Dorf and the Daisies Interview Transcript

“Dorf and the Daisies” Interview Transcript

Hello, my name is Cassandra Passarelli, the author of “Dorf and the Daisies.”

Stories speak for themselves, but when Consequence asked me to talk about Sam Beckett and my use of commercial slogans, I realized there are some things to unpick. Both Beckett’s antithetical stance and New World materialism that my story inhabits were products of the postwar milieu that shaped my story’s narrator.

This is a more personal story than most, requiring less research perhaps than some. The character of Dorf was inspired by my father. His generation was known as the Greatest or the Silent Generation. In his case, more “silent” than “greatest.” I tried to respect the tension created in his head between postwar trauma and marketing, which was how he earned his living.

First, something about form. This story has less shape than most of my prose for two reasons. One, as an appropriation of Samuel Beckett’s style. As one of my father’s literary models, to whom my father frequently referred, Beckett was very present as I wrote, shaping my voice as I ventriloquized my father’s. Beckett’s anti-philosophy and his denial of form liberated me from the usual constraints the short story form implies. 

Known for his surreal take on life, his introspective visions delivered in a lighthearted conversational tone, my father’s default mode of delivery aligned with Beckett’s. His bitterness was always masked in wry, philosophical humor. “Some chronicle men on their way up; others tackle men on their way down. Samuel Beckett stalks after men on their way out,” wrote a reviewer. This seemed very apt for this story. Beckett encapsulates the hopelessness, the ennui, and the absurdity of life that my father aligned himself with.

The other reason is that the form mirrors my father’s monologues in the last months of his life. He was an alcoholic, in his nineties, and at this stage he’d stopped eating and was eager to die. He had always been a storyteller. He was articulate, funny, and deeply repetitive; like all good comics, he told and retold stories ad infinitum, often embellishing, distorting, or lying. The story’s objective was its entertainment value, not veracity. When he was dying, this manipulation was blatant; on my last visits to his bedsit, he would repeat stories on the same visit with a host of variant or conflicting endings. The entertainment value of the stories no longer really held, and he was struggling to find his way back to who he was, why he had lived, and what its purpose was. He could, at times, sound like an echo chamber of his literary heroes (James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, or Sam Beckett) whose existential crises mirrored his own.

Born in Rochester, New York in the twenties, like my mother he grew up in the Depression. His mother and he lived with his grandfather. His experiences as a GI in WWII left a lasting imprint on his mental state and was perhaps responsible for his alcoholism. He left home soon after he was discharged, fishing in Alaska, traveling to the Middle East, drifting across Australia, and eventually ending up in Europe, where he met my mother. They settled there, first in Vienna and then in London.

Paradoxically, in order to earn a living, he found himself a pioneer of market research in the UK, where after canvassing in the street, he set up his own business, gathering qualitative data for a range of British companies. His freelance career was in direct contradiction to his values as a left-wing, liberal with Buddhist leanings, adding to an internal disjunct that he was unable to resolve. The jingles quoted in the story were those he sang frequently throughout his day as he worked from home, smoking his pipe, and, as bankruptcy closed in on him, he hit the bottle. They were a chorus that framed my memories of him, an ironic side-swipe at all that marketing promised to consumers and simultaneously very telling of the era with its dated innuendos or outright misinformation. There was a parallel between this commercial bravado and exaggeration, which colored his personal stories. This was an era without social media, algorithms, or big data, and my father’s methods were an intuitive and ad hoc way of interpreting his focus groups, filtered through an idiosyncratic perspective of which design or strapline would sell a painkiller or a luxury car. The adverts predicated on his research were as pernicious or antithetical to the truth as his tales. Marketing values bled into his own moral framework. 

Another aspect that I was exploring in this story was the trauma World War II veterans were subject to. In the Pacific as an eighteen-year-old, my father experienced war as a young man. He was ill-equipped to process the suffering he saw or was party to. He barely spoke about these experiences during my childhood, except for when he was very drunk, and the stories came out as half-formed things… the odd, obtuse sentence or phrase almost riddle-like in its intelligibility that hinted at the atrocities. Allusions to Japanese soldiers he shot, to body bags he saw, to barrack life formed a verbal pastiche uneasily framed by his angst and guilt. Unlike Beckett’s role in the French resistance, and his being awarded a Cross de Guerre, my father’s part in the American attack in the Pacific was far more abstract and harder to justify. 

I do hope this helps frame “Dorf” to its readers, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Consequence for choosing this story and working so closely with me.

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