This is more of a thought experiment, a sketch or an exercise in mood setting than a novel. And anyone accustomed to reading poetry will not find theThis is more of a thought experiment, a sketch or an exercise in mood setting than a novel. And anyone accustomed to reading poetry will not find the prose memorable or even particularly sharp. McCarthy has a deck of bleak sentence fragments that he deploys to set his stage ("A dull rose glow in the windowglass." "Paths of feral fire in the coagulate sands." "Taut face and hollow eyes." "No sound but the wind."). They are nothing special and seem to betray a fear of verbs more than anything else.
He also aerates things with minimalist (but believable) dialogue every ten pages or so and less frequently takes a huge stylistic diversion into ill-fitting ruminations with rarely used, obscure diction that fits awkwardly into the spare, frontier tough guy economy of the book.
The ending is tacked on, convenient and cheap. The characters are absolutes, by and large and the whole things is driven along by our desire to see the characters escape atrocity and our parallel desire to witness atrocity near them.
The much discussed "post-apocalyptic", "prophetic" or "futuristic" setting of the novel is nothing special. It has been done to death by mediocre sci-fi films since the early seventies at the least.
But, whatever, it is great subway reading. It moves along quickly. I'm not mad I read it. You don't need to avoid it; but it shouldn't be winning any prizes or enjoying all of this praise either....more
Often, to me, Nordan feels like a guilty pleasure, like the Phantom Tollbooth or something pitched far below an adult reading level. But then . . . hiOften, to me, Nordan feels like a guilty pleasure, like the Phantom Tollbooth or something pitched far below an adult reading level. But then . . . his timing is too flawless, his characters too lovingly and believably drawn, his dialect too memorable and his bizarreness too unexpected for me to give him the gold star of "good subway reading" and move on. He might actually be a good writer.
"John Thomas Bird" and "The All-Girl Football Team" are the obvious success stories of the collection and "The Farmers' Daughter" is the fumble.
I can't tell (yet) what portion of the enjoyment I get from this man's stories comes from the fact that I have now read four novels worth of his effort to create one, stable, well-populated fictional counterpart to Yawknapawtapha county.
Nordan focuses exclusively on the marginal, uneducated, strange, dysfunctional, innocent and lovable sort of folks that American novels are so agonizingly filled with. But he does it better than any other American author that I have read. He does it without constant self-conscious and self-congratulatory cultural and literary references and without deploying any wry, triumphant, hyper-aware characters; he is also not burdened with an agenda (at least his agenda doesn't seem to go beyond hoping that his readers will become less condemning of gender confused young men).
If you don't like the two stories I singled out above, don't bother reading anything else by Nordan. If you do enjoy them, he has filled hundreds and hundreds of pages with material you might have trouble defending your taste for.
Because the section of Larkin's "Early Poems" makes the final third of this collection a rather unrewarding slog, "Collected Poems" sat on my "currentBecause the section of Larkin's "Early Poems" makes the final third of this collection a rather unrewarding slog, "Collected Poems" sat on my "currently reading" shelf for nearly a year. Then I decided that I didn't need to read every one of the poems that Larkin himself downplayed and shuffled from the spotlight in order to consider this book "read." I read it, from page 3 to page 221 and now and then, in disappointed little moments, I read bits of the final hundred pages.
Before I try describing Larkin's poetry and try understanding why I like him, let me devote a few sentences to people with less time. Read: "Solar;" "The Building;" "The Old Fools;" and "Aubade." These are longer poems, crafted around Larkin's favorite themes in some of his best language. They are sharp, entertaining, acidic and reduced. If you don't enjoy them, I don't think you should bother with Larkin's shorter, less thoughtful (and often mopier) pieces. After these, if you still have a taste, try reading "If, My Darling;" "At thirty-one, when some are rich;" "Lines on a Young Lady's Photograph Album" and "Dockery and Son." From there, I think it is all downhill--not far and not horribly; but downhill nonetheless.
Often, Larkin's poems proceed in relatively normal narrative English only to reach their justification in well-condensed phrases that seem to resonate with existential despair:
"stumbling up the breathless stair/ To burst into fulfillment's desolate attic."
"sat through days of thin continuous dreaming;"
or, of Religion, "That vast moth-eaten musical brocade/ Created to pretend we never die."
He has a knack for reducing things, for articulating the non-participant's, curmudgeonly perspective, complete with well-deployed informal profanity. He atomizes adornment, ceremony and cheerfulness, holding them by the tips of his fingers, as if they reek.
It entertains me that he describes three married couples as follows:
"Adder-faced singularity Espouses a nailed-up childhood, Skin-disease pardons Soft horror of living, A gabble is forgiven By chronic solitude."
It entertains me because it is typical of him to reduce people to their worst, and typical that he goes on to rob these unions of their romance by depicting them all "tarnish[ing] at quiet anchor." In Larkin's poetry, context will always get you in the end. Senility beckons, death looms, promises are already breaking and every man outmaneuvers himself in an effort to avoid the fear of all that is failed and meaningless.
Still, it's good fun. He's one of the most winning grouches I remember reading and was probably an excellent drunk. ...more
Boris Vian is not a predictable author. I loved “Heartsnatcher,” barely tolerated “Foam of the Daze” and “I Spit on Your Graves” was not intended to bBoris Vian is not a predictable author. I loved “Heartsnatcher,” barely tolerated “Foam of the Daze” and “I Spit on Your Graves” was not intended to be a vehicle for his talents. For the first sixty odd pages of “Autumn in Peking” (a title with absolutely no bearing on the contents of the book), I was fairly convinced that I’d embarked on another nonsense festival that probably holds together better when all of the (supposedly brilliant) wordplay of the author has not been killed or made wooden by translation.
I was sustained at first (and rewarded throughout) by the way that Vian animates things in playful and unexpected ways: “She was wearing a short skirt and Angel’s gaze made its way over her shiny, golden knees and insinuated itself between her two long and streamlined thighs. It was hot there, and refusing to listen to Angel, who wanted to pull back, the gaze decided to do its own thing and move further on up. Angel became increasingly embarrassed and regretfully closed his eyes, leaving his look to die on the young girl’s skirt. Its cadaver remained there until the girl ran her hand over her skirt and unknowingly knocked it to the ground when she stood up several minutes later.” This is Vian at his irreverent best. He is not content with a clever comparison or a frisky metaphor; he grounds his flights of fancy in narrative reality and bends every rule of physics and style to accommodate them. Sometimes, this can be annoying; as can the vaguely Futurist obsession with technical and mechanical terms. But it is often refreshing, comic and memorable.
After the first sixty pages of the book, all of the characters to whom we have been introduced are en route to Exopotamie, the convenient referent-free, desert backdrop of “Autumn in Peking.” In this non-place, a grab bag of satirical characters (the doctor, the priest, the blue collar worker, the playboy, the detestable manager, etc.) pursue their obsessions, set about trying to build a useless and destructive railroad or attempt to excavate a vaguely pharonic set of ruins. All of these pursuits have elements of absurd comedy; but the plot advances, primarily, around the question of who will sleep with whom.
Late in the scheme of things, Vian deepens his focus on Angel (male) who pines for Rochelle (female) who is constantly and obviously fornicating with Anne, a playboy who does not feel any deep loyalty to Rochelle. Angel is made to represent the over-precious, emotionally wrecked, obsessive suitor, out of touch with the realities of a sexual relationship, while Anne occupies the diametrically opposed, all too calloused self-serving position. Other characters of note attempt to bridge the gap between them and propose a more balanced way of being in the world.
The drama around the love triangle advances the book’s central argument that things are ruined when they are treated as nothing more than objects—whether of obsession or of use. (Vian’s writing style itself is busy proving the same thing with its irreverence towards concepts and expectations.) Living, breathing, chairs die when they are not appreciated as objects and women fall apart and spoil when they are simply used and in the broader world, work, for its own sake, is a doomed and shameful joke.
Anne will close the curtains, lovably: “For just about every living man, there exists one of these office types, a parasite man. That’s the justification of the parasite man, this letter that’ll straighten out the business of the living man. So he drags it out to prolong his existence, and the living man doesn’t know about it . . . If every living man got up, searched the offices for his own personal parasite, and killed him . . .”
"In the Skin of a Lion" is thick with memorable scenes. The plot advances from one evocative epiphany or boiling point to the next, threading together"In the Skin of a Lion" is thick with memorable scenes. The plot advances from one evocative epiphany or boiling point to the next, threading together a small crew of intense and sympathetic individuals.
The stoic, unschooled and hard-working protagonists allow a fresh perspective on early 20th century industrialization, which Ondaatje manages without ever becoming preachy or obsessed.
The life circumstances that Ondaatje chooses to include impart an almost mythic quality to the beginnings and endings of various romances . . . the intensity and strangeness of the relationships reminded me at times of Djuna Barnes' "Nightwood," while the earthiness and sensibility of the prose in general was more reminiscent of Steinbeck or Anderson.
There are times when the poetic quality of the narrative spills over into the dialogue, creating utterances that seem rather unlikely to have been as spur of the moment as the context suggests: "Remorse: A strange word. It suggests a turning around on yourself" or "I feel she's loaned to me. We're veiled in flesh." But there are wonderfully light details thrown into the movement of things that more than compensate for a few awkward moments: "How can she who had torn his heart open at the waterworks with her art lie now like a human in his arms? Or stand catatonic in front of bananas on Eastern Avenue deciding which bunch to buy?" or "In each set of trees was a live monkey, never able to reach the diners because of a frail chain. The animals had to dodge the champagne corks aimed at them--if you hit a monkey you were brought a free bottle. Sales of champagne soared and only now and then was there a shriek followed by a cheer."
I will reread this book and I will now have to read some of this man's other books--meaning that my aversion to reading anything by a man that I associated with the Academy Awards and Ralph Fiennes has been completely undone by "In the Skin of a Lion."...more
This is my first exposure to Aidoo, who is better known for her drama than for her fiction. "Changes" is a compact and mature look at a woman's inabilThis is my first exposure to Aidoo, who is better known for her drama than for her fiction. "Changes" is a compact and mature look at a woman's inability to find satisfactory companionship and love in modern day Accra, Ghana. The insights into polygamy from both the female and the male perspective were fascinating and the passages showcasing marriage negotiations and traditions were a definite highlight.
The writing itself is fairly spare and unremarkable, earning perhaps a mental grin now and then. At times it seems so matter-of-fact and confined to the protagonist's head that a reader wonders if it will devolve into a simple romance--which it never does. At its best it verges on deadpan and sports an understated, almost defeated sort of wit ("Although she knew there was nothing positively wild in how she was feeling about him, there was nothing negatively wild in it either. Definitely, she had no urge to run and scratch his face. Maybe if she had done, or shown her anger in any of the other ways she had planned, (he) would have felt better"). Throughout the novel(la?) the writing rings true and the characters are entirely believable.
The book is not at all oppressed by references to contemporary African politics or conspicuous references to poverty and misery. All the actors are comfortably middle class and the real target of Aidoo's analysis is Africa's understanding of gender.
It is not because of “City of Glass” that I am continuing into the second book of this trilogy; it is because the second installments are contained beIt is not because of “City of Glass” that I am continuing into the second book of this trilogy; it is because the second installments are contained between the same covers and I neglected to bring an alternate book to the office. It takes hard work to make detective stories dull and to suck the intrigue out of mystery; but Auster seems to know how it’s done. It seems like he had just finished grad school and was filled with the conviction that contriving a book around concepts masquerading as characters who stumble around in symbolic relationship to each other would give readers a wonderful chance to engage with his totally unoriginal thinking on millennia old matters such as chance and free will. His digressions into the age of exploration and the origins of language are entirely forgettable. I hate books that hinge on cleverness; but I pity books that aspire (how ambitious) towards cleverness and fail, ever, to arrive there....more
After grunting through over three hundred pages of Brandao's prose, I still skimmed the final pages. It is immediately apparent when Brandao thinks thAfter grunting through over three hundred pages of Brandao's prose, I still skimmed the final pages. It is immediately apparent when Brandao thinks that he is on a role: he loses any sort of content filter (did he even have an editor?), balloons his paragraphs and rants, lists, shouts, spews nonsense and seems to feel proud of the result. He wants to be a more politicized and tragic Latin American James Joyce; but he ends up being more like a foul-mouthed, sensational and disorganized Alfred Doblin (of "Berlin Alexanderplatz" notoriety).
I would not have finished this book if I hadn't accidentally started two long train rains without other reading material--and if there hadn't been so much sex, violence and repression. In between steam-rolling sections of mediocre, under-planned, contradictory and unrewarding narrative, there are all sorts of choke-start interruptive paragraphs under recurring headlines like "Free Association" or "Affective Memory." There aren't any dimensional characters in the book and none of the people are really capable of absorbing or relating to their environment: increasingly repulsive and repressive urban Brazil. In fact, Jose, the closest thing to a protagonist, is a bit like Sean of the Dead (without humor or an actual relationship). He is a purposeless slob immersed in sickening violence.
Why does Brandao think it is okay to write, "Don't know why, but it's true, my heart beats when i see you, parala-la, parala-lay, tooky teeky tooky tootooky, gorogogo gorogoga, elephant stampedes a great many people, two elephants stampede a great many more, oooooo bah tatatatatatatata, oh juicy, juicy festival of striptease."?
And why are there dozens of sadistic, pages floundering around in material of this variety, "Whap, whap. Plaft, pleft, shit, he's hit in the mouth, all his teeth are knocked out, his nails pulled out one by one, he's been burned, they've drilled a hole in one eye, thrown acid in the other, stuffed a rat in his mouth, razor slashes and briny water, wires stuck in his asshole, shocks tear him all apart, smash his fingers, his cock, jab him in the stomach, make him eat shit . . . "?
Seriously, who is the author trying to punish with that sort of prose? Both of these excerpts are representative. Neither of them is part of a key plot moment or even about a recognizable moment in the narrative of any main character. They are just outbursts. The most charitable interpretation that I can offer is that Brandao hated almost everyone in Brazil (whether perpetrators of repression or complacent accomplices) and he wanted his book to be a venom-spitting affront to everything that they held sacred or thought pleasant.
I'm sure it was a groundbreaking book for it's time and location. I'm sure it posed a sort of challenge to a now defunct establishment and it might be rewarding to read it within the context of Brazilian history and literature. But in order to stand on its own as a book for the casual reader sixty years later and thousands of miles away, it needs more craft, cleaner narrative, less repetition and more imagination. I have no idea why E. L. Doctorow thinks it is so fantastic....more
There is a revealing moment in “Major Ordeals of the Mind” when a hallucinating Henri Michaux confesses to avoiding a female friend who would be conceThere is a revealing moment in “Major Ordeals of the Mind” when a hallucinating Henri Michaux confesses to avoiding a female friend who would be concerned and disappointed about his continued drug experiments. At another moment, two of his friends walk into the middle of his trip, linger briefly failing at their interactions before deciding to leave him in perplexing solitude. These events take up less than half a page of Michaux’s book and he does not offer any other context on his life.
Accordingly, the remainder of his narrated experiences are accessible to anyone with an interest in drug experiences and their effects on consciousness. Michaux’s careful and honest observations seem universal—freed of personal baggage and purged of cryptic references—and they are often hilarious, “it was a biscuit wrapping, nothing more. I know that perfectly well. It was also a disturbing, annoying, deceptive being, capable of anything.”
His descriptions of dissociation, anxiety, nerviness and disrupted thought (chapters 1-4) moved quickly and resonated best with me. The second half of the book is at once more focused on those with permanent mental problems (primarily schizophrenics) and more absorbed with powerful, transcendent and appalling hallucinations. These were perhaps less universal experiences—though I am in no position to judge. But, for example, his cosmic launch into outer space and his explanation of losing touch with his body parts, were—for me—less accessible and because of that, less interesting (in the way that a stranger’s dreams are). Chapter 7 however, should not be missed; its discussion of a “table” made by a schizophrenic sheds more light on people with that misfortune than anything else I have read.
I was only skimmingly interested in his bizarre mystic system (“The Four Worlds”) that glorifies the movement from eroticism through fear, towards love and into contemplation. On the whole, the book reads with unusual speed and the first half of it is memorable, revealing, accurate and entertaining. It is fun to see someone so motivated and earnest struggling with all of the world’s small obstacles turned into major ordeals. ...more
I went out on a limb and bought a book of poetry based on the goodreads star rating of someone I don't know who seemed to have decent taste in obscureI went out on a limb and bought a book of poetry based on the goodreads star rating of someone I don't know who seemed to have decent taste in obscure literature. Plus, I am trying to make an effort to read living poets who write in English.
Of Flynn's first four poems, three were about suicide, two referenced guns, two referenced painkillers (by brand name) and one mentions cutting himself. It only got worse from there. Blah blah "my father is . . . a bottle wrapped in a paperbag" blah blah "shelters,/ shitsville" blah blah "I eat all her percodans, to know/ how far they can take me, because/ they are there." blah blah "she could whisper the wordburn/& I'd turn to ash.."
Seriously? This book strengthened all of the dismissive, prejudiced opinions that I hold about modern American poetry and how completely pathetic and unworth reading it is. This guy has been published all over the place and awarded several prizes. If I had just researched him enough to realize that he actually published a "memoir" called "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City" I would have suspected that he has no business writing poetry.
There is rarely a reason for his language not to be presented in paragraph form as bad prose. It is rarer for him to use italics effectively--though he seems to think they have a place in most of his poems. The language itself is thin. He is too busy seeking to legitimize his composed proximity to suffering and ruin by cheap association with narcotics, suicide, violence and alienation to actually attend to the sort of details and feelings that make poetry real. His love poems show this shortcoming particularly ("my tongue opened you &/ soft birds let loose their grip on the earth" "like whiskey his kiss like whiskey/ tear away at the skin"--he can't even write a good poem about a girl eating a peach.).
I only read the whole book because I had purchased it new, because it was short and because I wanted to have a solid foundation from which to offer criticism. However, on a note that will hardly balance this review, his first two epigrams were very well chosen and I enjoyed "Emptying Town" enough to make two friends read it (for the chuckle value of the closer--not for the unimportant first stanza or the melodramatic second) and "The cellar machine whirring through the night" seems to be about as good as he can write.