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Extraordinary Triangles: Jeffrey Archer, Roald Dahl, Joyce Carol Oates

Time for another Extraordinary Triangles Exercise. Three authors with a sharp and wicked sense of observation: Jeffrey Archer, Roald Dahl, Joyce Carol Oates; four wickedly good stories — A Good Eye, Nunc Dimittis, Death Of An Old Old Man, Black Water, plus a book review titled The Art Of Vengeance.

Black Water is the haunting tale of a woman caught in the wreckage of a car sinking to the bottom of the sea in the middle of the night after suffering an accident with a Senator she idolized, a man she had been fantasizing over during the short course of her young, prismatic life, a life inspired by this particular Senator who, in his hurry to get to the port after an afternoon summer party on an island off the East Coast, and in his great frustration as a result of having gotten lost en route to the ferry, a frustration that had nothing to do with the charming self he so effortlessly wore in public — this ordinarily smooth and inspiring politician managed to crash into a rotten railing on a deserted backroad, plunging the both of them into the black water of the night sea, a water so black and putrid and seemingly thick with conspiracy it swallowed them up slowly, inch by terrible inch, during which time the young, idealistic woman reminisces her meeting with her former idol, how she’d devoted her studies to his cause and corpus, delighted to finally meet him in person at this party and chat to him well into the hours of the evening, earning his personal attention, an attention so charming and fawning it was almost too good to be true, a reach-out from a world far beyond hers, the sensation oh so uplifting and empowering and reminiscent of

A Good Eye by Jeffrey Archer — the story of a clergyman in possession of an invaluable painting of Christ and his Disciples, the origins of which lay in the clergyman’s ancestor and his obsession with a vagrant painter back in the 17th century, an artist of exquisite talent but bad temper and meager means of survival. The clergyman’s ancestor, a lawyer, ends up becoming the patron of this acrid painter, commissioning what are to become a sublime set of paintings that would over the generations end up in the possession of the humble clergyman, a man so ignorant of their true value and significance he hardly lends them a thought — a man whose principal obsession is God, and whose main worry is fixing the leaking roof of his church, and whose decision to take action is taken during the Nunc Dimittis canticle, at which time the roof begins to leak dramatically as if a sign were being delivered by God himself — sell the art at your disposal, secure the money to fix the roof — he sees the message clearly in his mind, he, God’s faithful servant now all too happy to be dismissed by his Lord with the knowledge that he has acted according to His wish, seen the light and salvation, finally blessed by divine intervention — a revelation and canticle that brings us to the title-sake story by

Roald Dahl — ‘Nunc Dimittis‘ — a story about Lionel Lampson, a fine art connoisseur and collector who decides to exact vengeance upon Janet de Pelagia, a woman whose apparent scorn injures his grand affectation for her, turning him into a bowl of fury and rage boiling over with plans on how to humiliate her, his former love interest, in public. It’s a story of vengeance and shame, guilt and deception, plus the sheer power of embarrassment, the unmistakeable and relentless wrath manifesting in the shadow of men and women rejected by their fellows, a combative and psychotic state of mind that swallows people up like black water, spitting them out crushed and festering; a state of mind all too indicative of Roald Dahl’s assorted tales of the grotesque, tales including Death Of An Old Old Man, a story in which a pilot plunges to his death after colliding with an enemy combatant in midair, parachuting straight into a dark pond, the waters of which engulf the poor pilot like a dark tunnel, eating him alive, the soft silk of his parachute enveloping him and dragging him down to his demise — the irony! — a story that a certain Joyce Carol Oates covered in her piece The Art Of Vengeance, a review of Roald Dahl’s collected stories, in which she addressed Dahl’s general esthetic, the ease with which he created sharp, fantastic characters with a penchant for revenge, wickedness, and the misfortune of a grotesque demise.

And there we are. Joyce Carol Oates, Jeffrey Archer, Roald Dahl — three extraordinarily sharp authors attesting to the human condition’s predilection to all things wicked, testament to the dark genius that underscores civilization. As far as these three are concerned, at least in light of the stories mentioned above, the more civilized the setting, the sadder and more tragic the outcome of its frictions.

From the bays of Pearl Coast,

Dive in murky waters, find a shiny pearl.