Excerpt from Some Trick by Helen DeWitt, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Some Trick

Thirteen Stories

by Helen DeWitt

Some Trick by Helen DeWitt X
Some Trick by Helen DeWitt
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  • First Published:
    May 2018, 224 pages

    Oct 2019, 208 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Print Excerpt

It was the same when I went to practice, no matter what I did everything seemed stupid, I mean the things one tries to bring out in a passage seemed stupid, the trajectory of a piece seemed stupid, it's one thing to work on technical difficulties everyone does that from time to time but sooner or later you've got to bring the piece to life & now they were just wooden puppets with wooden arms gesturing on a string -

I thought, That's it, I'll never be able to play again, & I was trying to think of some job, & meanwhile if you can believe it my parents were urging me to get married -

Anyway I really didn't know what to do with myself. Before, I would go to the gymnasium for a couple of hours to improve my upper body strength and then I would go and practice for about eight hours or maybe more if it was going really well or if there was some problem, all of a sudden there was this big hole in the day. I was still going to the gymnasium just to have something to do, but the rest of the time there was just nothing. Then suddenly I had an idea. I thought, I know, I'll read a book.

When I was at school my teachers used to get mad at me because I never did any work, & later the Fossil used to throw up his hands in horror because I'd never read Racine or Balzac or anyone like that, he'd start talking about the musician as homme cultivé - I used to say to him, If you would like me to compose an opera based on the Phèdre of M. Racine I shall be happy to examine the work in question, otherwise I have not the slightest desire to read this, I have no doubt, excellent play. This used to drive the Fossil insane. He would trot out some remark about oeuvre séminale de la littérature française, frankly it was amusing to see him boil up, well there was an element of truth in it but it was also the fact that I simply could not read more than a page - no, a sentence - without some piece of music coming into my head. I really did try to read Phèdre once & I got as far as Depuis plus de six mois éloigné de mon père, j'ignore le destin d'une tête si chère, & then all of a sudden this string quintet of Mozart's that I had heard the night before came into my head & half an hour later it finished & I was still looking at Depuis plus de six mois éloigné de mon père, j'ignore le destin d'une tête si chère. This always happened whenever I tried to read something so I never read anything, but now it was pretty quiet in my head.

Well, I had a lot of books left over from school, & at first I thought I would read Phèdre by Racine, anyway I looked at my little bookshelf & I had a little Greek text of Thucydide which like all my books had been cut on the first two pages. It was still pretty quiet in my head so I started to read, & there was a preface by Raymond ¬Levecque, maybe you know this, this author had two ways of writing, one quite plain and the other barbarous & scarcely grammatical, there's a section of Book 3 about a civil war at Cercyre, & apparently it's quite famous though I'd never heard of it, it's about how all the words change when people do something atrocious, so they would call a bad thing by a good name and a good thing by a bad name, & in trying to express this he writes this very contorted Greek.

I thought, This sounds interesting, I'll look at that. But it was very bizarre, you know, it had a translation on the facing page and they had put it into civilized grammatical French. You could see what it was supposed to mean right away. But in the Greek most of the time you couldn't really see, you had to try to make it mean something because the words crammed so much in or left so much out or maybe just barely touched what the dictionary said they meant and just barely touched the grammar and just. I thought that this author had tried to let unspeakable things do something to the language and then M. Levecque had tidied it up again. I looked at this polite little sentence & sat crying on the bed -

Excerpted from Some Trick by Helen deWitt. Copyright © 2018 by Helen deWitt. Excerpted by permission of New Directions Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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