Another very beautiful book from Alice Munro. I'm struck by how full of uncertainty these stories are—motives are often unknowable; the narrator herse...moreAnother very beautiful book from Alice Munro. I'm struck by how full of uncertainty these stories are—motives are often unknowable; the narrator herself admits she isn't in possession of all the facts. There are blurry edges around the stories that make them feel more real—more lifelike. I liked "Train" and "Leaving Maverly" a lot. The real gems of the collection, though, are the four autobiographical vignettes at the end. The most lifelike of all the stories, these reflect consciously on the border between life and fiction. "Night" is my favorite, but the title story is a close second: "Roly Grain, his name was, and he does not have any further part in what I'm writing now, in spite of his troll's name, because this is not a story, only life."(less)
This book has haunted me since I first read it some fifteen years ago. A friend lent it to me then, and I returned it only reluctantly. I was excited...moreThis book has haunted me since I first read it some fifteen years ago. A friend lent it to me then, and I returned it only reluctantly. I was excited to find a copy recently in a box of books that a colleague was giving away as he retired. It turns out, this is the same copy I first read, lent to my colleague by the same friend. So I read it again and, with renewed reluctance, will return it later this week.
What you'll find here: a narrative poetry full of personal stories and adopted personae; accomplished work in four- and five-foot blank verse; as much sin as sainthood—passion, turpitude, violence, beauty, history, a smattering of Southern gothic, a refusal of sentimentality. (less)
I have long been haunted by a remark that one of my writing professors once made about my poems: “These are good, but it is not enough to be good; you...moreI have long been haunted by a remark that one of my writing professors once made about my poems: “These are good, but it is not enough to be good; you have to be a little crazy.” He was speaking metaphorically, but John Olive’s play makes the metaphor literal. The protagonist, Catherine, is a schizophrenic poet who must choose between the peaceful, relatively “normal” life that daily doses of Thorazine offer her, and her art: the poems that come to her only at the edge of madness. The link between creative genius and mental illness is not a new theme. What I like about Standing on my Knees, though, is its willingness to explore the way this theme intersects with our cultural expectations of artists. Catherine’s closest friend is her publisher, Alice, a woman so weary with the sameness of her life and of the submissions in her slush pile that she is jealous that Catherine “get[s] to go lock horns with evil psychiatrists [and] commune with the supernatural.” Catherine’s new boyfriend, Robert, is a stockbroker who is at least as much in love with her bohemian apartment and edgy taste in music as he is with her. Both may care about her in some ways and may want to keep her safe, but both are also using her to live out their own romantic fantasies—to indulge their own appetite for danger while still holding fast to the stable life that they need Catherine not to have. This is not to say that Catherine isn’t making her own choices, isn’t tragically addicted to the rush of power that comes from creating art. But the supporting characters in her life are adding to that rush—and so worsening the vacuum that comes in the rush’s wake. A friend of mine commented recently on how unaware most of us are of the terrible psychic burden that “our” artists bear on our behalf. This play sheds light on that burden—an appalling, naked light.(less)
I loved Don Paterson's earlier collection, Landing Light, when I first heard him read in 2005. So I was eager to dive into this latest volume of poems...moreI loved Don Paterson's earlier collection, Landing Light, when I first heard him read in 2005. So I was eager to dive into this latest volume of poems in forms that range from sonnet to haiku, poems in Scots dialect, and poems adapted from Spanish, French and Chinese (among others). Here, again, are the pliable rhythms and the searing intellect I've learned to expect from Paterson, this time in a darker key. This volume is loaded with elegy and metaphysical anxiety in the tradition of Larkin's "Aubade." It's sad and sobering and steady. And really quite beautiful. I especially like some of the longer poems, but here's a short translation I'm fond of:
On this wine-bowl beaten from the purest silver, made for Herakleides' white-walled home where everything declares his perfect taste — I've placed a flowering olive and a river, and at its heart, a beautiful young man who will let water cool his naked foot forever. O memory: I prayed to you that I might make his face just as it was. What a labour that turned out to be. He fell in Lydia fifteen years ago.
Of the three historical figures whose lives Anderson traces to their intersection at a football game between Army and the Carlisle Indian School in 19...moreOf the three historical figures whose lives Anderson traces to their intersection at a football game between Army and the Carlisle Indian School in 1912, I find myself most interested in the life of Carlisle's coach, "Pop" Warner. Although I suspect a bit of myth-making in the attribution of nearly every football innovation of the first few decades of the 20th century to this one man, I find that Warner's wily tactics translate to the page more effectively than Jim Thorpe's athletic grace or Dwight Eisenhower's Midwestern grit. Besides a host of outrageous trick plays and useful new formations, Warner is said to have pioneered the manipulation of the news media in order to publicize his program. Part of Warner's strategy, it seems, was to spread false reports about player injuries and fatigue in order to give his opponents a false confidence and to convince the public that his powerhouse team was really the underdog in the coming match-up. Obviously, the trick only worked for so long before audiences caught on.
In a similar way, however, we readers catch on to the author's trick of hyping up every one of the forty or more athletic contests that he describes in the three hundred pages of small type that lead up to "the clash of heroes." It doesn't take long for one game to blend into another, one brilliant Thorpe run into the next. One more win for Carlisle. One more act of determination from Eisenhower. One more not-very-insightfully-considered vignette about American racism. It's not that there isn't a lot of interesting material here: questions about cultural assimilation; questions about violence and the value of sport; questions about public image, fame, and the creation of popular icons. All of these are central issues of American identity, and the book knows they're there. It just doesn't seem to know how to probe at those questions in meaningful ways. And, without such probing, there's really only enough here for a long magazine feature.(less)