#10 - The Man Who Was Heavily into Revenge

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lonegungirl
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#10 - The Man Who Was Heavily into Revenge

Postby lonegungirl » Sat Mar 19, 2005 6:11 am

[From SHATTERDAY. Mod-]

The Man Who Was Heavily Into Revenge

[This post was a great deal longer, but apparently the internet decided to be benevolent towards all of you and erased it with an Invalid_Session message.]

This story has always been a favorite of mine because I feel it makes a lot of points that often run counter to some commonly held beliefs. It details the unfortunate Fred Tolliver and his not-so-impotent rage at the odious William Weisel, his crooked contractor.

One of my favorite aspects is the excruciatingly detailed account of Weisel's comeuppance. From the torn cashmere jacket to his positive syphillus test, Weisel is systematically destroyed physically, financially, and psychologically--bereft of even the means of reparation. If you know, as I have known, such slimy, evil, unrepentant scum as Weisel, the idea of such a strike for cosmic justice can only be satisfying.

One of the most important themes is noted in the phrase "the focus could direct the beam, but it could not heal itself." Although Tolliver's wish for revenge is granted, not only is he never made aware of it, but it even impedes his recovery by barracading him from Weisel's attempts at conciliation. As so many litigants have discovered, it's far easier to harm someone else than it is to benefit to one's own self.

Ultimately, in my view, the tragedy of the story is not the wrongs that have been done to Tolliver, nor is it the dismal end to Weisel, but is Tolliver's inability to get past his wretchedness and proceed with his life. By neglecting (and not abnegating) his work, he transfers his unhappiness and sense of injustice to Evelyn Hand and consequently opens himself up to the same cycle of rage and retribution suffered by Weisel.

Look. We live in a world where terrible, horrible things happen. When they do, people have every right to express their feelings. They have a right to cry or curse or pray for revenge. At some point however, I think people need to understand that manifest misery is essentially counterproductive, and when taken in excess, self-indulgent. I think the people around the victims also have some rights--the right to eventually ask them to Suck It Up and Get On With Things, and stop spattering innocent bystanders with their psychological vomitus.

But, as Dennis Miller used to say, that's just me, I could be wrong. Enjoy the story.

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Postby BrianSiano » Sat Mar 19, 2005 8:01 am

That pretty much says it.

Anyone care to Compare and Contrast this with Harlan's later essay, "Driving In the Spikes?"

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Steve Evil
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Postby Steve Evil » Tue Mar 22, 2005 11:42 pm

I haven't read "Driving In the Spikes", but I shall of course have to. . .

Of course everyone takes satisfaction with Wiesel's downfall, but it becomes quickly apparent that something more sinister is afoot in the cosmic scheme of things.

Tolliver is one of those classic tragic characters. Tragic here not meaning merely unfortunate (I hate when the word is used that way) but someone brought down by their character flaws (actually a great person brought down. . .I don't know if Tolliver's actually "great", so maybe he's not tragic, but let's stick with it for now). The forces at work are not forces of cosmic justice, but chaos, that enmesh the innocent as well as the guilty quite indiscriminatly. And the misery spreads, amplifies, goes on and on . . .

Odd really. Sure Tolliver's got reason to be pissed off, but to be so utterly devestated? To the point where he undoes his own salvation? Some people sow their own desctruction. . .

Or maybe those are just more cosmic forces at work.

Funny enough, Wiesell is repentant. Is Tolliver?

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Postby sjarrett » Sun Mar 27, 2005 8:26 pm

This story certainly contains a strong element of fantasy wish-fulfillment, but that's just the meringue. The substance of the story is to be found in the way that fantasy is played out. If all we knew was that this creep screwed an old man over but then got his comeuppance because all the resentment of all the screwed-over people in the world magically got focused onto this one wrongdoer, it might be superficially satisfying, but it wouldn't really be a story. What makes it a story, and a good one, is that we are forced to watch this process of blind retribution play itself out to its bitter end. We are reminded that there is always a price to pay. It seems to me that this lies at the heart of a lot of fantasy fiction (or magical realism, or whatever you want to call it): the idea that there are wonders in the world, but that all of them exact a price. The task of the protagonist, then, is to learn (or fail to learn) the nature of that price and to work out (or fail to work out) whether he/she is prepared to pay the price.

Steve J.

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Steve Evil
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Hmm.

Postby Steve Evil » Tue Mar 29, 2005 2:01 pm

Sometimes the best stories are those about unforseen consequences. We all think about revenge sometimes, and sometimes imagine ways to make it happen, but rarely imagine the consequences.

Likewise, we're imperfect. We've probably brought harm to others (hopefully) without realizing it. Perhaps grissly revenge is plotted against our person as we speak.

This story (by someone who IS heavily into revenge) makes one stop and think.

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Postby Chuck Messer » Wed Mar 30, 2005 2:07 am

Funny thing. While reading the story in the 50-year doorstop, what comes right after, but Driving in the Spikes - the very thing Brian mentioned above. Maybe not so funny, maybe since one just naturally follows the other.

I think, based on reading the essay afterward, is that Tolliver had within his reach the ability to salvage something out of his situation and take his mind off his troubles - the violin repair he'd promised to make. If he'd occupied his mind and his hands with that job, he'd have a grateful customer and a relaxing, rewarding source of side income - which he could pursue at home.

Instead, he sits on his couch and stares at his cello lying on the floor and puts his head in his hands. A week later, he has an irate customer (a subject I'm becoming VERY familar with) and possible legal action for the unrepaired violin. I think Tolliver's problem is laid out early in the story. He's too passive. He doesn't stand up for himself, doesn't go after Wiesel, doesn't try to do SOMETHING besides feel sorry for himself. The Vast, Uncaring Universe takes a hand instead with disastrous results. Tolliver's own inertia dooms him.

I don't feel Wiesel repents his actions. He feels sorry, not so much for the suffering he's cause others, but for what he's being made to endure. He wants to make it right with Tolliver because he hopes it will stop the suffering, not because he realizes what a shit he was.

If Tolliver had followed the steps laid out in Spikes, the consequences to both him and Wiesel would have been less severe.

Reminds me of a quote from Charlie Manson: "If you don't take care of it, I will. And you don't want takin' care of it."

Chuck

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Steve Evil
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The Promise.

Postby Steve Evil » Wed Mar 30, 2005 2:28 pm

You're probably right about Weisel. On second glance, he doesn't appear too repentant at all.
I think Tolliver was more than just passive, he seems to be downright selfish, unaware that other people are depending on him.

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Postby Duane » Wed Mar 30, 2005 3:17 pm

Warning: Scott Peterson Parallel Below!!! Read At Your Own Risk!!!

Sorry.

Anyway, I couldn't help but notice the following:

Scott Peterson was convicted of first degree murder of his wife, and second degree murder of their yet unborn child, Connor.

But it wasn't until he received the death penalty that the victim's family and the pundits all proclaimed "We have received JUSTICE."

As if a lifetime sitting in Gaol sweating the rest of his way through his miserable life wasn't justice.

It's the same with the latest child abduction that took place in Georgia (was it Georgia?) where the 10 year old girl was abducted from her bedroom by a 47 year old sex offender (who looked 70, by the way) and murdered. Justice is being defined by the perpetrator eventually receiving the death penalty.

I'm not making a case for or against the death penalty here. In fact, I believe that in some cases it is justified. I just find it odd that we have begun to equate JUSTICE equal to REVENGE.

A startling parallel to Harlan's story.

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Postby sjarrett » Wed Mar 30, 2005 4:33 pm

Duane wrote:I just find it odd that we have begun to equate JUSTICE equal to REVENGE.


In that context, I can't help remembering the scene from The Godfather in which the undertaker asks Don Corleone to kill the young men who had molested his daughter. The Don, without missing a beat, shakes his head and says, "That is not justice. Your daughter is still alive."

Steve J.

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Postby lonegungirl » Sun Apr 03, 2005 5:04 pm

Tolliver actually seems clinicaly depressed to me. I would agree that his construction/financial problems are considerable, but certainly not life-crippling as he makes them out to be. It would be hard to believe that he could become so totally paralyzed by it if I hadn't seen so many people in real life trip over some small pebble in their life's road and never get up again...

Gosh I'm glad some people responded...I was beginning to think I had single-handedly killed off the whole SPIDER concept...

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Postby Chuck Messer » Mon Apr 04, 2005 12:13 am

Just a transitional phase, I think.

Funny you should mention clinical depression. Tolliver does seem to exibit some of the symptoms. I must admit I see myself in the Tolliver character to an extent. During my period of unemployment, I was as paralyzed as he is. The fact that I'm a member of the Prozac for Lunch Bunch didn't help, especially since I couldn't afford my meds. I also believe I tend to be too passive in the way I deal with people and with life.

I don't think there's a single message that comes from this story, but one idea I do get from it is that if you don't take a hand in shaping you own fate, someone or something else will - and you might not like the results.

Chuck

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Postby NeonMosfet » Fri Aug 05, 2005 1:06 am

It's as if the hunger for revenge creates a chain reaction. Weisel cheated Tolliver. Tolliver was so mentally parallyed by this that he forgot his own obligations. Evelyn Hand's violin did not get serviced. She missed an important recital. One way or another, the Symphony goes on.
Myopia Through Convexed Harlequins

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Postby Victoria Silverwolf » Sun Aug 14, 2005 5:14 am

I remember the author himself reading this story (as he does so well) at some convention or other. What struck me during the reading was that this was a very funny (in a dark way) story. The title itself is rather tongue-in-cheek, with its use of the all-too-familiar idiom "heavily into."
Reality is a crutch for people who can't face up to science fiction.

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Postby NeonMosfet » Sun Aug 14, 2005 11:43 pm

I just thought of something that did not occur to me before, a paradox.

When I read the story back in '84, there were sections about Toliver's varicosities, something I also have. I kept imagining that some sadist was playing the Symphony of Revenge on Toliver's varicosties, streched out to make a ghastly, discordant Movement. By the end of the story, my own knees were throbbing.
Anyway, Evelyn Hand's violin was not serviced and she was very angry. In a perverse sort of way, by feeding Evelyn Hand's need for revenge ( broken violin), the jagged symphony of revenge would have difficulty in continuing. The message I get, is that no matter what the circumstance, no matter how much the injured party you may be, IT STOPS WITH YOU.
Myopia Through Convexed Harlequins

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FrankChurch
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Postby FrankChurch » Tue Aug 23, 2005 12:29 pm

Charles Manson is a fun guy.


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