In her Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose says in the 1980s the success of Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City led to a "brief vogue, which has...moreIn her Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose says in the 1980s the success of Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City led to a "brief vogue, which has not entirely disappeared, for writing in the second person."
Hemingway, of course, used second person fairly often, mixing that point of view with third and first person, to achieve what seems a distancing effect, the narrator talking to himself, thinking out loud to no one in particular.
And if you've read a lot of Hemingway, and Hemingway's imitators in journalism, the "vogue" of second person, its novelty, seems less novel, even in a sustained novel-length narrative like Bright Lights. At first, as Prose notes, it reads like a "distracting tic," but that seems to soon fade away as you read.
Indeed, as you read the novel, the second person seems appropriate to the character, who you discover is quite distant from his true self, and the use of second person is not a trick of style over substance.
"Like the one-sentence paragraph, the second-person point of view can also make us suspect that style is being used as a substitute for content," Prose says.
You run into the danger of slipping into style over substance when using second person, Prose says, if you make "you" seem like a direct address to the reader. She says second person works best if "you" addresses "someone in particular, an individual to whom the story . . . is being addressed."
At first you feel McInerney seems to be using this trick when he opens the novel with the following sentences: "You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head."
McInerney, though, develops the character and his situation, and it becomes clear the narrator is addressing himself. At one point in his life, the narrator wasn't the kind of guy who inhabited nightclubs fueled on Bolivian Marching Powder. He was, instead, the kind of guy, who, in a touching though melodramatic scene, would hold his mother's hand as she lay dying of cancer.
He becomes the club-hopping, coke-tooting sort of guy, however, very quickly after his wife Amanda, a model, leaves him, and he hooks up with party animal Tad Allagash, an Ivy League, upper Manhattan version of Kerouac's Neal Cassady (aka Dean Moriarty in On the Road.)At the same time, the narrator recognizes his fall into Allagash's superficial world, and that world's hazy shade of nihilistic winter undercutting the bright lights, big city appearances.
And though some critics have taken the book to task for its seeming nihilism (especially John Aldridge in Talents and Technicians, the novel has its darkly funny, Tom McGuane-ish moments, as when Allagash and the narrator trash the office of the narrator's boss after the narrator gets fired from his job as a fact-checker at a prominent New York magazine, or when the narrator, in the novel's final scene, bloody-nosed from snorting cocaine, pounces on a bag of hard rolls tossed to him by man loading a bakery truck.
This is fun read---a combination of a Traveller RPG adventure, Aliens, Prometheus, Lara Croft and Stanislaw Lem's Solaris.
"In some far distant future...moreThis is fun read---a combination of a Traveller RPG adventure, Aliens, Prometheus, Lara Croft and Stanislaw Lem's Solaris.
"In some far distant future year, the human race has spread out among the stars, encountering other species and an Empire that spans at least this corner of the galaxy. The Empire is ruled from the Imperial City of Tenochtitlan (which he know as Mexico City), the capital of the planet Anahuac. But the advance of Imperial Mexica has revealed that there were earlier powerful interstellar empires, which are long gone now, leaving behind their mysterious artifacts.
When a survey team goes missing, it's up to Dr. Gretchen Anderssen to unravel the mystery, a mystery centered on these ancient artifacts, one that could shake the very foundations of the Empire."---From the Goodreads description(less)
Richard Matheson's What Dreams May Come sets itself up as a memoir of sorts(SNARK ALERT: unfortunately some memoirs deserve that tag, too),as a piece...moreRichard Matheson's What Dreams May Come sets itself up as a memoir of sorts(SNARK ALERT: unfortunately some memoirs deserve that tag, too),as a piece of nonfiction dictated from the afterlife. Obviously, it's a novel, the story of Chris Nielsen, who dies in a car accident, and whose spirit is transported to the afterlife, or a realm of the afterlife known as Summerland.
Before Chris' spirit goes to Summerland, he finds himself stuck in a sort of purgatory in which he has to accept he's dead. What keeps him in this state is his wife, Ann, whose grief he witnesses, and his desire to assure her that she's going to be fine.
Once he finally enters Summerland, he's guided and acquainted to this level of the afterlife by his cousin, Albert.
Like Dante's visions of the afterlife, Matheson's afterlife consists of many levels and Summerland isn't quite heaven, though it's not unpleasant--it's a place of perpetual sunlight and summer where spirits come to work to get to higher levels, a heavenly corporate ladder of sorts.
Though Chris finds Summerland pleasant enough, he never finds it satisfying because he longs for his wife. His love for her seems boundless, and when she commits suicide on Earth, his love takes him on a journey to hell to rescue her, to get her spirit to see life/the afterlife is worthwhile.
The novel is uneven, an OK read.
Matheson's afterlife is New Age-y and universalist in outlook: Buddhists get Nirvana, Christians get Heaven (eventually, although it's not an immediate reunification with God), and Vahalla is probably in there, too. He explores several theological/philosophical concepts, in particular the soul's attempt to move level by level in the afterlife, until reunion with God is acquired. Most often this climb up requires rebirth on Earth, until the soul is perfected.
Its weakness: the idealistic, overly sentimental relationship between Chris and Ann. It's almost too perfect. Granted the novel is fantasy, but their relationship lacks in realism, though Chris protests it wasn't perfect---like most couples they fought over money, they almost got divorced---his protests are unconvincing. They always make up and smoothe things over perfectly, even in their most difficult journey---guiding Ann into the afterlife to be reborn.(less)
Francine Prose is one of my favorite writers and she's really good at social satire and like Philip Roth's Human Stain, Blue Angel is a send up of cam...moreFrancine Prose is one of my favorite writers and she's really good at social satire and like Philip Roth's Human Stain, Blue Angel is a send up of campus politics and some of the ridiculous extremes of campus life now. But, it's also a sharp examination of just how powerful eros is on one man.(less)
A real teacher, I suppose, can teach through any medium, even if he's dead.
John Gardner died at age 49 after a motorcycle accident about a year befor...moreA real teacher, I suppose, can teach through any medium, even if he's dead.
John Gardner died at age 49 after a motorcycle accident about a year before his classic The Art of Fiction was published in 1983. It's basically Gardner's collected notes on the craft gathered with exercises. (As an aside: Gardner, as a writing teacher experimented with broadcasting his writing classes on TV, which seems to prefigure online instruction.)
About ten years later, a friend loaned me a copy of the book at a key time in my long apprenticeship as a writer (like most writers, even famous ones, there are moments I fear I'm a fraud, given my success as a fiction writer amounts to two short stories published online over eight years ago). I read it, absorbed it, worked through its exercises, some of the toughest exercises any writer could and should try.
Its still one of the best books on writing any writer could read, and I recommend it, as I recommend John Gardner: Literary Outlaw, the first fairly extensive general biography of Gardner ever published. The biography is absorbing, for the most part, a solid portrait of a writer as full of foibles and contradictions as he was genius for writing and teaching writing.
In many ways Gardner, or the image of himself that he portrayed publicly, and to most of those who knew him privately, was a model writer, wholly devoted to writing, to the craft; writing absorbed him. It was as much a state of being almost inseparable from the man, which is Silesky's theme throughout the biography. I suppose today much of Gardner's life as a writer falls into cliche: heavy drinking, womanizing, depressive (probably bipolar, given the envious bouts of energy Gardner seemed to possess, even after drinking astounding amounts of gin, etc.). And yet, it's sort of a cliche you, as a writer, want to aspire to. A life almost wholly devoted to writing and literature.
As far as Gardner being a literary outlaw: I suppose he was at the time his fame and stature grew in the late '70s and early '80s, or infamy as some might and did say with the publication of his On Moral Fiction, a polemic that pretty much slapped most of his contemporaries (Mailer, Updike, John Barth) in their, according to him, amoral faces.
In time, he would recant some of what he wrote in On Moral Fiction,and his novels (Grendel, Mickelsson's Ghosts, for instance)would seem to contradict his dismissing the fiction of fabulists and metafictionists, such as Barth, as basically crap that largely broke its promises to the reader of providing a profulent uninterrupted dream, and rather descended into cheap wordplay. (Although to this day, Barth's short story "Lost in the Funhouse" mostly makes me scratch my head and say WTF?)
At the time that I read On Moral Fiction, I loved it; back then, when I read it, my life had turned seemingly into an absurd existentialist vacuum. I viewed the book then as sort of a secular bible. And, I suppose, its urge toward attempting to write not didactic fiction, but fiction that challenges and moves toward transcendence rather than the Abyss, is still a driving force in my writing.
And it's not hard to believe Gardner reached such a transcendence in his own life, as Silesky suggests poignantly at the end of the biography, quoting one of Gardner's students who wrote after visiting the site in 1998 in Susquehanna, New York where Gardner crashed his motorcycle and died: "'In the mythology of death . . . one must cross the river; and there it was [the Susquehanna River]. All he had to do was get up, brush the grit off his trousers and step across.'"
Through the eyes of protagonist William Mandella, Joe Haldeman's The Forever War gives readers a glimpse of what war in deep space and on distant plan...moreThrough the eyes of protagonist William Mandella, Joe Haldeman's The Forever War gives readers a glimpse of what war in deep space and on distant planets might be like. It's a theme taken up by countless sci-fi writers --- Robert Heinlein and Orson Scott Card, to name a few --- and no telling how many sci-fi films and tv shows.
Though set in the far future, this novel is comparable to any classic war novel. It's gritty and unromantic. And given that Haldeman is a Vietnam vet, The Forever War is a novel as much about that war as Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.
The war Mandella fights against an alien enemy millions of light years from Earth has a spurious beginning --- its Gulf of Tonkin incident. The soldiers in Mandella's unit fight in hostile environments against an often unseen enemy.
Because of the phenomenon of time dilation caused by light speed travel, soldiers age months while Earth ages centuries. When they return home, they find the word vastly changed, an almost completely different culture: one ravaged by overpopulation as well as wars and violence. An experience not unlike that many Vietnam vets had upon their return to the United States. Haldeman in interviews talks about the feeling the went on without him while he was overseas.
The novel, however, is more than a metaphor of Vietnam: Haldeman is prescient about such things as overpopulation, violence and more tolerance of gays.(less)