Monday, October 20, 2014

Local Color

The other week, I picked up a copy of Short Letter, Long Farewell by Peter Handke, in part because I had him mixed up with Peter Schneider. I don't so far regret the confusion.

About sixty pages in, the narrator and a girlfriend begin a drive along the Pennsylvania Turnpike:
We entered it from State Route 100, near Downingtown, after the eighth toll station. On the seat beside her Claire  had a box full of coins; at each toll station she would toss a few of them out the window into the hopper without coming to a full stop. From there to Donora we passed another fifteen toll stations. In the course of the day, Claire tossed more than five dollars into hoppers.
There are toll roads that work this way, but the Pennsylvania Turnpike, during the period I have traveled it, has not been one. One gets a ticket when entering, and one pays when leaving, whether one has passed one exit or many. Certainly in 1972 one had to stop for the toll booth operator to examine one's ticket and collect the toll..

Two points interest me here.
  1. The error does not bother me. Similar errors and anachronisms in historical novels set my teeth on edge. I infer that Handke's mistake does not bother me in part because this is really not an historical novel: it was written in 1972 and set at about that time. It does not aim at reproducing the feel of a distant time or place. There is more to Claire than her box of coins.
  2. In how many novels set elsewhere or at other times have I noticed such bits of detail and taken them for true when they weren't?

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