I wrote the poems in this book alone, in the dark, in a tiny kitchen on Orchard Street in NYC. I was a new NYC transplant, and was heavily under the iI wrote the poems in this book alone, in the dark, in a tiny kitchen on Orchard Street in NYC. I was a new NYC transplant, and was heavily under the influence of the city I'd always dreamed about....more
Lipsyte is a master of the sentence. Like his fellow Lish-learned sentence experts (Gary Lutz, Barry Hannah, Dawn Raffel, Noy Holland, etc, etc, etc),Lipsyte is a master of the sentence. Like his fellow Lish-learned sentence experts (Gary Lutz, Barry Hannah, Dawn Raffel, Noy Holland, etc, etc, etc), Lipsyte pays extreme attention to the cadence, sounds, and layers of meaning in his language. When reviewing Home Land, one has the urge to simply create a list of the many wonderful lines between its covers. But that would not fairly represent the other most impressive quality of Lipsyte's prose: its humor. And this is where Lipsyte stands apart from many of his peers (not that they lack humor: Joy Williams, George Saunders, Barry Hannah, even Diane Williams--though I had to hear her read her work out loud before I understood this dimension fully--and others certainly expose excellent, finely-tuned senses of humor): none save George Saunders goes so mercilessly for laughs--both high and low. Lipsyte's unique combination, then, of gorgeous and hilarious prose make his work, and in particular Home Land, a rewarding experience.
In Home Land, Lipsyte he uses a first person voice almost as relentless as that of Thomas Bernhard (though with paragraph breaks, thank heaven), to describe the thoughts and travails of a self-important, insightful but ultimately slovenly and ridiculous man nicknamed Teabag (you'll have to read to find out why, though you can probably guess). The "arc" of this book, if you can call it that, begins with Teabag's decision to begin sending in updates to the weekly publication of his high school, and it follows these updates as they get him entangled in other people's lives. It was hard for me to read about Teabag without thinking of Ignatius Jacques Reilly, from John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prize winning A Confederacy of Dunces. Both are extremely hapless, self-indulgent buffoons. They're also both charming despite themselves. Flawed, smart, lonely and hilarious, it's hard not to feel some immediate kinship with them.
And as in A Confederacy, what "happens" to Teabag is usually the result of external forces--he evinces very little agency throughout the book, bumping instead off of various people whose own trajectories are themselves caused by things beyond their control, ad nauseum. Indeed, one of the themes of the novel seems to be how little control we have over our lives, or at least how little control we *take* over them. I add this qualification because the book does, in the end, succumb to a kind of traditional epiphanic structure (which I found a little disappointing, frankly).
The book was generally a joy to read--Lipsyte's skills are, especially for this writer, not a little enviable--but part of what makes it such a joy to read from page to page, limited it, I think, in terms of overall impact. Going for each joke, and muscling as many sentences as possible into elaborate thrill rides of syntax and sound, while fun at the time, in the end deflates tension and narrative drive. Upon finishing the book, though I recalled having laughed and admired by way through innumerable passages, what I was left with was really only a kind of vague, blurry impression of what I'd read. This is probably my own fault--maybe a more adroit reader would have no trouble parsing the passages in her memory. But I found myself wishing he'd sacrificed some of the pyrotechnics along the way, so that the finale could have been more powerful and impressive. ...more
I picked this up for 75 cents in a used clothing store in central Tucson, not having read anything by DeLillo since Underworld, and found that I'd beeI picked this up for 75 cents in a used clothing store in central Tucson, not having read anything by DeLillo since Underworld, and found that I'd been missing DeLillo's fierce intelligence and strange, incantatory poetic vision. But what really surprised me was his humor. As when reading Underworld, I was continually struck by the stylist's able hand with complex concepts, but here, perhaps because of the book's size, or maybe because it is the work of an author who still hadn't assumed his position as one of the great prose stylists of late 20th century American letters, his characters don't seem quite so weighed down by their armature of dense, theatrical language. Instead they are nimble, even when facing the vast cultural and psychological forces that seem to be encroaching on their lives from all sides.
The story is a rather simple one: it describes a football season at a small college in Texas, a place that is no one's first choice, rather a kind of depository for misfits or underachievers, all cowering under the distant but intoxicating power of a famous coach brought in to make something of the team. Of course, since this was written in '72, and since this is DeLillo, the story itself is merely a stage on which Big Issues are discussed, investigated, and poeticized. I haven't read his first novel, but from what I've read, End Zone was the book where DeLillo introduced some of the themes that would define much of his later work. Cold War anxiety is certainly one of them, as is language itself. There are any number of ways the later, in particular, weaves its way into the story: the primary character's (Gary) roommate, for instance, is seeking to redefine himself through changing the way he speaks. Another character is taking a class on the "untellable," about which he can say little. In one scene, Gary's love interest describes to him a science fiction novel she's reading in which a creature utters words that literally take the place of the objects they describe, and are then absorbed back into the creature's body. Or something. It's all pretty strange and vague, and like much of DeLillo's writing, the point seems more to convey a sense of things, rather than establish a concrete image or understanding in the readers' mind.
Anyway, bottom line is this book was a scream to read. Very funny, with lively, punchy dialogue that I feel may have been a little lost in later books. It feels a little lighter, generally, maybe more like a stoned Lorrie Moore on an existentialist jag. But unlike Lorrie Moore's early work (which I've reviewed recently), End Zone feels already mature, fully formed, not just a rough promise of what's to come. ...more
I'll dispense with the easiest bit of criticism first: though it is the titular story, "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned" is actually the only stI'll dispense with the easiest bit of criticism first: though it is the titular story, "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned" is actually the only story set in something other than what I fairly assume to be present day, the only story to stretch realism. (All the rest of these stories are basically slice of life, NYer realism, with tinges maybe of hysterical realism.) I don't think this is quite fair however, this critique, seeing as how it could very well have been Tower's publisher and/or agent who ordered this collection, and chose what to include. Still, a strange choice, even considering the fact that such a title becomes emblematic of a basic kind of desperation and loss tucked deep within the characters of this collection.
As for the rest of the collection, or rather, "the book," if you go by a kind of exception-makes-the-rule perspective, there are certain things Tower is very, very good at. He's a master of the visual simile, for instance. At least once in every story--sometimes twice or three times--he comes up with something that, as a writer, fills me with that bittersweet mixture of enjoyment and envy. The kind of comparison that is at once completely disparate and yet totally right.
Another thing he's good at is creating gem-like little scenes that have the right balance of quirky, particular detail and familiar, straight description to make the reading quick and fluid yet improvisational and dreamy. The characters are invested in the scene, and bring a good measure of memory, abstraction, and analysis (though too many, perhaps, fail the kind of introspection you know Tower himself has, and this makes you wish he'd imbue his characters with more of their own).
So why only three stars? Well, basically, stars are bullshit. The short answer is I gave four stars, most recently, to Stoner, and this simply isn't that good, that mature, that wise. Tower is talented as fuck, but the biggest, most obvious shortcoming in this collection is that, for all their nimble blocking and deft characterization, the overall effect was wanting. I never felt like the primary characters had enough at stake (a terribly workshoppy thing to say, really, but there you go), and though there was driving force enough simply in the language of the stories, when they ended, I felt that not enough had been accomplished. It was really a consistent experience throughout the read, until the penultimate story, "On The Show," which basically did everything right....more
In some ways, it’s much easier to speak about what Stoner doesn’t do than what it does. It doesn’t have acrobatic language. It doesn’t have complex stIn some ways, it’s much easier to speak about what Stoner doesn’t do than what it does. It doesn’t have acrobatic language. It doesn’t have complex structure. It doesn’t have any real narrative drive or plot. It doesn’t have a particularly heroic or otherwise inherently interesting main character. So why do I like it? I keep thinking that Stoner is one of those rare books that, because it defies all prescriptive rules for good novel writing yet succeeds in being a good novel, holds the key to understanding writing itself. Which of course means this tiny review, like others I’ve read of Stoner, will necessarily fail to explain why it’s so good.
Stoner takes roughly 275 pages to span the 66 year life of its protagonist, William Stoner, which, if you do the math, is a little more than 4 pages per year. This is a stupid thing to note, really, except that it highlights one of the positive rather than negative aspects of the book: that much of it is written in a kind of middle-ground overview, a glossy recap, and what isn’t written this way is necessarily episodic in nature. In some ways, it reads like the notes one might take were one to undergo a serious epic study of the man. Which one wouldn’t. So really, the form is perfectly suited to the subject.
But here again, trying to explain Stoner devolves into a kind of listing of the paradoxes of its ability to sustain the reader’s interest. The only real device I can see John Williams using to create a kind of tension, a drive, is that he explains, right in the opening passage, how little becomes of Stoner. That the man, essentially, amounts to nothing. What follows, then, is always seen relative to this predetermined outcome, and so what minor success he has in life is experienced through a film of sentimentality, and his failures are exaggerated, as though any person trespassing against him is guilty of some kind of underhanded, low blow. Of fighting dirty.
But Stoner is not always sympathetic. Or rather, he’s often sympathetic because of his flaws, rather than because of his attractive traits. In fact, his most heroic scene--involving “taking a stand” against a student he considers a poor performer, and the professor who champions the student’s cause--can just as easily be seen as a demonstration of Stoner’s short-sightedness, his inability to understand or tolerate what seems to be genius.
Ultimately, what you get with Stoner is a series of delicately drawn episodes, spanning the course of a rather uneventful life, each of which pays close attention to the nuances of its character’s emotional development. It’s told in a close-third person that plays along the line of Stoner’s self-awareness, exaggerating some thoughts and insights beyond what Stoner may himself be believed to possess, but rarely enough to really draw attention to the narrator, who remains roughly over Stoner’s shoulder. Indeed, the only misstep I’d accuse this book of making lies in the rare moments when the narration leaves Stoner and briefly follows one of the people close to him (mostly his wife). It doesn’t happen often enough, I don’t think, to make it feel like a coherent stylistic plan.
I’ve probably convinced just about everyone who reads this review to avoid Stoner. And really, that would probably be okay. It will no doubt be handed around among people who, despite their dumbstruck inability to explain or understand their appreciation of the book, appreciate it greatly nonetheless. ...more
True to its description, the first story in this collection was deliciously sad, bringing to mind Carver with its unhappy, booze-fueled anti-romance.True to its description, the first story in this collection was deliciously sad, bringing to mind Carver with its unhappy, booze-fueled anti-romance. But like most of Brown's characters, it went downhill from there. The grace notes are awkward, and the epiphanies forced (in the second story, the final scene involves the main character's husband turning off the porch light as she leaves to go buy booze). Because of the author's subject matter and writing style, I can see why Barry Hannah was asked to blurb the book. I just can't see why he did. Still, there was that first story......more
The strongest element of this book, by far, is the voice. It's told in a kind of pidgin english. I'm not sure if the author was shooting for memesis,The strongest element of this book, by far, is the voice. It's told in a kind of pidgin english. I'm not sure if the author was shooting for memesis, or if he was taking gross artistic license, or (most probably) a little bit of both. Whatever the goal, the impact is twofold: it restricts the level of complexity of thought/perspective, but it allows wonderfully impressionistic images and reflection on the action. At it's best, it's a kind of dreamlike poetry.
The story itself isn't very engaging. And the end is unfortunately cliche. ...more
This was my first Simenon, and although it was a fun distraction, I think I was expecting something slightly more substantive. It's a good beach book,This was my first Simenon, and although it was a fun distraction, I think I was expecting something slightly more substantive. It's a good beach book, if it's raining in the Bahamas and you've got sand in your bathing suit. ...more
"It was about the same time in my life, a calm life in which ordinarily nothing happened, that two events coincided, events that, taken separately, we"It was about the same time in my life, a calm life in which ordinarily nothing happened, that two events coincided, events that, taken separately, were hardly of any interest, and that, considered together, were unfortunately not connected in any way."
Absolutely wonderful first sentence. Unfortunately, it rarely achieves such perfect strangeness throughout most of the remaining 100 pages. And the final sentence/word is terrible.
In the interview at the back of the book, Toussaint calls his work "Infinitesemal," and suggests that this is a better word for what he's doing than "minimalist," which it's apparently been called by critics. I think this is a silly, precious distinction, but one I can completely understand the author making, having read his work. It's all a bit silly and precious. One gets the feeling--and one is correct--that the author has grand notions about what he's accomplishing on the page. Generally, I dislike having this feeling while reading fiction....more
Going back to Moore's first book is interesting in the way watching "seminal films" is interesting for fans of the films they've inspired. A big partGoing back to Moore's first book is interesting in the way watching "seminal films" is interesting for fans of the films they've inspired. A big part of the enjoyment is seeing the birthplace of Moore's trademark pun-happy wit and deadpan comic delivery, the emergence of her themes of suburban malaise and sexual frustration. And it's interesting to see her be a bit more experimental here than she is in her later fiction, at both the story and sentence levels. But like a lot of early, pathbreaking material, it's not nearly as controlled (which wouldn't be such a big deal, were it not for the fact that she, as a now-mature artist, strives for that very thing), so the stories, while shooting for heartbreak, end up more often in headscratch. Nonetheless, it's easy to see why there was such excitement about her when the book came out--and of course those early champions of her work were absolutely right about how significant and influential she'd become. ...more