May 6th, 2011 / 10:53 pm

“Cold France” by Wythe Marschall

In 2003, McSweeney’s published issue 12, which consisted of 12 unpublished writers and some other stuff. A friend of mine made me buy this issue, and I remember talking with him about one story in particular. It’s the only story I remember from the issue: “Cold France” by Wythe Marschall. I read it on the floor of my bedroom at my parent’s house while home from college during some break or another. Since then, I have occasionally thought of “Cold France” and idly wondered whatever happened to Wythe Marschall. His bio in the contributors’ notes section said that he was nineteen at the time, and so he forever remains nineteen in my head, despite what Google just told me.

“Cold France” consists of seventeen short sections, each of which describes a different “permutation” of France. There is “Dog France,” “Whale France,” “Tent France,” “Sponge France,” and “Fat France.” I read that in “Merry France” one Frenchman “simply said ‘fox’ until all of Limoges had died from heart seizures” from laughing so hard. In “Dark France” a man questions his existence: “What is the meaning of darkness? thinks Jean. He wants to move to another country, but he cannot see what ticket to buy at the station. A badger walks into him in the woods when he is on vacation.” In “Slow France” I read “Because each follicle has so long to think over each new molecule of French hair, each French strand is shinier, stronger, and more fit to entertain at parties than other, foreign hairs. So when you get it in the mail, please remember: Whatever you do, don’t cut your French hair.”

At the time I read this story, I was taken (and still am) with how funny it was; I hadn’t seen a story like this, so I didn’t quite know how to react, aside from thinking it was funny and exciting and new to me, nor could I really understand why I reacted the way I did. But now, after having read Invisible Cities, and after having learned how one kink in a sentence’s span can lead to a new sentence, I think I have a better sense for this story. So much of what makes it funny is how Marschall’s opening riff on one kind of France leads from one kink to another in each sentence, creating humor from both his setting up odd juxtapositions and his twisting a comic thread until it almost breaks.

For example, take these few sentences from “Mind France,” a section about how France only exists in our minds:

The Pope christened France a nation out of brotherly love for all people, even those who do not, technically, exist. Many people concentrate on imagining France at any given time, so it is real. Discussion of France comprises the bulk of Internet traffic. Everyone has a .france site; everyone maintains at least one “French” personality online.

I love how the Pope’s love for all people leads to how people concentrate on imagining France, which leads to discussions, the Internet, and the great phrase about dot france sites. It’s a nice, simple evolution within the story, and I like the effect it creates. Many of the sections of the story work in this way, and it’s enjoyable to read.

I like this story because it reminds me of a time in my life when I first became excited about writing and reading, and I began to seek out other kinds of stories and books.

Tags: , ,


  1. kb

      Badgers are weird like that. Not joking. Possums too, but not as stealthy. Ghostfaces.

  2. kb

      Rather: Stealthier in gait, stealthless in presence. Ghostfaces, all the same. Not the rapper.

  3. Lincoln Michel

      This was the first McSweeney’s I ever read and I definitely remember that story. Great stuff!

  4. Hollow Earth Society
  5. lorre

      Quite impressive to write and publish something like that at nineteen. I’m young and interested in writing/publishing myself, and I’d be interested to hear thoughts (pros, cons) on trying to get work published at that age. Thanks to anyone who’s willing to advise.

  6. jh

      Put your ass in a chair and write.

  7. lorre

      Right. That’s the important part. What I’m asking is, assuming I’m putting my ass in a chair and writing, is there any value in trying to get that writing published?

      I look at stuff I wrote and published a year ago and am embarrassed by parts of it, and I suspect that in a year I’ll look at what I’m writing now and feel similarly. Still, I’m decent enough that several literary journals (not really prestigious ones, but ones that I read regularly and respect) are willing to accept my work. I’m interested in how young writers should handle this tension. But I do take your point–obviously this small-scale publishing stuff is not nearly as important as the actual practice of writing.

  8. Lincoln Michel

      If you write something good enough to get in McSweeney’s you are probably okay. I have to admit I published some things really early on in my writing “career” online that I wish I hadn’t. Online stuff stays forever.

  9. Lauren Spohrer

      I remember this issue well — I loved Andy Lamey’s piece about Beckett. I have waited so long for more fiction from him. And the 20 minute stories are great. Games.

  10. Anonymous

  11. Anonymous