So begins Macedonio Fernandez’s fantastic story Tantalia. Zambra makes refe
Even better after the second reading.
The world is of tantalic inspiration.
So begins Macedonio Fernandez’s fantastic story Tantalia. Zambra makes reference to it. I encourage readers to get a copy and read it—bizarre and an incredible complement to this novella (complement in its older sense of something which completes). The He and She of Tantalia could easily be Julio and Emilia of this story. Gazmuri, an author/character in this novella, could easily be Fernandez, if one is inclined. The stories fit together like complimentary angles. Fernandez’s story informs this one. Zambra’s story attaches as if integral. Where MF baffles, AZ seems to illuminate, entertain, bedazzle, and bedazzle with a healthy dose of humor which wasn’t as apparent (if at all)on the first read). Get them both. Read them both. 4 pages from MF, 83 from AZ—quickly accomplished and so well worth the time. I’m tempted to revise my rating, but I’m retaining it as my initial feeling. Do yourself a favor, read them both.
Tantalia may be found in The Book of Fantasy which the translator of Zambra’s novella translates literally as Anthology of Fantastic Literature—don’t waste time hunting around for that title.
Isn’t it just the way—your GR friends start reading whoppers, so what do you do, you start chewing through some of the slimmest novellas you own. Well, that might not be what you do, but it seems to be what I’m doing. Going against the grain. So here I am. My Read list well ahead of where I need to be for meeting my year’s goal. Building a cushion against the time I start my own next whopper. And even that, I screw up (I recently got an email about a new group, which I was checking out on my phone [man, I hate having a phone smarter than I am] so I clicked Join—looking forward to reading Infinite Jest with the folks I expected to join or had already joined, only to then realize I’d joined a group to read Gravity’s Rainbow—Gravity’s Freakin’ Rainbow! It’s cool; I need to get it moved from TBR to Read—all’s good). But, and here’s the thing I like, the randomness of what’s next for me—that is, the randomness of what I read and when I read it. So, a long-winded approach to a review of Bonsai.
I recently read and loved The Private Lives of Trees because the author’s Bonsai was constantly being recommended by this site and amazon—all well and good that, except that Bonsai was Out of Print or Out of Stock or something, and the only copies available were used and $30 a throw. Ya gotta love suggestions like that. So, now I was determined: Get Bonsai and read it. Lo! Behold! It’s being reissued in a movie tie-in, less expensive edition—all’s right with the world! I started it almost immediately upon its arrival and have now read it twice. Bonsai begins with what appears as the beginning of a framed story—it leaves no doubt where the story will go, only how it will get there. Then the line:
In the story of Emilia and Julio, in any case, there are more omissions than lies, and fewer omissions than truths of the kind that are called absolute and that tend to be uncomfortable.
Followed on the next page with the passage:
The relationship between Emilia and Julio was riddled with truths, with intimate revelations that rapidly established a complicity that they wanted to understand as definitive. This, then, is a light story that turns heavy. This is the story of two students who are enthusiasts of truth, of scattering sentences that seem true, of smoking eternal cigarettes, and of closing themselves into the intense complacency of those who think they are better, purer than others, than that immense and contemptible group known as the others.
Ultimately, the novella is about fiction, lies, reading, truth, characters who do and don’t matter, overlapping stories that may or may not be mentioned in one text or another, Literature, and love’s beginnings and endings. All shoved into the briefest of 83 pages. I liked this one. A lot. It gets 4 rather than 5 stars because I preferred The Private Lives of Trees. Totally arbitrary. Absurdist, like the novel. Worth spending the better part of a psychiatrist’s hour with....more
After recommending Target to a group of which I’m a member, I decided I should reread the novel to make sure it was what I remembered and that it hasAfter recommending Target to a group of which I’m a member, I decided I should reread the novel to make sure it was what I remembered and that it has held up over the six years or so since I read it originally. Target has held up very well and is particularly relevant at a time when there’s so much concern over the issues of bullying (more on that to follow). In some other ways, it is not the novel I remembered—my memory had revised the text, giving more prominence to its aspects I’d found most moving. I don’t like spoiler reviews, so I’ll try to keep anything of that sort out of what follows.
One of the great things about YA lit is it’s seemingly more timely than adult fiction. Without relevance, the YA audience can be lost very quickly. In the case of Target, the issue of bullying is taken to its extreme. It seems clear to me that sexual abuse exists on a continuum—with the snide and snarky remarks at one end and actual physical abuse of the sort the protagonist suffers at the other. The reactions and comments of the responding police officer, the hospital staff, the newspaper report, and Grady’s (the 16-year-old protagonist and rape victim) classmates occupy varying places on that continuum. Even his well-intentioned parents are negligent to the degree they allowed him to suffer without assistance of friends or professionals.
Crucial to a consideration of this novel is the role of Grady’s friends. It’s one of the things I’d ‘misremembered’ (to use the word of some contemporary politicians). An exchange between one of his friends from Before with his father long after the attack was particularly poignant, and I wish it had been longer—as it is, the friend’s frustration and grief is powerful.
Something Johnson does very well in Target is slip in and out of the consciousness of Grady, moving from straight forward narration to Grady’s own thoughts. Following the boy’s rape:
That Monday, obviously in no shape to go back to school, he stayed home. His mother offered to stay with him, but he mumbled No, and she looked relieved. He wanted to forget about his parents, forget about himself, forget about what had happened. He wanted to not move.
As soon as they left, he went into the bathroom. Taking hold of his mother’s tiny manicure scissors, he carefully, bit by bit, hacked off his hair till he was almost bald.
Then he went back to bed to finish not moving.
. More subtly, using what James Wood (and others—thank you, Mr. Wood, for bringing the technique to my attention and providing the name for it) has written so well about, free-indirect style or free indirect discourse, Johnson’s narrator says:
He reached into his pocket, pulled out the pen and pencil stuck there, fingered them. Better. He ran his thumb over the smooth wood of the pencil. They shiny yellow paint that coated it felt thick and comforting. He remembered the fat pencils he’d learned to write with in grade school, their cheerful sturdiness.
An attentive reader might stumble over the word ‘cheerful’ wondering whose word it is—who it belongs to. Unless the reader thinks Johnson is a clumsy, inept author, the only person that word can belong to is Grady himself, his own word for a time prior to his attack. Like everything in his life, things are either of Before or of After. The word works; it does double-duty. More importantly, perhaps, I like it, it involves me, it engages. But, enough about that.
Johnson doesn’t provide readers with a tidy ending; indeed, the ending might seem rather abrupt. And that’s, probably, as it should be. Victim reaction to violence of the kind Grady suffers is too varied, too individual, to resolve with a ‘happy ending’ or the all-too-common gloomy ending found in much YA fiction. Instead, it ends on a note that everyone can share—a note of hope. It's a shame this title is Out of Print; even a casual reading of Target could go a long way toward informing some of the more inane comments made in the great bullying debate that we've seen too much of recently.
Once upon a time (around 1986 or 1987?), I had an opportunity to meet Samuel R. Delany at an ALA or ABA [now BookExpo]. Taking advantage of my positio
Once upon a time (around 1986 or 1987?), I had an opportunity to meet Samuel R. Delany at an ALA or ABA [now BookExpo]. Taking advantage of my position as a buyer for a large book distributor, I monopolized some of his time in the Bantam booth while he waited to do a signing—something that is surely tedious for many authors, some of whom will seek diversion with anyone willing to talk with him or her. In our brief discussion, I remember him most for being surprised at his students’ reluctance to spend $80.00 for a two-volume edition of some work by Lacan. Not wanting to appear unknowledgeable (who the hell was this Lacan fellow?), I merely shook my head to acknowledge his frustration at the short-sightedness of some students who didn’t recognize the value of such a purchase (how quickly we forget the outrageous prices of some collegiate texts). Why does that matter? It doesn’t. What does matter, at least to me, is that Lacan has come to be one of the many languages I don’t speak but will occasionally recognize when I hear it. Delany speaks Lacan. Not just Lacan, he also is fluent in Marx, and Freud, and Jameson, and all the other languages that make his texts so dense, and wondrous, and intimidating. He’s also fluent in pornography, which admittedly, had something to do with my initial interest.
By the time I’d read SiMPLGoS (1985), Dhalgren was already atop my Favorite List; other Delanys had been dutifully accomplished or would be—the Neveryón series, The Tides of Lust, Hogg: A Novel and The Mad Man, et al. And so after my Delany period, I reapproached him with reluctance—my taste in reading has changed, and I wondered if his initial appeal would endure (I’ve restarted Dhalgren numerous times only to decide: Not yet).
When one of my groups decided to read this one, I thought I was ready. It begins with the story of Rat (the narrator’s big-O other or little-o other; I’m not fluent in Lacan, but dammit, it’s one of them) before moving on to the narrator’s seemingly endless account of his world, other worlds, terrains, suns and moons, planets and space travel. To be honest, I thought the middle section would go on forever—it was slow, I was slow, and then…finally, the narrator encounters Rat (now Rat Korga). The pace quickens towards an inevitable end. Inevitable but necessary. Necessary and sad. Themes of loss, memory, desire (that damn Lacan!), overwhelm the Real. The sublime yields to desire. Desire falls victim to Authority to loss and memory.
Someone once pointed out to me that there are two kinds of memory (I don’t mean short- and long-term, either): recognition memory and reconstruction memory. The second is what artiststs train and most of us live off the first—though even if we’re not artists we have enough of the second to get us through the normal run of imaginings. Well, your perfect erotic object remains only in recognition memory, and his absolute absence from reconstructive memory becomes the yearning that is, finally, desire.
I’m glad I reread this one, although I retain the five-star rating primarily because of the way the novel impressed me the first time I read it. Something that does strike me about it—especially when compared to other Delanys—there’s actually very little sex in this one, precious little should that be what you’re looking for.
I decided to re-read this one in anticipation of Bolaño’s Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles and Speeches, 1998-2003 due later this month. I thought: it’s short, quickly accomplished, and that it will allow me a ‘jump’ in the Reading Challenge, freeing up some time for something longer (more Marías?) or something meatier (the upcoming Bolaño).
I happily proceeded, getting a kick out of his occasional contrariness and admiring his familiarity with and advocacy for various other Central and South American authors ( Horacio Castellanos Moya says of Bolaño: In his literary beginnings, in Mexico City, he led the foundation of the Infrarrealistas (the ones he calls Visceral Realists in his novel [[book:The Savage Detectives|63033]]), and in the last years of his splendid career, he still didn’t lose that sense of literary “tribe,” only then it was at a Latin American level. And since he was a generous man he would mention all those who wrote works with which he identified, and since he was a voracious and intense reader he was up to date with the latest writing published in Latin America, and since he was brave and had no hairs on his tongue he became the reference of the new generation of Latin American writers. I committed myself to read those works that Bolaño would mention as the best that were being produced in Latin America)—authors whom I’m enjoying now.
And then I came to a discussion of three types of literary silence as evidenced by Juan Rulfo, Arthur Rimbaud, and Georg Büchner. In a 2005 interview, Bolaño says:
Rulfo stopped writing because he had already written everything he wanted to write and because he sees himself incapable of writing anything better, he simply stops. Rimbaud would probably have been able to write something much better, which is to say bringing his words up even higher, but his is a silence that raises questions for Westerners. Rulfo’s silence doesn’t raise questions. It’s a close silence, quotidian. After desert, what the hell are you going to eat? There is a third literary silence—one doesn’t seek it—of the shade which one is sure was there under the threshold and which has never been made tangible. There stands the silence of Georg Büchner for example. He died at twenty-five or twenty-four years of age, he leaves behind three or four stage plays, masterworks … All before he turned twenty-five. What might have happened had Büchner not died; what kind of writer might he have been? The kind of silence that isn’t sought out is the silence of … I do not dare call it destiny… a manifestation of impotence. The silence of death is the worst kind of silence, because Rulfian silence is accepted and Rimbaudian silence is sought, but the silence of death is the one that cuts the edge off what could have been and never will be, that which we will never know … We’ll never know what he might have written at thirty. And that extends across the planet like a stain, an atrocious illness that in one way or another puts our habits in check, our most ingrained certainties.
One might here wonder: what might 2666 have been had the author lived? What might have come next for Bolaño?
The Introduction (Alone among the Ghosts by Marcela Valdes) is well worth the price of admission, the uncompiled bibliography (gleaned from the sidenotes) is compelling, and any time with RB is time well-spent.