, anointed, but it was up to them how well they knew you, and I could only assume that their cordiality meant either that something good had happened to me which was not yet perceptible to me but was already perceptible to them, or else that something good was about to happen to me.
So, we were talking, shouting, really, over the noise, and after a bit I realized that what they were saying meant that they now owned my painting, Blue Hill.
They owned Blue Hill? I had given Blue Hill to Graham once, in a happy moment, and he must have sold it to them when he up and moved to Barcelona. Blue Hill is not a bad painting, in my opinion, it’s one of my best, still, the expression that I could feel taking charge of my face came and went without making trouble for anyone, thanks to the fact that, obviously, there were a lot of people in the room for Ray and Christa to be looking at, other than me.
How are you these days, they asked, and at this faint suggestion that they’d been monitoring me, a great wave of childish gratitude and relief washed over me, dissolving my dignity and leaving me stranded in self-pity.
Why did I keep going to these stupid parties? Night after night, parties, parties—was I hoping to meet someone? No one met people in person any longer—you couldn’t hear what they were saying. Except for the younger women, who had piercing, high voices and sounded like Donald Duck, from whom they had evidently learned to talk. When had that happened? An adaptation? You could certainly hear them.
It was getting on my nerves and making me feel old. I’m exhausted, I told Ray and Christa. I can’t sleep. I can’t take the winter. I’m sick of my day job at Howard’s photo studio, but on the other hand, Howard’s having some problems—last week there were three of us, and this week there are two, and I’m scared I’m going to be the next to go. And as I told them that I was frightened, that I was sick of the winter and my job, I understood how deeply, deeply sick of the winter and my job, how frightened, I really was.
Yeah, that’s terrible, they said. Well, why don’t you come stay with us? We’re taking off for our beach place on Wednesday. There’s plenty of room, and you can paint. We love your work. It’s a great place to work, everyone says so, really serene. The light is great, the vistas are great.
I’m having some trouble painting these days, I said, I’m not really, I don’t know.
Hey, everyone needs some down time, they said; you’ll be inspired, everyone who visits is inspired. You won’t have to deal with anything. There’s a cook. You can lie around in the sun and recuperate. You can take donkey rides down into the town, or there are bicycles or the driver. What languages do you speak? Well, it doesn’t matter. You won’t need to speak any.
Excuse me, please, I have to go ring the Deborah Eisenberg siren.
I love this story probably more than any story I’ve read this year. Get this story.