“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In 2003, McSweeney’s published issue 12, which consisted of 12 unpublished writers and some other stuff.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.