Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: Jane Thoroughs

When Jane Thoroughs reached the level of literary fame that meant she didn’t have to pitch ideas, but just write stories and mail them to an editor, she whipped up “The Banquet of Crow, v.2.” And because she was at a level of literary fame that meant she had any literary fame at all, the editor of the small periodical rushed to make it his cover without asking what “v.2” meant. It was probably one of those many literary flourishes the greats liked so much.

He’d wished he’d asked about that and several other things when some very angry people from Dorothy Parker’s estate wrote to remind him, if he’d ever had it in mind, that the late luminary had written something called “The Banquet of Crow” in 1957. They also wrote to ask if he’d noticed how similar the stories were, paragraph for paragraph. They’d said “word for word,” but Jane pointed out that not all the words were the same.

Glimpsing at them side-by-side, paragraph-to-paragraph made it seem like the stories were the same. But this was only because of careful word selection; the geography of the paragraphs looked identical because Jane had rewritten parts syllable-by-syllable, so that only by reading the actual words would you notice they were different. Read aloud, they even had the same tone.

“The Banquet of Crow” was about a whiny housewife who couldn’t get over the fact that her husband had abandoned their tedious, loveless marriage. “The Banquet of Crow v.2” also about an abandoned housewife who went through the same parties, got hooked up on the same failed date by her friends, and saw the same over-pampering psychologist as the madame of “The Banquet of Crow.”

But “v.2” was more sympathetic to the wife. It didn’t make her a heroine or anything, but it depicted her as the victim of broken habit and real shock rather than Parker’s bitch that all but willingly refused to get over things and face reality. When the scorn poured in Jane answered, “This isn’t plagiarism. It’s editing.”

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