Lux fairly much defies description, combining the plain speak of dilligent journalism and the eloquence of an other wise taciturn poet who will use anLux fairly much defies description, combining the plain speak of dilligent journalism and the eloquence of an other wise taciturn poet who will use an word or a phrase that takes a contrary turn other than where you expect it to go. He is the Poet of Unintended Results, a story teller very much in the John Cheever mode where the omniscient narrator begins yarns of folks with ambitions, intentions, desires for all manner of things making their way through their routines, only to have them interrupted and , as a consequence, find themselves to the larger world ,with what were once nuances and pesky inconviences of fact now looming over them in a crazy state of I-Told-You-So.
RENDER, REND Boil it down: feet, skin, gristle, bones, vertebrae, heart muscle, boil it down, skim, and boil again, dreams, history, add them and boil again, boil and skim in closed cauldrons, boil your horse, his hooves, the runned-over dog you loved, the girl by the pencil sharpener who looked at you, looked away, boil that for hours, render it down, take more from the top as more settles to the bottom, the heavier, the denser, throw in ache and sperm, and a bead of sweat that slid from your armpit to your waist as you sat stiff-backed before a test, turn up the fire, boil and skim, boil some more, add a fever and the virus that blinded an eye, now’s the time to add guilt and fear, throw logs on the fire, coal, gasoline, throw two goldfish in the pot (their swim bladders used for “clearing”), boil and boil, render it down and distill, concentrate that for which there is no other use at all, boil it down, down, then stir it with rosewater, that which is now one dense, fatty, scented red essence which you smear on your lips and go forth to plant as many kisses upon the world as the world can bear! This is a poet who witnesses human experience and of life itself as process that goes on regardless of the fine personal and community philosophies we've written for ourselves to abide by. Life is a raw force that will continue to pulse, change, destroy and create anew regardless of how well can describe it. We can describe life's circumstances, we cannot control them. But there is heart in Lux's work, a sympathy, that sense of the struggle of humanity trying to create meaning in a world that defies logic and yet remains a species that continues to dress the world in a wonderful cosmology of expectations. There is wit, dark humor, tenderness, a wonderfully terse lyricism in Lux's finest writing. None are better ....more
Adam Gussow, a professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi, is among the best younger scholars of blues culture one is Adam Gussow, a professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi, is among the best younger scholars of blues culture one is likely to come across. He is no less, a superb, stylish, and gritty blues harmonica player who has, in his time, traveled and plied his trade as street musician and busker, most notably as part of the duo Satan and Adam, with guitarist/vocalist Sterling McGee. Gussow is the author of several fine books related to Southern and blues culture in America, and wrote a fine memoir of his relationship with McGee, “Mister Satan's Apprentice". This is mentioned just to establish that Gussow isn't a mere dilettante on the blues, mastering a few tricks and signature moves and then resting on laurels and a reputation made long ago; Gussow continues to gig, with McGee , as a solo performer, and in collaboration with a number of other musicians, often times in public, on the street, the hat out for loose change and scattered change, keeping himself honest with what he plays and maintaining a connection his vibe with the world of experience that is the energy the blues channels. He is a scholar who continues to seek the source, to find that invisible "it" behind the mere description and appearance of things as they present themselves.
His first novel, "Busker's Holiday", is, I imagine, a fictionalized accounting of his own quest, a young man at particular moment of his life when what he's been doing in terms of study, romance and location no longer fits the skin he wears and gets an itch to try something else, to what happens. Set in the 80s, the novel regards the plight of McKay, a doctoral candidate in literature whose life has hit a rough patch. Reeling from problems in his relationship with his girl friend, McKay jumps at the chance to go on a five week trip to Europe with his friend Paul. A blues fan, McKay gathers up his harmonicas and his amp, eager to perform before crowds on the Continent.
There is something akin to novelist Henry James here, the 19th and early 20th Century American novelist who had as a major theme the confrontation of the New World (America) and the Old World (Europe). But where James' novels--"The American", "Wings of a Dove"--were long, measured, slow paced and geared to consider the interior lives, the changes of psyche, occurring over long stretches of time, Gussow instead goes for the Beat-influenced insistence on sensation, speed, the influx of sound, smell, and blurred vision. There is the velocity and mania of Jack Kerouac here, that point where the novel opens up with its landings in Paris and beyond, but author Gussow has a better command of the technique. He keep the tone and pacing right; Kerouac and the Beats are an obvious and working influence on the style of this tale, but what we have here is something better and, I think, more honest to the experience. Kerouac is problematic for many of us, and for me the issue was his willingness, his chronic need to make his already made pace even more intense with infusions of hip-argot, haphazardly placed modifiers. To paraphrase Gore Vidal, Kerouac used adjectives, verbs, similes, metaphors “the way truck drivers uses ketchup at a diner.” Again, Gussow has a better command of the style, the instrument, which that he gets closer to the Charlie Parker concern of “making it all fit”, the Spontaneous Bop Prosody that Kerouac’s principle aim with his prolix excursions.
Adam Gussow's writing is vivid, alive, the mellifluous sentences flow when he goes at length and the shorter sentences have something of the Hemingway craft of resonating terseness. It is a recollection that resonates. McKay is delivered very well; an engaging, seeking, impatient, naive, curious man in search for knowledge and new means to express a growing feeling of a rich inner life. The writing is swift but disciplined, loose but always aware of where the rhythm truly is, is a match for the harmonica playing and instrumentation you’ve described. It is a wonderful and engaging accounting of being within the experience of performance, of when the chops fail and where they come together. ...more
There were great expectations for a Don DeLillo novel that confronted the epic tragedy of 9/11, but it seems reasonable that "Falling Man" is less ambThere were great expectations for a Don DeLillo novel that confronted the epic tragedy of 9/11, but it seems reasonable that "Falling Man" is less ambitious than many of us wanted it to be. It is beautifully written and definitely furnishes the mood of severe dislocation when a symbol of our abstracted sense of self, the Word Trade Center towers, were attacked and destroyed.
There is a poetically conveyed sense of distance between the characters and the unimaginable tragedy that unfolded. In keeping with DeLillo's themes of staring down institutions that influence behavior, policy, choices and assigns significance to products and habits that are meant to supplant our inner life, the novel his the ongoing concern with trying to understand people who vaguely adhered to images, propaganda, manufactured consensus and consumerism that at least told us, theoretically, what America and Americans stood for--a herd in many ethnic and cultural subsets acting "as if" their life had fixed certainty and purpose--who confront the terror not just of terrorism, mass murder and increased violations of their rights, but the terror of realizing that faith in The System and its statements of purpose are a fiction intended to keep our eyes off the prize and instead glued to the television tube and computer monitor.
The novel,though, reads at times like a paraody of DeLillo's best work. Despite the customary excellence of the writing, the author strains for effect sometimes, drifts into digressions that are page fillers. There is a sense of obligation one detects in the otherwise superb craft; given tht he is the genius who wrote "White Noise" and "Underground", two of the best novels every written that found the empty chamber that passes as the American heart, we have a great writer competing with a recent history that is so incredible and ground shaking that it so fars defies literary imagination to successfully diagnosis and turn into superb irony. It is worth a read for DeLillo completest, but this is not the book to begin with if you've been thinking of reading one or more of his books. I would suggest "White Noise " or "Great Jones Street" for that/...more
I read this a year ago, and as a Detroit native I have to say that LeDuff's Hemingway-inspired , virtually verbless prose style suits the ongoing hea I read this a year ago, and as a Detroit native I have to say that LeDuff's Hemingway-inspired , virtually verbless prose style suits the ongoing heartache that is the Motor City. It's a relief that the author refrains from being the amateur urban planner or statistic-infected wonk in order to project dismal futures or to propose expensive , long term solutions predicated on someone's willingness to raise taxes. That is another conversation and debate that would distract from LeDuff's strong points as a writer,which are an attention to detail, unspoken nuance, the voice of the people he talks to and the grinding despair of a seemingly doomed city.
This reads like a novel, more or less, a writer's journey through a city that once thrived and was respected and now, due to basic and fatal human flaws of greed, racism, and generations of indescribably awful economic and political decisions, has diminished in all respects. Will Detroit recover? LeDuff leaves that question alone; what he does is provide vivid portraits of some of its citizens who share an remarkable resilience to their collective hardship. The question "Detroit: An American Autopsy" is whether politicians, city, state and federal, can look this cit in the eye and muster the political will to do something about it. This a gruff, bracing read, powerfully presented. ...more
Mailer and Ali, what more could a reader wanting to investigate the egos and aspirations of manly men want? Mailer worshipped the will of those who weMailer and Ali, what more could a reader wanting to investigate the egos and aspirations of manly men want? Mailer worshipped the will of those who were willing to endure pain and humiliation as they cultivated some strange aspect of their personality to an aesthetic reality; make no mistake , Mailer considered Ali to be an artist no less than his other heros, Hemingway, Picasso, Marylin. There is lots of poetically conveyed romanticism going on here, made palatable and even intellectually attractive by Mailer's fine prose; there is the strong suggestion that Mailer knew how absurd he was with respect to his assumptions and the way he wrote bout his adventures in the third person. Still, this brillant stylist brings it off, and does justice to the skill, grace , and yes, art of another brillant stylist, Muhammad Ali. ...more
I've been a long time reader of Eagleton for the plain reason that he has a wonderful prose style and that , as a Marxist in the mode of Raymond WilliI've been a long time reader of Eagleton for the plain reason that he has a wonderful prose style and that , as a Marxist in the mode of Raymond Williams, he remains skeptical of using art as a springboard for philosophical speculation and insists that we have to appreciate how authors use their imaginations and techniques to elicit the subtle effects on their readership. He does not dodge the political in art, but he does insist that readers remember that literature is about the human experience and that the role of the artist is to present us with provocative narratives that place the reader in a flow of experience outside their own references. Eagelton, though, does go slack in making an argument about why attentive reading and an eye and ear for how a narrative succeeds or fails on the terms it establishes for itself; he is, perhaps, too much of a crank more interested in bellowing at today's kids rather than re-establishing his own reasons for bothering with a career in literary discussion. He makes an attempt to tell us why it's important to have the skills to read with a subtler mind through extensive explorations of emotional conflicts and situational tension, but he is not entirely convincing. There was a point in the end pages of his book "Literary Theory" where Eagleton seemed to go into a both a lament an rant about how theorizing about literature, the general examination of books as "texts" and the demonstration of how they cannot mean anything adequate to lived experience, over the finer art of criticism, genuine appreciation, when he postulated that after years of slugging it out with competing academics one--meaning himself, I believe--had to struggle what it was that made one desire to teach and dicuss literature as a career. Perhaps the author has reached that point even as he tries to reignite the passion for the studies of stories as entities in themselves, not extensions of political assumptions. I do like Harold Bloom's assertion that literature's principle benefit to the is that it helps us think about ourselves. That works for me. ...more
Worth the read to gain access to Mailer's always trenchant remarks on the psyches of men with power who are seduced by the promise of war as a positivWorth the read to gain access to Mailer's always trenchant remarks on the psyches of men with power who are seduced by the promise of war as a positive agent of change. Sadly, though, the prose is stiff and at times awkward. Mailer, a master in creating sentences that ring and resound, is not on his game here....more
Mailer once remarked that his intention with writing Ancient Evenings was to compose a long sequence of novels telling the history of the Jewish peoplMailer once remarked that his intention with writing Ancient Evenings was to compose a long sequence of novels telling the history of the Jewish people through the experience of one family, beginning in Ancient Egypt before the arrival of Christ, onward through time past various diasporas , persecutions, genocides, successes and setbacks, with the concluding edition of this fictional saga being somewhere in the future , in outer space, with the eyes of the protagonist trained outwards still. As it happens, Mailer was so engrossed in the profound mysteries of Egyptian religious ritual, culture and mythology that he never made past the river Nile. All the same, this is a breathtaking read, generations of magic, politics, reincarnations and aggressively ambiguous sexual engorgement roiling through centuries of particularized vanity.
This is ,as others have correctly asserted, an overlong book , and one suspects that had Mailer been less known and an good editor had applied the blue pencil on those passages that were merely lugubrious , we would have had a tighter, punchier novel. But Ancient Evenings is one of those exotic expressions of unexpected genius that the passages that threaten to sink under the weight of all that sexual energy being put forth don't become tedium, but rather the texture of a fantastically realized fever dream; there are fantastic battles, eroticism beyond gender, magic in the ancient ways as men and women seek power and dominion over their own soles against mysterious and powerful forces that have placed them in impossible states of yearning.
This is a brilliant novel by a writer who , I believed, is one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century. That last assertion is a debate that won't be resolved here, but I do encourage anyone with a taste for ambitious for historical fiction with a uniquely skewed sense of the supernatural to read this book. ...more
Russell Banks is one of those novelists who gets considerable mileage out of his character's capacity to make themselves miserable, to attract miseryRussell Banks is one of those novelists who gets considerable mileage out of his character's capacity to make themselves miserable, to attract misery without necessarily seeking it out, or being born into a miserable world that makes the bringing of each and every sunrise a cue to begin again for someone to arise and then debate whether to make coffee or slit their wrists.
I've read some of his novels--Affliction, The Relation of My Imprisonment, The Angel on the Roof, Trailer Park--and I have to say that while I find his prose often times gorgeous and genuinely moving, his fiction is so persistently dire, dour and depressed that it's hard to say that I enjoyed the books I finished and put on the shelf. The misfortunes visited upon his characters are constant to the point that they become nearly comic in their overwrought attempt to create a saddened tone; the works are quite simply emotional melodramatic.
The Darling, concerning a rich young daughter who joins the Weather Underground during America's revolutionary mid-century who becomes involved in terrorist bombing that winds up killing people, we follow this poor soul as she flees the USA and winds up in Africa, in Liberia, where she gets a government post carrying for chimpanzees in a State Run field station. She winds up falling in love with a government minister who has taken pity on her and helps her, marries him and has sons. She becomes friends with Charles Taylor , the ruthlessly cruel President of the country and , strangely, she narrates at considerable length how she she seems to be communicating silently with the apes who are in her care. Disaster , revolution, race hatred, genocide follow , she flees back to the States and returns to her estranged parents and reconnects with friends from the political days. It was at this point where I closed this book and did not open it again, even though I was but 75 pages away from finishing. The improbable circumstances piled atop each other too quickly, too bluntly; Bank's prose stopped being graceful and tragically lyric at that point,moving in emotional impact and became labored.
Clearly, he had too much going on and rather than cut sequences, scenarios and conceits that were't working to begin with--the kinship with the caged chimps creates incredulity, not empathy--he is reduced to hurrying through the story, to connect his plot points. In truth, there is nothing told here that could not have been done in 200 pages; we would have had a more powerful novel that might have actually detroyed you in the spot you were holding the book. But we get blather instead, many long paragraphs of what reads like a twenty volume suicide note.You could here the strain and sense the tedium of a plot take its toll. This reads like a novelization of the most pathetic button-pushing mini series imaginable, circa 1973. The novel is a gargantuan bore....more