Hemingway said in a letter that when prose is magical, as it can be in Travels With Lizbeth, that the reader is never sure how it's done. You can rereHemingway said in a letter that when prose is magical, as it can be in Travels With Lizbeth, that the reader is never sure how it's done. You can reread it all you want and you will never quite know how that particular sequence of words was able to transcend the sum of its parts. The work thus becomes inimitable. That's the case here.
So engaging are the travels of Lars Eighner and his dog, Lisbeth, that I developed an anxiety-ridden hyperawareness of the dangers they constantly ran, such as good suspense writing will give you. Author Eighner is aware of it, too, but if anything he understates the risks. I was reminded of certain scenes in Cormac McCarthy's The Road, that post-apocalyptic dystopia. Yet the shopworn devices of suspense fiction are nowhere in evidence. What Eighner and pup went through was real. Then he will come up with some funny observation. For instance, about hitchhiking through Tucson, where he was harrassed by howling, gun-brandishing, drive-by rednecks, he writes:
"I reflected on what our last ride had told me; Tucson--or so he said--was one of the few cities in America that was off limits to Soviet citizens. I supposed for that reason the Soviets had a number of missles aimed at Tucson. I took that as a reassuring thought. Arizona is a desolate wasteland, but it might be considerably improved by detonating a few H-bombs in and around Tucson."
It is this interplay of pathos and humor, that and the beautifully spare prose--also, come to think of it, reminiscent of McCarthy, though without the biblical overtones--that enlivens the narrative. The prose is unadorned yet every page or two the reader is zinged by some bit of archaic vocabulary: eleemosynary, just one example, got a rise out of me. The story is alternately harrowing and tragic, heartrending and hilarious. The chapter "Dumpster Diving" has the thoroughness of an ethnographic study. The chapter describing Eighner's hospitalization for phlebitis reminded me of certain absurdist scenes from the film The Hospital written by Paddy Chayefsky. The crazies he runs into boggle the mind. Fortunately, before this period of homelessness Eighner had a long-time job in a mental health facility. So he is often able to recognize the symptoms and thus the diseases of his unfortunate fellows.The tales of these crazies he give us unadorned, letting the bonker's irrationalism stand for itself. One psychotic chap, Tim, off his medication, stalks Eighner from Austin to LA and back again. Casually Eighner begins to consider how he might kill the man and efficiently dispose of his body. Keep in mind that the author went through this ordeal of homelessness mostly in Austin, Texas, where the river of compassion seems little more than a dry stream bed. His indictment of that state's social service system is absolutely damning. To wit:
"It would have been greatly to my advantage if I could have admitted to being an alcoholic or a drug addict. The social workers have no way of assisting someone who is sane and sober. My interview with the social worker made it clear that only three explanations of homelessness could be considered: drug addiction, alcoholism, and psychiatric disorder. [Eighner was none of these.] The more successful I was in ruling out one of these explanations,, the more certain the others would become. Professional people like to believe this. They like to believe that no misfortune could cause them to lose their own privileged places. They like to believe that homelessness is the fault of the homeless--that homeless people have special flaws not common to the human condition, or at least that the homeless have flaws that professional people are immune to."
One of the best things about the story is Lisbeth. An ordinary dog by most measures, she is a love, a protector and companion, a warm bed fellow. When she is seized by a dogcatcher for allegedly biting someone--she didn't--and is put on death row at the Austin pound, well, that was quite the heart-wrenching sequence for this reader. What a tale. It's very emotionally involving. Extraordinarily well written. Insightful and very human. Please read it....more
3.5 stars. One can see why Confessions was such a favorite among the drug-addled youngsters of the 60s and 70s. The title is catchy but--surprise!--it3.5 stars. One can see why Confessions was such a favorite among the drug-addled youngsters of the 60s and 70s. The title is catchy but--surprise!--its not primarily a book about drug experiences, only the last 20 or so pages plumb that. It's about suffering, homelessness, and penury. There were passages that reminded me of 1993's Travels With Lizbeth by Lars Eighner, a wonderfully written book about homelessness.
The class system of Britain, thank God it's dying, systemically prevented true eleemosynary activity. Anyone deemed to be a victim of their own excess was not considered worthy of care. As de Quincey states:
The stream of London charity flows in a channel which, though deep and mighty, is yet noiseless and underground; not obvious or readily accessible to poor houseless wanderers; and it cannot be denied that the outside air and framework of London society is harsh, cruel, and repulsive.
It took me ten pages to acclimate to the slightly archaic diction, but once I did the reading was enjoyable. There's a guardedness about certain episodes in the author's life which evoked wonder and curiosity in this reader. He focuses on opium addiction almost to the utter exclusion of everything else. The focus is laser-like. Recommended....more
Excellent. The writing is very flat, unadorned. This memoir's mostly the straightforward story of the author and his very colorful Jewish father. TherExcellent. The writing is very flat, unadorned. This memoir's mostly the straightforward story of the author and his very colorful Jewish father. There's a special focus on the father's last days when he's battling a brain tumor, and all the decisions the family has to face given a very dire prognosis. So it's grim. If you like dark, however, this is your book. It was fascinating to me, a lover of Roth's novel American Pastoral, to learn that his father was a real raconteur with an almost eidetic memory of Newark, NJ, which is largely where that masterwork is set, and where Roth was raised. ...more
Wow, what a marvelous book! I'd always thought: "how can even the brilliant Oliver Sacks write a 200-page book about his own leg?" That would have toWow, what a marvelous book! I'd always thought: "how can even the brilliant Oliver Sacks write a 200-page book about his own leg?" That would have to be one of the great works of solipsism, wouldn't it? And it is, it is--the book is among other things a fascinating investigation of self, but it goes beyond that. In 1974 Dr. Sacks (a shy bookish man by temperament) went for a friendly climb of a 7,000 foot mountain in Norway. I don't know if you can say that Dr. Sacks does anything thoughtlessly, but when he clambers into the paddock of a bull despite ample signage warning him away, you wonder. In due course, he comes across the bull, which really does nothing more than raise it massive horned head. The animal never pursues Sacks. Yet the good doctor panics, bolts madly across a meadow, falls and brutally severs the quadriceps of his left leg. He is lucky he doesn't die on the mountain for he is miles from his village lodging and the nights even in summer are freezing. Almost miraculously he is found crawling back to town by a couple of hunters, a father and son. In short order he is flown to London where he proceeds to experience a profound sense of "alienation" from his leg. He excoriates his surgical team for their lack of bedside manner. That is itself something you rarely see in print or in life: one doctor criticizing another. But the fair-minded Sacks soon comes to realize that the problem goes deeper than his surgeon. It's symtomatic of the healthcare juggernaut as a whole. Sacks has been deliberately left alone with his thoughts and what ensues is a profound dissociation from his leg. He feels it is "no longer part of him," that the leg is "dead," that it will never return to full use. He undergoes a clinically pure example of loss of proprioception. This is the sense we all have of our bodily posture. Nurse Sulu enters Sacks's hospital room one day in alarm. His leg has fallen out of bed and splayed itself at a strange angle. Yet Sacks lies in bed with the distinct impression that the leg is still in bed with him, tidily tucked away. He is shocked upon lifting his head from the pillow. He exhorts Nurse Sulu to move the leg this way and that. He is unable to tell what position she has put the leg in with his eyes closed. In the first half of the book Sacks worked from his own journal and he was careful to leave the fear and exclamations in, his at times irrational circular reasoning. He wants us to know how frightening the whole experience is, not just for himself, but for those in the same predicament. The moment on the mountain pales in comparison to the horrors he experiences in the hospital. Sacks undergoes a profound alteration of body image. The injury, subsequent surgery and casting of his leg has led to desensitization and atrophy until he "forgets" how to use it. He is left abed for 14 days. The second half of the book is a consideration of his experience from a clinical perspective. I don't mean to say that the first part of the book is not of interest, but it is when Sacks begins his consideration of the neurological reasons for his experience that for me the book began to sing. There are fascinating explications of how the brain "sees" the body, as well as the neural correlates for all this. The section of the brain dedicated to body-image, as it turns out, is the somatosensory cortex, part of the parietal lobe. Eventually Sacks leads the reader thoughtfully through the available literature on body image. There isn't much, to be sure. Among these is a work entitled Reflex Paralysis generated by surgeons of the hand during the American Civil War (1861-65). I am glossing over a lot here. The book is an intellectual feast on many levels. It is almost unbelievably rich feast for the thorough reader. In the end though it's a very human book, a book about all of us. Highly recommended....more
A fascinating document and unlike anything else I know that might fit under the heading of Nazi period memoirs. The perspective it provides — that ofA fascinating document and unlike anything else I know that might fit under the heading of Nazi period memoirs. The perspective it provides — that of a Jewish academic and his "Aryan" wife living in Dresden during a time of state-sponsored racism — is unique. Moreover, it's well written. Do read both volumes. ...more