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Oct 07, 2008
Outstanding! Review forthcoming.
Notes are private!
Apr 28, 2013
May 02, 2013
Jan 01, 1975
The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks: Donald Harington's History of Stay More, Arkansas
THE STAY MORON'S OATH
Do you solemnly swear that country lif...more The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks: Donald Harington's History of Stay More, Arkansas
THE STAY MORON'S OATH
Do you solemnly swear that country life is
not only more peaceful than city life but
more likely to last into contented old age?
That strictly speaking, a “moron” is simply
a person preferring to keep to the age span
between seven and twelve years?
That it is possible to remain this age for all
of one’s long life?
That this is a good age for the hearing or
reading of stories?
That a good story is the sweetest way to
escape from the ordinary life?
That nothing is to be gained by leaving, that
the greatest of all decisions is staying?
That “more” means until you’re good and
ready to leave, at least not before supper
and ideally not before breakfast.
Then I, with the authority vested in me by
The Grand Architect of the Universe, do
hereby pronounce you citizens of Stay More,
with all the rights and privileges and pleasures
As administered by Donald Harington
Donald Harington, Born: December 22, 1935, Little Rock, Died: November 7, 2009, Springdale
What? You're not prepared to take this oath? You're not prepared to part with your iPhone 5? You've never wanted to get away from it all?
Big Creek Valley, Newton County, Arkansas
You're sitting there scratching your head, asking yourself, "What the Hell is this, anyway?" Well, I'll tell you. You knew I would, didn't you?
Contained in that oath is the philosophy of Donald Harington as he set out in his Stay More novels. There are twelve of them, with The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks actually being the third written by Harington.
You must understand that Harington did not write the novels in chronological sequence. We were first introduced to the town of Stay More in Lightning Bug, published in 1970, which was followed by Some Other Place. the Right Place.
The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks is Harington's complete history of Stay More beginning with its earliest white inhabitants and carries us to the present. Here is the genealogy of Stay More beginning with two brothers, Noah and Jacob Ingledew who have left Tennessee because a man couldn't say "Darn" without being sermonized by some meddlesome preacher.
The story is told by an omniscient narrator, an unnamed architectural historian, who structures his tale through individual chapters devoted to the various structures erected throughout the history of the town. Now, how this historian knows the intimate details of the people who occupied each of these structures is not explained.
One might almost believe that this historian was there from the beginning, an observer so to speak. I leave it to the reader's own interpretation. I will only say that one of the consistent techniques that Harinton uses is a reference to the future in the concluding chapter of his novels. For Harington knows the disappointment of loving a book to the degree one doesn't want to see it end.
Harington frankly admits that "The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks" was inspired by his reading of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. In an interview with Edwin T. Arnold, Harington said:
"A dissertation could easily be written on the parallels between the two books. But at the time I wrote TAOTAO I didn't know what "Magic Realism" was. For that matter, I'm not sure I yet understand it. I admired what Garcia Marquez had done and wanted to emulate it, but I took pains to make sure that everything which happened in TAOTAO was possibly conceivable, believable. There are no flying carpets in TAOTAO nor any blood running endlessly down the street. So the "magic" of Garcia Marquez might be missing.
Harington's novel of Stay More is a tour de force of folklore, myth, and legend that mingles with that of the United States. Brother Noah is visited by Johnny Appleseed who helps him plant an apple orchard. In the years that follow, Noah, the perennial bachelor, becomes the favorite of Stay More's children whom he treats with candy apples when they visit him to listen to his stories.
And wouldn't you know it? Jacob Ingledew invents baseball at the very moment Abner Doubleday is credited with inventing the game at Cooperstown, New York.
Yet, while the history of Stay More may parallel that of America, Stay Morons are content to live by the old ways. They are firmly against "PROG RESS," as they call it. As Harington tells us,
“'Stay More' is synonymous with 'Status Quo' in fact, there are people who believe, or who like to believe, that the name of the town was intended as an entreaty, beseeching the past to remain present.”
Yet, change is inevitable, appearing in the form of Connecticut peddler Eli Willard. Willard sells the Ingledew brothers the first clock in Stay More. Over the years he brings whale oil, leading to a decade of light. He brings scissors for the women, pocket knives for the men, resulting in the fine art of whittling.
But there is also sinister change on the horizon, when Willard shows up with all manner of firearms. While Stay More has been a type of Eden, the American Civil War is looming. Jacob Ingledew is sent to the State Capital to determine the issue of secession. Of course, Ingledew is the only delegate to vote against secession, knowing that war will destroy the harmony of Stay More.
Arkansas is divided. However, Jacob returns to Stay More and does not relay the fact that war is coming, successfully keeping his town at peace for two years.
The Confederacy has a unique way of recruiting troops, however. Virdie Boatwright travels the countryside "raising" troops, by rewarding free sexual favors to any men who enlist with the Confederate Arkansawyers. She is quite successful. Even Jacob, who is recruited twice by Virdie, is tempted to join the Rebels.
Harington swings from comedy to tragedy as Arkansas is drawn into the war of brother against brother, with Jacob remaining a Union Man. Noah joins the Confederacy. As we are told at various times, the tale of Stay More is not always a happy one.
We travel through the generations of the residents of Stay More, the Ingledews, Dinsmores, Stains, Chisms. They are all here, including characters from the previous novels. Harington captures all the foibles, joys, and sadness of life. Oh, yes. If this hasn't piqued your interest, just know that the men and women of Stay More are a hard loving, libidinous bunch.
Caught with a lingering cold, The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks kept me company for over two weeks. Reading Donald Harington is as comforting as a warm blanket, a good hot toddy, and the love of a good woman, not necessarily in that order.
I took the Stay Moron Oath after reading Lightning Bug. I have an idea if you enter these magic pages, you will, too.
As Jacob told his first visitor, an Indian named Fanshaw, who speaks perfect English, "Stay More. Hell, you just got here."
For those interested, my review of Lightning Bug is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...(less)
Notes are private!
Dec 28, 2012
Jan 12, 2013
Dec 28, 2012
Jan 07, 1998
A Feast of Snakes: Harry Crews' Surreal Novel of Sex, Snakes, and the Winding Way to the Future
“That was the only decision there was once upon a time...more A Feast of Snakes: Harry Crews' Surreal Novel of Sex, Snakes, and the Winding Way to the Future
“That was the only decision there was once upon a time: what to do with the night.”
Harry Crews (June 7, 1935-March 28, 2012)
I was introduced to the works of Harry Crews through the anthology Grit Lit: A Rough South Reader, edited by Tom Franklin and Brian Carpenter. Included was the first chapter of A Feast of Snakes. I was hooked. (For my review of Grit Lit, see http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... , a continuing project)
Want to take a trip to the Rough South? Let Harry Crews take you down to Mystic, Georgia, for the annual Rattlesnake Roundup, a dark mixture of booze, sex, football, and violence, in his eighth novel, A Feast of Snakes.
First Edition, Atheneum, New York, 1976
Mystic, Georgia, is basically a dot on the map these days, located in Irwin County, with a population of 229.
At twenty-one Joe Lon Mackey is a has been. The former Boss Snake of the town's high school Rattlers, a mean football machine, could have played anywhere he wanted except for one thing. He wasn't a good student. Though a star on the grid, and over the hood of head cheerleader Berenice Sweet's Corvette, Joe Lon scored on a regular basis, Joe Lon wasn't accepted to any college.
"That's the way they all put it in Mystic: Joe Lon Mackey is not a good student. But it was worse than that and they all knew it. It had never been established exactly if Joe Lon could read. Most of the teachers at Mystic High who had been privileged to have him in their classrooms thought he probably couldn't. But they liked him anyway, even loved him, loved tall, blond, high school All-American Joe Lon Mackey whose exceptional quietness off the playing field everybody chose to call courtesy."
Berenice has moved on to the University of Georgia. Her younger sister Hard Candy is head majorette at the high school and goes with the new Boss Snake Willard Miller. Though three years younger, Willard is Joe Lon's best buddy. It's Joe Lon's link to his glory days.
Joe Lon's real life makes him want to howl. He has married Elfie who started out pretty enough, but after he's put two babies in her belly one after the other, Elfie has lost that girlish appeal. Their two boys constantly wail, and Joe Lon had rather be anywhere other than their double wide. Elfie is the target of Joe Lon's constant emotional abuse and, at times, physical.
Big Joe Lon was the town bootlegger. Little Joe Lon has been allowed to take over the business. He spends his days selling shine and unlabeled bonded whiskey. The big money comes once a year when the Rattlesnake Roundup rolls around.
Joe Lon bought ten acres of land, turning it into a trailer and campsite. The Roundup started out small, but through the years, the word has gotten around. Thousands of snake loving hunters and snake curious tourists descend on Mystic and Joe Lon's camp ground.
A typical snake pit at a rattlesnake roundup
The Roundup is a macabre gathering of grotesques and freaks, not that the citizens of Mystic are much less so than their visitors. Old Joe Lon trains fighting pit bulls. The training is cruel. His daughter Beeder has sealed herself off in her room, abandoning the real world for a television set.
Sheriff Buddy Matlow, a veteran of the Vietnam War, has a peg leg and a sense of entitlement. If a woman doesn't put out, he locks her up on a trumped up charge until she does. Joe Lon's bootlegging operation is off limits. The sheriff drinks for free at the gas station that covers the liquor business. But his predatory sexual practices will exact rough justice when he chooses the wrong woman to mess with and pushes her over the limits of sanity.
As the hunters and tourists gather for the roundup, Joe Lon sees his chance for a return to the glory days when Berenice comes home from the University of Georgia. The one problem is she's brought a new boyfriend, Adam Shepherd, who is on the debate team. But one glance at her former Boss Snake is all it takes when Joe Lon orders her to assume a four point stance.
Got it? Berenice understood perfectly.
Crews writes rough as a cob. He's out to shock and he does it. Crews' detractors have accused him of relying on broadly drawn southern stereotypes. But he hasn't. Characterization is Crews' strong point. Throw in perfect pitch dialog and you have a fierce and angry Southern Gothic novel.
In structuring "A Feast of Snakes" Crews divided the novel into two parts. In the first, Crews has Joe Lon Mackey seeking a nostalgic return to the days of his past fame. In the second, Joe Lon deals with the reality of his present life and contemplates what the future holds.
Flannery O'Connor wrote:
"When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock, to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures."
Crews follows O'Connor's formula to perfection. The conclusion to "A Feast of Snakes" shocks, shouts, and paints a canvas of hellish violence reminiscent of Hieronymous Bosch. Joe Lon is a monster. However, he is a monster that Crews so artfully portrays, the reader is mesmerized, and perhaps a bit empathetic.
The Earthly Delights aren't all they're cracked up to be.
Notes are private!
Dec 24, 2012
Dec 24, 2012
Dec 24, 2012
Apr 14, 1998
The Moviegoer: Walker Percy's Novel of "If That's All There Is"
Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's...more The Moviegoer: Walker Percy's Novel of "If That's All There Is"
Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is--Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller
If Walker Percy's The Moviegoer ever hits the screen, I'm sure Peggy Lee singing "Is That All There Is" will be on the soundtrack. And, if Binx Bolling is there to see it, I wonder if he'll recognize himself.
Not in the mood for a little Camus? No Jean Paul Sartre? Well, "The Moviegoer" probably won't be your cup of tea either. It's existentialism Southern style, starring Binx Bolling a member of the well bred Bolling clan from Felicianas Parish, you know, Audobon's Happy Land, where America's best known ornithologist killed his specimens in order to paint them, and for some reason was dismissed more than once by well bred families whose daughters he was tutoring, or something or other.
It's not that Binx hasn't had significant events occur in his life that made him wonder what's it all about. After all, his father, committed suicide. Then there was that nasty little police action in Korea, during which he and his squad got caught in a tangle of barbed wire while being surrounded by Red Chinese troops blowing those bugles. It's all a bit disturbing.
After his excursion to the Orient, Binx heads home to New Orleans, where the family has now settled. Strong willed Aunt Emily who has served as his guardian sends Binx off to college, sure that he has a purpose filled life ahead of him. However, Binx, the classic fraternity man, drifts through college without obtaining a single honor.
Binx settles into professional life as a small time stockbroker in New Orleans. Although he is welcome to live in the family home in The Garden District, he kicks over the old family traces and rents an apartment in the Gentilly district, filled with Arts and Crafts bungalows and raised cottages.
Our anti-hero is much happier sitting in a darkened theater, content to while away his time watching the flickering images on the screen. He studies the movements and gestures of Gregory Peck and has Akim Tamaroff down to a tee. Catching William Holden strolling through the French Quarter is a highlight of one particular day in his life.
Binx tells us,
“The fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie. Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in The Third Man.”
In addition to movies, Binx finds brief moments of solace in sex. Being a stockbroker requires a secretary. He has a string of them all named either Linda or Marcia. Acting Gregory Peckerish, Binx is quite adept at bedding his secretaries who have the essential interchangeable body parts along with their interchangeable names. However, brief moments of happiness only turn into a general malaise.
Binx is on some indefinable Search for some indefinable purpose. After all, if one is not on to something, one is in despair. Kierkegaard had a few things to say about that.
The action in "The Moviegoer" takes place during one week of Mardi Gras, when the entire city takes on an identity of its own, giving the novel a background of the absurd.
During that week, Aunt Emily will attempt to persuade Binx, about to turn thirty, to consider going to medical school. She will pay all expenses. He will have the studio behind the house with total privacy to pursue what she offers as a purpose filled life.
Is this the end of Binx's Search? There is the complication of cousin Kate, Binx's female counterpart to whom he proposes marriage. She, too, is on her own Search, having lost her college love in a car wreck years ago, lost in despair and depression with a predilection for a hand full of Nembutal. While half-heartedly wooing Kate, Binx is pursuing his latest secretary, Sharon. All in all, Binx is a bit of a cad, seeking the momentary pleasure as opposed to a lasting pleasure filled life.
"The Moviegoer" is a bitter pill to swallow. However, it is a masterpiece of loneliness that each of us has experienced at some point in our lives. Brilliantly written, this is a novel that deserved the National Book Award given in 1962. Percy has earned his slots on The Modern Library List of 100 Novels and Time Magazine's Greatest 100.
Now, that's done. Ah, yes. Peggy Lee. I think I'll break out the booze and have a ball. It's rather early. Perhaps I should make that a Bloody Mary. One for me. One for you.
Save this one for a rainy day Monday. Don't they always get you down?
Notes are private!
Aug 21, 2012
Aug 26, 2012
Aug 21, 2012
Jun 27, 2006
Summer Crossing: Truman Capote's True First Novel
Summer Crossing appears to be Capote's true first novel which he abandoned. In fact, the manuscript w...more Summer Crossing: Truman Capote's True First Novel
Summer Crossing appears to be Capote's true first novel which he abandoned. In fact, the manuscript was among papers left in an apartment in the care of a house sitter. Capote instructed the house sitter to put all papers on the street to be picked up as garbage. The anonymous house sitter recognized the value of what Capote considered trash, holding on to the caches of papers, including this novel for more than fifty years until his death.
A relative of the house sitter who also recognized the value of the lost Truman papers swiftly carted them off to Sotheby's. Through Capote's Literary Trust and some negotiation with Sotheby's, the Trust successfully protected the publication rights to all papers.
The sale would be limited to physical possession of the documents, but the purchaser could do nothing by way of publication of any of the documents. Ironically, not one person bid on the Truman papers, thanks to the legal maneuvering of the Truman Literary Trust. Today the papers are in their proper place with other known Capote papers at the New York Public Library. "Summer Crossing" was published in 2004 by Random House.
The big question is why didn't Capote want "Summer Crossing" published. Robert Linscott, Capote's editor at Random House told him it was too conventional, that it was good, but it did not reach the level of excellence Capote had achieved with his short fiction. In fact, Linscott told Capote that any writer could have written it.
Perhaps the deciding factor was Capote's lover's opinion. Jack Dunphy told him that the novel was "thin," a word that sends a chill up the spine of any writer. Capote told Linscott he had torn the novel up. The further I read in Clarke's biography, Capote, the more I become convinced that truth was a very relative word to Capote. At times, Capote seems to have invented his life story as he went along.
"Summer Crossing" refers to two distinct crossings during a long hot summer in New York. Lucy and Lamont McNeil are making an Atlantic crossing to see what the Germans have left of their European holdings.
Crossing on the Queen Mary
Oh, yes. They're quite wealthy. They have a penthouse apartment on 5th Avenue. While away, Lucy intends on the finest fashion designers to make their daughter Grady's Debutante dress.
The second crossing is Grady's from adolescent to woman. She is seventeen. Going to Paris is of no interest to her whatsoever. Mrs. McNeil thinks that young Peter Bell is the reason for Grady's reluctance to leave the city for the Summer. However, Grady only considers Peter her best friend.
Why, oh why, couldn't Grady be more like her older sister Apple, married, with child, nice house, go getter husband? Apple, which happened to be the only thing Lucy could eat during her pregnancy, leaves her supposedly older and wiser daughter to look after Grady. So it goes.
The Second World War is over. New York is an exciting place to be.
A girl has lots of opportunities.
Being the rebellious sort, Grady falls for Clyde Manzer, a parking lot attendant where she keeps her baby blue convertible Buick, a veteran who bulges with every muscle he built during the war, a full head of wavy black hair, and a way of showing his appreciation for a good looking girl. Taking a girl to the Central Park Zoo will do it every time.
Clyde invites Grady to meet his family to attend his nephew's bar mitzvah. Oh? I didn't tell you he was Jewish? And you were wondering where the conflict was coming in. Let's call it cultural.
Clyde's family can't figure out why he's bringing a shiksa blonde home with him. Conflict ensues when Clyde's sister Ida invites Clyde's nice Jewish fiancee, Rebecca, over to join the party. There, that should liven things up. Yes, it sure does.
Clyde moves into Grady's parents penthouse apartment. Hormones and pheromones are erupting left and right. Bodily fluids are exchanged on a regular basis. In that maddening state of love, what's a star-crossed couple to do but go over to Jersey and get married at 2a.m.?
Then, what should Grady discover but she is PREGNANT! Mother and Father are due back in less than a month!
Apple suggests they call a doctor to fix things. However, Grady reminds her of a friend they lost who bled to death on a public toilet.
What to do, what to do?
Ladies Home Journal, January, 1946
Yes! Never underestimate the power of a woman! But can this marriage be saved? I'm not going to tell you. You'll just have to read it yourself.
Just know that Grady has many rivers to cross.
The Queensborough Bridge
You may consider my review a bit flippant. I suppose it is. Grady's naivete can be grating. But this book is worth the read. Hmmm, this might be considered the first Truman Capote Summer Beach Read!
Here are the halting beginnings of a master observer of human behavior. Capote was only nineteen when he submitted the draft to Random House. I understand Capote keeping it under wraps. He knew he could do better. But, I daresay, if not for the booze and the drugs, Capote would have returned to this one, one day. It would have been a helluva book, too. Yet, even in her naivete, I can see the character of Holly Golightly taking shape that would explode from the pages of Breakfast at Tiffany's.
In a way it is fitting that "Summer Crossing," a novel Capote did not want published, and Answered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel serve as odd bookends to a remarkable literary life.
This one draws a 3.5 rating.(less)
Notes are private!
Jul 04, 2012
Jul 13, 2012
Jul 04, 2012
Jan 01, 1952
Mar 13, 1991
The Killer Inside Me: Jim Thompson's classic Roman Noir
“Just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The fac...more The Killer Inside Me: Jim Thompson's classic Roman Noir
“Just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?
Faucett Crest, Paperback edition, 1952
"A novel about murder unlike anything you've ever read." There it is right on the cover of the Faucett-Crest Original. And the people at that publishing company got it right.
My grandmother had a saying it was always easy to know someone who wasn't right. "That boy just don't look right out of his eyes." And I've known the times that she was right--absolutely right. But I think Steinbeck nails it. Because you can't always tell you're dealing with a monster. Because the face and body may be perfect. They are not physical monsters, no freak at the side show at the carnival. These people walk among us, looking and acting just the way we do, day to day. But they lack something we donhttp://www.goodreads.com/review/li.... That is conscience. That is a value for the difference between right and wrong.
Take Jim Thompson's protagonist, Lou Ford. He's a deputy sheriff. He's the go to guy when it gets down to getting someone to talk. He's a natural at it, mouthing platitudes, assuring his suspects that he's their friend. He's respected by his sheriff.
Casey Affleck as Lou Ford in the 2010 film directed by Michael Winterbottom
However, when Lou feels the sickness, as he calls it coming on, he says he can't control himself. Perhaps you say Lou Ford was criminally insane. Not so. Lou knew the difference between right and wrong. He didn't give a damn. And when he determined it in his best interest, if people had to die, well, they were already dead in his book. Lou is a careful planner. He is a craftsman at construction of alibis. Adept at creating evidence pointing in anyone's direction but him, he's capable of covering his tracks well. Murder is not something that gnaws at his conscience, because he lacks one. Killing two people and covering his own skin, Lou returns home to his father's house where he prepares and wolfs down a large breakfast of ham and eggs. He's not squeamish.
I can't fault Jim Thompson for the psychology he cites accurately, the material that was commonly referred to at the time of his writing The Killer Inside Me Emil Kraepelin, whose works Lou Ford studies in his father's medical library is credited with the birth of modern psychiatric diagnoses. However Ford singles out Kraepelin's work on dementia praecox the precursor for what we now know as Schizophrenia. That diagnosis is a psychosis, amounting to a break with reality and a failure to recognize reality. A common description of defining a person's mental status is whether he is oriented x 3, that is, to person, place and time. That does not ever fit Lou Ford. He's conscious of person place and time at all times. It's his "moral" compass that's broken.
Emil Kraepelin, Lou Ford's favorite author
Lou Ford's personality is described with unerring accuracy in Kraepelin's later work, which would have been available to Jim Thompson, under sections dealing with moral insanity. From wikipedia:
In fact from 1904 Kraepelin changed the section heading to 'The born criminal', moving it from under 'Congenital feeblemindedness' to a new chapter on 'Psychopathic personalities'. They were treated under a theory of degeneration. Four types were distinguished: born criminals (inborn delinquents), pathological liars, querulous persons, and Triebmenschen (persons driven by a basic compulsion, including vagabonds, spendthrifts, and dipsomaniacs). The concept of 'psychopathic inferiorities' had been recently popularised in Germany by Julius Ludwig August Koch, who proposed congenital and acquired types. Kraepelin had no evidence or explanation suggesting a congenital cause, and his assumption therefore appears to have been simple 'biologism'. Others, such as Gustav Aschaffenburg, argued for a varying combination of causes. Kraepelin's assumption of a moral defect rather than a positive drive towards crime has also been questioned, as it implies that the moral sense is somehow inborn and unvarying, yet it was known to vary by time and place, and Kraepelin never considered that the moral sense might just be different. Kurt Schneider criticized Kraepelin's nosology for appearing to be a list of behaviors that he considered undesirable, rather than medical conditions, though Schneider's alternative version has also been criticised on the same basis. Nevertheless, many essentials of these diagnostic systems were introduced into the diagnostic systems, and remarkable similarities remain in the DSM-IV and ICD-10. The issues would today mainly be considered under the category of personality disorders, or in terms of Kraepelin's focus Antisocial/Dissocial personality disorder or psychopathy. (Emphasis added)
If there is anything in modern psychology that rings true, it deals with the development of sexuality. It is borne out be current research in the field that an adult's aberrant sexual behavior is often set during adolescence by the occurrence of a sexual event which leads the target of that event to recreate situations similar to those experienced in adolescence. So, perhaps whatever happened between Lou and his father's housekeeper, bent Lou a little crooked in his interactions with women in his adult years. And, of course, we know of his experience with a three year old girl up in the barn loft for which his foster brother took the blame. We also know that Dr. Foster knew of his son's aberrations, keeping him close under wraps, at home in Central City, Texas.
So, if you want to know what runs through the mind of a killer, Jim Thompson's novel is the one for you. Don't blame me if it sends a chill up your spine every few chapters are so. Listening to Lou Ford's story puts you across the table from Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, just to name a few. And, when you're finished with this book, don't take too much comfort that it's only a story. For there are monsters that walk among us and sometimes they look just perfect out of their eyes.
Jim Thompson, (September 27, 1906, Anadarko, Oklahoma Territory – April 7, 1977, Los Angeles, California)(less)
Notes are private!
Mar 25, 2012
Mar 25, 2012
Mar 25, 2012
Jul 12, 2011
The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock's tales from a ghost town
“Just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters...more The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock's tales from a ghost town
“Just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?
I learned that there are monsters among us at a fairly young age. On a bright spring morning around 1971, I was riding to Foster's Alabama, with a high school friend. There was a car, off the road, and stuck in a ditch.
John said we should pull off and help. But something didn't look right about it. One man stood at the front of the Caddy. Another stood by the trunk. As we approached, the man by the trunk looked at me. There are some people who have nothing behind their eyes. There is no conscience, or soul there, if you will.
I screamed at John to drive, even reaching to shove the steering wheel over to swerve us back on the roadway. It was a bit of good fortune.
Everyone loved Buddy Copeland, a big fireman, who was driving his pickup to go fishing on the Black Warrior River that morning. He had a winch on his truck. Being Buddy, he pulled over to help get the car out of the ditch. When they found him, it appeared he had decided to snack on a ham sandwich before heading on to fish. A blood soaked bit of it lay on the passenger seat by the door where the gun blast had blown it from his mouth. The men who killed him were named Turk and Alexander. They had no love for Buddy. He must have seen the body of the banker in the trunk of the Caddy they had hi-jacked earlier that morning. I watched their trial.
I grew up to hunt men and women who had no conscience, no soul behind the eyes. I was an Assistant District Attorney for almost 28 years. Unlike a lot of ADAs who swaggered around with their badge and a gun on their side, I carried a gun because of need.
Although most of my police friends favored a 9mm, I preferred a Walther PK .380. I was trained to shoot by the best shots in law enforcement. "Don't be a hero. Shoot for center body mass. Double tap. Shoot to kill. You don't, they'll kill you." I was a cop's ADA. I was good at it. I played to win. If I didn't think you were guilty, I refused to take the case. I backed up an officer during an investigation more than once. It was an honor.
My job was not done from a clean office. I went to the scene. I worked cases where sons killed parents for crack money, men shook babies to death, and jealous ex-husbands killed their ex-wives in front of the kids. The baby killer is on death row. When they slip him the needle, I'll be there as a witness.
Don't let Donald Ray Pollock fool you. Knockemstiff is a real place. It's a ghost town now. The nice name for the place is Shady Glen. Look at an Ohio Map from 1919, you won't find it. Look on a 1940 map, there it is. Pollock ought to know. He lived there before heading to Chillicothe to become a laborer at a paper mill for more than thirty years. After that he got an MFA and began to write. His first book is, you guessed it, Knockemstiff. Sherwood Anderson's advice to William Faulkner was good. "Write what you know." Otherwise, we might never have known about Yoknapatawpha County.
I've known places like Knockemstiff. I worked two homicided that ended up on Tuscaloosa's side of the County Line that separated us from Walker County. What began in Walker County ended up down on the Tiger Mine Strip Pit Road. It's a lonely place, where the maggots do their job if the body's not found soon enough.
As Pollock tells us, law enforcement didn't show up much in Knockemstiff. Neither did Walker County Law like to escort Tuscaloosa ADAs up on their Beat 10 road. It was a rough place. The people didn't trust outsiders. I took my own cop friends with me when I had to interview witnesses on Beat 10. They weren't any happier about it than I was.
The Devil All the Time begins idyllically enough. Willard Russell has survived war in the Pacific Theater in WWII. He's on his way home to Coal Creek, West Virginia to his parents home. But a stop in Meade, Ohio, leads him to a diner, the Wooden Spoon, where he meets a waitress named Charlotte. She's a woman he can't forget.
Although he returns to Coal Creek, he finds his mother has picked out a bride for him. Helen is an unattractive young woman. But Willard's mother had promised Helen's mother she'd look out after the poor thing when Helen's mother died.
Willard can't forget Charlotte, returns to Meade and marries her. They rent a house up in the hollers of Knockemsstiff from a cuckolded lawyer. They are happy. Willard and Charlotte have a son, Arvin Eugene. All's well until Charlotte gets the Cancer and Willard constructs an altar out of a fallen log. He and Arvin pray aloud there at the log for Charlotte's recovery. But their prayers are unanswered.
Willard must believe in an Old Testament God. If the prayers don't work by themselves, God must require blood sacrifice. Dogs, sheep, and larger game are strung up and bled to cover the prayer log in an offering satisfying to God. But if God is anywhere around, he's not in Knockemstiff.
Disconsolate from Charlotte's death, Willard cuts his throat at the prayer log, leaving Arvin Eugene an orphan. When Arvin reports his father's death to Deputy Leo Bodecker, he takes him to the bloody clearing in the woods.
"'Goodamn it, Boy,what the hell is this?'
Arvin is sent to live with his grandparents back in Coal Creek. It seems he has a new sister, Leonore. She is the daughter of Helen, the woman Willard's mother had wanted him to marry.
Helen had taken up with a travelling preacher, Roy, who was accompanied by a paraplegic guitarist named Theodore. After Leonore's birth, Roy becomes convinced that if he could bring someone back from the dead, the audiences at his revival would grow by leaps and bounds. God must have been on vacation again. Leonore is just as much an orphan as Arvin Eugene. They come to view one another as brother and sister. Roy and Theodore take it on the lam after the Lazarus routine fails to take.
Years pass. Leo Bodecker, now sheriff, has a new set of problems on his hands. His sister Sandy is peddling her ass out of the restaurant where she waitresses. It seems his old opposition, the former Sheriff is rallying support for a new campaign. Sandy is complaint number one. Leo has got to do about his Sister's indiscriminate exercise of her sexuality, which is bounteously generous. The problem seems to be solved when Sandy settles down with Carl Henderson, a real shutterbug, who whisks Sandy away from town on extended vacations to add to his portfolio.
But there are no easy solutions in The Devil All the Time Carl's idea of a vacation is to wander the back roads picking up hitchhikers using Sandy as his bait. His favorite line of photography is taking photographs of Sandy in the arms of their unfortunate hitchikers, whom Carl dispatches with proficiency, documenting the whole sordid mess on film, developing his work in a private darkroom.
Meanwhile, down in Coal Creek, Arvin Eugene, protector of Leonore, discovers that the new Preacher had rather administer to the youngest of his congregation, including Leonore. When Pastor Teagarden impregnates Leonore, he rejects her, moving on to younger and more attractive congregants.
If God is present anywhere in he finds himself the incarnation of Arvin Eugene, who is packing his father Willard's Luger 9mm pistol, which he had traded for his own Nambu pistol taken as a souvenir ln the Pacific. Fleeing from Coal Creek, following meting out the Lord's vengeance on the misguided Reveverend, Arvin begins the long hitchike back to Knockemstiff.
In an almost incredible symmetry, who should stop to give him a lift but our happy serial killers Sandy and Carl. Arvin Eugene may be the most handsome model, the couple has ever scored. But Arvin is alert and most rescue himself from the shutterbug two which will not endear himself to sheriff Leo Bodecker.
Bodecker and Arvin take one last walk to the prayer log. Whether God is present, or the Devil laughs at one more triumph, the reader must discover for himself.
Pollock is a remarkable new voice in American literature. While he obviously shares comparison with Flannery O'Connor, none of O'Connor's theology is readily apparent in Pollock's work. Rather, picture William Gay decked out in clean carpenter's overalls, and read Provinces of Night or, among the most grotesque, Twilight. Here are the darkest aspects of Cormac McCarthy, and Tom Franklin as seen in Poachers.
Once again, in Donald Ray Pollock we have a novelist who writes that there are monsters among us and that to the monstrous, the norm is simply montrous.(less)
Notes are private!
Jan 28, 2012
Jan 28, 2012
Apr 29, 1993
A Month of Sundays, John Updike's Unreliable Gospel According to Thomas Marshfield
Meet Thomas Marshfield, a Christian Minister tending to a flock some...more A Month of Sundays, John Updike's Unreliable Gospel According to Thomas Marshfield
Meet Thomas Marshfield, a Christian Minister tending to a flock somewhere back East, above and beyond the pale of Ministry, especially where his female congregants are concerned. Here is a contemporary Doubting Thomas, on a Sabbatical of sorts. He is, short of being de-frocked, sent to a desolate motel, located in the desert, a program for ministers who have, shall we say problems regarding human frailty.
Thomas contemplates his indiscretions for a month of Sundays, along with his fellow inhabitants of a suitably Omegan shaped motel. Somewhat a Hotel California, it comes with a bar, a restaurant, golf and poker. But the literature available is of limited nature--the library is limited to harmless mysteries, English cozies, and the locked room puzzles of John Dickson Carr.
Ironically, the unnamed Administratrix is named, Ms. Prynne. Prynne? We don't know her first name, but in typical sly Updkie humor, one wonders if her first name is Hester.
Updike reveals Thomas' Alpha to Omega through a stream of journal entries, written to "the Reader." It is a mea culpa toting up his sins of commission and omission.
Thomas is the son of a minister. His father was a student of Tillichian theology. Thomas wishing to be more formidable in his religiosity opts for the less forgiving position of Karl Barth. The doctrine of Election wryly applies to Thomas in ways Karl Barth never intended. Thomas is not among the Elect in the sense of being among the saved. Thomas has selected to be among the damned.
Perhaps there is something of the Oedipal complex at play here. Thomas's quest takes on the search for his long dead mother. His aging father is lost in dementia, a resident of a nursing home. Although he most often doesn't recognize Thomas as his son, there are moments where he obviously does. The implication is that Thomas's mother was not the saint she believed he was. Neither was his father, who mistakes Thomas for his twin brother Erasmus or a former comrade in arms during WWI. Prior to entering the ministry, Daddy Marshfield recounts with ribald glee his escapades in France, waxing profane on his preference for a small woman with a small ass and breasts. Now that's the filly who provides the greatest joie de vivre! Right, Mooney? Raucous laughter of memories stored away long ago, echo through the nursing home.
The Alpha of Thomas is not extraordinary. He attends seminary. Marries a professor's daughter. In typical fashion, through the years, they have come to resemble one another physically. The bloom is off the rose. Thomas has two sons, Stephen and Martin, completely unalike. He cannot relate to him. The brothers, in Cain and Abel fashion, do not get along. Martin looks for the finer things in life, attending an exclusive private school that taxes the Marshfield coffers to the limit. Martin is studious, perhaps a bit of a dilettante, unmindful of the cost to his family. Stephen out of apparent love for the Father, or his father, elects to go to public school out of sacrifice to the family. He excels in sports, while Martin is the sensitive scholar of the two.
Back in the desert, it is journal writing between breakfast at noon. The journal is a self examination of the penitent's past and an acknowledgement of the indiscretions that brought each of them to their placement there. Along with Thomas there are fallen priests, ministers, preachers each with their own predilection leading to their cause of fall from grace, if grace exists at all. The Bible is not in existence at Thomas's Omega shaped retreat. Nor is it meant to be.
After journaling it's a daily round of Golf. The bar is always open. Poker at night. Although the penitents are not to discuss their peccadilloes that landed them in their spiritual wilderness, gradually they each learn of the others' most untheological downfalls. Unlike Christ's temptations avoided during his forty days in the wilderness, Thomas regales the reader with his most human and therefore faulty behavior, though he rationalizes the Dickens out of it.
It began with Alicia. One can almost hear Updike chuckling when he named Thomas's church organist. The very way in which Thomas describes her has the ring of Humbert Humbert's "Lo-Li-ta." Each time Thomas writes the name, it is with an air of "Ahhhh, A-liiic-i-aaaa!"
Alicia is a woman of many talents, adroitly handling two children as the divorced single mother. She fills the church with the soaring sounds of Bach to Buxtahude. The liturgy is shortened as Alicia turns Thomas' sermons into brief platitudes as she lengthen the muscial elements of worship bringing in brass instruments, percussionists, and, Good God, guitarists!
Worst of all, Alicia has determined that Thomas is her salvation from being single, adroitly persuading Thomas to leave Janet and his sons for a life with her. She has the sexual abilities of a lusty Lillith with a preference for the superior position, enthusiastically riding Thomas as easily as managing a stallion. And stallion, Thomas discovers, he is.
In a humorous series of episodes, Thomas attempts to foist his Assistant Pastor, Ned Bork on Janet, cajoling his wife, "Haven't you ever wondered what it would be like to be with another man? He constantly invites Ned for dinner, finding some reason to leave to perform some ministerial duty in the hopes that Ned and Janet will find themselves in delightful in flagrante delicto, but neither party is buying it.
Alicia, a practical woman, turns her affections to Ned Bork, who readily accepts them, to the chagrin of Thomas who begins to see her car parked at Ned's garage apartment next to the parsonage. He is obsessed by the knowledge that his ultra-liberal Assistant is having his anatomical flute played by his former mistress.
Poor Thomas enters into a string of liaisons with his female congregants. The teenaged bride who married too quickly, too early, and realized she had made a life changing mistake. The emaciated divorcee, whose most prominent feature is an outstanding pudenda, always jutting out from her emaciated frame. Then, the fatal alliance with the head Deacon's sainted wife, Frankie Harlow. Ah, Harlow, ash blonde, gracefully aging, who detests the sight of her husband.
Harlow is Thomas's ideal of love. Faithful to the core. Image of Mother Mary. Perhaps, image of Thomas's own lost mother. Svelte, curved appropriately, with a luminescent body bathed in a lambent glow of chiaroscuro whatever the lighting. There's one problem. Thomas cannot service poor Frankie, no matter her skills with lips, tongue or hands. Damn.
Frankie is Thomas' Jocasta. And he is blinded by his inability to consummate his most desired seduction.
Urged on by Frankie that that woman who plays the organ has turned Sunday morning worship into a concert rather than devotion to the Word, Thomas decides to fire Alicia, no longer his, Ah, A-liii-c-i-a! Alicia, scorned as a lover, deprived of her job, tells all to the Deacons.
And thereupon hangs the tale of Thomas's Month of Sundays in the wilderness without any outlet for all the temptations of the memory of his many conquests, of all the congregants who have knelt in supplication to him, so to speak.
Here we have the Gospel of Doubting Thomas. This is Updike at his most outrageous. This is the dry, the wry, the sly John Updike, who as Robert Graves would have cried, warns Thomas "Down, Wanton!" And, Updike revels in the ribald, down and dirty life of Thomas Marshfield, allowing him to create his own Gospel according to Thomas. Did you know that adultery was actually a sacrament sanctioned by Jesus? Why, of course it was! Think! Jesus saved the adulteress from stoning. Think! Ah, Mary Magdalene!
Oh, Domine, Oh Devil, what have you done to my rod and staff? They no longer comfort me. You laugh at me, I'll laugh at you. Repent? Repent, Hell.
A Month of Sundays (1975)is the first novel in what John Updike called his Scarlet Letter trilogy. The concluding volumes are Roger's Version(1986), and S. (1988)
If you read Updike, sex with a capital S is everywhere, and absolutely abundant. After all, wasn't Man told to go forth, be fruitful and multiply? So, Doubting Thomas would preach the Word. In Times Magazine review of Couples, appearing in the issue April 26, 1968, A View From the Catacombs,, the author wrote:
His contemporaries invade the ground with wild Dionysian yelps, mocking both the taboos that would make it forbidden and the lust that drives men to it. Updike can be honest about it, and his descriptions of the sight, taste and texture of women's bodies can be perfect little madrigals.
With A Month of Sundays , Updike offers up a raucous rondeau of sex and religion that rocks the rafters of any sanctuary or temple. With the exception of the fallen, the angels are blushing, but feverishly flipping the pages to find the good parts.
Notes are private!
Jan 07, 2012
Jan 13, 2012
Jan 07, 2012
Jun 13, 1995
The Sportswriter: Richard Ford's Bleak View of the American Dream
The Sportswriter, 1st Edition, Vintage, 1986
"My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a spo...more The Sportswriter: Richard Ford's Bleak View of the American Dream
The Sportswriter, 1st Edition, Vintage, 1986
"My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.
So it is that Richard Ford begins to tell us in beautifully written style the story of Frank Bascombe, The Sportswriter. And, although Ford writes beautifully, and paints characters in crystal clarity, Frank Bascombe is not a protagonist that is easy to like, much less love. Critics have described Bascombe as heroic and a decent man. Either I read a different book, or my dictionary has become outdated.
The first hint of Bascombe's revelations to come is calling his former wife "X." One wonders whether he has changed her name in Dragnet fashion to protect the innocent, or that over the period of their marriage he has become so distant from her he can no longer bear to call her by name.
One could trace the disintegration of the Bascombe marriage back to the death of their first born son, Ralph, who died of Reyes syndrome. How many marriages have evaporated following the death of a child? Yet, no blame is cast between the two of them. There is no question as to which parent gave Ralph aspirin while running a fever. It simply occurred. They remained together long enough to create two other children, wonderful, as Frank describes them.
But as Frank tells us, much has happened in between. He had intended to follow up his collection of well received short stories with a novel. The novel remains half written, abandoned, tucked away in Frank's desk drawer.
While the unfinished novel gathers dust, Frank is offered a job by a glossy sports magazine "you all have heard of." Ironically, Frank really doesn't like sports, not most of them. Now, baseball. That's different. However, Frank's angle as a sports writer is his innate ability to read people, to get them talking about themselves. He's a pro at ingratiating himself to those he interviews. He is a mixture of wide smiles, grins, platitudes, and the qualities of a "good guy" people don't mind talking to. That Frank has no real connection with his assignments is never evident to them, nor does it seemingly bother him. And, if a lie is called for, he has no difficulty in telling it.
Richard Ford formerly wrote for Inside Sports Magazine
Frank's job constantly takes him on travel junkets, to sporting events, to athlete interviews. Time with X and his two wonderful children is limited. During one of his out of town assignments the seat on the plane next to him occupied by a woman who has left her husband to write. They engage in pleasant conversation, more on her part than Frank's. It is no surprise they end up in the same hotel and that there's a knock on Frank's door that night. Frank discovers he can read women as well as he can the athletes he interviews. He turns her offer of lovemaking down, but holds her through the night, the courtly gentleman. What follows is a series of letters implying an intimacy that doesn't exist.
Ironically, following a vacation trip, Frank and X return to their Tudor home to find it burglarized. It's the typical burglary where the intruders have left out for inspection those things most of us would rather stay tucked away in the privacy of boxes and drawers. X finds Frank's correspondence which he had kept in his desk drawer. Frank is surprised to find X setting her hope chest containing all the special mementos of their marriage ablaze in the fireplace. The marriage is over.
Surprisingly, the marriage is over for an offense that Frank did not commit. He casually informs the reader that perhaps X had turned a blind eye to the eighteen women he in fact had slept with. The details of the Bascombe divorce are never revealed. Again, a surprise, Frank ends up with the Tudor house while X and the two children establish a new home in "The Presidents," a hot new suburban development. It turns out that X has always been the true athlete of the couple, a golfer, who becomes a pro at a local club, and offers golfing lessons.
Frank's and X's relationship remains relatively amicable. X keeps their two children Peter and Claire readily accessible to him. At times, Frank sleeps over on the couch.
Frank and X also continue to observe Ralph's birthday, meeting at the cemetery each year. Frank's practice is to select a poem each year to read over the grave. This particular year he has chosen A.E. Houseman's "On an Athlete's Dying Young." X laconically tells Frank she never liked Houseman, nor was Ralph ever an athlete.
At their meeting at the cemetery, Frank does not tell X he's taking a female companion along with him on an assignment to Detroit, though she brings up the matter of whether either of them ever think of marrying again. Frank has met Vicki, a nurse in the ER, who has recently fled an abusive marriage in Texas. Vicki's father, a former petroleum engineer in Texas, now a toll taker at one of the New Jersey turnpikes has bought and furnished a house for her.
To Frank, Vicki is a weekend gift from Heaven. The curves are in all the right place. She's indicated her sexual interest, calling herself a real firecracker in that department. Frank paints her as a Southern stereotype, complete with Texas twang, and wide eyed wonder at the prospect of going to Detroit and seeing the Big Tire which she's always wanted to do.
One of Nurse Vicki's Wonders of the World
Frank bears a hostility towards Southerners, which he especially exhibits towards his physician Fincher who shows up at the airport, decked out in awful trendy golfing clothes, his clubs thrown over his shoulder. Frank thinks of the Southern college boy decked out in khakis and campaign belt, baggy oxford shirt, with hands tucked confidently in their pockets, displaying a nonchalant insouciance. Only later does Bascombe himself reveal that he, too, is a Southern expatriate, and happy to be one, although he had attempted to use that image to gain entrance at the University of Michigan in his undergrad days.
The Detroit trip is a disaster. A freakish blizzard makes sightseeing a lost cause. Bascombe's assignment is off his meds, crazy as a betsy bug, and won't produce a successful story. While Vicki is a firecracker in bed, Frank makes a crucial error after telling her he loves her. He sneaks through her purse, looking through the photographs in her wallet. Vicki wakes up. The party's over, in spite of Frank's proposal of marriage.
Throw into the mix that Frank's formula for wooing involves a quick declaration of love. His preference is for divorced women. Single mother's are even more preferable for they are more vulnerable to being told they are loved. His ideal relationship consists of making eye contact over a drink, the suggestion dinner, and being entwined in bed within four hours, hopefully while on assignment in a location not to be visited again. Hero? Decent? Or heel?
Frank's relationships with other men are just as tangential, lacking any commitment. Shortly after his divorce from X, Frank was dragged into the Divorced Men's Club, a group of five men, who meet for dinner, drinks, taking in a sports game, an occasional fishing charter. As places become available through death or remarriage, some lucky guy becomes available to fill the empty slot. Frank approaches the club much as he does the athletes he interviews, with smiles, grins, and the occasional joke.
Things grow complicated when a new place opens in the club and it is filled by Walter Luckett. Walter's only luck is bad. His wife ran off to Bimini with her ski instructor. He's a true sad sack. Because of Frank's seeming bonhomie, Walter mistakes him for a friend and confidant.
Following a fishing charter Walter confides in Frank that he met a nice fellow and ended up in a motel room with him. Walter feels that Frank, while he might have an opinion, will listen to him, and not express how he might feel about what happened. Frank in fact does listen. But tells Walter he does have an opinion which he would prefer not to express.
(view spoiler)[Walter's loneliness, the humiliation of being left by his wife, and his guilt over his homosexual experience lead him to commit suicide. Walter leaves a suicide note for Frank calling his best friend. Responding police find the note. Unable to locate Frank, they call X who locates Frank on his cell. X volunteers to go to the police department with Frank. After being questioned whether he and Walter were romantically linked, Frank indignantly denies it, invites the interviewing officer to join the Divorced Men's Club, and sets out to explore Walter's apartment since Walter had left him a key. X drives him to the apartment and goes inside with him.
Frank has no idea why he is inside Walter's apartment. Nor does he know why Walter considered him his best friend.
As he meanders through the dead man's apartment, X tells Frank she still loves him. Frank impulsively asks X to go into Walter's bedroom make love. Wrong move. "I was going to ask you to spend the night. I left the kids with the Armenis." Instead X leaves Frank stranded at Walter's apartment to get home the best way he can. (hide spoiler)]
Frank epitomizes contemporary America where neighborhoods are merely groups of homes. These are the streets where people live but are not neighbors, nor know the names of those around whom they live. Frank represents the modern human being who lives committed to a dream belonging only to him without commitment to others. And so it goes.
"The Sportswriter" is the first of three Frank Bascombe novels. Independence Day won both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Pen/Faulkner Award for 1996. Ford concluded the Bascombe Trilogy with The Lay of the Land in 2006. It was a National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee in 2006.
Notes are private!
Apr 06, 2013
Apr 12, 2013
Dec 31, 2011
Jan 02, 1985
Jan 02, 1985
RANEY, Clyde Edgerton's first novel on why it's not a sin to marry a Whiskeypalian even when you are a Free-Will Baptist
First of all, the illustratio...more RANEY, Clyde Edgerton's first novel on why it's not a sin to marry a Whiskeypalian even when you are a Free-Will Baptist
First of all, the illustration of Raney by Clyde Edgerton is not that of the first edition, first printing. Seeing as how I'm a goodreads librarian I should fix that.
First Edition, Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1985
Yep. Fixed. That's now the correct image for the First Edition, First Printing of Raney
I know. I have one. It's signed. The REAL first printing is green with a guitar on it. The title, Raney is printed in a block background of hot pink.
I'm gloating. I'm gloating because it was a very, very short first printing. I'm gloating because Clyde Edgerton signed it for me and then serenaded me and my wife, picking his banjo, while singing "Safety Patrol."
To hear more of Clyde Edgerton's Music visit http://www.clydeedgerton.com
Watch this: Clyde Edgerton is singing "Way Down in Columbus, Georgia," while playing the banjo. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25NVIX...
It's not Safety Patrol, but it gives you a good idea of how this man comes across at a book signing.
It's a good thing I finally met Clyde Edgerton. I had literally stalked him for several years. My brother-in-law, Bill, as in Bill from Dallas, as opposed to Cousin Bill from Shreveport, got tired of Connecticut winters and moved to Wilmington, North Carolina. Clyde Edgerton lives in Wilmington, teaches at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and likes to write while having breakfast at The Salt Mine, one of two restaurants of the same name.
Among other things, Edgerton teaches creative writing at UNCW
I confess. I stalked him. In a polite way. I ate breakfast at the Salt Mine five mornings in a row. I didn't have my cholesterol checked for six months thereafter because I would have had to fess up to my lady doctor, who is beautiful, that I had spiked my LDL and lowered my HDL, while stalking an author who has written five New York Times Notable Books of the Year, was a Guggenheim Fellow, was admitted to membership of the Southern Writers Association, and washes his own pickup truck in the front yard of his house--HIMSELF.
I never caught him there. But I highly recommend the homemade corned beef hash, eggs over easy, with wheat toast. Oh, and on the lunch special, I recommend the chicken fried steak. That's on Saturdays. He washes his truck on Saturdays.
I told you. I stalked him. When I confessed to Clyde that I had stalked him, he kind of grinned. When I described his house, his pickup truck and his dog, he was a little rattled. Not to worry. My favorite independent bookseller told him I was harmless--for the most part. And you will notice that no photograph of Clyde washing his truck appears below. Even a literary stalker must have some degree of ethics. *ahem*
Edgerton was born in Durham, North Carolina in 1944. He was raised just outside Durham in a little place called Bethesda. He came from a long, long line of cotton and tobacco farmers. Fortunately, his parents were the first of their family to leave the farm. Otherwise, well--Clydge Edgerton would not have become an author I would have ended up stalking.
He doesn't look like it, but Edgerton was a fighter pilot for five years from 1966 to 1971. You can read about Edgerton's love of flight and his combat flights over Vietnam in Solo: My Adventures in the Air.
Edgerton flew combat reconnaissance over the Ho Chi Minh trail for over a year. Sticking with a downed pilot until his comrade was pulled out earned him the Distinguished flying cross.
Flip through any biographical article about the man and you'll find out most folks figured he would end up being a baseball player or a rock musician. His parents and his twenty three aunts and uncles never took him to have a literary bent. But it was listening to all those storytellers in his family that turned him into the writer with an extraordinary ear for dialog and an eye for the natural humor of human foibles.
Characters flow out of Clyde Edgerton as easily as water falls off the sides of mountains in Western North Carolina. By the time you've become familiar with Edgerton's books, you realize this is a man who knows and loves people, warts and all.
Now, Raney was not the first Edgerton I read. The first was Walking Across Egypt which came out in January, 1987. I was so enthusiastic over that one I was ecstatic to find a paperback of Raney.
I have read Raney three times. The last time was when I read it aloud to my wife. I figured she would enjoy it, especially since Clyde had sung "Safety Patrol" to her. And she did enjoy it. Immensely. She giggled, hooted, belly laughed, cried, guffawed and snorted a few times. Me, I'm impervious to such things and just kept right on reading, in character, of course. I am a professional. Do not try this at home. The Carol Burnett gang would not have cracked me up. When you are in character, you are in character.
Generally, you'll find a book blurb that says read it, read it aloud, read it to someone else (I did) and give it away (I won't.) Buy your own copy. Stalk Edgerton yourself. It's good for you. The breakfast at The Salt Mine is not good for you. But it is good. Stalking authors is fun. It builds character. Maybe he'll sing to you, too.
Anyway, Raney Bell is a very proper young Lister, NC, lady, who sings like a nightingale--bluegrass ballads--that'll have you tearing your heart out and stomping it flat, or fluttering around like a blue bird because it's one of the happy toe tapping ones. She is a Free Will Baptist. God's in his Heaven and all's right with the world, and her mother, daddy, and all her aunt's and uncles, too.
Then up pops this new librarian down at the library in downtown Lister. His name is Charles. And he is not from Lister. He is all the way from ATLANTA, Georgia. You know what those people are like in Atlanta. They have funny ideas. They are LIBERAL. And Charles is not Free Will Baptist. He is EPISCOPALIAN! You KNOW what THEY are like.
But Charles loves bluegrass music as much as Raney. He can sing and play the guitar, too. You would NEVER know he was from Atlanta if he would only sing songs. But he has to come to dinner and you can't sing all the time. And when you can't sing you have to talk politely. But Charles goes telling Uncle Nate about there being no difference between black people and white people. You could have heard a pin drop.
Now, all this happens back in 1975. And it does happen in NC. And sometimes, people like Uncle Nate who was never the same after the WWII, uses the N WORD.
What you all (I have translated that for Y'ALL) have to understand is that people like Uncle Nate and Raney and all her kin don't have a mean bone in their body. Their politically incorrect thinking comes from ignorance, not malice.
You ALL will see this when it turns out that Charles' best man is B-L-A-C-K! It turns out he's no stranger than Charles' own mother who is a VEGETARIAN!!! Now, feeding her at the reception is gonna be hard.
So in this short little book you all will be sad to see it over, we see Raney get married to an Episcopalian from Atlanta, GA. An' we get to see how two people as different as day and night live and love together for a year and grow alike as two peas in a pod and go together just like peas and carrots--just like Forrest and Jenny, except Raney was never flighty like that Jenny.
After Edgerton did his Air Force duty, he went back to the University of North Carolina where he got his Masters in English. He taught at his own former high school where he was one of the favorite teachers there. He obtained his PhD in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Edgerton took a teaching position at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, a Baptist School.
Campbell University, the Baptist School without a sense of humor
After watching Eudora Welty read one of her short stories Edgerton decided to become a writer as well as a teacher. After the publication of Raney Mr. Edgerton and Campbell University parted ways. Some Baptists just have NO sense of humor.
So, if you are not a Baptist, or you are a Baptist with a sense of humor or any other thing you want to be because that's all right with Clyde and me, read this book. Read it aloud. Read it to someone you love. Give a copy to a friend. Make it your copy. You're not getting mine.
For Anne and Bill Boston, from Dallas, not Shreveport, who had the good sense to move to Wilmington, NC, who know where Clyde Edgerton lives, and who just sent me a signed copy of Edgerton's latest, The Night Train: A Novel from Two Sisters Bookery. http://www.twosistersbookery.com/
Two Sisters Bookery, 318 Nutt Street, Wilmington, NC
Why is this review being circulated again? Well, I'm trying to set up a meeting with Professor Edgerton at UNCW to get a submission to "On the Southern Literary Trail," and get that copy of "Solo" signed.(less)
Notes are private!
Oct 14, 2011
Sep 16, 2008
INDIGNATION,the novel, and an opinion regarding literary criticism
Philip Roth's twenty-ninth book "Indignation" is one of those novels about which som...more INDIGNATION,the novel, and an opinion regarding literary criticism
Philip Roth's twenty-ninth book "Indignation" is one of those novels about which some critics are a bit, well, indignant. They're indignant that Roth didn't produce another masterpiece of the same degree as "American Pastoral," "The Human Stain," or "The Plot Against America," to name a few.
They also are a bit indignant that Roth once again addresses the same issues he has repeatedly addressed in previous works, that is, overcoming the dominance of family, growing up Jewish, rebelling against family tradition to gain autonomy, the eternal quest for sexual initiation, love, loss, and inevitably death. Of course, Roth is dealing more frequently with death as he contemplates his own mortality. That's not unnatural considering the man is now seventy-nine, born March 19, 1933. You might check my math. I'm not getting any younger either.
Marcus Messner has a lot about which to be indignant. He is nineteen. Indignation is as prevalent for him as adolescent angst. He is the perfect student. He works part time in his father's Kosher butcher shop in New Jersey. But he yearns to break free from his family's restrictive life style. Doesn't every adolescent?
Marcus's father's love for him is boundless. But in his effort to protect Marcus from the rest of the world, his love is oppressive. Like Garp, who worries about the worst case scenario in every scenario, he frets that Marcus will unwittingly end up in a situation beyond his control. "You are a boy with a magnificent future before you," his father tells him. 'How do I know you're not going to places where you can get yourself killed?'
And, oh, God, Marcus is still a virgin. He doesn't want to be. Who does at that age anymore?
Marcus escapes the family ties that bind by enrolling in Winesburg College far from home in the Midwest. Roth's allusion to Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio," is fitting, because there is much of the grotesque to which Marcus is exposed. It is a bit of irony that flows through Roth's dark humor in this little book.
Having slipped loose those familial bonds, Marcus seeks his independence and to lose his virginity. He does so, much to his surprise, to the lips of lovely Olivia, a troubled young woman with the scars of a failed suicide on her wrists and some time spent in a mental health institution. She tells Marcus, "I did that because I like you so much." Olivia has her own poignant reasons for pleasing Marcus, leading to a very complicated and moving relationship.
Having kicked over the family traces, Marcus becomes a rebel on a very conservative campus. He can't win. It is not a good time to be expelled. It is 1951, the second year of the Korean War when the most intense fighting was occurring around the 38th parallel.
Historically, this was a period of escalating Chinese involvement. Mao had called upon Stalin's aid for equipment and materiel, to which Stalin agreed. McArthur was considering using nuclear weapons against Chinese and North Korean troops prior to his being recalled by President Truman.
Marcus had included ROTC in his schedule. He is nobody's fool. It would be safer to go to war as an officer. However, Marcus is foolish enough to push his campus issues to the point he is expelled.
Marcus is drafted. The next stop is the 38th Parallel.
I leave it to the reader to find what happens to Marcus Messner.
However, as noted in Roth's subsequent short novel, "Nemesis," it is the last of four short novels beginning with "Everyman in 2006, followed by "The Humbling," and "Indignation." Those four short novels complement one another on the unifying theme of mortality. "Indignation" clearly belongs in this quartet that constitutes a remarkable literary dirge.
Roth's detractors bash the old man for rehashing the same themes throughout his works. Some refer to it as cannibalizing from his previous works.
The simple fact of the matter is life is a process much the same for every individual. You are born. You have a relationship with your family, sometimes with two parents, sometimes with one. Sometimes even none.
Depending on what part of the world you live in you go to school. You interact with your fellow students or village mates. You are socialized. As a child becomes an adolescent, he pulls away from his family.
During the process of gaining autonomy there is conflict with your family.
You may or may not have spiritual values. If you do, you most likely will lose your religion should you be fortunate enough to attend an institute of higher education.
You will become politicized. Per Paul Simon,"You will be Lou Adlered, Barry Sadlered, and Beatled till you're blind."
At some point you will become initiated into the mysterious realm of the great secret of sex. It will be pleasant or it will be unpleasant.
You will feel guilt or not. You will pursue the sexual union for its intense gratification or not.
You will fall into lust, once or more. If you're lucky, you'll find something that you identify as love. It will last or it won't. It may be marriage or not.
You may choose to have children or not. You will bear children or abort them. If you have children you will subject them to the same pressures you felt from your own family as an adolescent or not.
Your children will love you, hate you, or become indifferent to you.
If you are fortunate, you will never go to war. If you are not, oh, fortunate son, you will go to war because you are no Senator's son. You will kill or be killed. You will live or you will die. You have some degree of control over this depending on your skill at killing others or saving yourself through cowardice.
If you go to war and you live, you will come home a different person. It is unlikely you will ever be the same. If you are the same and you are unaffected you are amoral. You have a choice to be moral or amoral.
You may live to a ripe old age or you may die in the next moment through events completely out of your control.
The only universal truth is you will never get out of this life alive.
Through each phase of life there will be conflict. You will have good days. You will have bad days. Some days you will be the windshield. Other days,you will be the bug.
How many variations are there on what it is to live as a human being, no matter your culture, your parents,your community, your values?
I may have missed a few sub-issues here and there. But have I missed that much?
For those critics who accuse writers of rehashing the same themes, I ask how many different themes are there from the dawn of time. Their belief that an author has developed a formulaic work is a futile effort on their part to say they are different, that they are unique, that their lives be different from that described above. They are wrong. One day they will be dead wrong.
Ernest Hemingway may have said it best in A Farewell to Arms.
“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”
The question is does a book stand completely on its own, separate and apart from every other book. I think not. I think what James Baldwin said is true. “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
People read books. They are influenced by them. Writers write from their lives and the books they have read. Books breed books. In short, there are only so many variations on a theme.
So, not only is this a review of Roth's "Indignation, it's a review of reviewers and critics. I'll express a little of my own indignation over the ethics of critics and critiques, or rather the lack of simple ethics in tanking a work by a major writer while wearing a gleeful smile.
Michiko Kakutani is a primary example of the critic who will shred an author's work--the greater the author the more brutal the shredding.
In the words of George Bernard Shaw, which might be considered a bit mean spirited, too: "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches. You may find this in "Man and Superman: Maxims for Revolutionists," written in 1903. Not to say that literary criticism isn't writing, those who do not write literature, critique or criticize it.
I will be among the first to say Kakutani earned her chops as a literary critic for the New York Times. She got her B.A. in English Lit at Yale in 1976, mentored by author John Hersey. Subsequently she began her career as a reporter, first for the Washington Post and then for Time Magazine. She began reviewing books for the NYTimes in 1983. She won the Pulitzer Prize for literary criticism in 1998. None of these things are small accomplishments.
However, at Wikipedia, we find the following, all precisely documented and referenced:
"Salman Rushdie has called her 'a weird woman who seems to feel the need to alternately praise and spank.' In a June 2005 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, author Norman Mailer criticized Kakutani as a 'one-woman kamikaze' who 'disdains white male authors' and deliberately 'bring[s] out your review two weeks in advance of publication. She trashes it just to hurt sales and embarrass the author.' Mailer also said that New York Times editors were 'terrified' of Kakutani, and 'can't fire her' because she's 'a token,' 'an Asiatic, a feminist.' Jonathan Franzen called her 'the stupidest person in New York.'  Franzen has also called her an 'international embarrassment.'  Moreover, in recent years, Kakutani's particularly harsh reviews of books by famous authors (for example, John Updike's The Widows of Eastwick) are followed by usually milder or openly positive reviews of the same titles by other Times reviewers.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michiko_... See references cited therein.
What I find particularly refreshing here on goodreads is the recommended practice of posting a spoiler alert,to hide spoilers, thus allowing the reader of the review to determine whether or not they want the key plot points revealed or not. To me that's the way to write a review.
Here is the link to Ms. Kakutani's review of "Indignation." http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/17/boo...
I leave it to the reader of this review to determine whether they would like to have the punchline of "Indignation" destroyed by the very title of the review, and hammering the nail down on the coffin with a one sentence paragraph lead in to the remainder of the review. The line begins, "The narrator of Philip Roth’s new novel is a..."
Norman Mailer was never at a loss for words in response to an unfavorable review. He was no knight in shining armor. Some of his opinions regarding Ms. Kakutani are past demeaning. However, he stooped to her level and engaged in a tit for tat. The bottom line is Ms. Kakutani on more than one occasion spoiled a novel for the prospective reader by unveiling the turns and twists of an author's work. Yes, she was the divine wind in her treatment of "Indignation."
It is a simple question to ask at this point. Would you buy a mystery if the reviewer had already told you who done it? Well, if it were an author I regularly read, the answer is probably, yes. For many readers, though, the answer is "What's the point?"
While Ms. Kakutani may have her Pulitzer, is it ethical to torpedo a novel using a technique to discourage the work finding a readership. I say it is not.
In Disney's "Bambi," the little rabbit Thumper was constantly reminded by his mother, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." That is NOT my theory regarding literary criticism. But the only point to spilling all the beans by a reviewer is hitting below the belt. It is a nasty form of preemptive censorship committed for reasons lacking honesty or honor.
Reviewers and critics have joyfully taken pot shots at every author of any merit with relish. Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner, O'Connor. However, I am always amazed that critics of that sort may critique, but have not written a literary work. In the present case, the score is Roth:
1960 National Book Award for Goodbye, Columbus
1975 National Book Award - finalist for My Life As A Man
1978 National Book Critics Circle Award - finalist for The Professor Of Desire
1980 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction - finalist for The Ghost Writer
1980 National Book Award - finalist for The Ghost Writer
1980 National Book Critics Circle Award - finalist for The Ghost Writer
1984 National Book Award - finalist for The Anatomy Lesson
1984 National Book Critics Circle Award - finalist for The Anatomy Lesson
1986 National Book Critics Circle Award for The Counterlife
1986 National Book Award - finalist for The Counterlife
1991 National Book Critics Circle Award for Patrimony
1994 PEN/Faulkner Award for Operation Shylock
1994 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction - finalist for Operation Shylock
1995 National Book Award for Sabbath's Theater
1994 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction - finalist for Sabbath's Theater
1998 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for American Pastoral
1998 National Book Critics Circle Award - finalist for American Pastoral
1998 Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union for I Married a Communist
1998 National Medal of Arts
2000 Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (France) for American Pastoral
2001 Franz Kafka Prize
2001 PEN/Faulkner Award for The Human Stain
2001 Gold Medal In Fiction from The American Academy of Arts and Letters
2001 WH Smith Literary Award for The Human Stain
2002 National Book Foundation's Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters
2002 Prix Médicis Étranger (France) for The Human Stain
2003 Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Harvard University
2005 National Book Critics Circle Award - finalist for The Plot Against America
2005 Sidewise Award for Alternate History for The Plot Against America
2005 James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction for The Plot Against America
2006 PEN/Nabokov Award for lifetime achievement
2007 PEN/Faulkner Award for Everyman
2007 PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction
2010 Paris Review's Hadada Prize
2011 Man Booker International Prize
1998 Pulitzer Prize for Literary Criticism
Game. Set. Match.
When Roth was awarded the 2011 Man Booker International Prize, the following is noted in the Wikipedia entry- regarding the award:
"...Roth was awarded the Man Booker International Prize for achievement in fiction on the world stage, the fourth winner of the biennial prize. One of the judges, Carmen Callil, a publisher of the feminist Virago house, withdrew in protest, referring to Roth's work as 'Emperor's clothes.' She said 'he goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It's as though he's sitting on your face and you can't breathe... I don’t rate him as a writer at all ...' Observers quickly noted that Callil had a conflict of interest, having published a book by Claire Bloom which had criticized Roth. In response, one of the two other Booker judges, Rick Gekoski, remarked: 'In 1959 he writes Goodbye, Columbus and it's a masterpiece, magnificent. Fifty-one years later he's 78 years old and he writes Nemesis and it is so wonderful, such a terrific novel ... Tell me one other writer who 50 years apart writes masterpieces ... If you look at the trajectory of the average novel writer, there is a learning period, then a period of high achievement, then the talent runs out and in middle age they start slowly to decline. People say why aren't Martin [Amis] and Julian [Barnes] getting on the Booker prize shortlist, but that's what happens in middle age. Philip Roth, though, gets better and better in middle age. In the 1990s he was almost incapable of not writing a masterpiece – The Human Stain, The Plot Against America, I Married a Communist. He was 65-70 years old, what the hell's he doing writing that well?'"
Notes are private!
Jan 02, 2010
All the King's Men: Robert Penn Warren's Spider Web
"It all began, as I have said, when the Boss, sitting in the black Cadillac which sped through the...more All the King's Men: Robert Penn Warren's Spider Web
"It all began, as I have said, when the Boss, sitting in the black Cadillac which sped through the night, said to me (to Me who was what Jack Burden, the student of history, had grown up to be) "There is always something."
First Edition, Harcourt Brace & Jovanovich, 1946
If you're expecting a fictional recounting that serves as a short cut to T. Harry William's masterful biography of Huey Long this isn't it.
But Williams does have something to say that pointedly echoes the themes Warren wove into a masterpiece of American politics.
"I believe that some men, men of power, can influence the course of history. They appear in response to conditions, but they may alter the conditions, may give a new direction to history. In the process they may do great good or evil or both, but whatever the case they leave a different kind of world behind them.", p.ix, Preface, T. Harry Williams, Huey Long,Alfred A. Knopf, 1969.
That Willie Stark is a stand in for Huey Long, Robert Penn Warren frankly admits. I was fortunate to find the Thirty-Fifth Edition of the novel, published in 1981. It contained a new, and very informative introduction by Warren.
Warren did not originally envision this work as a novel, but as a tragic drama entitled "Proud Flesh." Warren ended up putting that manuscript away. He realized that he had focused on a man of power rather than those few people who are always surrounding that man of power, and in writing "All the King's Men," Warren focused on the "Greek" chorus to whom he had not given proper voice in his originally conceived work.
So, there we have the title, "All the King's Men," the chorus that relates the rise and fall of Willie Stark. For all great men have an inner circle, some of whom are as vague as phantoms, performing the will of the King and they will perform that will whether it be good or evil. But all the King's Men cannot put Humpty Dumpty together again.
Warren proposes the question of whether those minions are mere pawns or whether they recognize the consequences of their actions and accept responsibility for them, and if so can they find redemption for the evil they do, even when it is couched in terms of doing good. Willie Stark, the Boss, is a practical man. So, politics is a dirty business. He tells us,
"Dirt's a funny thing, come to think of it, there ain't a thing but dirt on this green God's globe except what's under water, and that's dirt too. It's dirt makes the grass grow. A diamond ain't a thing in the world but a piece of dirt that got awful hot. And God-a-Mighty picked up a handful of dirt and blew on it and made you and me and George Washington and mankind blessed in faculty and apprehension. It all depends on what you do with the dirt.">
Jack Burden is a one man Greek Chorus that tells us the story of Willie Stark. And it is Jack Burden who provides the moral center of the novel. In one long narrative voice, Jack, a child of privilege, intrigues us relating the present and the past, not only Willie's but his own. Willie's rise is rather straight forward. As Williams tells us in Long's biography, Willie appears on the Louisiana scene in response to conditions of the Great Depression, which seemingly provided the fuel for Populism common to that era.
Jack comes from a level of society that comprised the previous leaders of Louisiana, a class who would forever be opposed to a man of Willie Stark's origin and philosophy. He is the friend of Adam and Anne Stanton, the children of the governor preceding Stark. His mentor is Judge Irwin who advised and influenced Jack from his youth. His father, Ellis Burden, the "scholarly lawyer" is a good friend of the Judge. His mother is beautiful, poised, and confident.
So, why would Ellis Burden walk out of his law office one day to become a street evangelist? But Jack's mother has no problem keeping a stream of husbands in her bed. It's enough to make a fellow a little cynical. Rebellious, too. Rebellious enough to go to State University and study history.
Jack has a future. He's working on his doctorate, studying the papers of an ancestor named Cass Mastern. The papers of Mastern serve as a mirror of Jack's life. But Mastern, who betrayed a friend by having a love affair with his friend's wife, lives the rest of his life with the knowledge of that betrayal. It is Cass who writes in his journal,
The world is all of one piece. He learned that the world is like an enormous spider web and if you touch it, however lightly, at any point, the vibration ripples to the remotest perimeter and the drowsy spider feels the tingle and is drowsy no more but springs out to fling the gossamer coils about you who have touched the web and then inject the black, numbing poison under your hide. It does not matter whether or not you meant to brush the web of things. Your happy foot or your gay wing may have brushed it ever so lightly, but what happens always happens and there is the spider, bearded black and with his great faceted eyes glittering like mirrors in the sun, or like God’s eye, and the fangs dripping."
The long and the short of it is that our actions have consequences and we owe a responsibility for the consequences of our actions. This is a premise that Jack would rather reject.
Rather, Jack grasps on to the theory of the "Great Twitch," a world in which the actions of people are no more controllable than the muscles of a frog's leg twitching in response to an electrical impulse. However it is Cass Mastern who was correct. In rejecting his ancestor's journal, Jack becomes the cynical, wisecracking news reporter assigned to cover Willie Stark's first gubernatorial election. It is Jack Burden, along with savvy political advisor Sadie Burke who tell Stark he's been duped into running to split the vote of the opposing candidate to bring about the win by yet another politician.
It is that campaign that transforms not only Willie Stark into a Kingfish lookalike, but transforms Jack into Stark's most trusted fix it man. "Maybe not the Judge." Oh, yes, even the Judge. And so it is that a chain of consequences begins to be unveiled, each the result of a deliberate, undeniable action.
Even the death of Willie Stark is a consequence of one of the Boss's improvident decisions. As Warren wrote, "The end of man is knowledge but there's one thing he can't know. He can't know whether knowledge will save him or kill him. He will be killed, all right, but he can't know whether he is killed because of the knowledge which he has got or because of the knowledge which he hasn't got and which if he had it would save him."
Willie's death comes about, not from an assassin who believes him to be a dictator, but for a very personal reason. Nor will I even resort to a spoiler alert. I'm simply not going to tell you, because I want you to read this book.
And what of Jack? I will share the final sentence, and I remind you that Jack is the narrator.
"Go out of the house and go into the convulsion of the world, out of history into history and the awful responsibility of Time." Perhaps Jack Burden has come to terms with his ancestor, Cass Mastern.
To say this is a masterpiece about American politics is true. But it goes much further than that. It is a reminder that the past is the father of the future. They are inevitably inseparable.
THIS IS A MUST READ. I'd give it a 10 if it were allowed.
Notes are private!
Jul 22, 2012
Jul 30, 2012
Jan 01, 2010
Apr 02, 2002
Light in August, William Faulkner's Portraits of Loneliness and Isolation
Light in August, First Edition, Smith & Haas, New York, New York, 1032
"M...more Light in August, William Faulkner's Portraits of Loneliness and Isolation
Light in August, First Edition, Smith & Haas, New York, New York, 1032
"Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders." William Faulkner, "Light in August," Chapter Six, Paragraph One.
It takes guts to write a review of one of the great American novels by one of the great American writers. I could call it chutzpah. But I'm not Jewish. Just call it Irish-American blarney with a bit of a Cracker twist and a streak of red over my shirt collar. After all, I'm from Alabama.
The truth of the matter is there's been worse hacks than me that tried to take a hatchet to William Faulkner. It's hard to believe any man could be that damned good. Some men, critics for the most part, just can't live with how good he is. So they say he isn't.
But I'm in Oxford, Mississippi this morning. What Oxford hasn't torn down and replaced with high rise apartments and condominiums still leaves traces of William Faulkner that are there for anyone to see if they take the time to look for it.
Last night I met a lovely young woman and her mother over at Square Books. They were down from Joplin, Missouri, for the daughter to take the tour of Ole Miss. She's already been accepted at the University of Alabama, but she thought she should take the Ole Miss tour.
Where you meet the most interesting people in Oxford
We met in the Faulkner section. They were there first. Both were lovely. The daughter was seventeen. Her mother was graced with a timeless beauty that must give her daughter a good deal of satisfaction at what she has to look forward to when she takes a hard look in the mirror in forty years or so.
"Oh," the mother said, "We're in the way."
"No Ma'am. You're not. I never step between a young woman and William Faulkner. It's always nice to see."
"Mom, I don't know which one to get."
"Sweetheart, get all you want. Wherever you go to school, you'll want them."
"But if I get them all, then I'll want to read them all. I'll read them too fast and I won't get what I need to get out of them."
The temptation was too great.
"Miss, just how much Faulkner have you read?"
"I've only read 'The Sound and the Fury.' I don't know where to go next."
I have to admit it. I kind of let out a sigh, and sat down in one of those big easy chairs, conveniently placed by all the works of Faulkner and the many references published by various scholars through the Ole Miss Press.
"Have you ever felt like you didn't belong somewhere? Didn't fit in?"
She had already told me she was seventeen going on eighteen. I figured it was a safe bet she remembered being fifteen pretty well. Fifteen year olds get not belonging anywhere.
I saw her mother smile.
"Well, sure. Hasn't everybody?"
"Oh, yeah. Everybody. That copy of 'Light in August' you're holding there. It's all about that. Nobody in that book belongs where they ought to be."
So over the next few minutes I told her about Lena, walking all the way to Jefferson from Doane's Mill, Alabama looking for the man that made her pregnant. I told her about Joe Christmas, left on the step of an orphanage on Christmas morning, beaten by his foster parent because he couldn't learn his catechism. I told her about Joanna Burden being a Yankee from an abolitionist family who was never welcome in Yoknapatawpha County. And I told her about Preacher Gail Hightower whose wife left him and then committed suicide and how his own congregation wished he wasn't the man in the pulpit.
I asked if she knew what light in august meant. She shook her head no. I told her how livestock dropped their young in August. And I asked her if she'd ever seen those few days of peculiar light on an August day when the shadows were at their deepest and just before dark, before the shadows turned to black how everything flashed gold for just a few seconds, so fast, if you weren't looking for it you would miss it. She hadn't noticed. I told her when she lived some more years she would see it.
There was a tear in her mother's eye. I wondered if she still hadn't seen it.
"Tell me about the man. Tell me about William Faulkner."
And I did. I told her about how he wanted to go to war. How he lied about being shot down. How he wore his Canadian RAF Uniform around Oxford. I told her about Estelle, how he loved her, how he lost her, how he got her back and then wished he hadn't.
William and Estelle Oldham Faulkner, who called the quality of the light in August to her husband's attention
I told her to read, read everything--that Faulkner said that. I told her how he checked mysteries out out of Mac Reed's Drug Store and people started stealing his check out cards because they figured his autograph would be worth something one day.
We ended up laughing and talking a good while.
"Say. If I went to Ole Miss, would you be one of my professors?"
I don't know what it is that makes people think that. Maybe it's the old cardigan sweater with the leather buttons. Maybe it's the white beard. I don't know. It happens a lot, though.
"No, I'm not a professor. I grew up and became Gavin Stevens. I'm a lawyer."
They both laughed. We exchanged pleasantries, information. I told her mother that if her daughter ended up in Tuscaloosa, she could always call me. The daughter left with "Light in August," and "Absalom, Absalom."
The young man working the coffee bar brought me over a cup of coffee in a Flannery O'Connor mug. "It's on the house. You sold that Faulkner."
"No. I sold HER on Faulkner. There's a difference."
"Sir, you know something? You should have been a professor."
Yeah. Maybe so. But everybody's gotta be somewhere, whether they fit in there, or not. Well, it's 8:30. Store opens at nine. They want me in the Faulkner section today if I can stop by. I could use another cup of coffee.
Dedicated to the memory of Miss Maxine Lustig, my guide to Yoknapatawpha County and many other wondrous worlds.(less)
Notes are private!
Dec 09, 2009
13 of 13 loadedMore books shelved as 'sex' »