An Arnason Note
by Ruth Berman
from Last Homely Hearth #8 (August, 1981)
Eleanor Arnason’s writing is an unsettling mixture of the beautiful and the loony. Her characters bring a kind of clear-sighted insanity to their problems that is both absurd and plausible. For instance, the clinging Gothic heroine of “The House by the Sea,” who misses her most recent lover:
Those were dark months. Even the merry antics of my troglodyte tumblers couldn’t cheer me. The house seemed cold and drafty, though it had excellent central heating. I took up embroidery to help pass the time, took holovision courses in Amerindian cooking and flower arranging and tried to get the family library in order. Nothing helped.
(Query: is that funny out of context? I don’t know. When I first read “The House by the Sea” I didn’t think any of it was funny. I could tell that it was intended to be funny, but the drippy heroine was an unpleasant person, and I couldn’t seem to find her horrible plight distant enough to be funny. When I re-read it a few months later it seemed to have undergone a sea-change. The heroine was just as unpleasant, but the exposure of Gothic “sensitivity” as exasperating instead of endearing had turned into the central comedy of the story).
More often, in addition to being bizarrely reasonable, the characters are fair-minded, nice people. For instance, the author of the story-in-the-story of “The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons,” who is worried by her attraction to her story’s hero: “It’s never wise to get too involved with your characters. Besides, I’m not his type . . . . I could, of course, kill him off . . . but this solution, while popular among writers, is unfair.” Or even the neurotic dragons in The Sword Smith who (rudely, by the standards of Nargri, a sane dragon) undertake to settle someone else’s moral dilemma. The come up with an unacceptable solution–one of the two in conflict must die–but a reader can’t help admiring their passion for justice. Anyway, this one can’t.