Suleri's description of the Muslim festival Eid on page 4 of Meatless Days sets up her peculiar way of telling stories:
In Pakistan, at least, people buy sheep or goats beforehand and fatten them up for weeks delectables. Then, on the appointed day, the animals are chopped, in place of the sons, and neighbors graciously exchange silver trays heaped with raw and quivering meat. Following Eid prayers the men come home, and the animal is killed. [p. 4]
So the animal was not killed when it was chopped? Of what, exactly does this chopping consist? The shock of the midday act is revealed to us only in the context of a later bit of information, slipped into Suleri's paragraph like a note under the door. The often ironic order in which she reveals information becomes as important as the facts themselves. She becomes the witty journalist who consciously buries the lede. Page 59 contains her hours-long rejection of Dr. Sadik, who courts her on behalf of his son. "Within a year," she reports, "Dr. Sadik had found another bride for his son, and he and my father resumed their fifty-year intimacy" (59-60). In conventional story-telling, the two facts in that sentence would trade places: "Dr. Sadik and my father resumed their friendship only after he had found another bride for his son."
Suleri points us toward her technique by describing a similar trait in her father:
There were some stories he told wonderfully, and we were trotted over them with all the expansiveness of people who conglomerate for the exclusive joy of traversing, once again, on familiar terrain. But establishing the sequence of those stories was a less easy thing to do, and for some years I would chide myself for owning an absentminded brain, a faculty so distracted that it could not even retain the structure of my father's life as part of its water table's constant. [p. 111]
1. This passage throws light on a style that the reader may have ignored until that point. But unless that reader starts the book over, is this knowledge useful as late as page 111?
2. When Suleri comments exclusively on her family, she invites her reader to interpret a broader message about Pakistani and Muslim culture. What cultural conclusions — even fallacious ones — can be made about her family's narrative quirks?
3. This style also forces the reader to move slowly through Meatless Days, teasing important facts out of complicated paragraphs. How does such a reading speed serve the content of a book? We see different relationships between speed and content in Wolfe, who invites your eyes to fly over the page, and Chatwin, who varies his tempo drastically from one mood to the next.
Last modified 3 May 2005