SOME INSTRUCTIONS by Stanley Crawford
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Those who savored the powerfully strange and lovely Log of the S.S. The Mrs. Unguentine know about Crawford's beguiling talent for constructing small, intense, bell-jar-like worlds, sufficient unto themselves, existing solely by grace of obsession. With his characteristic guywire-tight prose, here he's artificed a Conduct Book that's presurmbly been written by a man who's terrified of the accidental. The man's wife receives instructions on how to shop, when to eat, sleep, what to cook, how and when to be social: "". . . should we find ourselves fully dressed up at five in the afternoon--having dutifully followed the bathing and dressing calendars--then it should be clear that this is a night to go out and that we should proceed to do so. . . ."" On how to maintain the house: "". . . to maintain and keep in good repair the house, tidy and well cleaned, is to keep the Marriage too in good repair, tidy and well cleaned."" His daughter of two years is instructed to play with her toy appliances so as to better ""lay the foundations"" of future domesticity. The satiric element of manic male lordliness is the ever-hovering constant note, but Crawford is after something subtler than clever irony. As blissfully crazy as the instructions often are (the man's son is assured that all his future clothes, toys, shoes, bicycles have already been bought and stored, so that in case of ""national or international shortages, you will not have your Childhood supplies cut off""), they also reveal the elegiac and very touching attempt of one man to keep his life direct and unpolluted by hazard. This dream of perfection he calls Marriage: marriage as monument, lasting beyond the life of the partners--and, though dulled somewhat by a curlicue coda dealing with the weather and how it will deflect and modify family schedules, the book and the idea reach a beautiful and mad climax as the Husband gives his final instructions: how he wants, among other things, a burial mound constructed in his vegetable garden. Very few Americans are able to operate successfully in the Beckettian mode; Crawford's one of them, and Some Instructions serves to add a new and authentic flourish to the queer grave magic that's made him one of the most fascinating writers around.

Pub Date: March 29th, 1978
Publisher: Knopf