This sparkling trinket of a book is worth hunting down. It manages to be malicious and tender, comic and despairing, pretty much on every page. The plThis sparkling trinket of a book is worth hunting down. It manages to be malicious and tender, comic and despairing, pretty much on every page. The plot is a pretzel, turning improbably back on itself, weaving characters together with masterful glee, reminding me only of Kate Atkinson's Case Histories. Or James Hynes's Next, of course. Treat yourself....more
A pleasant bit of predictable nothingness. The setup is preposterous. Every cardboard character acts exactly as expected, from hero to villain. EveryA pleasant bit of predictable nothingness. The setup is preposterous. Every cardboard character acts exactly as expected, from hero to villain. Every cliché drops into place. The plot clanks from one one-dimensional character to the next. The only surprise is that there are absolutely no surprises....more
Jeffrey Lockhart, wandering the narcoleptic hallways of the Convergence, periodically encounters a video screen lowering from the ceiling broadcastingJeffrey Lockhart, wandering the narcoleptic hallways of the Convergence, periodically encounters a video screen lowering from the ceiling broadcasting the atrocities of the Anthropocene – all of which he absorbs in mute uncomprehending horror. That pretty much describes my experience reading this book. It managed to be dull and deeply disturbing at the same time, which I admit is some kind of accomplishment....more
Sometime in the late 90s I heard John Kelly do Joni Mitchell at Josie's Cabaret & Juice Joint in San Francisco – a performance that hovered comicaSometime in the late 90s I heard John Kelly do Joni Mitchell at Josie's Cabaret & Juice Joint in San Francisco – a performance that hovered comically, magically, on the threshold between parody and homage. The crowd (Joni aficionados all) pitched at the edge of their folding chairs and as the first chords of one of Mitchell's standards sounded, you'd hear delighted chuckling and low murmurs of "I love this song!" My appreciation for Joni falls firmly in this mingled mess of reflexive irony, nectarous nostalgia and amazement.
So when I spotted Malka Marom's book of interviews on a table at Green Arcades I thought, really? Is there anything there? Something pushed me to pick it up. I read it all on a couple flights back and forth across the continent, impressed beyond expectation by Mitchell's life as an artist as much as by her artistry. Malka has known Joni from the beginning of her career; the interviews span the decades. Marom does a fine job editing these interviews. Instead of straight chronology she mixes things up a bit, including snippets from her interviews with musicians and producers who worked with Joni. The conversations transcend gossip or autobiography: the thread running through them is the creative process, what it means to honor one's muse, to keep exploring.
As I write this review Mitchell is silent, recovering from an aneurysm, and Prince has just died. An early recording of Prince performing "A Case of You" has just been posted on YouTube – a tender coda to the lives of two exceptional, incomparable musicians.
After a couple drinks, a bickering English couple set off from Tangier to a house party in the desert, driving at night, the road unfolding before theAfter a couple drinks, a bickering English couple set off from Tangier to a house party in the desert, driving at night, the road unfolding before them. This will not end well, I thought, and kept reading. Echoes of Paul Bowles and his clueless/arrogant Westerners of course, but also the acidulous observation of Edward St. Aubyn. I was more than halfway through the book before I realized how well it was written. The fine-grained point of view shifts constantly, between man and wife, between hosts and guests, between Europeans and Arabs. No one is spared. Osborne rarely resorts to caricature. The chief exception is an unnamed French woman berating American imperialism, and I couldn't help but enjoy the malice.
In a phrase: insight without compassion (Bowles again) and shimmering sentences. To understand all is to forgive nothing....more
Today I read a talk about rhyme delivered by Anthony Madrid, who explains why it once mattered so much –
All rhymers of every century believed—wordless
Today I read a talk about rhyme delivered by Anthony Madrid, who explains why it once mattered so much –
All rhymers of every century believed—wordlessly, mutely, even incoherently believed—that rhyme, by punctuating and thus amplifying the effects of a poem’s rhythm, helped to put a kind of spell on the reader, inducing unintelligible pleasure—and acquiescence to whatever was being said. They thought rhyme was a drug.
– and also explains why it doesn't matter anymore, except once in a while, as a "local grace." Tonight I read John Koethe's new book of poems that doesn't have any rhymes at all, or if it does I missed them. But I'm still buzzed.
If I idly ask myself, What is poetry now? What makes these poems work? I answer with something like this: poems that depend on rhyme are like songs that depend on rhythm (Madrid says, "The drive to make a song is partly a drive to channel rhythm"); but poems like Koethe's depend on a line of thought forced to its honest conclusion. In The Swimmer the thoughts come close together, the kind of thoughts that unthink themselves, because that's what thought does after a point. The poems are sharp with edges, chasms, with insights abandoned. In several the ending implodes what's been constructed.
...The sole reality is breath Inflating the narrative of a life, wending its way Across the decades page by repetitive page Until it comes at last to nothing. There should be More I guess, though I don't really believe it. … Rilke: "You must change your life." But why? It feels convincing, but in the end It's just more language, and it disappears.
I recognize myself in these poems. Koethe grew up with Christianity – "Why did I believe it, if I ever did?" – and there's two-page poem on Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling and Abraham's merciless march to Moriah.
…The tale may be superstitious bullshit, Yet what resonates is the absence of anxiety, the sense Of purpose, the uncertainty. Greatness is the underlying theme, But it's invisible: greatness is the absolute, and it remains unknown.
There's a poem that begins with one of the cruel jokes of middle age
I used to like being young, and I still do, Because I think I still am.
"Little Guys Who Live Here" is about cats
–they make you feel at home In your house, which might otherwise feel empty. I like to wake up to a cat – a white one in my case – That's helped me make it through the night
Exactly – a brown one in my case. There's some shredded humor, as in "Skinny Poem" (homage to James Schuyler)
…I hate poems Of affirmation, poems too Unaware, too smooth To be true. Life is rough.
And there are some strong angry poems, a couple about racism that score deep without any resort to rhetoric.
There are some tricks in these poems, some cheesy twists and turns, but none feel fake. The darker poems stretch skepticism into nihilism, into a darkness intuited by a mind that sees what it's searching for after the glow of memories fade.
…Poems Should be true, true to what we think – "to thine own self Be true" – but then, what do we think. We reason in clichés – Otherwise we'd never move. Why should we deny This truth about ourselves? Can't we see what we are?
I could have quoted the ending of the last poem, the title poem, to make my point but that would be cheating, would be worse than a spoiler. It's a great poem, as good as it is because of what has come before....more
A disappointment. Gary Snyder enjoys a legendary status among American poets, but this book of mediocre essays benefits neither from his poetic craftA disappointment. Gary Snyder enjoys a legendary status among American poets, but this book of mediocre essays benefits neither from his poetic craft nor his life experience. It opens with an intriguing confession:
"I got interested in China for the wrong reasons." That is, I thought I had come onto a fully engaged civilization that maintained a respectful and careful regard for the land itself, and the many other beings who already lived there. It turned out that I was wrong, but in a very complex and challenging way.
No doubt – but nothing that follows is complex or challenging. Instead there's only the mild ponderous tone of potted history. Here is Snyder on Daoism:
How then did mankind lose the way? The Daoists can only answer, through meddling, through doubt, through some error. And, it can't really be lost. The Ch'an (Zen) Buddhists centuries later addressed this with typical paradoxical energy: "The Perfect Way is without difficulty: strive hard!" China has been striving all these centuries.
Aside from the typical Zen humor, the yield of that paragraph is zero. What about the "remarkable insights" promised by the book flap?
The Chinese and Japanese traditions carry within them the most sensitive, mind-deepening poetry of the natural world ever written by civilized people.
I'm ready to be convinced, I half-believe this already, but tell me more.
The strain of nostalgia for the self-contained hard-working but satisfying life of the farmer goes along somehow with delight in jumbled gorges.
I feel like I'm reading the copy from a Celestial Seasonings tea packet. Add a block print of misty mountains and I'm there.
Humanistic concerns can be cultivated anywhere, but certain kinds of understanding and information about the natural world are only available to those who stay put and keep looking.
Snyder's admirers are legion, including some of my favorite writers. There are blurbs from James Hillman and Eliot Weinberger on the back cover, which is ironic because Weinberger is a master of the type of essay it seems Snyder is trying to write.
I would love to watch Snyder analyze a Chinese or Japanese poem rather than cull jumbled gorges of fact. I would love to listen to him talk about the life he's lived, the people he's known. I pre-ordered this book as soon as I saw it listed; I read it the day after I got it; and now I'll be giving it away. ...more
Often my reasons for buying a book are ridiculous. A few weeks back I read a piece in the The Guardian about a new bookstore in London where literaturOften my reasons for buying a book are ridiculous. A few weeks back I read a piece in the The Guardian about a new bookstore in London where literature and lattes don’t mix, whose managers offer visitors a curated selection of "suggestive themes designed to provoke browsers into making unexpected connections." The spotlight, we’re told, will be on "cutting-edge independent publishers." Fitzcarraldo Editions is the first example, so I went hunting on its site and selected Critchley’s volume as my first sharp sample. When it arrived I was impressed by its elegance, dark blue type on a thick white paper cover. The text is set in a handsome custom typeface. Today I finally brought it with me to Peets and enjoyed it with a latte.
Who can resist a book that begins "This book is not a suicide note." What a relief. Critchley references the obvious counterexample, Edouard Levé’s Suicide – that note sufficed to ruin suicide for me. Critchley’s first couple sections are dull in a different way, dutifully dispensing with all the usual religious/moral/legal reasons that suicide is Wrong, concluding however with a wry nod toward Dorothy Parker.
The first line of Section III made me laugh out loud: "In May 2013, I organized a suicide note creative writing workshop."
Here the essay found its voice. Critchley points out an obvious but overlooked aspect of Hamlet:
What is most striking about Hamlet’s speeches is not their delusional quality, but their perspicacity.
Then there is a quick survey, painful to read, of actual suicide notes, some of which are equally perspicacious. The saddest: "DARK. Light. DARK."
The next section is lighter, if only because Critchley cites Cioran, the most intentionally grim writer ever. Almost everything I read by Cioran, I read in my salad days when depression was merely a diversion, which is to say I've forgotten everything but the mood of those books. So I was surprised to find that Cioran had captured my own version of Parker’s Résumé with his typical aphoristic acuity:
Only optimists commit suicide, the optimists who can no longer be… optimists. The others, having no reason to live, why should they have any to die? … When people come to me saying they want to kill themselves, I tell them, "What’s your rush?"
And the "delicious coup de grâce" –
The refutation of suicide: is it not inelegant to abandon a world which has so willingly put itself at the service of our melancholy?
But this is only merry melancholy. Anyone who’s actually experienced the temptation of suicide knows the reality is stark, the true abyss. Critchley comes closer to a more genuine response when he quotes the passage from Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse in which Mrs Ramsey reviews the world and exclaims "It is enough! It is enough!" Except, of course, it wasn’t, not for Virginia.
I closed the book unpersuaded by anything, but that wasn’t the point. My imagination had been educated, which is enough. Critchley appends David Hume’s good-spirited essay "Of Suicide" – and Hume’s conclusion remains my own: "If Suicide be supposed a crime, it is only cowardice can impel us to it. If it be no crime, both prudence and courage should engage us to rid ourselves at once of existence, when it becomes a burthen. It is the only way, that we can then be useful to society, by setting an example, which, if imitated, would preserve to everyone his chance for happiness in life, and would effectually free him from all danger of misery."
This review, by the way, is not a suicide note. I haven’t had the Workshop....more
Ever since I happened upon The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony in 1993, I've bought every book by Roberto Calasso published in the US. No one writes boEver since I happened upon The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony in 1993, I've bought every book by Roberto Calasso published in the US. No one writes books like he does – he's created his own genre of elegant, elusive meditations on literature, books that sweep across the centuries, from subtle commentaries on Greek and Indian mythology to arcane classics in the modernist pantheon. For anyone familiar with his work, there's no point in piling up praise; for anyone who loves literature but does not know Calasso's work: here's the tip.
From the first I was curious about Calasso: this cultivated European essayist is also a publisher. Often I've wished I was fluent in Italian and had access to the collection of books he's published in their original form. The Art of the Publisher addresses this curiosity. After that encomium above, I should say that this isn't like his other books. It's a short collection of talks provided for specific occasions (and is as repetitive as such collections tend to be). I suspect its audience will be small: readers who are interested in Calasso specifically, and readers who appreciate the art of publishers like Knopf and New Directions. (I distinctly recall the look and feel of that first book, published by Knopf, beautifully designed and presented with a slightly archaic Bodoni typeface.)
Despite the occasional nature of the chapters and the somewhat predictable publisher complaints, there's also a scattering of insights that could only come from Calasso.
In every aspect of our experience we are in contact with things that escape the control of our ego – and it is precisely in the area outside our control where we find that which is most important and essential to us…. If everywhere – in the forests of Brazil and the Kalahari Desert, in ancient China and Homer's Greece, in Mesopotamia and Egypt just as in Vedic India – the first form in which language manifested itself was the story, and a story that each time told of beings that were not entirely human, then this presupposes that no other use of words appeared to be more effective in establishing contact with entities that are around us and beyond us. And there is no risk of these stories, often immensely remote in time and space, being extraneous or inaccessible to us. All mythical stories, whatever their origin, are to do with something very close to us, though we often fail to realize it.
Calasso is convincing when he argues that judgment is "the basic founding element for the existence of the publisher," that publishing is indeed an art in which a line of books are, in a sense, one book with many chapters because they share the publisher's intuition of their value and singularity. I am not as opposed to ebooks or the information cloud as Calasso is – for certain types of texts the electronic form is completely adequate, and in the skilled hands of a publisher like touchpress the experience of a classic text like Eliot's "Wasteland" or Beethoven's 9th Symphony or Leonardo's notebooks is completely transformed. But I'm passionate in my hope we will always have publishers like Calasso, printing books that are also art with fine covers, elegant layout and typefaces, ink, paper, and texture, "that kind of book that is an experiment in knowledge, and as such can be transmuted into the experience of those who read it, thereby transforming that experience." Faire plaisir, a pleasure we cannot live without....more
Olivia Laing launches her book with the idea that “loneliness might be taking you towards an otherwise unreachable experience of reality,” which may bOlivia Laing launches her book with the idea that “loneliness might be taking you towards an otherwise unreachable experience of reality,” which may be true and worth avoiding whenever possible. A longtime bachelor myself, I tend to distinguish between loneliness and solitude. (For me the difference depends on having a cat.) But I’m happy to be convinced, à la Laing, that the saving grace is art.
The Lonely City begins as an earnest exercise in ekphrasis. In the wake of endless monographs on Edward Hopper, Laing points out the unmissable loneliness of the paintings, particularly of solitary women in urban rooms – all of which, it turns out, may be portraits of Hopper’s wife, an artist whose career he aborted. Laing cites various psychological studies to illumine the afflictions of being alone, disconnected, phobic, and more interestingly (as the book continues) her own experience as a woman alone and adrift in New York City, remarkably adept at enhancing her isolation.
I read the first couple chapters – on Hopper and Andy Warhol (and Valerie Solanas, the woman who shot him) – with a cold heart. Warhol has always struck me as an icon of frigidity. Everything shifted for me in the chapter on David Wojnarowicz, whom I remember from the days of ACT UP and his reading at A Different Light in San Francisco. He was an artist in extremis, tragic, inventive, angry. The fragments of his work become a method for Laing to engage her own loneliness, and evoke some surprising reflections.
Reading David’s diaries was like coming up for air after being a long time underwater. There is no substitute for touch, no substitute for love, but reading about someone else’s commitment to discovering and admitting their desires was so deeply moving that I sometimes found I was physically shaking as I read.
Laing evokes phantasmagoria of gay life in the 70s and 80s – Wojnarowicz recalls the piers and dives of Manhattan, but that erotic carnival existed in some form across the urban centers of the Western world. Laing quotes Samuel Delany, who describes that time and place as “a space at a libidinal saturation impossible to describe to someone who has not known it.” Did this world assuage the loneliness of gay men? I would say that it certainly transformed it. Laing’s reaction is sharp:
God I was sick of carrying around a woman’s body, or rather everything that attaches to it… Sometimes you want to be made meat; I mean to surrender to the body, its hungers, its need for contact, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily want to be served bloody or braised. And at other times, like Wojnarowicz’s Rimbaud, you want to cruise, to pass unnoticed, to take your pick of the city’s sights.
A few pages later she pushes harder.
I’d never been comfortable with the demands of femininity, had always felt more like a boy, a gay boy, that I inhabited a gender position somewhere between the binaries of male and female, some impossible other, some impossible both.”
I don’t think this is odd or perverse or damaged; I think it is a genuine state of perception, of the kaleidoscopic consciousness of the artist. And loneliness is constitutive of this state.
I read the rest of Laing’s book in this light; she’d won my commitment. There are several more disturbing, desperate stories – the outsider artist Henry Darger and Klaus Sperber, aka Klaus Nomi. Laing opens the chapter on Nomi with a nod to Arthur Russell and Justin Vivian Bond (whom I recall from the 90s in her original incarnation as Kiki) – I’m on Laing’s frequency now. She circles back to Hopper, Warhol and Wojnarowicz and now I’m receptive, even to Andy. She immerses herself in their worlds, physically when possible, picking up their diaries, artworks, detritus. Given that she centered herself in New York City among dead gay artists, there was no escaping the liminal apocalypse of AIDS, which I now recall as an extraordinary time of fear, grief, unexpected compassion, courage, and rage. But also a time of incandescent illumination: the proximity of death, watching beautiful talented friends disappear from our lives, leaving holes in the fabric. And silence. And whatever you call what remains of those once vital scuzzy urban centers, now insulated by wealth and conformity against all outsiders.
Art, as Laing implies from the start, is the presence of the absence, not as a deconstructionist cliché but as something closer to Walter Benjamin’s ideas of “aura” and “ruin.” She concludes with the observation that
There are so many things that art can’t do… all the same [art has] some odd negotiating ability between people, including people who never meet and yet who infiltrate and enrich each other’s lives.
This is not the bromide it appears; she’s demonstrated how the process works throughout her book. It’s an experience the luckiest among us have had – being able, because of our loneliness, to find company in a book or a painting or a film or a piece of music, among friends, among artists who’ve turned their pain into art. Laing reaches for an unreachable reality and, here and there, hands it back to us. ...more
A few months ago, reviewing Noam Chomsky's What Kind of Creatures Are We?, I mentioned I was intrigued by his lecture on "mysterianism" - the scientifA few months ago, reviewing Noam Chomsky's What Kind of Creatures Are We?, I mentioned I was intrigued by his lecture on "mysterianism" - the scientific quest to compass the limits of what we can know scientifically. John Hands has published a massive set of notes on exactly this topic. It's quite a performance. I picked up this book expecting some kind of summa, analogous maybe to Ken Wilber's 1995 blockbuster Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution. Cosmosapiens is nothing of the kind. Instead Hands surveys the domains of cosmology, physics, evolutionary biology, philosophy – an ambition that will strike readers as impossible, ludicrous and astonishing. According to Hands all the grand theories of the world are species of imaginative overreach. We really cannot know, at least following the canons of inductive and deductive reasoning, most of we think we know about the history of the cosmos or the evolution of the human species.
His conclusion, which emerges in bits throughout the book, verges on mysticism, similar to Teilhard de Chardin's noosphere or (unmentioned by Hands) Owen Barfield's evolution of consciousness. For me the argument ended exactly where it started to get interesting. Readers' reception will vary....more
At the risk of being cruel, this is book you can judge by its cover. It's as intelligently entertaining as Bakewell's book on Montaigne, and fills inAt the risk of being cruel, this is book you can judge by its cover. It's as intelligently entertaining as Bakewell's book on Montaigne, and fills in some background on lesser known characters in the Existentialist movement like Husserl, Heidegger (who becomes more sinister and less credible with every revelation) and Merleau-Ponty. But the stars of the café are Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir – and by the end of Bakewell's story it's clear she appreciates them as much for their foibles as for their philosophy.
Admittedly it's difficult now to view the strenuous exertions of Sartre & Co. with much respect, at least in my case. Like thousands of other boomer students entranced by Existentialism, I started off with William Barrett's 1958 classic Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy with its tortured Giacometti skeleton striding across the cover, and diligently worked my way through the classics. Now it's an exhausted passion. So if I say that Bakewell doesn't take her subjects too seriously, that's an attitude I understand.
Albert Camus gets short shrift in this volume, as indeed he got from Sartre and Beauvoir. Bakewell merrily skates past this abysmal – and cruelly revealing – affair, in which Sartre more or less assassinated the character and credibility of Camus, a story better told in Tony Judt's books The Burden of Responsibility and Past Imperfect and Ronald Aronson's Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel that Ended It. Bakewell doesn't deny the facts but more or less glosses Sartre's aggrandizing espousal of trendy ("revolutionary") violence and Soviet/Maoist state-sanctioned murder as well as his way of dumping any friends who questioned his latest proclamations (the other signal example being Raymond Aron). Bakewell provides a telling anecdote about the pair's fractured friendship with Arthur Koestler.
In 1950, Koestler mentioned to Stephen Spender that he'd bumped into Sartre and Beauvoir after a long gap and suggested they have lunch. They responded with an awkward silence, and then Beauvoir said (according to Spender's second-hand version), 'Koestler, you know that we disagree. There no longer seems any point in our meeting.' She crossed her forearms in a big X, and said, 'We are croisés comme ça about everything.'
Nor does her account of the manic intensity with which Sartre and Beauvoir approached their writing do much to engender respect. One can easily imagine them today on Twitter, broadcasting their latest absolutely moral, impregnable position hour by hour, condemning with the hauteur of the righteous anyone who disagrees, and backtracking their positions shortly thereafter without a twinge of retrospection. "As his friend Olivier Todd commented, Sartre's beliefs changed but his extremism never did." Bakewell is fully aware of the contradictions and the all-too-human aspects of her heroes but this book has the feel of a benediction. As with an apricot cocktail, chacon á son goût....more
A couple weeks ago I caught a bad end-of-winter cold, the perfect excuse for holing up on the weekend with a good book, ideally something completely eA couple weeks ago I caught a bad end-of-winter cold, the perfect excuse for holing up on the weekend with a good book, ideally something completely engaging but not too taxing – and so I grabbed Hopkirk's history of British/German/Turkish/Russian shenanigans during World War I off the shelf. It was as satisfying as his other books on the permutations of the Great Game between Britain and Russia.
In this book his focus is on Kaiser Wilhelm's hopes of inciting jihad against the British, replacing their empire in the Middle East with his own. Hopkirk's wide cast of characters is, as usual, fantastic, starting with Wilhelm himself and concluding with British agents of daring-do scrambling around Persia and the Caspian Sea, tangling with Turks, Persians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Bolsheviks, Afghanis, as well as with German agents as wily as themselves. Hugely entertaining tales, the stuff of history and fiction (John Buchan's Greenmantle), and the distant origin of the political nightmares that still bedevil the Middle East and Central Asia. Hopkirk has made this remote corner of history his own....more
Like a colored box of candies you shouldn't eat all at once but do, Diane Williams delights bite by bite, each comic story barely long enough for a siLike a colored box of candies you shouldn't eat all at once but do, Diane Williams delights bite by bite, each comic story barely long enough for a sip of coffee to slip down and settle. It's as if she's found stale crusts of speech and buttered them together into sugary bricoloage.
She had been lucky in love as she understood it.
I must say that our behavior is continually under review and any one error alters our prestige, but there'll be none of that lifting up mine eyes unto the hills.
We do well and we've accomplished many excellent things.
There's a specific gastronomic daintiness to her details:
She'll cook a strong-juiced vegetable, prepare a medley salad with many previously protected and selected things in it.
If her husband is delayed, she'll prepare for herself a nice shirred egg.
Non sequiturs sprout between the sentences.
The brightly scaled moon was rising, but this girl never became a well-liked businesswoman with a growing family in the community.
Every few pages someone suffers or dies or something equally frantic; animals with soulful eyes wander by the windows. These are cartoons in the spirit of, say, P. S. Mueller. Some made me laugh out loud, irritating the MacBook Air guy typing next to me.
It was a tan dog and it was a mix of the best available species and the dog was trembling.
Also: a great cover by Dan McKinley (don't skip the note on the copyright page) plus the perfect typeface for these stories – just as we expect from McSweeney's....more
I always judge a book by its cover – and fortunately this one (designed by Jennifer Carrow) is seductive, prompting me to pick it up, read the flap, tI always judge a book by its cover – and fortunately this one (designed by Jennifer Carrow) is seductive, prompting me to pick it up, read the flap, the almost excessive blurbs, and to buy it. At first I was skeptical of its sentences
I wanted him to stay, even though over the course of our conversation which moved in such fits and starts and which couldn't have lasted more than five or ten minutes, it had become difficult to imagine the desire I increasingly felt for him having any prospect of satisfaction.
but only for a few pages. Then I was hooked.
Greenwell's book is so artfully artless it reads more like a memoir than a novel, memoirs perhaps serving a need that novels once met. It reminded me first of Bruce Benderson's The Romanian, and at the end of Tom Bissell's Chasing the Sea or Duncan Fallowell's One Hot Summer In St Petersburg – which is to say, it reminded me of some of my favorite books, part memoir, part travel literature, each tangled in the vagaries of friendship, yearning and loss between men. What Belongs to You will ring true for anyone who's been caught in a complicated, even sordid, affair in which so much, it seems, is sacrificed for so little. Rarely does Greenwell attempt profundity, his story seems almost transparent in its sadness, even shabbiness, so when he asks
What would it mean to do enough, I wondered, as I had wondered before about that obligation to others that sometimes seems so clear and sometimes disappears altogether, so that now we owe nothing, anything we give is too much, and now our debt is beyond all counting
it drops like a dark stone into the silence and the sorrow he has masterfully evoked....more
A perfect book for a rainy winter night – or not. This muddled mystery won several prizes in France when it was published in the early 80s, and PublisA perfect book for a rainy winter night – or not. This muddled mystery won several prizes in France when it was published in the early 80s, and Publishers Weekly named it as one of their 10 Best Mysteries of 2008; it was also touted on some crime fiction blog that persuaded me to order it.
I was intrigued, sometimes titillated by its necrophiliac eroticism, but any seasoned mystery reader will guess the identity of the shadowed stranger behind the crimes. I enjoyed the evocative Jean De Florette / Manon of the Spring divagations. I even enjoyed the nonsense of a man patiently pummeling his ancestral home. The problem was the denouement which I won't spoil because I can't. I finished the book with a solitary piercing question: