In this haunting narration from a postmillennial urban zero zone, the central character gains hope, strength, and renewed energy from conducting a nearly invisible campaign of microsabotage against a surrounding but amorphous bureaucratic terror. A skeptical new conscript to the burial clubs of the aged, the protagonist performs small but cunning acts of resistance. He recreates whimsical conversations with his son, now co-opted by the same forces that have lately grown aware of him. He inserts mistakes in the club's reports to the district, thereby defiantly remaking history in small ways. By slow degrees his acts put him in contact with what appears to be an organization of resistance. Then the forces of closure and constriction, quick to snuff out the merest hint of individuality, surround him with violence and images of death. His only recourse, other than capitulation, dissimulation, or death, is flight-but only to a wasteland on the edge of civilization. Living in an abandoned but mysteriously furnished garbage truck, he finds solace in the mongrels that roam the area, broods like a fisher king upon the rubble as winter impends, and plots the "burial" of his narration deep within the district file. From the District File is a finely tuned dramatic novel that re-invents the underground man for the nineties and in so doing gives us a story that is muted but powerful and oddly transcendent.
"The stories vary greatly in style and scope…Virtually all make subtle observations about the human comedy…his poetic language, ironic wit and frequently addictive prose will find many appreciative readers." —The New York Times Book
"A confrontation with the inexpressible…a provocative comment on the restrictiveness and pretension of our lives."—Publishers Weekly
"Bernard excels in the short fiction." —American Book Review
"…one of experimental theater's most challenging and brilliant playwrights…How We Danced While We Burned lets us see the Holocaust in the form a cabaret." —The Book Reader
Mr. M-I say Mr. M to exercise caution-is a rich man by my standards. I respect him because although he has ample resources he has never left the neighborhood. He treats everyone as an equal. He is generous with children who collect for their clubs. There is nothing ostentatious in his apartment. Of course it is large. One never gets the sense that food or drink is lacking, but one is served modest portions. There is no condescension. One is greeted warmly and one is sped on one's way warmly. But one feels-one knows-that behind it all there is amplitude of resources, a solid wealth that informs his every move with strength and confidence. So you can imagine my astonishment when one day, at a mid-distance of several blocks, I saw a police officer strike him on his head with a truncheon. I was standing idly by the curb, enjoying the early spring sun, taking in the scene at large, of which he was merely a small point. I remember thinking he must be instilling more pride in the officer by favoring him with a kind word or two. It was a common maneuver of his with the many public servants in our immediate area, and it had the effect of making the sun all the more warming. And then, without my really registering it, Mr. M. suddenly raised his hands and his voice, and the officer gave him a distinct crack on the head. It was like a little bit of thunder in a clear sky. I was shocked, of course, and began rushing to him until I saw that he was himself scurrying in my direction, his hand, leaking blood, pressed to his scalp. He was white with rage. "My dear Mr. M.," I said, "what has happened? How can I help you?" He pushed himself by me, taking no notice of me. Aha, I thought, just a bit irritated, now the fur will fly. And I sauntered casually, near the offending police officer, to have a good view of the action. He was a brutish but happy-looking man with thick anxiety over his action, nor did he seek to move. You're in for it now, my man, I thought. Mr. M. is no mere nobody. The minutes extended to the quarter hours and finally an entire hour had passed. No siren, no Mr. M., no squadron chief, no public official, no supporters, no onlookers (except myself). Everything was as usual. What, then, had Mr. M. done? Was it possible that he had transgressed the law? Was there more to it than met the eye? I went home to think about it.
From the District File
From the District File