Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the five of hearts.
Story: Signs and Symbols, by Vladimir Nabokov (I read it at The New Yorker website).
Comments: This is my first encounter with Nabokov. The story startled me – or rather, the abrupt ending did. What happened next? Well, that’s the point, obviously. An elderly Russian couple who have emigrated to America visit their only son who is in a “sanitarium” for the mentally ill. He suffers from “referential mania”. The parents are not allowed to see him because he has attempted suicide. They return to their apartment; the father decides that he will remove their son from the hospital; the phones rings – it’s a wrong number; the phone rings again, wrong number again; the phone rings again, they don’t answer. The End.
Hmm. You can read an interesting essay about The Signs and Symbols in Nabokov’s “Signs and Symbols” by Alexander Dolinin here. And in the footnotes there, you’ll see references to lots of other interpretive works. Me – I just felt a little short-changed. I really don’t want to have to do a whole lot of work to figure out what’s going on. Even to figure out if the author is setting up his readers for a little session of “referential mania” themselves. But the story is worth a re-read. The scenes are vivid. Much is said in few words. I empathized with the characters all the way through. It’s credible.
The last day I was in the second-hand bookshop that I occasionally frequent, I considered buying a book about an author’s experience in a mental hospital. In the end I decided not to, a decision which I now rather regret. If the book is still there the next time I go back, I might invest.