Forgetting Elena: A Novel
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Combining glittering wit, an atmosphere dense in social paranoia, and a breathtaking elegance and precision of language, White's first novel suggests a hilarious apotheosis of the comedy of manners. For, on the privileged island community where Forgetting Elena takes place, manners are everything. Or so it seems to White's excruciatingly self-conscious young narrator who desperately wants to be accepted in this world where everything from one's bathroom habits to the composition of "spontaneous" poetry is subject to rigid conventions.
the strictest sense, of course—and I have no notion how strictly such things are judged—wiping away sweat from my forehead or stretching to ease the cramp in my back could all be deemed presumptuous, punishable. How I long to be on the beach or on the deck of a beautiful house with a smart crowd of people. Everyone in my house has long since finished breakfast and is probably swimming or drinking by now or dancing at the hotel. Even cleaning up our cottage, even something as taxing as painting
the whole thing, would be far preferable to working on this desolate hill, not knowing for how long or to what purpose, hungry. Yesterday I was wishing they’d give me a definite assignment rather than make me guess what was expected of me, but I hadn’t foreseen an assignment to this hill, alone. The sunlight scarcely filters through the branches of the old pines, and tonight, at the hotel, I’ll be noticeably paler than everyone else, which will lead to questions. If I do tan by some miracle, only
squints as he looks out at us. Perhaps there’s too much glare on the living-room window for him to be able to see the porch clearly. The older woman at the desk is massaging her temples. “Sterile?” the Hand repeats. “Don’t know. Now, Bob,” he continues, addressing me, “is really such a beguilingly simple young man. We keep wondering how he fits in at all in your house now that his position has changed so radically. He’s worried about his thinning hair and keeps tossing it with his fingers, like
was moving about inside. The solemn, dull music had stopped. Books with purple bindings and gold lettering lined five shelves of a little porch just outside the gate. Leaving behind the oppressive palace, we turned the corner, and as the hotel came into view again and was now only a few feet away, a new song began. I spotted the boy singers standing on a platform on the other side of a half-opened sliding glass door. They were wearing rough country clothes, heavily embroidered (perhaps wedding
exclaims. “Oh. It’s you.” I don’t say a word, simply pull him toward me. “You want me to dance?” I nod, smiling, not missing a step. “Doris wants me—” He starts to pull away but, still smiling, I tug him back onto the floor. Looking around, he sees that Billy and the mirror girls are the other members of my party. “But Doris—” “Fire fire who!” I announce, my head metronoming too rapidly for him to read my expression. A quick scan informs me that Doris and the Hand are taking it all in.