MacMurray writes about a close friendship between fictional Miranda Chase and Emily Dickinson. She paints Dickinson as a morose and self-absorbed shut-in. The self-absorbed writer is a pretty amazing phenomenon. Dickinson at least had the excuse of living in a time where it was difficult for women to become anything besides mothers or teachers, but I knew a guy, let me tell you, from Antioch who was a piece of work.
This guy managed to weasel his way into our poetry class, which was difficult to get into. In fact, I believe seven people were kicked out of the class because the professor wanted to have a small group so there would be time to workshop everyone's stuff more than once. This asshat shows up and finagles his way into the class about a week after it starts, which is a pretty big deal during summer session since the classes last about a month and a half. Then during writing he insisted on using a laptop when the rest of us all used regular notebooks, and he just had to go out in the hallway so someone else had to go fetch him when it was time to do other things. These all might have been forgivable, but like Emily Dickinson (as imagined by McMurray) he was full of false feelings and pretensions.
In the novel, Dickinson wrote a letter to some relatives that she allowed Miranda Chase to read. Chase was disgusted because it was about the first man from Amherst to die in the Civil War. Dickinson apparently didn't know him at all. Asshat did something very, very, very similar. About six years ago three people from Antioch went on a road trip to New Orleans during one of our breaks. They were driving back through Mississippi in the middle of the night when the driver fell asleep and hit a tree. Only two came back and they were both injured. There was a memorial service on campus in front of Main Hall. I went to it, even though I didn't know him personally, but he was an Antioch kid and the school is so small that it easily could have been someone I knew.
A few days later we're work-shopping a poem from Asshat about the memorial service. I don't remember very much from it except something involving him bringing tea in a metal thermos and the line, "it was all for the love of you, [Asshat]." He completely turned a moment that was meant to be, if not about the young man (DL) who died in the car accident, at least about his grief. Instead he gloried in what he perceived as his Amazing and Miraculous Presence suddenly lifting the veil from death and pouring sunshine and unicorns to fill the loss of those who were mourning.
Actually, I just read through my journal from that time, which I have conveniently transcribed on my computer. The only mention that Asshat gave about DL was to horrifically describe what he imagined DL's death was like. This included pretty graphic details involving pieces of brain and other unseemly things to a room of people who did know DL much better than I did. This was literally days after the community found out about the accident. I don't remember what the others told him. I think I said something along the lines of, "There's some stuff in here that is valid and well worded, but much more that is inappropriate and distracting." I think the only reason I made a comment at all was because, if no one said anything, people were going to reach over and choke the Asshat.
And after reading a lot of what I wrote when I was 19, I will admit to being pretty self-absorbed and wrongheaded. But bringing that poem to class as it was, is a completely different and special level of self-I'm-so-awesome-and-no-one-can-be-as-amazing-as-me-ness. I have never met anyone else like that and I am entirely so thankful and relieved that there only seems to be one of Asshat around. I think if I ever saw that kid walking down the street at night I would be severely tempted to run him over with my car. I don't hate very many people, but this guy managed to earn my complete and utter contempt.