The Everywhere Literature
On Wednesday evening, March 6th, 2019, Berkeley’s very own Peter Byrne was fêted - doubly. First for having attained his 90th birthday the previous month, and secondly as an author. But undoubtedly we should say it the other way around, as in fact all the energy was channeled into a kind of informal reception and reading of excerpts from his latest published work.
Everywhere Tales is a collection of plays and short stories written more or less over the last decade. By chance, the two pieces highlighted during the soirée - Weed (a play, consisting of prelude and twenty-three scenes), and the short story Great Fire - are set in Chicago. This might mislead some to think the Windy City is the sole subject of the book. In truth, for the many other pieces therein inspiration was culled from experiences the author had lived in various places as far ranging as Vancouver and Istanbul. Everywhere indeed.
As a preface, Berkeley’s Grand Dame Hilda applied to the author’s stylistic excellence her own words of praise, and some literary insight. To the question “Why does the whole of Weed transpire entirely in only one
locale - the interior of an office?” she opined that this approach minimizes distraction, and concentrates the spectator’s attention on dialog and the interactions of characters.
Current President (cum actor) David Katan also gave a short - and fun - preview of some vocabulary and idioms that appear in Weed. The audience was particularly taken with David’s explanation and examples of limericks. These strictly structured rhymes, largely unknown in Italian, are much beloved by most English speaking peoples, as much for their lively rhythm as their irreverent and often naughty content.
The text of one scene of Weed, was read aloud - by actors! (Well, aspiring ones, perhaps) In any case, Amber Grinfalk and David Katan performed with gusto, articulating richly and deeply, rendering well Peter’s rhythm,
and sense of irony and thinly concealed desire.
After the playwright was introduced to warm applause he spoke to us briefly on the nature of his art. He submitted his conviction that a writer is not his/her own best judge; and he made quite clear his view that the proper role of a fiction writer is that of a private individual, not a moralist. He stressed that there is no message, no judgement, no prescription in his work.
In further conversations, Peter has explained to me more about his perspectives on contemporary life, his book, and the art of composing fiction. Without doubt, the following lines are as insightful as one can get into the writing as well as the man:
“Trying to look at the book as an outsider, I surprised myself. There was a thread running through it. It touched on a crisis of empathy. We now have to deal with more information than ever before. It floods in on us and is mainly about misfortunes—disasters—in the world. It makes demands on our sympathy, our ability to identify, as the body count never stops rising.”
Let’s close, in fact, with one especially haunting idea:
“... in order to shelter (ourselves) from this unending bad news, we resort to satire. It keeps the horrors at arm’s length.”
Peter, we wish you another ninety productive years. Please keep the satire coming!