The second installment in NYRB Reading Week takes me far away from 1970s New York City to a fictional version of 1899 Subotica (at that time the Hungarian city of Szabadka). In Dezső Kosztolányi’s Skylark, an old married couple—the husband is fifty-nine—sees their spinster daughter off for a week in the country with relatives. Skylark, the daughter, is ugly, as we find out very soon, and has no chance of ever marrying. Instead she has become inseparable from her parents, and at the thought of her leaving for a week all three cry at the railway station.
Once she’s gone, her parents feel lost. They feel they can’t maintain their normal routine and have agreed, ahead of time, with Skylark, that rather than cooking at home they will go to restaurants. They all despise restaurants, and pity the poor bachelors who don’t have a woman to give them a good home-cooked meal. But Father and Mother will martyr themselves at restaurants for a week while Skylark can get some rest in the country.
But strangely, Father begins to realize he likes restaurant food. He likes having a bit of wine with dinner, eating goulash, which Skylark never makes, and meeting up with old friends. He was once a popular man and can be again if he simply gets out of the house. The couple are soon invited to the theater, another activity they would never do with Skylark, and both enjoy it immensely. These poor late-middle-aged people go completely and charmingly wild while their prematurely-middle-aged daughter is away, playing cards and even buying a crocodile handbag!
They’ve spent their whole lives pitying Skylark and feeling so responsible for her that they never realized she was the one holding them down to their dreary life. There is
Continue reading Skylark by Dezső Kosztolányi