Dragging the Line

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A short story of Karl Glogauer by Mike Lee

Publishing History

Summary

On an uncomfortable train ride through Southern India during a hot subcontinental January, Frank and Harriet meet Helena and Scott en route to Cochin. On their first night in their hotel in the neighborhood of Ernakulam, the American couple is introduced by the English couple to Karl Glogauer, met shortly before by his countrymen. During an awkward dinner, Karl describes himself as a well-traveled retired businessman who is a “collector of history” as a hobby, though Frank notes the possibility that Karl may in fact be an antiques dealer who does not wish to disclose his business to local authorities (pp. 162-63). Karl also remarks upon his distaste for formalities, a comment of which Frank makes special note. Following the meal, the young couples decide—out of mere politeness—to meet the following day and explore the Old City section of Cochin with Karl.

The following morning, the English couple fails to meet their three companions at the ferry jetty in time for its departure, leaving the Americans to visit the ancient parts of the city with the older man. Karl immediately sets about telling several stories drawn from the deep history of the city; of his obsessive demeanor and pressured manner of speaking about distant events, Harriet makes the understated comment, “He is a bit intense” (p. 168). The title line of the story makes literal reference to the trio’s observation of the time-worn practice of net fishing on the Karalan coast of the Arabian Sea, a practice that Frank and “the guide books” attribute to the Chinese, but which Karl claims—in disagreement with what he calls the “total shit” found in the guidebooks—long predated the arrival of the Chinese in the area (p. 167).

It is in Jewish Cemetery that Karl’s tales of the Old City reach their greatest intensity, and because they are unable to further tolerate his company, it is also where the Americans part ways with Karl, never to see him again. Before leaving the older man, Harriet snaps a photograph of her husband as he stands next to Glogauer in the cemetery grounds. Weeks after their return to the States, the American couple develops the photograph, which shows, surrounding Karl and his companion Frank, “whisping smoke-like swirls…The swirls had form, and with a modicum of imagination you could discern several human figures” (pp. 170-71). The couple is so repulsed by the image, and in particular the expression on Karl’s face, that Frank destroys the photograph and the negative.

Interpretive Notes

  • Part travelogue, part ghost story, “Line” is the only story to focus upon Glogauer that is written entirely in the first-person perspective of a character who has the opportunity to observe Karl from an arms-length distance. Behold the Man, Breakfast in the Ruins and “Halfway House”, in contrast, are principally devoted to descriptions of Karl’s interior life and the workings of his mind. Unlike the aforementioned novels and story, “Line” portrays a well-matured Karl, and, in a realistic style, suggests the social consequences for Karl that may develop in the decades subsequent to the events of BITR.
  • The author’s decision to set the story in Southern India highlights similarities and links between Michael Moorcock’s Glogauer stories and those of his Jerry Cornelius character.