This is a book I've read, re-read, and re-re-read. I go back to it frequently, whenever I've finished one of the titles from its bibliography, or justThis is a book I've read, re-read, and re-re-read. I go back to it frequently, whenever I've finished one of the titles from its bibliography, or just to revisit Wood's various topics. Deceptively simple and quickly read. If allowed, HFW will inform any novel you read. It is not comprehensive in its scope; it omits topics like plot, structure, etc. and limits itself to Wood's own intersts (an issue some reviewers take exception to).
There was a time when I'd read a passage from a novel and wonder 'whose word IS that?' Thanks to Wood, I realize many of those passages were written in free indirect style. Now that I can identify it, I see its use more frequently and have an appreciation for its utility.
Whatever else this book is, it is NOT a how-to manual for new authors. Although, they would likely benefit from reading it. Wood's simple presentation considers an abundance of novels, many quite well-known or classics, and he adds insight to every title mentioned. This book is nothing like his books of essays, but it is informed by the same sensibility. For those who might be theory- or criticism-averse. ...more
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.
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.
***The following review, such as it is, might be considered spoilerish.
Proceeding cautiously through my long-awaited, chronological rereading of the w
***The following review, such as it is, might be considered spoilerish.
Proceeding cautiously through my long-awaited, chronological rereading of the works of Cormac McCarthy, reading the supplemental materials I’ve picked up over the years, and marveling at things I hadn’t noticed first time around. Isn’t that why we reread anything?
This one, as dark and foreboding as anything he’s written, in several ways, seems the telling of the Anti-Nativity—not the birth of the Anti-Christ, but a birth magnificently abhorrent, replete with familiar, though inverted/contorted biblical images worthy of Dante or Bruegel. Consider the three itinerant misfits who preside over the italicized sections—not the Magi, but three evil personages whose presence coincides with the birth of the child, whose presence is a torment to Culla, Rinthy, the unnamed child, the tinker, indeed everyone they encounter—who arrive, not bearing gifts but spreading carnage; consider their unholy communion around the fire with Culla; consider their leader’s uncanny resemblance to Judge Holden (the personification of evil in Blood Meridian).
To belabor the point: consider the unnecessary Sacrifice (is a human sacrifice ever necessary?). Try not to compare/contrast the Slaughter of the Innocents writ small in the final campfire scene. Try not to compare/contrast the biblical images of shepherds tending flocks with pigs run amok while their drovers shower blame on the innocent bystander. Try not to consider the child as one sent to redeem the sins of the world, but rather, as one who suffers the sins of the world nevertheless.
OD is more than biblical images, biblical language, poetry, and pacing, although it’s hard to not recognize or sense that biblical heft. Some readers may come away from OD feeling as though they’ve read the equivalent of the entire Old Testament. As an aside, I should mention that my biblical recollections are dated—arising, as they did (biting my tongue here) from a period after I followed a spectacular pair of blue jeans to a tent revival which led to a Scandinavian extravaganza with the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International.
It’s tempting to bump up the star rating on this, as it was with The Orchard Keeper, but unless something really startling happens on these rereads I’m going to stick with my initial rating. In this case, maybe bump it up to 4.5 so I can still distinguish it from No Country for Old Men—but then, I may like that one better this time around as well. And now, kind ladies and good gentlemen, I can proceed to the corresponding chapter in Reading the World: Cormac McCarthy's Tennessee Period in the hope of eventually overcoming my novice standing in the world of Cormac McCarthy studies; I know, I know, wishful thinking, but good things come to those who …wait, we’re talking McCarthy—good thing I’m not one of his protagonists.
Face it GoodReaders—Cormac McCarthy isn’t for everyone. I doubt it was ever his intention. He doesn’t write for the casual reader, or even the avid re
Face it GoodReaders—Cormac McCarthy isn’t for everyone. I doubt it was ever his intention. He doesn’t write for the casual reader, or even the avid reader. I think he writes primarily for himself, and gets rather a kick out of those of us who follow his every word and enjoy it for what it is. Like any artist, he creates a work, makes it available to a public, and moves on. He’s seemingly uninterested in what people think of his work, or in discussing his work, or its popularity. Reception to his work runs the gamut: from the high praise of the eggheads (critics) and wanna-be eggheads, like myself, to the braying of the rabble: “it’s boring,” “what’s with that punctuation?” “he makes up words.” Comments like those suggest to me that a reader has read the wrong book; they say more about the reader than the text. Before I’m bashed for my arrogance, I concede that any reaction to a work of art is valid; it is what it is. BUT, a reaction doesn’t define a work; it merely says something about the observer. No book will ever appeal to everyone.
That said, McCarthy does resonate well with ‘serious’ critics—there are numerous volumes of literary criticism dedicated to his work. I suspect he’s better represented among current literary criticism than most contemporary writers because the writers of literary criticism often share and appreciate the same language and tradition.
McCarthy drives the plot-driven readers crazy. His novels aren’t without plot, but they’re often not plot-driven. A recapitulation of the story cannot convey the experience of reading McCarthy. His characterization often requires the participation of the reader, building on minimal dialogue, frequently minimal action, and the reader’s sense of self and stereotype (come on! Any domestic reader will conjure a vision of the characters from McCarthy’s ‘Tennessee period’). His novels are ALWAYS vividly situated with incredible images of place.
One week into the new year, and I’ve finished my first title—a rereading of this one. Staggering. I liked it even better this time around, although I’m sticking with my original rating. Not my favorite McCarthy, but it is everything I like most about his work. Relentless language, relentless storytelling…poetic, hyper-masculine, storytelling for the sake of the telling rather than the sake of the story. It is my intention to reread all his fiction and dramatic works over the coming year, as well as, the volumes of criticism I’ve acquired and have yet to read. One per month seems reasonable and without risk of burnout or wrist-slashing depression. Boy howdy!
This review, such as it is, might be considered spoilerish, actually, it’s a lotta spoilerish, it’s presented in a rambling, perhaps, incoherent manne
This review, such as it is, might be considered spoilerish, actually, it’s a lotta spoilerish, it’s presented in a rambling, perhaps, incoherent manner, and it is tentatively offered. It also includes a speculative consideration, for your reading enjoyment—one you’re very entitled to disagree with. Take a little theory, take a little text, stir them together, you get speculation. Toward that end I focus on a single aspect of the novel. You’ve been warned.
Ladies and Gentlemen, you want to know what Visceral Realism is? Listen to this, one of the great songs (one of my ‘desert island picks’-- any version). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2rjDB... The guttural (bass) at play with the high-soaring (the stellar Mitchell vocal & lyric). Play it again, follow Jaco Pastorius’ bass line. Play it again. You can feel it; it will own you. JP, gone too soon. RB, gone too soon. Life sux, but they’ve left us their music.
Okay. I wondered how to begin this thing, there it is. It works or it doesn’t, but you can’t fault the song—not without being a dick.
This is the second time I’ve read TSD, and this time I read it differently, for lack of a better term, I read it more slowly, closely if you will, things began to appear to me that hadn’t with the first reading. I started compiling a list of all the proper names, with indications when I knew the names were real, but several chapters into the second section I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain the list and finish reading the novel any time soon. I started keeping running summaries of the entries in section two (The Savage Detectives), and something interesting became apparent, actually unapparent, that created dissonance—which led me to a single conclusion: this is a book about Legend Making. Creating a legend. How fact (fictive fact) and myth (fictive myth) and creative license combine to create Legend.
Everyone knows Arturo Belano is Bolaño’s alter-ego—his fictive self. With The Savage Detectives, Bolaño creates his mythic self, his self as he wishes to be seen, his self as he knows others have seen him, perhaps even the self he hoped to never be. The life of Bolaño and Belano so closely intertwined, most of us will never know where one varies from the other; a double-helix, the germ cell of a Legend.
For the handful who don’t know what this novel is, I’ll provide the briefest summary I can: Parts I & III are Juan García Madero’s diary entries chronicling how he, Arturo Belano, Ulises Lima and Lupe, the prostitute, met in Mexico City and fled to the Sonoran Desert— to escape Lupe’s pimp (Lupe and García Madero) and to find a lost literary hero of the Visceral Realist movement, Cesárea Tinajero (Belano and Lima); Part II is a series of oral histories/testamonies/interviews (less the questions and the voice of an interviewer) presented in the chronological order in which they were made except for one which seems to have occurred in a single telling but split into sections across chapters—the order of the entries has little or nothing to do with the narrative chronology. My interest is Part II—the troublesome Part II.
Why troublesome? To begin with, the story of Amadeo Salvatierra (dated January 1976): in an extended ‘testimony’ which spans 13 of the section’s 26 chapters, Salvatierra recounts the night and morning spent with Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano, drinking heavily, discussing Cesárea Tinajero, and analyzing the only poem of her’s Salvatierra has; Lima and Belano explain to Salvatierra that the poem is a joke. Why is this troublesome then? Salvatierra tells his story while Lima and Belano are off in the desert, far, far away from Mexico City. Hold that thought.
Unlike the Salvatierra testimony and others from January ‘76, the entry from Andrés Ramirez (Barcelona, Dec. ’88) is clearly addressed to Belano; while the interviewer’s questions are omitted, the responses are to Belano (“I was destined to be a failure, Belano, take my word for it.” “I know you’ve been in similar situations, Belano, so I won’t go on too long.”) Nor will I, but hold that thought. In the penultimate interview, and it’s clearly an interview addressed to an anonymous ‘sir,’ Ernesto García Grajales (Dec. ’96) summarizes what became of the Visceral Realists premised on the research he’s done for a book: “Yes, you could say I’m the foremost scholar in the field, [visceral realism/visceral realists] the definitive authority, but that’s not saying much. I’m probably the only person who cares.” Yet, he’s unaware of Juan García Madero, introduces a poet called Bustamente, and doesn’t know much about Belano. If the interviewer was, in fact, Belano, I suspect he’d regard this interview as something of a joke, like the poem of Cesárea Tinajero. Hold that thought.
Any and every great Detective story includes one thing—a mystery. Hold that thought.
Now with all those thoughts in mind, the question becomes: Who are the Savage Detectives? Are they Belano and Lima on their search for the illusive Cesárea Tinajero? On their searches for something else? Are they the unnamed interviewers of the various testimonies in section II (which would include Belano)? Or, might they be someone else?
From Wayne C. Booth we learn (perhaps, more than we’d like) about the Implied Author. From Wolfgang Iser we learn (perhaps, more than we’d like) about the Implied Reader. All well and good. Now comes the Implied Editor from this guy. Unless we assume that Bolaño was sloppy with his timeline, we have to believe someone asked Salvatierra to account for his night with Lima and Belano—someone other than Belano, as during January, 1976, Belano was chasing all over the desert and there’s no indication he’d contacted anyone from the road. So the testimonial was solicited by someone else—but who would have cared in January, 1976? It could have been Alberto the pimp or his policeman accomplice, but neither would have pursued further testimonies after early February. At least some of the testimonies were addressed to Belano, although it’s unlikely he would have crossed paths with narrators who only knew Lima in remote locations. Who initiated these leftover, unaccounted for testimonies? Who is the Implied Editor/detective who edited out the questions posed to these characters? Who could this other ‘detective’ be? And what makes him/her ‘savage’? Who is this Implied Editor? The one who’s taken all the various pieces, strands, stories of known origin but unknown behest, and determinedly (savagely?) attempts to make sense of them? Create the Bolaño/Belano Legend? Isn’t it just possible that we have seen the Savage Detectives and they are us?
One of the titles from my Favorites shelf, do I really need to tell you how much I like it? There are scads of great reviews for TSD, covering themes, impressions, and how Bolaño fits into the mindscapes of the various reviewers. Read them all; they’re worth it.
Reread. Re-5-starred. Reviewed, if ever so slightly.
But first, the obligatory digression.
Out, damned Scot! Out!—Lady Shakesbeth, wherever it was she s
Reread. Re-5-starred. Reviewed, if ever so slightly.
But first, the obligatory digression.
Out, damned Scot! Out!—Lady Shakesbeth, wherever it was she said such things.
A fitful night’s recollections of a not quite literary life, a not quite political life, a not quite religious life—historically situated (Pinochet’s Chile), fantastically relived and recounted, sometimes at a meandering pace, other times at feverish pace, with belt-fondling, falconry, and pigeonshit. How postmodern can one get?
Abreviating and reasking the question posed by the Scot (or the ‘damned Scot,’ if you prefer): “Why did you write a list of scenes or incidents that might be used in future novels?” I’ll refer to only the scene in the would-be novelist’s basement, it reappears if I’m not mistaken in several Bolaño novels—Ryan would know; the guy’s much more knowledgeable about RB than I. I suspect, RB repeats that scene for two reasons: 1) to make it real, to readers across his works, a line of continuity, as it were, and 2) because it was real—a real event which occurred in the lives of some subset of Chilean literati which may have taken on post-Pinochet mythic status. But, for someone who’s read only the first third of the novel, well my friend, might I humbly suggest pulling this down from your ‘seduced and abandoned shelf’ for reconsideration?
This is the novel I usually recommend to people who are just starting out on Bolaño. I'm sticking to that suggestion
Maybe you cannot know when you first approach a novel to reread if it will live up to your recollection or sink like dead weight. Maybe it won’t do ei
Maybe you cannot know when you first approach a novel to reread if it will live up to your recollection or sink like dead weight. Maybe it won’t do either—maybe it will just hover in that No Man’s Land between the title you added to your favorite list in 2010 and the one you plod through, ever so slowly, in 2012. Maybe, it will haunt you.
First time around, this one sailed—stream of consciousness, no problem—convoluted, page-long sentences, bring ‘em on. There’s a problem with multiple narrators? I don’t think so. Second time around though, no stunning surprises to keep the pages turning; the language of racism begins to feel gratuitous, painful (yeah, yeah, I know, it was reflective of the times and attitudes of Civil War-era South, blah, blah, blah). Still. For a Blue State liberal, some words become tiresome, painful. What was contextually acceptable the first time around, is more oppressive the second time.
In any case, I’ve retained that rating from the first read which was entirely pleasurable, while adding this cautionary moan regarding the second read. There’s a balance to be had, I suppose, but this time I was on the down side of the scale.
On a more pleasant note, rereading this and feeling as if I had to write something, I dug out Javier Marías’ Written Lives, a lovely book I will finish sooner or later, and reread the brief essay on Faulkner. I found it interesting that Faulkner was a clothes horse, fashionista in his youth—rendering him, perhaps, his own model for Charles Bon, who in turn becomes a model for Henry Sutpen. Apparently, Faulkner was also not a huge fan of people—hovering, talking, wanting something—I can relate.
If you’re approaching AA for the first time, have fun with it, read it as quickly as you can. If you’re reading this for some other reason—an assignment or some other ‘on purpose’ obligation—look out. All the best, y’all.