Bordering on hypnotic, this was an extremely relaxing book to read. It has basically no plot, very few characters (and essentially none with distinguiBordering on hypnotic, this was an extremely relaxing book to read. It has basically no plot, very few characters (and essentially none with distinguishing characteristics), and very little dialogue. But somehow the thematic pull of the ineffability and mysteriousness of Australia's plains is enough to peacefully satisfy the reader. It reminded me a bit of Sebald in its ability to draw you in with the smoothness of its language. Murnane's writing is clear and mesmerizing, and is likely to cause daydreams.
One of my favorite passages:
The road to the estate was an offshoot from a deserted side-road whose signposts were sometimes vague and contradictory. And when I stopped at the front gate (I made sure of this) there was no house or shed or haystack to be seen in all the miles of land around. The place where I stood was at the bottom of a gentle hollow measuring perhaps a few miles from rim to rim. And within the circle of those horizons I was the only human soul. My patron's home, of course, was somewhere on the other side of the gate but certainly not within view. The driveway that led to it did not even point the way. It went behind a plantation of cypresses on the shoulder of a slight hill and did not reappear. As I drove in from the road I told myself I was disappearing into some invisible private world whose entrance was a the loneliest point on the plains.
This is a very strange book, even for an existential detective novel. The plot follows "the investigator"--the choice to make it close third instead oThis is a very strange book, even for an existential detective novel. The plot follows "the investigator"--the choice to make it close third instead of first definitely opens up a strange distance between the reader and the text--as he searches for a missing man, Carlos, in an unspecified South American city. It's established early on that the investigator's search is a pattern of dead end/circular sequences. Some of these don't pay off (the streets duplicating themselves; the crowd on the street forming around a center we never see) but many do. There's one set piece about one-third through that sort of tears down time: the investigator sees an office photograph that triggers his memory of discovering a gruesome murder in an apartment, which makes him think that this murderer must somehow be able to help him find Carlos, which leads him to trying to track the murderer down to ask him some questions, except the murderer cannot be found in any prison, since he had no identification on him at the time of his arrest, and so was categorized as "Juan Pérez" (the Spanish-speaking world's equivalent of "John Doe") in the prison system, and now multiple prisoners are claiming to be Juan Pérez. Though the book probably could've been shorter, MacInnes gets particular credit for keeping the whole artifice from toppling over, which is due in part to his outstanding writing, which is paradoxically memorable yet weirdly ephemeral--it somehow reflects the fluctuations of space, identity, and time ("When had he been sick in his apartment? One day ago? Two? A week? He had lost track."). In other words, you could probably read this novel either very quickly or very slowly and the effect would be the same.
Here's one of my favorite passages:
"I grew up in a small fishing community in the south, Inspector. People used to wait on the beach the morning after a boat was lost. It wasn't uncommon. But they weren't just waiting for the boat: they were waiting for their loved ones to be remade. Children would gather slop from the edge of the shore, keep it in a pail, inspect it every morning to see what had grown. Weird thing is, it's more than just madness and consolation, isn't it? Because the information that expressed those lost came originally from the sea, where it was now deposited. It is still there. That is a fact. And I am amazed, still, every day. I am amazed and I just don't know what to do."
Jaeggy applies her trademark direct yet elusive prose to very brief nonfictional biographies of three writers: Thomas De Quincey, John Keats, and MarcJaeggy applies her trademark direct yet elusive prose to very brief nonfictional biographies of three writers: Thomas De Quincey, John Keats, and Marcel Schwob.
About De Quincey: "Thomas De Quincey became a visionary in 1791 when he was six years old. His older brother William was looking for a way to walk on the ceiling upside down like a fly. Richard, who they called Pink, signed on to a whaling ship and had been captured by pirates. The other siblings were depressives. Thomas leafed listlessly through the pages of Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp. Every morning Mrs. De Quincey inspected the children, perfuming them with lavender or rose water."
About Keats: "From when Keats said that he was about to die, seven hours passed. His breath stopped. Fanny's last letters, never read by anyone, were sealed in his coffin. After the funeral service, the police took possession of the apartment on Piazza Spagna. They stripped the walls and floor and burned all of the furniture."
About Schwob: "His head was stuffed with names, words, and legends. By the time he was three he spoke French, German, and English. The house on Rue de l'Eglise in Chaville was a silent house. His mother climbed the stairs on tiptoe. Even when the Prussians stole wine from the cellar they took great care around the delicate child--he was too precocious, too intelligent, and he suffered from a brain fever."...more
I am twenty-five. I have done what was, according to my sister, important. But when I was eight I was a poet
"My body does not dream. It is not there.
I am twenty-five. I have done what was, according to my sister, important. But when I was eight I was a poet and a writer. And no one had told me that it was important to write. Since then I have only done things that were important, according to my sister--studying, graduating, succeeding in life. In the street I look at people passing by, while I should be going to talk to someone about a job. I tell myself that every one of them perhaps is succeeding in life...
I only follow shadows, I am still young, I have sleeping pills in my pocket, so I am all set, I lack nothing, except whatever is lacking in terms of doing something important. That little bit of rope to be joined to another rope so as to do something really important in life, enough to succeed in life. So says my sister XX. Who went around saying that I killed myself. That's what I can't forgive her for. I graduated, went to my mother's last rites, unwillingly, against my wishes, without the least desire to succeed. Without the least desire. Even to suffer. Without grief. On the contrary, with an idle joy I am tempted to call happiness."
This true story--about a massive Amur tiger in the Siberian taiga that picks off his victims with terrifying calculation--is incredible and fascinatinThis true story--about a massive Amur tiger in the Siberian taiga that picks off his victims with terrifying calculation--is incredible and fascinating. But The Tiger--and this is not exactly a criticism--is one of the most bizarrely structured books I've ever read. At one climactic moment a chapter ends for no discernible reason. Huge digressions into Russian history, geography, psychology, and even ethology (behavioral ecology) stall the momentum. When you're treated to dozens of pages of B-stories and supporting information, it can make it difficult to return to the main story of the man-eating tiger and keep track of the particulars. It's a slow read and often feels like it's trying to shoehorn in as much information as possible, but the asides are almost all uniformly interesting and this book is definitely worth reading....more
Revolutionary Road and The Easter Parade are two of the best novels I've ever read, and A Good School can't match those two, primarily because of theRevolutionary Road and The Easter Parade are two of the best novels I've ever read, and A Good School can't match those two, primarily because of the decision to make this an ensemble cast of ten or so characters (you get close third on one character for a few pages, then the narrative jumps to the next), rather than focusing on one or two primary characters, as Yates does in Revolutionary Road and The Easter Parade. The result is what comes across as a lighter work, with less memorable characters, and I wonder if the book would've been stronger if it just focused on William Grove, the awkward, unpopular boy who is the victim of a pretty horrendous sexual prank at the book's outset only to become the editor of the school's newspaper. I'd recommend Tobias Wolff's Old School over this if you're looking for a novel set at a boys boarding school. Nevertheless, because this is Richard Yates, the writing is strong throughout, and there are some startlingly excellent passages, capped off by a Yates trademark: the heartbreaking ending....more
This collection (in addition to the masterpiece "Brokeback Mountain" and the 266-word knockout "55 Miles to the Gas Pump," not to mention a number ofThis collection (in addition to the masterpiece "Brokeback Mountain" and the 266-word knockout "55 Miles to the Gas Pump," not to mention a number of other great stories) includes "The Mud Below," one of the best short stories I've ever read. Covering the life of rodeo rider Diamond Felts from childhood to adulthood, it features wonderful characterization and charts Diamond's euphoria atop the bulls ("He had chosen this rough, bruising life with its confused philosophies of striving to win and apologizing for it when he did, but when he got on there was the dark lightning in his gut, a feeling of blazing real existence.") as well as his deep disappointments and despair ("The ranch hand bent over a calf, slitting the scrotal sac. The course of life's events seemed slower than the knife but not less thorough."), giving it the feel of a novella. Here's one of my favorite passages:
After the breakup with Myron Sasser he bought at third-hand truck, an old Texas hoopy not much better than Leecil's wreck, traveled alone for a few months, needing the solitary distances, blowing past mesas and red buttes piled like meat, humped and horned, and on the highway chunks of mule deer, hair the buckskin color of winter grass, flesh like rough breaks in red country, playas of dried blood. He almost always had a girl in the motel bed with him when he could afford a motel, a half-hour painkiller but without the rush and thrill he got from a bullride. There was no sweet time when it was over. He wanted them to get gone. The in-and-out girls wasped it around that he was quick on the trigger, an arrogant little prick and the hell with his star-spangled bandanna. "Hit the delete button on you, buddy," flipping the whorish blond hair. What they said didn't matter because there was an endless supply of them and because he knew he was getting down the page and into the fine print of this way of living. There was nobody in his life to slow him down with love. Sometimes riding the bull was the least part of it, but only the turbulent ride gave him the indescribable rush, shot him mainline with crazy-ass elation. In the arena everything was real because none of it was real except the chance to get dead. The charged bolt came, he thought, because he wasn't. All around him wild things were falling to the earth.
Complete with amazing photographs, this is an exceptional investigation of the johatsu, the group of one hundred thousand Japanese who vanish withoutComplete with amazing photographs, this is an exceptional investigation of the johatsu, the group of one hundred thousand Japanese who vanish without a trace every year. Though many disappear because of shame, debt, and the societal pressure for success (one student disappears when he faced with taking his exams), the book includes a wide range of voices, stories, and reasons, including
-the companies that help those who wish to vanish to move in the middle of the night -Sanya and Kamagasaki, neighborhoods in Tokyo and Osaka, respectively, that have been wiped off maps but are inhabited by people hoping to disappear, including day-laborers living in tiny rooms -otakus, from the Japanese word meaning "home," referring to people who waste away and lose themselves in monomaniacal passions like doll and fanzine collecting or video games -A detective agency that helps people find their missing family members -A woman who left her husband and son to work at a hostess club in Tokyo -Toyota City, a town revolving around the Toyota factory, and how its grueling physical demands wear down its workers psychologically -Tojinbo cliffs, a popular suicide site, and the man who devotes his life to dissuading those considering suicide there -Yakuza and organized crime -Those who have found freedom and a sense of starting over from vanishing...more
This is in the same galaxy as Beckett's The Unnameable and, more recently, Claire-Louise Bennett's Pond, in which the reader encounters a consciousnesThis is in the same galaxy as Beckett's The Unnameable and, more recently, Claire-Louise Bennett's Pond, in which the reader encounters a consciousness and floats around with it wherever it chooses to go. Lispector is a great writer and the book is very short, so the book never becomes a chore. And Stefan Tobler deserves a prize for translating this mind-bending non-narrative into English....more
There were a number of times I had to put the book down because the writing is so painful and beautiful. The ending is unforgettable. Welch is particuThere were a number of times I had to put the book down because the writing is so painful and beautiful. The ending is unforgettable. Welch is particularly skilled at creating a pervasive sense of loneliness and solitude, only to drop in these wonderful passing moments where the characters meet and interact.
In one of the best scenes, the narrator is hitching a ride from town back home with a white family, who are just passing through Montana. The narrator has just been beaten up in a bar fight (his nose is noticeably damaged), and had sex with a woman in a hotel he'll never see again. He's in the backseat with the daughter of the family, with the parents in front.
The sudden slowing of the car jarred me awake. We pulled off the highway onto a dirt road and stopped. Before the man could shut the motor off, the girl was out and running. She disappeared behind a stand of chokecherry bushes. "It's the water," the man said. "She's quite delicate." "This is White Bear," I said. "My house is five miles down the highway." "She has pills but she neglects them," said the wife. "She's never been healthy." "Good health is of prime importance," I said. "Maybe I could walk from here." "Nonsense. In this heat? Don't be absurd." The water in the reservoir was low, three feet below the lip of the dam. Cattails on either side were turning ragged. "Are there any fish in there?" asked the man. "Turtles," I said. "Do you Indians eat them?" The girl came out from behind the chokecherry bushes. If she were any paler from vomiting you couldn't tell. She seemed to be shivering and her hands were thrust into the pockets of her shorts. She smiled shyly as she got into the car. She was very pretty. A piece of red hung from the point of her chin. I smiled back at her and a sudden pain shot up through my swollen nose. "How do you feel, honey?" asked the wife, but before I could answer, the girl said fine, and the waters of White Bear whispered to the sun. The man let me off opposite the road into the ranch, saying to be sure and look them up if I ever got to Michigan, saying he really meant it, he was a professor. The daughter handed me a peach wrapped in crinkly purple paper. I thanked her, and him, and the wife, and waved, and walked down the incline. "Can I take your picture?" "Yes," I said, and stood beside a gatepost. He pointed a small gadget at me; then he turned a couple of knobs on the camera, held it to his face and clicked....more