Tuesday, April 05, 2016

"It is coated with a yellow poison paste and comes from Canada"

Why Robert Musil's story "Flypaper" might interest readers here at Detectives Beyond Borders: First, because the opening sentence of his story "Flypaper" gives my native country a shout-out:
"Tangle-foot flypaper is approximately fourteen inches long and eight inches wide; it is coated with a yellow poison paste and comes from Canada."
That's enough to make anyone from Kitimat to Come By Chance proud.

Second, while the story is cooler and more detached than noir generally is, its final paragraph includes this:
"Sometimes even the next day, one of them wakes up, gropes a while with one leg or flutters a wing. Sometimes such a movement sweeps over the lot, then all of them sink a little deeper into death."
Noir is sometimes about the horror of sliding toward death. Musil's story is about the horror, and the dirty little thrill, of watching something else do the sliding.
Musil's great novel, The Man Without Qualities, which remained unfinished when he died in 1942, weighs in at about 1,100 to 1,700 pages in English translation, depending on how one counts. But I once boiled it down to six words, in response to a challenge on social media:
"Empire decays. People talk. War looms."
You should still read the book, my choice for greatest novel of the twentieth century. But if you don't have time, my summary is accurate.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Blogger Dana King said...

" it is coated with a yellow poison paste and comes from Canada."

Thanks for the explanation. For a second I thought you might be talking about bagels.

April 05, 2016  
Blogger Paul D Brazill said...

Dana,I thought it was the first line of Pete's memoir ...

April 05, 2016  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, you know just as much about bagels as Charlie Stella does.

April 05, 2016  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think I'll coat myself with a yellow poison at Crimefest and Bouchercon just for loaffs.

April 05, 2016  
Blogger Dixon Steele said...

The Unbearable Ignorance of Novelists:

Tanglefoot flypaper came from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, which unless Canadians turn successfully imperialistic was, is, and shall remain in the USA.

It consisted of castor oil, resins, and wax. It was called Tanglefoot because it was designed to entangle the feet of flies who landed on it.

It was not poisonous; the flies died of starvation, simply because they couldn't escape the stickyness of the surface they had landed on.

Nasty! But how little attention to detail the writer shows in such a short space of time. Should we allow him off with poetic licence? I wouldn't.

April 06, 2016  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or credit him with being ahead of his time: http://www.lawnandlandscape.com/article/contechenterprisespurchasestanglefootcompany/

The proper name of the product is Tanglefoot, one word; the story spells it tangle-foot, the way one would spell it if it were an ordinary compound modifier. Perhaps the brand name had become a generic term in Musil's Austria, the way dumpster, tarmac, and many other have in proper English usage.

April 06, 2016  

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