Sneaked Peaks and Groaner Prose: On the Pack and ‘Winesburg, Ohio’

By Rob Casper


Ryan, when I read your post I wondered: were you able to avoid watching football? I have to say I found it damned difficult to avoid it entirely. This week I started to feel like watching football was immoral, was like watching a beheading — and I felt ashamed when I’d sneak peaks. Though sneak peaks I did, as when the TV in the Amtrak waiting area was turned to ESPN and I saw the highlights from the Sunday games. That’s when I learned of the Packers-Bears outcome (sorry Adam). I was also at a bar, waiting for friends, when I spied a sad bit of gridiron action between the Falcons and the Eagles (a bird game!). An Eagles cornerback made an amazing one-handed interception to save a touchdown, and I thought, “Wow, that kind of athleticism is astounding.” But then a few plays later a bunch of Falcons defenders piled on an Eagles running back, and I wondered what sub-concussive damage the scrum was inflicting on itself — and all for an extra yard or two.

The real challenge I faced this past week was avoiding reading about the Packers — especially after I heard, via the ESPN highlight clip, that Aaron Rodgers “picked up where he left off last season” with three touchdown passes. I wanted to see stats, compare him against other QBs — might this be another MVP year? That’s the lure: the possibility that it might be the start of an epic season…and I know once I’ve read the online round-up in The New York TimesI can easily go to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and then, the Packers homepage, etc.

As for Winesburg, Ohio — I barely got halfway through, for all the reasons you mentioned. And plus, I couldn’t stand George Willard. And the fact that the word “adventure” kept popping up — as in “George Willard had set forth upon an adventure.” (Yawn.) According to my Kindle, the word shows up 25 times — there’s even a story with the word as a title, about another of the town’s wrecked souls: Alice Hindman — who must “force herself to face bravely the fact that many people must live and die alone, even in Winesburg.”

covercoverI found the book’s prose affecting, in the worst way: I started to think by its logic, and in its rhythms. Much better to curse like Shakespeare’s characters, or jab with em-dashes like Emily Dickinson, to engage in Jamesean digressions of inner conflict or grand Whitmanic proclamations. (It’s worth noting, sayeth my bastard child Kindle, that “adventure” only shows up seven times in Selected Stories of Anton Checkov).

Still, I’m happy I can now check Winesburg, Ohio, and its famous story “Hands,” off my list of great-books-I-did-not-get-taught-nor-read-on-my-own. And I found the line you quoted, about the train conductor, strangely moving — along with the fact that George took a quick nap while on the train, and “when he aroused himself and again looked out the car window the town of Winesburg had disappeared…” The subtlety of that moment — of George’s life moving forward without him knowing it — can’t stand up to the bombastic metaphor that follows: “his life there had become a background on which to paint the dreams of his manhood.” But still.

But still — I want to know how you all are doing!

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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