***THIS IS SO A WORK IN PROGRESS: ENJOY/GIGGLE/HUFF IF YOU MUST***
***THE WHOLE REVIEW IS ONLY AVAILABLE UNDER MY WRITINGS BECAUSE (SEE DIRECTLY BELOW)...more***THIS IS SO A WORK IN PROGRESS: ENJOY/GIGGLE/HUFF IF YOU MUST***
***THE WHOLE REVIEW IS ONLY AVAILABLE UNDER MY WRITINGS BECAUSE (SEE DIRECTLY BELOW)
***ALSO, THIS IS WHAT THE KIDS CALL TLTR (I think), WHICH MEANS IT'S REALLY, REALLY LONG***
***AND . . . IT PROBABLY HAS SPOILERS, BUT I CAN NO LONGER SEE STRAIGHT SO YER JUST GONNA HAVE TO TAKE YER CHANCES***
***. . . OR NOT***
Tom Don’t think too hard, Eddie, you might sprain something.
Dane You are so goddamn smart. ‘Cept you ain’t. I get you, smart guy. I know what you are. Straight as a corkscrew. Mr. Inside-Outsky, like some goddamn Bolshevik, picking up his orders from Yegg central. You think you’re so goddamn smart. You join up Johnny Caspar. You bump Bernie Bernbaum. Up is down. Black is white. Well, I think you’re half-smart. I think you were straight with your frail. I think you were queer with Johnny Casper. And I think you would sooner join a Ladies’ League than gun a guy down.
Opening a review with a quote seems kind of pretentious to me. But I'm feeling a bit pretentious now that I've finally finished Thomas Pynchon's 1973 pièce de résistance, Gravity's Rainbow. And when I say that, I am indeed calling myself out for enjoying feeling pretty smart right about now, undeserved though it may be. It's just a book after all; or to paraphrase an old movie, q. Can an ape read Nietsche? a. Yes, you idiot. He just can't understand it. But I think I did more than read Gravity's Rainbow. I understood it... well, parts of it for sure. The quote above comes from, on any given day, my favorite film. Miller’s Crossing is period gangster film set in a small, unnamed Midwestern city during the prohibition era. The story and tone of the film borrows heavily, in some cases straight steals, from the books The Glass Key and The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. What does it have to do with Gravity’s Rainbow? Very little, I suppose. But often, while reading the book, that very scene kept popping into my head. I believe now that it stemmed from discovering that every time I thought I had Pynchon, or the story, or even some miniscule point pegged, he would come out of nowhere with something that would crush my theory. Often he would turn it on its head, inside out, or upside down. For the sake of protecting anyone else’s experience with the book, I’ve decided to forego providing any examples of this as it was probably the most consistently entertaining part of reading it.
To clarify, because the above could be interpreted as making light of the book instead of myself, let me say that Gravity's Rainbow is easily the most profound and captivating novel I have ever read. It is also arguably the most enjoyable one as well. Were I to possess any of the intelligence I attribute myself for just finishing it, I wouldn't be spinning my wheels here attempting to describe how it made me feel that way.
This review began as a response to a thread of a friend's below, and I've decided to leave it to develop ramshackle and unbound as it began.
If yer reading this at all, you've already decided one way or the other whether you might be interested in reading Gravity’s Rainbow. Because of that, I'm going to mostly throw in a few scattered thoughts around passages I found particularly pleasing, ones that might help someone make the decision to make that plunge. I've left out some of the most powerful ones I came across because the subject matter is, well... just in the remote possible chance someone might be eating and reading this at the same time, proper etiquette dictates that I do. Pynchon himself has no qualms about depicting exactly what I'm not talking about in the last sixty pp.
A marked as to-read: Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
K wrote: "Good luck!! I've tried twice and can't do it. I'll try again when I have more time / less immediate responsibilities."
A wrote: "Uh-oh. That makes the baby Jesus cry."
Pay no mind to the naysayers. I started GR about 7 years ago for the first time and made it just shy of the 200 pp. mark before real life, in general, and my second year of fatherhood, specifically, intervened. When I tried to pick it up a month later, all was lost. I knew within 10 pp. I would have to start over, and I just didn't have the wherewithal at the time. A few years later I started fresh and made it past the 250 pp. mark before some more serious matters put a sudden halt to that. But, in addition to knowing it was pointless taking up where I left off, I learned a new lesson. I realized I hadn't really understood a thing the first time I started it. Rereading the exact same 200 pp. was akin to discovering that I'd tried to read it in Mandarin the first time. Now skip ahead, just short of a year. I happened to have a copy of The Crying of Lot 49 on a long flight. I’d read and enjoyed it in high school, but really didn't get it because I wasn't smart enough yet. Four hours later I finished it and began to really settle into Pynchon's groove. For some reason, when I got home I decided to read V. instead of giving GR another go. Though it is a challenging and long work, I devoured it in an extremely satisfactory manner in a matter of weeks. A few months later, about six months ago, I once again started GR from the beginning; and though I've taken, at times, up to a week off and finished six or seven other books in the same time period, today I finished part three leaving myself just over 100 pp. to go. I think it is the most rewarding novel I've ever read (big words for somebody who hasn’t finished reading it yet), and I've read a few. Of the modern/post-modern juggernauts I haven’t read, the few most likely I’d mention in its class are Moby Dick, Ulysses, Finnegan's Wake, A Man Without Qualities, The Recognitions, JR, Dhalgren, Terra Nostra, The Public Burning, and maybe Infinite Jest; all of which I plan to read before I die. But I kind of have a feeling I’m already reading the one that will always speak to me the most.
More on that later. Gravity’s Rainbow begins in early December of the year 1944. It is divided into four parts. Pt. 1 is entitled Beyond the Zero, and its epigraph reads:
"Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation. Everything science has taught me, and continues to teach me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death." -WERNHER VON BRAUN
For those reading who know nothing about Wernher von Braun, he was one of the single most amazing human beings in the written history of our civilization. Also, he was a Nazi and a punk jack ass. But I digress…. As if his real life wasn't interesting enough (much, much more of that below, but it wouldn’t be any fun to give it all away now), not only does he loom large over the whole of GR, he is well-known to be, with a little Sidney Gottlieb (goat farmer/mad scientist for the CIA, responsible for the lovely MK-Ultra project and, by proxy, the explosion of psychedelic use in the ‘60s) thrown in, the basis for Peter Sellers, Terry Southern, and Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, one of my absolute favorite films of all-time.
Pirate Prentice’s Banana Breakfast
With a clattering of chairs, upended shell cases, benches, and ottomans, Pirate’s mob gather at the shores of the great refectory table, a southern island well across a tropic or two from chill Corydon Throsp’s mediaeval fantasies, crowded now over the swirling dark grain of its walnut uplands with banana omelets, banana sandwiches, banana casseroles, mashed bananas mold in the shape of a British lion rampant, blended with eggs into batter for French toast, squeezed out a pastry nozzle across the quivering creamy reaches of a banana blancmange to spell out the words C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre (attributed to a French observer during the Charge of the Light Brigade) which Pirate has appropriated as his motto . . . tall cruets of pale banana syrup to pour oozing over banana waffles, a giant glazed crock where diced bananas have been fermenting since the summer with wild honey and muscat raisins, up out of which, this winter morning, one now dips foam mugsfull of banana mead . . . banana croissants and banana kreplach and banana oatmeal and banana jam and banana bread, and bananas flamed in ancient brandy Pirate brought back last year from a cellar in the Pyreneed also containing a clandestine radio transmitter . . .
Beyond the Zero, E. 2, pp. 10-11
I wrote: "what of the Giant Adenoid? This my second attempt. As for understanding everything for me, it's harder explaining what I understand if that makes any sense." Yes… what of the giant Adenoid?
The first few times nothing clicked. The fantasies were O.K. but belonged to nobody important. But the Firm is patient, committed to the Long Run as They are. At last, one proper Sherlock Holmes London evening,, the unmistakable smell of gas came to Pirate from a dark street lamp, and out of the fog ahead materialized a giant, organlike form. Carefully, black-shod step by step, Pirate approached the thing. It began to slid forward to meet him, over the cobblestones slow as a snail, leaving behind some slime brightness of steet-wake that could not have been from fog. In the space between them was a crossover point, which Pirate, being a bit faster, reached first. He reeled back, in horror, back past the point—but such recognitions are not reversible. It was a giant Adenoid. At least as big as St. Paul’s, and growing hour by hour. London, perhaps all England, was in mortal peril.
We know from the paragraph that follows that the “lymphatic monster had once blocked the distinguished pharynx if Lord Blatherard Osmo.” Reading on, we are treated to a grotesque Busby Berkeley musical number replete with chorus line of “quite nubile young women naughtily attired in Busbies and jackboots.” The Adenoid proceeds to wreak the type of havoc all over the city that only a giant Adenoid can. I think the purpose of the tale is to establish, by showing us his first true experience, Pirate Prentice’s role as “fantasist-surrogate,” or what is now actually referred to as an oneironaut. An oneironaut is one who can travel consciously through someone’s dreams; their own or another person’s.
Every day, for 2 ½ years, Pirate went out to visit the St. James Adenoid. It nearly drove him crazy. Though he was able to develop a pidgin by which he and the Adenoid could communicate, unfortunately he wasn’t nasally equipped to make the sounds too well, and it got to be an awful chore. As the two of them snuffled back and forth, alienists in black seven-button suits, admirers of Dr. Freud the Adenoid clearly had no use for, stood on stepladders up against its loathsome grayish flank shoveling the new wonderdrug cocaine—bringing hods full of the white substance, in relays, up the ladders to smear on the throbbing gland-creature, and into the germ toxins bubbling nastily inside its crypts, with no visible effects at all (though who knos how that Adenoid felt, eh?).
But Lord Blatherad Osmo was able at last to devote all of his time to Novi Pazar. Early in 1939, he was discovered mysteriously suffocated in a bathtub full of tapioca pudding, at the home of a Certain Viscountess. Some have seen in this the hand of the Firm. Months passed, World War II started, years passed, nothing was heard from Novi Pazar. Pirate Prentice had saved Europe from the Balkan Armageddon the old men dreamed of, giddy in their beds with its grandeur—though not from World War II, of course. But by then, the Firm was allowing Pirate only tiny homeopathic doses of peace, just enough to keep his defenses up, but not enough for it to poison him.
Beyond the Zero, E. 2, pp.15-17
As for the significance of the Adenoid itself, Steven Weisenburger hazards a couple of guesses in his book, A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion:
“The fantastic creature disappears from GR after this analeptic appearance, but a thinly disguised Richard M. Nixon, as ‘adenoidal’ theater manager Richard M. Zhlubb, will reappear in the final proleptic moments of the narrative.”
“Since medical references to “adenoids” nearly always use the plural, Pynchon probably refers here to Charlie Chaplin’s role as the Jewish barber and then dictator of Tomania, ‘Adenoid Hynkel,’ a thinly veiled Adolf Hitler in The Great Dictator . Indeed the film’s closing speech, in which Chaplin drops the Hitler-mask appeals directly to the viewers, rather deftly capsulizes GR’s themes.”
This is hardly an obscure tangent when viewed in a vacuum, given the subject matter and Chaplin’s status as an iconoclast, but GR is as close to a literary antithesis of a vacuum I’ve ever come across and occurrences of this sort abound page after page. Personally, I can see a similarity between chapter four of V., appropriately entitled In which Esther gets a nose job, in which Pynchon devotes an entire chapter to the first person narration of the unlucky recipient of an un-anaesthetized back alley rhinoplasty. Though I am still uncertain as to its pertinence to the story, the chills I’m experiencing as I write this remind me how little I cared when I read it.
But Beyond the Zero isn’t all jollities and shenanigans. It ends on an ominous note at a séance attended by, among others, the Generaldirektor Smaragd of IG Farben.
TP Drops Some Knowledge
Why do they want Rathenau tonight? What did Caesar really whisper to his protégé as he fell? Et tu, Brute, the official lie, is about what you’d expect to get from them—it says exactly nothing. The moment of assassination is the moment when power and the ignorance of power come together, with Death as validator. When one speaks to the other then it is not to pass the time of day with et-tu-Brutes. What passes is a truth so terrible that history—at best a conspiracy, not always among gentlemen, to defraud—will never admit it. The truth will be repressed or in ages of particular elegance be disguised as something else. What will Rathenau, past the moment, years into a new otherside existence, have to say about the old dispensation? Probably nothing as incredible as what he might have said just as the shock flashed in his mortal nerves, as the Angel swooped in…
But they will see. Rathenau—according to the histories—was prophet and architect of the cartelized state. From what began as a tiny bureau at the War Office in Berlin, he had coordinated Germany’s supplies, quotas and prices, cutting across and demolishing the barriers of secrecy and property that separated firm from firm—a corporate Bismarck, before whose power no account book was too privileged, no agreement too clandestine. His father Emil Rathenau had founded AEG, the German General Electric Company, but Walter was more than another industrial heir—he was a philosopher with a vision of the postwar State. He saw the war in progress as a world revolution, out of which would rise neither Red communism nor an unhindered Right, but a rational structure in which business would be the true, the rightful authority—a structure based, not surprisingly, on the one he’d engineered in Germany for fighting the World War.
”Consider coal and steel. There is a place where they meet. The interface between coal and steel is coal-tar. Imagine coal, down in the earth, dead black, no light, the very substance of death. Death ancient, prehistoric, species we will never see again. Growing older, blacker, deeper, in layers of perpetual night. Above ground, the steel rolls out fiery, bright. But to make steel, the coal tars, darker and heavier, must be taken from the original coal. Earth’s excrement, purged out for the ennoblement of shining steel. Passed over.
“We thought of this as an industrial process. It was more. We passed over the coal-tars. A thousand different molecules waited in the preterite dung. This is the sign of revealing. Of unfolding. This is one meaning of mauve, the first new color on Earth, leaping to Earth’s light from its grave miles and aeons below. There is the other meaning… the succession… I can’t see that far yet….
“But this is all the impersonation of life. The real movement is not from death to any rebirth. It is from death to death-transfigured. The best you can do is polymerize a few dead molecules. But polymerizing is not resurrection. I mean your IG, Generaldirektor.”
“Our IG, I should have thought,” replies Smaragd with more than the usual ice and stiffness.
Beyond the Zero, E. 19, pp. 167-169
***THIS REVIEW IS A WHOLE LOT LONGER, SO I WILL DO WHAT I CAN TO FIT IT ELSEWHERE***(less)
I'm afraid I don't have time to be fair or do justice to how good this collection of nineteen stories, divided into Songs of the Eastern Slavs, Allego...moreI'm afraid I don't have time to be fair or do justice to how good this collection of nineteen stories, divided into Songs of the Eastern Slavs, Allegories, Requiems, and Fairy Tales, really is. I grabbed it up at work for the title and the book cover alone.
I love modern or post-modern fairy tale collections, be they updates, reinterpretations, deconstructions; or completely original, yet undeniably belonging to the tradition of folk tales, myths, and fables. My favorites include Donald Barthelme's Snow White, The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse, Robert Coover's A Child Again and Stepmother, Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, and, particularly, The Book of the Unknown: Tales of the Thirty-Six by Jonathon Keats. And while comparisons to Hesse and Carter are not completely without merit, Ludmilla Petrushsevkaya's There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales is more the heir to Nikolai Gogol and brings to my mind the supernatural tales of Ambrose Bierce. Her characters drift in amnesiac states through moments, days, years and lives of experiences they rarely understand, either during or after. Some similarities to Shirley Jackson's short stories also make sense, but in Petrushevskaya's tales, there is a different rendering of the grotesque; sometimes terrifying and others comical, but proportionally more chimerical to fairy tales than ghost stories in nature.
In their introduction, Keith Gessen and Anna Summers (who also selected and translated the tales) give a brief history of Ludmilla Petrushsevkaya's fascinating life from virtually unpublishable author, despite writing "so far from explicitly themes (that) should be banned," to instant "major figure in Russian letters" upon the publication of first collection of stories Immortal Love in 1987. In the years that followed her reputation grew as her other work became available. In addition to being a novelist, playwright, and poet, she is a singer/songwriter and "has recently been performing a one-woman cabaret while wearing an enormous hat."
I'd heartily recommend this to anyone who enjoyed any of the works mentioned above, as well as to fans of Poe, the Grimms, Calvino's Italian Folktale, and particularly Jewish supernatural tales.(less)
I got this in the mail when I was about halfway through Coover's first book of stories Pricksongs and Descants, which is amazing and I should be finis...moreI got this in the mail when I was about halfway through Coover's first book of stories Pricksongs and Descants, which is amazing and I should be finishing soon, but also quite long for a short story collection, at almost 300 pp., and a bit of a roller coaster as well. It feels as if he had quite a load of ideas ready to go, and at the same time didn't hold anything back, possibly thinking he might not get another chance. Having read several of his books, I find this sort of hard to reconcile. As complex, challenging, and thought-provoking as it always is, his writing is never strained, always brimming with confidence, nothing if not immensely readable, and goes down as easily as the fairy tales he so often reinvents did when they were read to you as a child. Over forty years later, his career as novelist, storyteller, playwright, dramatist, screenwriter, filmmaker, and teacher is still going strong, proving he had little to worry about if he ever did. Mostly, Pricksongs is just an exorbitant amount of unrelenting awesome, if not as hyper-focused as his control of subject matter, language, and themes became shortly after.
Which brings us to this slim wicked little book. Clocking in at 103 pp., with wide enough margins and large enough print to have easily been half that length, Spanking the Maid is as tight and beautiful as the rump that adorns it cover. It’s a nice hardback, and I kept glancing at it repeatedly while reading Pricksongs and Descants. Eventually I gave in and read it. It took about an hour and a half.
Those familiar with Coover will recognize one of his signature techniques, that of restarting the same scene with the slightest alterations, sometimes producing drastically different results, sometimes dramatically the same. He creates an entire world inhabited by the relationship between maid and master, pupil and instructor, sub and dom. The book is both titillating and disturbing, with glimmers of hope for both characters that dissolve quicker than they appear. To leave this review without spoilers I must stop here, but anyone who likes Coover, or the type of writing that never leaves the reader certain what is real, or dream, or some combination designed to translate subjective realities through expectations, fears, hopes, and memories should enjoy this kinky little book. (less)
I am halfway through Airships, reading it for the fifth time, but not for a long time, and I can only think of two things. Return to Return may be the...moreI am halfway through Airships, reading it for the fifth time, but not for a long time, and I can only think of two things. Return to Return may be the greatest short story I have ever read, and Barry Hannah is the only writer I truly love that makes me feel capable of being a writer. Every single other writer I treasure is a discouragement to my own writing through their ability to make me see things I've never seen before, in ways I am unable to imagine myself. The intelligence, wit, and craftsmanship of people like Thomas Pynchon, Flannery O'Connor, Donald Barthelme, Cormac McCarthy, Borges, Beckett, Stein, et al. produce revelations and elation in me that I cannot produce myself. Barry Hannah possesses all of this, too, and produces the same insane amazement in me with one small difference. He raises my esteem of myself. He makes me angry I am not capitalizing on it enough. It is difficult to read a paragraph at times without stopping to put something down myself. It is just a little more difficult to stop reading him to do it. Which is why I am immediately going back to doing that just now. My heart swells with the knowledge that I have not already read everything he has written, though I have read most of it, and much of that several times.(less)
I know this book came out years ago, and I read it years ago, but in aimlessly floating around GR tonight I somehow ended up here and reading reviews...moreI know this book came out years ago, and I read it years ago, but in aimlessly floating around GR tonight I somehow ended up here and reading reviews of friends, most ranging from disappointment to an almost apologetic, guilty pleasure vibe. It definitely felt like a collective nervousness about a writer everyone wants to be great, even needs to be great, but that was teetering on the brink of being no longer noteworthy. Which kind of sucks because I want and need George Saunders to be great then, and now, but I think people have become so averse to any fiction with an obvious and simple political statement that they shut it out almost instinctively. We already know that ignorance breeds contempt, racism, ghettos, and even genocide, so we don't need to be reminded of it all the time. I have only two problems with this and then I'll try to stop sounding so preachy. The first is that all of these things are happening right now on this planet all around us, and I think the good majority of us feel powerless to do anything about it. For me, at least, this causes a great deal of guilt even though it is difficult enough to manage my own life. I think George Saunders is trying to do what he can, while still writing the intelligent, fabulist type of fiction only he can. The second reason I think The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil deserves a little more credit, or at least another look, is exactly because it communicates on such a simple, pure level. My favorite book ever by Saunders is The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, a children's book, illustrated by Lane Smith of Stinky Cheese Man fame, that is very similar to Phil in its allegorical and moral tone. But watching it become my 8 y/o daughter's favorite book also clued me in to the different levels he is operating on. So I fully intend giving her her own copy of Phil in at least a few years. I still remember 'getting' Animal Farm around 11 or 12. Someone has to get through to the children! (less)
Holy shit. Small disclaimer: I met the man once. I met him we was already a hero of mine from Airships, Geronimo Rex & Ray, which I read my freshm...moreHoly shit. Small disclaimer: I met the man once. I met him we was already a hero of mine from Airships, Geronimo Rex & Ray, which I read my freshman year of college. That was 1988. Hannah was gone almost a decade from his fascinating & tumultuous teaching career at Alabama, but the stories of his five year reign as the wild man of Tuscaloosa still reverberated through the Creative Writing program, enthralling students and faculty alike. I'd be shocked & removed if anythings changed twenty years on. There is the tale of him, at the close of an afternoon drinking session @ the Chukker (where I saw Roky Erikson, the Mummies, The Cramps, and even Sun Ra; post-stroke, but fucking Sun Ra, mother fucker!), returning to his convertible MG to find it filled with water. Supposedly, he calmly removed a revolver from his glove compartment and fired several rounds into the floorboard to facilitate the draining process. There is the story of the flaming arrow, shot from some distance, striking a perfect bullseye in the front door of his then separated wife's home. & there is the legend of him fleeing some unknown fix he'd found himself in while purportedly researching an article for Esquire on the growing influence of of organized crime along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. His traveling companion, a fellow professor not quite hipped yet to the possibilities inherent in accompanying Hannah for any activity, awoke being vigorously shaken by the writer, & was told to grab anything packed, leave the rest, and get his ass in the car. As the dazed man began an attempt to appeal to reason, or ascertain the cause for such radical measures, he noticed the small duffel bag of semi-automatic weapons as well as the pistol tucked into Hannah's belt, & did what he was told. What followed was a early morning car chase involving Mississippi State Troopers, &, after crossing the state line, Alabama Troopers as well. The younger professor later gave account of an unruffled Barry Hannah calmly explaining to him that they were merely being escorted by the troopers, who'd recognized him shortly after beginning to give chase. And finally, there is the true whopper, the story of how Hannah, an undeniable American literary star whose 1972 novel Geronimo Rex had won the William Faulkner Prize while simultaneously being nominated for the National Book Award, whose 1978 story collection Airships won the Arnold Gingrich Short Fiction Award, and a year later received the prestigious Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, came to be fired from his teaching position at Alabama in 1980. Many details leading up to the incident vary wildly according to the source, though one essential one remains the same. Whether he was using it as a prop for a lecture about what he called literature's six movements, or detaining students attempting to walk out on an impromptu flugelhorn solo he though relevant to the class, or, my personal favorite, that he brandished it before telling a student "he was going to teach him how to write about fear, right hear and right now," Hannah pulled out a revolver and apparently appeared convincing enough like he might actually use it that the end result was his prompt dismissal from the University. I met him, not at a reading or party, but in passing @ his ex-wife's home where I happened to be hanging out with his daughter Lee, a member of my college circle & a friend to this day.
Those who've read Barry Hannah would likely not be surprised by the tales above, nor by the fact that all of them are about 75% true. His fiction is peopled throughout by troubled lunatics, disgraced failures, morally vacant youth, amorally monstrous villains, pimps, whores, junkies, dealers, the sick, the suicidal(less)
likely no review to come here as reading seems to've taken a surmounting lead, prioritistically speaking, over trying to put into words feelings about...morelikely no review to come here as reading seems to've taken a surmounting lead, prioritistically speaking, over trying to put into words feelings about something made out of words already, & words that make my words feel like grunts. i will say this. i started vineland a few times--as pretty much most pynchon--w/o success, & over the yrs my assumptions about the follow-up, w/ 17 yrs b/w, of what i consider to be the greatest novel of the 20th century, skewed toward the heavy majority--that vineland was first considered the end of pynchon (something like scorsese's new york, new york), & then, after the appearance of mason & dixon & against the day, simply a low anomaly in his freshly invigorated pantheon. mason & dixon & against the day are now the last two remaining pynchon's for me to read, so i feel just slightly qualified to offer this opinion on vineland: it is a completely fucking extraordinary book, containing a heretofore previously & occasionally attempted, but unperfected, love for the characters that i don't even know if pynchon intended to be there. sure, there is a pervasive gloom of paranoia holding the book together like woodglue, but the characters, heroes, foils & villains alike, are the most sympathetic gathering of folks in anything i've ever read by him, except for maybe the short story the secret integration, which is about kids & was written when he was in his early 20's.
also: reading bleeding edge just previously to vineland, i could not help but notice two very specific things & many, many stylistic echoes that make the two seem to be sister books. the first specific thing, which i believe is a device he uses in other books as well, but never so prevalent as in these two, are the constant, & hilarious, mention of biopics, w/ an actor & a subject selected, seemingly for their incongruities. they are short, some might say easy jokes, particularly for a writer like pynchon, but where & the way he interjects them always add context to the writing before & after it. my two favorite in vineland are john ritter in the bryant gumbel story & pee-wee herman in the robert musil story. the other obvious, though not as simply pointed out, similarity in the two books is pynchon's treatment of women. it is not a departure on the whole, as one of the things i've always admired about pynchon is his ability to mine the ever-so-fertile differences b/w women & men, but never treating them both as more-or-less human, i.e. the women are as evil or, though rarely, as good as any of the men, a complex & ambiguous equality that i don't hear mentioned enough. the women in all his books are their own guardians of their sexual freedom & w/o judgement, from the writer at least. sometimes what emerges is as dark as it gets, but never not counterbalanced--or counterobliterated--by the men. what is different in bleeding edge & vineland is that, maybe not completely, but way more than is usual in his other books, they outnumber the men in importance, depth (not the writing, but the choices he makes in focusing on), &, well, sheer numbers. vineland, more than bleeding edge, at times even comes across to me it not one all by itself, at least thomas pychon's closest approximation of a feminist novel (if a feminist novel can be written by a man). i began to get the same feeling when i was reading 2666, that the massive sprawling plot(s) & long introspective stories were exquisite window dressing for what essentially was a novel (or 5) about the indignities man has for yrs subjected women to. vineland is less that, but more focused on the individual complexities of the women throughout the book. that said, i'm a dood, so maybe that's why it seems to stand out so much to me.
guess this sorta turned into a review after all, kinda, so i guess i feel the need to conclude it in some way. two of, at the most, my five favorite writers are thomas pynchon & donald barthelme. in the last six months i've read books by the two of them that are considered to be of lesser quality than the rest of their oeuvre. w/ don b., it was his final book, the slim novel the king. in both cases i was ever so pleasantly surprised that i was surprised in the first place that both books are works of genius, detours, if only slightly, from each writer's normal tread. in the case of vineland, it has both deepened suspicions i held for pynchon's writing for awhile, while also causing me to recalibrate completely the lens i view his work through.
in other words, pynchon sorta resembles what the late, great dj john peel said about my favorite band the fall: "always different, always the same."(less)
Many people will say Ficciones. Others will say The Aleph is their favorite work by Borges. You could hardly go wrong either way. For my money though,...moreMany people will say Ficciones. Others will say The Aleph is their favorite work by Borges. You could hardly go wrong either way. For my money though, it has always been Labyrinths. Perhaps it is because it was my introduction to him. Perhaps I am just correct. Those things do not matter. The only thing that does is that you read this book and everything else the man ever wrote. I suppose he's not for everyone. But he absolutely should be. The truth is, you can talk about his writing with others who enjoy it, or write about it, but reading him is really the only justice that can be done to his work. Here's a couple of passages from Labyrinths...
Out of the darkness, Funes' voice continued. He told me that in 1886 he had invented an original system of numbering and that in a very few days he had gone beyond the twenty-four-thousand mark. He had not written it down, since anything he thought of once would never be lost to him. His first stimulus was, I think, his discomfort at the fact that the famous thirty-three patriots of Uruguayan history should require two signs and two words, in place of a single word and a single sign. He then applied this absurd principle to the other numbers. In place of seven thousand thirteen, he would say (for example) Maximo Perez; in place of seven thousand fourteen, The Railroad; other numbers were Luis Melian Lafinur, Olimar, sulphur, the reins, the whale, the gas, the cauldron, Napolean, Agustin de Vedia. In place of five hundred, he would say nine. Each word had a particular sign, a kind of mark; the last in the series were very complicated... I tried to explain to him that this rhapsody of incoherent terms was precisely the opposite of a system of numbers. I told him that saying 365 meant saying three hundreds, six tens, five one, an analysis which is not found in the "numbers": The Negro Timoteo or side of meat. Funes did not understand me or refused to understand me. Locke, in the seventeenth century, postulated (and rejected) an impossible language in which each individual thing, each stone, each bird and each branch, would have its own name; Funes once projected an analogous language, but discarded it because it seemed to general to him, too ambiguous. In fact, Funes remembered not only every leaf of every tree of every wood, but also every one of the times he had perceived or imagined it. he decided to reduce each of his past days to some seventy thousand memories, which would then be defined by means of ciphers. He was dissuaded from this by two considerations: his awareness of the task was interminable, his awareness that it was useless. He thought that by the hour of his death he would not even have finished classifying all the memories of his childhood. -from Funes the Memorious from Labyrinths
Centuries and centuries of idealism have not failed to influence reality. In the most ancient regions of Tloen, the duplication of lost objects is not infrequent. Two persons look for a pencil; the first finds it and says nothing; the second finds a second pencil, no less real, but closer to expectations. These secondary objects are called hronir and are, though awkward in form, somewhat longer. Until recently, the hronir were the accidental products of distraction and forgetfulness. It seems unbelievable that their methodical production dates back scarcely a hundred years, but this is what the Eleventh Volume tells us. The first efforts were unsuccessful. However, the modus operandi merits description. The director of one of the state prisons told his inmates there were certain tombs in an ancient river bed and promised freedom to whoever might make an important discovery. During the months preceding the excavation the inmates were shown photographs of what they were to find. This first effort proved that expectation and anxiety can be inhibitory; a week’s work with pick and shovel did not manage to unearth anything in the way of a hron except a rusty wheel of a period posterior to the experiment. But this was kept in secret and the process was repeated later in four schools. In three of them the failure was almost complete, in the fourth (whose director died accidentally during the first excavations) the students unearthed- or produced- a gold mask, an archaic sword, two or three clay urns and the moldy and mutilated torso of a king whose chest bore an inscription which it has not yet been possible to decipher. Thus was discovered the unreliability of witnesses who knew of the experimental nature of the search… Mass excavations produced contradictory objects; now individual and almost improvised jobs are preferred. The methodical fabrication of hronir (says the Eleventh Volume) has performed prodigious services for archaeologists. It has made possible the interrogation of and even the modification of the past, which is now no less plastic and docile as the future. Curiously, the hronir of second and third degree- the hronir derived from another hron, those derived from the hronof a hron- exaggerated the aberrations of the initial one; those of the fifth degree are almost uniform; those with ninth degree become confused with those of the second; in those of the eleventh there is a purity of form not found in the original. The process is cyclical: the hron of the twelfth degree begins to fall off in quality. Stranger and more pure than any hron is, at times, the ur: the object produced through suggestion, educed by hope. The golden mask I have mentioned is an illustrious example. -from Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius from Labyrinths
The occasion for the review is I am finishing up rereading Labyrinths for the third time.(less)
Well, John Hawkes did it to me again. A few weeks after finishing The Beetle Leg and being delighted/destroyed by it, despite still not being sure wha...moreWell, John Hawkes did it to me again. A few weeks after finishing The Beetle Leg and being delighted/destroyed by it, despite still not being sure what actually happened in it, why it happened, what it meant, or whether or not it was even important if anything happened, why, or whether it happened at all, I picked up this little beauty at the library to have my second go at him. Though The Beetle Leg is now considered by most who care to consider such things as Hawkes’ finest novel and “viewed by many critics as one of the landmark novels of 20th Century American literature,” it was The Lime Twig, published nine years later in 1961 that established him as one the new group of experimental, or post-modernist, U.S. writers that included folks like Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, and others that emerged in the late fifties and early sixties to shake up the American literary landscape. It is probably my favorite period of U.S. fiction, short-lived though it was.
(As a sidebar, let me note it is not lost on me that there are no women mentioned above. This is not because I in any way believe that women, or particularly U.S. women, were not writing amazing and notable, or new and groundbreaking fiction at that, or any other, time. It’s just that, generally speaking, women in the United States in the sixties had a lot going on already that may’ve precluded the playful experimentation associated with the term “post-modern,” and, more specifically, maybe because they wrote from a minority standpoint, with mostly men as critics, the intricacies and complexities that might be considered experimental were overlooked or considered just crazy old run-of-the-mill feminist tendencies. Regardless, this is a much larger subject than needs to be discussed in a book review on John Hawkes, and also by someone much smarter than me.)
Though these writers were generally always lumped together, and mostly admired each others’ work, many becoming lifelong friends, the only commonalities they shared besides a similar age-group and the pervasive post-WWII world they lived in were their literary influences, particularly modernists like Joyce, Stein, Beckett, Woolf, and Borges. Some were seemingly capable only or writing enormous books, while others never wrote anything longer than two hundred pages. To some extent, humor played a large role and the influence of movies, art, and popular culture were plainly obvious. Otherwise, the differences were easier to point out than the similarities.
Now this is only the second John Hawkes book I’ve read, so I’m no expert, but I am pretty familiar with most of his contemporaries. That said, Hawkes, to me so far, is the most differentest of them all. Yeah, the differentest. So enough of this drawing of some literary/historical landscape and on to The Lime Twig. Fuck me . . . this book is horrific. Unlike The Beetle Leg, it appears to have a noticeable plot. It is set sometime shortly after the end of WWII in England, and makes a pretense of being a caper involving a stealing a racehorse, using said horse to win the Golden Bowl at Addington, which is, I guess, comparable to the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness. I can just imagine Maude Lebowski muttering, “The story is ludicrous.”
There is some congruence, sort of, with the Stanley Kubrick film, The Killing. That is to say, it is not altogether completely foreign at times to some of the things that happen in that film, but only if the characters were not gangsters, even dumber, and completely whacked out of their fucking heads on acid. Or maybe like a good mid-period Peckinpah remaking So Evil My Love, holstered pistol and sack of blow, a bizarre tale of a crime that devolves into an orgy of sex and violence splattered in cruel meaningless. I mean, this book is grim. The seeming protagonist at the beginning of the story, a guide, so to speak, in the first twenty or thirty pages is gone by the fortieth or fiftieth, gored by a hysterical beast, driven to hysteria by stupid, petty, drunken, and violent as often as not men. And the women aren't any better.
With our storyteller dead less than a third of the way through the story, a dislocation is made. No one is driving this boat anymore, least of all, you, the reader. Flannery O'Connor said of it, "The reader even has that slight feeling of suffocation that you have when you can't wake up and some evil is being worked on you." I cannot spoil any more of the story, because, if I’m right about what I think happens, which I am about thirty percent confident I am, it is a tale nihilistic to absurdity. And this, for some reason, is attractive to me. It is a story one has to read oneself. It is a story I have not read before. Likely, it is not a story I will read again. Hawkes nailed it on the first try.(less)
yeah, had a pretty decent review started--mostly done--halfway through the fourth (second to last) of the five books that make up this, in many ways,...moreyeah, had a pretty decent review started--mostly done--halfway through the fourth (second to last) of the five books that make up this, in many ways, almost perfect novel, but i decided, fuck it, i don't have the time or the energy for this shit. suffice it to say i would now count this among my top five or six novels, in the company of gravity's rainbow, suttree, the lime twig, the heart is a lonely hunter, &nd the bluest eye, that list being a one-author per list. so 2666 is pretty fucking great &nd recommended highly. one thing, do not bother it yer the type that has issues w/ ambiguity or needs even the slightest bit of resolution; unless, of course, you don't understand what that word means.(less)
I have no idea what just happened to me as I finished this book. I have very little idea what happened in the book. The plot is there, seemingly right...moreI have no idea what just happened to me as I finished this book. I have very little idea what happened in the book. The plot is there, seemingly right in front of you, and yet. . . and yet, it is still, a week after finishing it, almost completely indiscernible. More importantly, it is seemingly entirely unnecessary. I keep saying seemingly, I think, because a) I am trying to evoke a feeling I got that, while things may seem to be this way or that, or saying this or saying that, that they are not this or that, or they are not saying this or that; and b) I'm excusing my nebulous non-understanding of the book. The characters are there. They come up, out and right at you, and yet. . . and yet, I don't know who among them, if any, this book is about. I did not develop lasting attachments to any of them, at least not while reading the book. There is one that now, seemingly at least, has branded himself into my head, busted his way into the gallery of characters from fiction I've read over the years, a real rogues gallery of people like the Misfit from A Good Man is Hard to Find, or Gene Harrogate, the 'defiler of melons' from Suttree, or Ned Pointsman, Lazlo Jamf, Brig. Gen. Ernest Pudding, Blodgett Waxwing, or any number of major characters but not co-protagonists of Gravity's Rainbow, or Belacqua Shuah from More Pricks Than Kicks and Dream Of Fair To Middling Women, who is, without a doubt, the main character of his tales and yet. . . and yet; I could obviously go on with this list seemingly forever without making the point I'm trying to make. But that's kind of the point. Getting back, for one second, to the character I was referring to though, a certain Cap Leech, doctor, midwife, medicine man, among many other things, seems to be, by the end of the book, for lack of a better word, the protagonist of The Beetle Leg. The novel ends with some sort of confession from Leech, a short italicized ramble with his name as a heading, maybe one of the only really clear indicators of anything throughout the whole book. But what it meant was lost on me. Further, I have no clear recollection of his entrance into the story, but I'm pretty sure it's at least over halfway through, and though, for me at least, his thoughts, in many ways, dominate the story from the moment he appears, there is so much happening elsewhere that I can't, or don't know how to, put any of it in any kind of perspective. And that gets me to as good a place as any to say why I loved this book so much. It doesn't fucking matter! The writing itself is so purely perfect that the fact that reading the book made me feel like I was coming out of a heavy anesthesia, or that I was viewing everything through the filter of some trick you play on your vision by mashing your thumb into your eyeball works in a way, obviously entirely intentional on the part of Hawkes, so perfectly that to imagine seeing it without that eclipse-like detachment would make it. . . well, fuck if I know. How could I if I don't really know what it was the way that it was?
That unnameable point one comes to in any book you end up really loving, that moment you no longer notice you are reading a book and are just witnessing the story, or even the moment you notice you no longer notice that. . . Sometimes it comes 5-10 pages in, sometimes 350-500. Other than the first 20 or so pages I read before putting it down for over a month before picking it back up, I have no idea where that unnameable point in The Beetle Leg was, and it's not like I didn't go back and try and find it, either. And the book is a trim 159 pages total.
Let me say a couple of things on the other side over here that might make some of you want to actually read this. The back of my New Directions Paperback edition tells us that it was Hawkes's second full-length novel, first published by ND in 1951, and that apparently it spent 'more than fifteen years of underground existence' before 'emerging as a classic of visionary writing'. Newsweek referred to it as a 'surrealist Western,' and Albert J. Guerard called it a violent and poetic portayal of 'a landscape of sexual apathy.' And, S.K. Overbeck writes in his essay John Hawkes: The Smile Slashed By a Razor from Contemporary American Novelists:
The mixture of pity and exhilaration in the human condition is recreated with chilling authenticity by Hawkes. His is a search into the pit that stops at no amount of terrifying discovery. Admitting everything, rejecting nothing, Hawkes writes from a viewpoint of few American authors.
Overbeck also writes:
While it is true that Hawkes writes like, sounds like, no one else at all, it is equally true that his fiction "shares a birthmark," as he puts it, with a body of writing that might arbitrarily be represented by authors such as Faulkner, Kafka, Conrad, Lautréamont, Djuna Barnes, Flannery O'Connor, Nathanael West and Kraft-Ebbing.
When trying to understand or explain my thoughts on what writers came to mind as I read this, certainly Faulkner was one, and to a lesser extent O'Connor. But while her characters occupy a similar emotional landscape as do those in The Beetle Leg, she is intentionally as clear as one can be about the outcomes they suffer as Hawkes is intentionally. . . shit, I can't think of a word loaded enough to capture what he does; perhaps obtuse, but only if using some kind of secondary definition that eliminates reference to lacking intelligence or wit, like say, 'not sharp, pointed, or acute in form; blunt,' or 'not distinctly felt.' Of Hawkes's The Lime Twig, O'Connor stated she felt an intense sense of suffocation when reading it. I'm obviously out of my depth here, as usual, but the writers I mostly felt, while at the same time restating that Hawkes has a stamp all his own, were, sort of oddly I guess, Beckett, as a precursor, but mainly in the areas of detachment and isolation coupled with a fondness for grotesque humor; and, as someone who I simply can't imagine was not influenced by Hawkes, and even particularly The Beetle Leg, Cormac McCarthy. Beckett is Beckett, and somewhat incomparable to almost anyone in my opinion, but the main glaring lack of similarity here was the obsessive self-involvement of the characters/narrators in the works of Beckett I thought of while reading this, particularly First Love and Other Novellas. With McCarthy, again it is an almost eerie, bizarro-type feeling I get. While the language and dialogue could at times be lifted from one and dropped into the other without noticing it at all, Hawkes's book seems completely bereft of any of the literary and biblical allusion McCarthy's work is rife with. McCarthy also seems to be able to keep the reader in the loop as far as the plot goes even with the density of language and ideas he is throwing at you. Where McCarthy seems to fit somewhere in the scheme of retelling or re-interpreting myths as old as language itself, there is no parable or archetype or anything of the type to be found in The Beetle Leg. On a somewhat less profound note, it is interesting to me that Hawkes creates a world in which women live, move and do, and in ways equally as simple and complicated, as good and as bad, and as incomprehensibly bat-shit crazy as the men do, and that is something I don't think McCarthy does, or, as is totally his right and really not to the detriment of his work, have any interest in.
So this is way too long and I've lost any thread of what I might've been trying to say, but I'm gonna try to anyway real quick and then include a couple of passages just to show the utter twisted beauty of Hawkes's actual writing. First, there's this great, true story about a dinner Donald Barthelme hosted, not too long before his death, in New York where he contrived to bring together a group of his peers, most of the greatest, at the time, living North American postmodernist fiction writers. There was no great purpose or agenda for the event, just a dinner. Apparently Barthelme deliberated with great concern over the guest list, consulting a somewhat baffled Walter Abish, who felt out his league even giving his opinion on the subject. In the end, included were folks like Kurt Vonnegut, William Gaddis, William Gass, Robert Coover, John Barth, Susan Sontag (oddly the only woman writer invited), Abish, and John Hawkes, maybe a few others. Thomas Pynchon had politely declined, claiming to be caught between the coasts of Montana and Arizona. My point in mentioning this story is that apparently the only two people who had a good time were Barth and Hawkes, which was generally no surprise as they both liked a tipple and were of an outgoing nature. That was pretty much all I knew of Hawkes other than many, many titles from shelving his books over the years. To say the least, The Beetle Leg was not at all what I expected, and yet. . . and yet, I could've expected just about anything and it would not have been at all what I got, which is a book almost unlike any I've ever read before. And I've read a few.
A couple of excerpts. . .
The desert filled with women. They swarmed within sideboards of beaten wagons, staring ahead for sign of well or a shade in which to dismount and shake. Three cartloads plied the desert. Banded warm members, they traveled free of the farmer and cattle driver, chopped to the roots stray outcroppings of slate colored grass. These were women who rode unwatched on the dry bottom of the lake with empty breasts and nameless horses, and even the oldest unsnapped heavy collars and soured the passing miles from the tail boards where they sat and dangled their weak legs. They nodded to the thrust, the side slapping of the wheels.
“But I believe there’s trouble.” Again Luke climbed to his sod post and waited. Narrowly he glanced at Ma. “Yes, sir. Them women don’t have no water. Not a drop.”
“That’s all right.” Ma passed quickly with the basket. “You don’t draw such things to my attention.”
“Well,” Luke pulled on his hat, “I reckon they’d survive about anything.” He walked away, sat down and watched her.
And those women were roughly able to sing songs of the skewered lamb and waters driven back by faith or oath. They were dry. The boards on which they sat, scraped of fodder, might have burst aflame if the sun were caught briefly in the eye of a watch glass. They traveled in three lifeless dories with dead oarlocks and rotted sails; they sang stiffly, managed to hold the reins. They backtracked, chewed the sand and made their way over weary, salty miles to see one woman their own age brought to bed.
Every one of them made the trip. There was not a woman in the desert who had not left the animal pens, truck garden patch and particular gully of the home to sit all day in the sun, breathe the air of ancient lying in and love. For hours, under a never swaying skirt, a bare ankle remained chocked against brake iron or plank. The desert gave them up and they advanced; they might have died of thirst. But open-jawed and black, with matted and twisted cuts of hair, they crowded wagons taken from the farm.
They drew near, and Luke for the first time saw women’s faces. Once again on the sod hut, a thin scout in the sunlight, a bent marker limp through standing, his own face worked, pursed and dripping as he watched. Bonnets, ribbons but no curls, skull-blackened and thirsty they stared back above the slick fronts of horses plodding low, stepping singly, flat and without wind away from the wheels that were nearly locked. Instead of three wagon loads he would have liked to have seen just one face cleansed of the sun and that had not been formed and set long ago to the sudden bloody impression of a coffin bone. A few could not hear the meek but steady notes of their sisters’ hymns and pushed their ears with hand that had been raised trembling three days and nights. “I want to see one,” he searched among the tucked and tired wives, “before she’s learned to keep shut. And outlive a man.”
He did not wave.
On impulse, throwing off his coat, Cap Leach, in the days when he could shave a cow’s heart thin as glass and determine with one look beneath the sheets the span of the stricken, dared to extract the secret of a dead woman; on a wintry morning, having arrived according to the law too late, he attended the birth of Harry Bohn. The mother, dead but a moment, gave up the still live child in an operation which, hurried and unexpected, was more abortive than life saving and, when the doctor drew back, lapsed into her faintly rigorous position. the son, fished none too soon from the dark hollow, swayed coldly to and fro between his fingers. Leech left his scalpel stuck midway down the unbleeding thigh, buried the wailing forceps in his shiny bag, stepped outdoors with the infant and disappeared, thereafter, through all his career, barred from the most fruitful of emergencies.
But attendance at the surrounded bedside was not his special pleasure, he was not keen to treat night after night the umbilical cord like a burnt cork. He did not care for the sight of a swelling that decreased and felt no duty to bring relief to a woman lying in a shaft. Her only discoloration was for a purpose, and Cap Leech believed in the non-usefulness of burst organs; no good could come of it.
In the days following his clandestine operation upon the corpse, days of smooth cheeks and high collar, he teetered between the whiteness of a hall and the spotted robe tied behind the sufferer’s back. His training had begun with a set of wired bones in a dry box--he had clicked the teeth--and ended with poppy leaves smoldering in a pharmaceutical brash dish. Unguentine on the tip of his finger, reference to the tight page of a textbook, a limb swaddled in lay wrappings of bandage, the count of clear blood cells like constellations; with spectacles and shaved temples he took to searching coal bins for the wounded.
Cap Leech was no longer a midwife. A family of one son and one unborn had been abandoned for earaches and faeces smuggled in milk bottles when he set out with a few sticks and powders for thirty years practice among those without the chance of recovery, doomed, he felt, to submit. With him went the child whose features he had touched off by a slight grazing of the tongs.
He wandered the fields and lifted, dropped arms. At times, appearing starved and old, he answered questions and advised upon the description of a sore or at sight of a smoking specimen. He cauterized, poked, and painted those abrasions and distempers which, when healed, were forgotten or which, at their worst and sure to enlarge, brought a final shrinking to nameless lips.
The box grew brown with age. Once, in the empty frenzy of a cold night, he flung the bones across a whitened plain. But, always in time, he discovered the marble counter, the revolving fan, and jugs of pills. He crawled jerkily across the gumwood floor, stethoscope pressed upon the shell of a beetle sweeping hurriedly its wired legs. He mixed a foamy soda draught in paper cups, dust in water.
An old obstetrical wizard who now brought forth no young, losing year after year the small lock-jawed instruments of his kit, chalking black prescriptions on the leaves of a calendar, he was reduced to making the little circuits of malignant junctions, in conversation only now and then with a crafty druggist. His skills became an obsessive pastime and he looked even at the hobbling animal with a heavy eye. Warts appeared on the medicine man’s hands.
Absolutely perfect so far. A mix of Pynchon on meth w/ a deadline and a couple of really smart guys on meth w/ a deadline. Finished Eye in the Diamond...moreAbsolutely perfect so far. A mix of Pynchon on meth w/ a deadline and a couple of really smart guys on meth w/ a deadline. Finished Eye in the Diamond about a month ago and can only read two novels at the same time so am 2/3's of the way thru Gravity's Rainbow and must kill it before resuming Illuminatus!.(less)
hopefully review to come. not hopeful to come soon. other than kid's books i've read to my daughter, this is only the second time i've finished a book...morehopefully review to come. not hopeful to come soon. other than kid's books i've read to my daughter, this is only the second time i've finished a book & immediately started reading it again from the beginning. the first was Tenth of December & was mainly b/c i was staying w/ my best friend temporarily, it had just come out, he'd just gotten it, i was broke, the library had an outrageous waitlist, it was amazing & george saunders fucking rules. this will be the first time i am doing this w/ a book i already own, an unbelievably huge (actual--not wishlist) & ever-metastasizing to-read pile & just b/c. thomas pynchon is for me part of a select group including the coen brothers, pavement & many others, that i am incapable of experiencing objectively. so, from an admittedly absolute & impossible non-objective viewpoint, do not believe the haters, the mehs, people w/ a built-in auto-response of disappointment to anything new by a writer sacred to them, people (similar but not the same as previous) incapable of considering a book on its own merit, people (also similar but different) incapable of considering a book within any context other than the writer's previous works, or probably me, either, for that matter. i will say this with absolute impossible non-objectivity: i loved Inherent Vice, but Bleeding Edge, while sharing many qualities (& how could it not--it's pynchon), is an altogether different beast & way better, more complex &, frankly, way more old school pynchonesque than anything review-wise i've come across. as captain beefheart used to say, "back to front." more to come . . .(less)
Had this book forever. Picked it up because of the cover and its indicators of religious mockery, Catholicism in particular (not something that you...moreHad this book forever. Picked it up because of the cover and its indicators of religious mockery, Catholicism in particular (not something that you see every day and usually not funny when you do), and also on the simplest level a modern (post?) take/retelling of fairy tales, still and for a long time now, my favorite kind of book. Think Robert Coover, Angela Carter, Donald Barthelme, and many, many others, some funny, some not, some downright transgressive, some truly transcendent, some just silly, some all at the same time.
Published in 1966, another indicator of where my head is these days, Bellairs' first book is a 12 chapter compendium of Catholic hilarity. Hilarity, I say. Beginning with I. The True History of St. Fidgeta, Virgin and Martyr and continuing on through V. A Short Guide to Catholic Church History for Catholic College Students Going Out into the World to Defend Their Faith and X. A Chaplet of Devotions, Causes, and Societies to Which the Catholic May Safely Adhere to the end, Bellairs playfully crushes the fantasies Catholics are forced to endure in a daily battle with cognitive dissonance where everything they are taught is the Washington Generals to reality's Harlem Globetrotters. I forgot what I was talking about.
Bellairs somehow manages to be neither moralizing or immoral, merely irreverent as opposed to profane, most likely, but not definitely, not a good Catholic, and yet, and yet . . . he is obviously so versed in the subject that you can't help but feel a little love for the universe he so artfully skewers. In some respects he reminds me a little of Barthelme, if Barthelme pulled all his focus together onto one target. On the other hand, Barthelme could do that perfectly using about 3 or 4 pages. Bellairs went on to write 18 books total before he died in 1991. 16 of those are young adult fantasy/horror/mystery split among 3 series. For what it's worth.
"A wax tablet (preserved in the convent of the Fidgettines in Fobbio) bears her name and 'JMJ' at the top, and has farther down the page a note, which is labeled 'Jocus Porphyris.' A rough translation of the corrupt Late Latin would run thus:
Q. Why does a Catholic cross himself? A. To get to the other side.
Scholars agree that the joke seems to lose something in translation."(less)
He is the Hip Priest. He is the Cockney James Brown. He is the Diceman, Squidlord, and the Big Prinz. He is the man whose head expanded, the great M.E...moreHe is the Hip Priest. He is the Cockney James Brown. He is the Diceman, Squidlord, and the Big Prinz. He is the man whose head expanded, the great M.E.S. He is Mark E. Smith. He is the Fall.
The Fall are unequivocally my favorite band forever, and I actually think about shit like that. This year the Fall became 35 years old. Mark E. Smith is the only surviving original member, and not by a close margin either. Upon forming in 1977, the group soon became a vehicle for Smith’s personality and his twisted literary/musical hybrid vision of Lovecraftian horror and proletarian grumpy old drunken tirades. Also, he did, and still does, a bunch of drugs. And he’s gotten into drunken brawls with his band on more than one occasion. And yet. . . . and yet, he is a loveable old curmudgeon. The one real rock star a normal person would want to go to the pub with. Not that he would want to go with you. Smith doesn’t care for many people personally.
Legendary British DJ John Peel had championed the band since the early 80’s until his death a few years ago, dubbing them famously, “always different, always the same.” No band is more synonymous with Peel, who was kind of like if Dick Clark was the hippest cat you knew and his show showed it. Smith met Peel only a few times other than the 30+ sessions the band did over the years. Apparently, he didn’t really think much of Peel. Smith didn’t dislike him, mind you, at least not enough to trash him in Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith by Smith with Austin Collings. No, Smith saves it all for the people he sees as the most worthless walking about . . . musicians.
In his defense, Smith doesn’t unload the way he could, the way many of the 50+ one time members of the band have over the years. They are the ones seemingly with an ax to grind, and Smith, who’s never enjoyed the reputation of a charmer, has the air of a, if not exactly benevolent, then bewildered and slightly ashamed father figure. It’s hard to describe the sympathetic way he comes across discussing incidents that portray him a less than flattering light, Believable, that’s what I’d call it. The poor saps didn’t have it in them. He'd tried to warn them, told them what’s it like on the road, all the time, the booze, the dope, the birds.
Somewhere I lost my thread. I guess the point may be, if you have any interest in M.E.S., and you know who you are, this is not the expected blast many people thought Smith would write if he ever addressed the subject of the Fall’s past. As has always been the case, any shots he takes, at former members or anyone else for that matter, come in his lyrics, accompanied by the bombast and repetition of the Fall, whoever they may be at that time.
The most interesting thing about the book is the reader’s ability to decipher what M.E.S. is actually saying. Not only is he deliberately cryptic, both in his lyrics and everyday speech, he is, more often than not, drunk, exhausted, and/or aloof, some combination of the two, or all three to differing or similar degrees. He never suffers fools lightly, and it is not uncommon for him to end an interview by walking off in the middle of it. So to actually be able to read what he is trying to say is satisfying after decades of fanboy worship.
There is actually a decent amount of biographical information, though it comes lacking any organizing principle. The same can be said for most of the book, not surprising as he was probably spouting it off the top of his head at the pub while Mr. Collings furiously wrote or typed. We do learn he grew up mostly happy, with too many sisters, no tele, not even music before he entered his teens. It was at this time he nursed his explosive imagination with the occult and the works of Lovecraft, Machen, Blackwood, and James. He thought most of punk rock was shit, particularly lyrically. Though Smith appears to have some underlying political beliefs, he makes his points through telling stories of drug addiction, paranoia, murder, and football. Oh yeah, I haven’t mentioned football. M.E.S. is/was a huge football fan. Not so much anymore with the coming of Becks, pony tails, and money, money, money.
So this review is essentially a recommend for the people who don’t need it, or a weird mistake you made if you read this far and have no idea who I’m talking about.
"I don't care if it's me and your granny on the bongos. It's the Fall." -Mark E. Smith (less)