i adore nicholson baker's writing voice and i really feel i can give no higher compliment than this: quite often it is how a writer's voice resonates with me that makes or breaks a novel for me; no matter what craft it might otherwise hold. my first encounter with it came when i read the dry observations of the mezzanine and then later i was alarmed, allured and amused by two of his smuttier works, the fermata and house of holes, and was pleased but not awed by the paul chowder novel previous to this, the anthologist. still, each time i was simultaneously stimulated and comforted by that voice. and then came the travelling sprinkler, his latest and arguably best novel.
karen alerted me to the fact that this was on net galley so i downloaded it. but then she kindly put a print arc in my hands (the hardcover doesn't come out until september) and i was really excited because it stood to reason that i would enjoy it too -- because of the whole voice thing.
what i didn't realize was that i was about to read what has become my favourite nicholson baker book thus far. in true "i love this" fashion, i read it twice through. and while i know the book is about paul chowder, i couldn't help but feel when reading the travelling sprinkler, that i had really spent a few days visiting with him, but even more so with his author, in the same manner i would with an old and dear friend, who might ask "have you heard this one?" and pull up a video on youtube. there is, in fact, at least one url printed directly in the book, and i suspect that the enhanced ebook they're also publishing will have direct links to other content embedded within it, permissions clearance permitting.
despite this being a sequel of sorts to the anthologist, i don't think you have to have read that book to love this one; aside from a passing references to his flying spoon poems a new reader wouldn't get but doesn't really need to, the novel stands perfectly on its own.
so what happens here? paul chowder is a poet who decides he wants to write pop songs instead. or protest songs. or both. he's experimenting with tobacco and he's going to quaker meetings. he misses his old girlfriend roz and he tries to be a good neighbour. in the midst of this little slice of his life, he also writes a book about music: about the bassoon, and about debussy and his sunken cathedral; about victoria de los angeles and bachiana brasileira nº 5, and also about guitars, and electronic keyboards, and seven hundred dollar microphones ordered from the B&H catalogue. and you might somewhat impatiently wait, as i did, for him to finally finish explaining about the travelling sprinkler. i was tempted to look it up on the interweb to see what it looked like but i restrained myself. i actually considered pasting a photo of travelling sprinkler into this review as i read the book because i was so impatient, so flummoxed by the trail of hose on the cover, but in the end found i was happier that i waited for it, waited for him.
paul digresses to us about the minute details of his thoughts and memories, of aspects of his life in that typical, tangential, signature nicholson baker way. but what's more, he reveals a gentle heart, an emotional depth that hasn't been apparent in the other baker novels that i have read, including its predecessor. and that's what really made the book surpass my expectations. and it felt like paul chowder had opened up to me, in a way he never had before, and that it was okay for him to try to take those rare moments of happiness for himself. and i could hear the smile in nicholson baker's writing voice and for a while, i smiled too.
i've got a new crush, and it's on jurgen. i read it four times in a row. i took a break after the fourth and read a few different things while stayingi've got a new crush, and it's on jurgen. i read it four times in a row. i took a break after the fourth and read a few different things while staying with friends, but now i'm back to longing for jurgen. i'm having trouble thinking of anything or anyone else. the book works on so many levels: there's crude yet witty comedy, satirical allegory, romantical fiction, philosophical musings and kernels of wisdom that make up the.. archaic? anachronistic? fantasy laced with intertextuality unfolding in an amazing cosmology. what a package! how could a book nerd of my particular stripe even resist?
this is the story of jurgen, a poet turned pawnbroker, forty-and-something. he is possessed of a superior wisdom; he is willing to taste any drink once; and women never understand him. he tells us all this, repeatedly -- but oh so winningly. the author, james branch cabell was a gentleman of leisure, inclined toward research and genealogy and it shows in his layered style, entwining his own mythos with many other traditions: greek, roman, norse, but also medieval romances, russian folklore, persian and welsh, and too many others to name, all remarkably synthesized. (there are no annotations in my copy. but this is really the kind of book that demands endnotes, and i did find a wonderful site that covers the references in jurgen in depth i very much recommend, here: http://home.earthlink.net/~davidrolfe... --i've had it open in my browser for three weeks! :)
jurgen is on a journey. he is seeking for someone he has lost because, to put it simply, he showed sympathy for the devil. his pursuit immediately becomes circuitous -- he ends up returned to his youth, or perhaps in an alternate reality, in another version of what could have been. he wanders from adventure to adventure, now at the peak of his prowess but with all the knowledge of his years, finding other people he had lost in sometimes poignant and sometimes hilarious circumstances. sometimes there is a little of both but always, always he is followed by the shadow of the aged leshy/goddess of wednesday who gave him the gift.
jurgen uses that gifts to score with the ladies, and he is blatant, and impulsive (he'll taste any drink once, remember?) as he seduces practically every pretty face that crosses his path. what charms! and what ladies! to wit:
Then the door closed, the bolt fell, and Jurgen went away, still in considerable excitement.
"This Dame Anaïs is an interesting personality," he reflected, "and it would be a pleasure, now, to demonstrate to her my grievance against the cock, did occasion serve. Well, things less likely than that have happened. Then, too, she came upon me when my sword was out, and in consequence knows I wield a respectable weapon. She may feel the need of a good swordsman some day, this handsome Lady of the Lake who has no husband."
he ends up shacking up with her in cocaigne for two months before he moves on. jurgen was published in 1919 and by modern reckoning, the double entendres and their symbolism are hardly risqué, they're casual conversation. but back in 1919, the novel came under fire for being lewd and obscene by a censorious group called the american society for the suppression of vice, and they took jurgen and cabell to court. cabell won, as did literature in this skirmish, with the support of many of the more famous names of his day, running a gamut that included mencken and walpole, scott fitzgerald and one of cabell's most admired writers, mark twain. jurgen is the most famous of fifty books by cabell. i have now in my possession the silver stallion. i hope that jurgen is not the only book i enjoy, and that its infamous trial only insured that i find cabell eventually ... even though he has once again faded into obscurity, after a brief resurgence in the sixties and seventies, a writer's writer for certain writers (later writers influenced by cabell include charles g. finney -- my researches on finney i thank for sending me in cabell's direction) and neil gaiman (though his approach is markedly different). i never thought i'd be thankful for a bunch of crazy old prudes but i am. for jurgen continues to give me something new every time i read it, this magical book in the elaborate world it belongs to, the land of poictesme, and its neighbouring provinces. it is the place of cabell's conjuring, and to me, jurgen is nothing less than a irrepressible spell in the shape of a scamp chased by a shadow, the soul of antic, all the while so self-aware and sometimes sad:
"Hah, madame," he replied, "but it amuses me to weep for a dead man with eyes that once were his. For he was a dear lad, before he went rampaging through the world, in the pride of his youth and in the armour of his hurt. And songs he made for the pleasure of kings, and sword-play he made for the pleasure of men, and a whispering he made for the pleasure of women, in places where renown was, and where he trod boldly, giving pleasure to everybody in those fine days. But for all his laughter, he could not understand his fellows..."
me too! oh jurgen, i think you really understand me. ...more
Raymond Chandler once said that a "good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled." When I first came to read Ben Loory's stories five years agoRaymond Chandler once said that a "good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled." When I first came to read Ben Loory's stories five years ago, I began to see just what Chandler meant. For me, these stories were, and are, a revelation: in some ways so modern, their brevity suited to our contemporary attention span, so easily consumed sitting on the subway, while wondering how a particular tale might end (I never could guess what would happen next), and yet so familiar: so like the fables, and myths, the sagas, and the dreams and the twilight zones that I have loved, that they feel they must have existed before Ben wrote them.
Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day is pure distillate of story, boiled down to the essential words that unfurl inside and take up residence, and the disarming restraint of their sinewy form only serves to bring me in closer so that I'm collected inside them, as they are inside this book, as they collect inside my memory, as they make laugh (oh so hard), cower (equally hard), and smile (hardest there is). They make me feel, for those moments when I am in them, that I have a reprieve from this world, and have really lived these stories myself, that I was part of them and those sublimely surreal other worlds that we are still left to discover in this looryverse.
The most visceral moments in reading are the ones to wait for, so absorbing you can almost reach out and touch the taut atmosphere, and the tension of the tale resolves itself inside you. Ben’s book is full of these moments, told with a direct simplicity and metre; his words wash over you, delightful and unexpected, like a convenient sprinkler on an unbearably hot day. This writing is no inch of ivory but more a paint-with-water book, the paint inked on in defined lines, just enough, mind, and you simply add your own water to a world that becomes more vivid and real every moment, and then you wipe off the brush, or eye, if need be.
I don’t want to give too much away in this review about what you will read in these pages: I will not point out favourites (though i do have them) because each of the stories has its own secrets at its core, and it’s how we reflect these stories on ourselves that we come to love one or another best. I will say that these pages are a pastiche of the paranormal mixed with some magic, deepened by dazzling darkness, populated with people, trees, ducks, tvs, the sea, and the breeze, so very many things and beings changing, and they morph before our eyes and as the characters change, we change too.
If it’s not clear by now, this is an exhortation to people that might read this review: I recommend you get this book the minute it comes out. I’m hard on books, but I know what I like, and I love this … I knew at first reading that there was something very special in these stories. I know you will find charm, and enchantment, some anxiety, some sorrow, some sweetness, and occasionally hope here. This is a breathtakingly lovely collection of little stories, so full of nighttime and day, so spare and so fine, I cannot now imagine living my life without it, and can’t for the life of me, think why you should either.
"my personal history would not be disappointing to readers, but it is my own affair which i want to keep to myself" - b. traven in defense of his refu"my personal history would not be disappointing to readers, but it is my own affair which i want to keep to myself" - b. traven in defense of his refusal to provide a biography to help promote his first novel.
the name that b. traven was christened with may never be revealed to us, but as tantalizing as that mystery is, i think it's pretty evident when you read his books that you know him: his interest in mexico and the indigenous population and their folklore; his disdain for greed and those who succumb to it; his love of travelling and adventure. the stories that comprise this collection are all reflective of those interests he most famously combined in the novel The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. i think b. traven's talents might suit the short form best: as a writer, his strengths lie in his dialogue, and his characters, and the adventures they embark upon, and while the adventures are grand, he doesn't rely on a lot of plot to entrance you.
with the exception of "a new god was born" which felt a little too thin, and too journalistic in style, more a footnote in a history of guatemala than something that stood up on its own legs, all the stories in this collection really kicked my ass. i found "night visitor" spooky but also fascinating, and my enjoyment of it was perhaps coloured by the mystery of b. traven: one of the characters claims he has written 18 books but had no desire to publish them once they were perfected, but instead burned them, feeling a complete satisfaction in his cycle of creation and destruction. stories like "effective medicine", "the cattle drive", and "midnight call" seem like he must have lived them, and yet make me feel i had these adventures too. "conversion of some indians" and particularly "friendship" ask some very basic and deep questions, that he surely believed we should all ask ourselves, and challenge us to think and find our own answers. "macario", the beautiful final tale in the collection, is regarded as a modern mexican fable: the story of a woodcutter whose only ambition in life is to eat a whole turkey himself, and faces life and death decisions as a result. it is a tremendous story, and it doesn't really matter if the man who wrote it was mexican, german, or american. he just tells a great rollicking tale. :)...more
at first blush, i was excited to find this anthology because nothing would suit me better than to sit at Jorge Luis Borges' knee, and have him tell what his favourite stories were, or even have him read them to me. of course, this book was not just edited by Borges, but also Silvina Ocampo, and Adolfo Bioy Casares, who is quoted thusly by Ursula K. Le Guin in the intro, saying the book came out of a conversation "about fantastic literature... discussing the stories which seemed best to us. One of us suggested that if we put together the fragments of the same type we had listed in our notebooks, we would have a good book."
and so i began. i read the first story, and liked it. then i read the second. it is quite short, so i include it for your enjoyment here:
A Woman Alone With Her Soul Thomas Bailey Aldrich
A woman is sitting alone in a house. She knows she is alone in the whole world: every other living thing is dead. The door bell rings.
i stopped. i read it again. i thought, "who is this Thomas Bailey Aldrich? why haven't i heard of him?" i read the short biographical info provided by his name: Thomas Bailey Aldrich, North American poet and novelist, was born in New Hampshire in 1835 and died in Boston in 1907. He was the author of Cloth of Gold (1874), Wyndham Tower (1879), and An Old Town by the Sea (1893). i thought, "okay... maybe this story was never published in his lifetime. i didn't expect people were writing stories like this in the 19th century." and, "wow. doorbells have been around a long time. this story seems like it could have been written by Ben Loory when my back was turned except this anthology has been around since 1940, and the last revision was in 1976. okay. i'd better do a google search on Aldrich, a man writing stories that could have been written yesterday."
and so i researched. i found that Aldrich has been given a lot of credit: the first appearance of a detective in english literature (The Stillwater Tragedy - 1880), and that critics feel the semi-autobiographical novel he wrote in 1870 (The Story of a Bad Boy) anticipated Huck Finn. All this despite the fact he was primarily a poet (rhyming verse), editor, and writer of travel books. i began to suspect that Aldrich was eldritch.
i kept on, looking through materials at Project Gutenberg, hoping to find other stories by Aldrich like "A Woman Alone With Her Soul" but nothing read like it did. i kept looking for the collected volume cited in the sources and acknowledgements of my anthology, and found that all 322 pages of vol. 9 had been scanned by somebody at the University of Toronto library (for some reason i found this creepy) and posted online. there was a 'search text' function so i copied the title of the story in and there were no matches. i was confused. i flipped through pages of the book; again, nothing read like this story read, or was as short as it was... nothing matched up. i stopped, pondered, and did another search, this time for the story's title, and found it in a listing of sci fi stories had the following note: "this is most likely by Jorge Luís Borges" with no further elaboration. i found this statement on a couple of other sites, and then i began to think that Borges was making me believe in books that didn't actually exist again (his own "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" appears in this anthology, with its tricksy encyclopedia). i wrote Ben, asked him if he had written the story, told him that Borges might have, apologized for bothering him, and searched on, and finally came upon a trail of emails by a Dennis Hien, from a mailing list called Project Wombat that gave me something. somebody had been searching for the shortest sci fi story ever written there, at Project Wombat, in 2004 and Hien did some research (though he couldn't find the initial conversation string... the text i read was from 2007. it turned out another one of my favourites, Dashiell Hammett, in an introduction to an anthology he had edited called "Creeps By Night" in 1931, said,
"One of my own favorites is that attributed, I believe, to Thomas Bailey Aldrich
A woman is sitting alone in a house. She knows she is alone in the whole world: every other living thing is dead. The doorbell rings.
That has, particularly, the restraint that is almost invariably the mark of the effective weird tale.",
There is no reference to the title of the story as it appears in my anthology, and I will need to seek out the Hammett anthology to see if it can provide any further clues. My gut tells me that Borges/Ocampo/Casares must have stumbled upon this story in Hammett's anthology, at some point in the nine years that elapsed between the publication of the two, and decided to use it. and yet, this story was not in the vol. 9 text. but Hien cast further light (i imagine through his own researches because no references were included) by revealing that the kernel of the story idea was Aldrich's, that it was published in his essays "Leaves from a Notebook" collected in a book called the Ponkapag Papers, which was in its turn collected in that self-same volume 9, that i had discovered on line. The text that Aldrich wrote is as follows:
"Imagine all human beings swept off the face of the earth excepting one man. Imagine this man in some vast city, New York or London. Imagine him on the third or fourth day of his solitude sitting in a house and hearing a ring at the door-bell!"
and so, this is not the story attributed to Aldrich i had read. it is a seed yes, but the differences are striking, and it is not the idea, but that micro short that resounds in my mind (and in others' minds: i found a lengthy blog entry from 2007 dissecting the tiny gem in the course of my research). it seems to me that this was as close as Borges felt he could get to finding the genesis of the story that Hammett shared, that originated with Aldrich, and so he referenced the works vol 9, and it seems likely that Borges invented the title, and finally, led me on this merry chase seventy years later. i wonder if Hammett actually read the story the way he quoted it or if i respond to it because this version is his version of what he had read in Aldrich. i still have many questions and am doubtful that i will find answers. i realize this is not really a review of the Book of Fantasy. i am after all, only on page 16, and there are many stories to read but this chase has reminded me of my passion for Borges, and how razor-sharp the line between truth and fiction is, that life is mystery, and reverberating in my mind is PKD quoting Dante in The Transmigration of Timothy Archer: God is the book of the universe".
i am tempted to give the book five stars right now though. i mean, how can i not?
i just realized i never came back and finished the review for this. i did end up changing my rating to four stars: i was really blown away by some of these stories:
- "the man who collected the first of september", 1973 by tor age bringsvaerd i've already re-read several times since first finding it in this book, and can't quite get over it.
- b. traven, another favourite of mine has a story "macario" included which i'd never read before that has really reverberated in my mind, and i can't recommend enough.
then there was a sleeper: months later, walking down the street, i found myself preoccupied by the recollection of the story called "the horses of abdera" by leopoldo lugones (i've subsequently realized borges had written a biography about him). i was also thrilled to find included stories i already adored by may sinclair, rudyard kipling, saki, and wilde, and of course, borges himself.
there was also the inclusion of a waugh story called "the man who liked dickens" which i recognized as the ending of his novel a handful of dust, which had seemed out of keeping with the rest of the novel when i first read it (my review of that is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...) finding the publication history made me realize waugh had published that story on its own before marrying it to his novel which really explains a lot. another literary mystery solved!
i did not love the story contributions of borges' fellow editors, bioy casares, and ocampo as much. i found some of the minor authors they added to the collection perhaps could not stand up against the finesse and craft of the greats i've already mentioned, and others by our old pals tolstoy, poe, and de maupassant. i'm pretty sure borges only loved the ones i do, anyway. :) that said, i think this is an impressive collection that is a requisite for anyone who loves the bent, and the strange, the fable and the twilight.
***************************************************** yet another update:
i just found out something exciting! as i said in the review, and my status updates as i read this collection, how thrilling it was to find that borges liked the same stories as i do, and i was convinced that he selected the ones i liked best. as i noted above, one selected was from a collection i had happened upon six months earlier, the haunting short story by may sinclair, "where their fire is not quenched" i was looking up obscure books today, and decided i needed to try to find may sinclair's novel, the dark night, and while i was searching, this came up on alibris:
Cuentos Memorables Segun Jorge Luis Borges by Jorge Luis Borges
In a 1935 magazine article, celebrated author Jorge Luis Borges explained why he chose Mary Sinclair's short story "Donde su fuego nunca se apaga" as the most memorable story hed ever read, while he mentioned 11 other of his personal favorites. Inspired by Borges statements in the article, this anthology gathers an array of magnificent short stories by authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, and O. Henry, among others.
i am stingy with my stars, i admit it. but i read this book twice in a row on first reading, and that means one of two things: i'm not sure how i feeli am stingy with my stars, i admit it. but i read this book twice in a row on first reading, and that means one of two things: i'm not sure how i feel, and i need another go, or i love the book so unabashedly that there is nothing for it but to read it again right away. in this case, cutter and bone kicked my ass, and i'm still sort of reeling.
i read this book a year ago, in june 2010. it's not in my possession anymore, and i gave back my borrowed copy reluctantly. i need to buy it and read it again, and yet i'm glad i've taken some time between readings. (update jan 2013: the original owner gave me their copy. and i am reading it again now. :) i still think of it, often, how much i felt all the ugly joy, and loss and frustration that threads this book, and yet there is still joy: these characters are entirely engaged in their own disintegration, they scramble and they struggle to get it all figured out; they are tearing at the throat of life. thornburg's painted a vivid visceral world in words and the story washes in around me. i haven't said much about plot here but it's enough to say somebody witnesses a murder, and there is blackmail, and car chases, and sexy scenes in squalid circumstances, and a hell of a lot of fury.
two friends are at the centre of this book: cutter, the tortured, maimed vietnam vet, a genius, a puck, is balanced by richard bone, a former ad man gigolo, physically revolted by a conventional life, broken in his own way. the two embrace each other, scrape up against each other, and their symbiosis beats like a pulse through the suspense of the caper, the opportunity that cutter hangs all their hopes upon. cutter's girlfriend is named mo and the experience of reading her was nerve-wracking. it's rare i find characters in books with my name and she was so much my opposite in thornburg's description, and yet sharing a familiarly chaotic frame of mind that i wondered if he wasn't spying on me. mo is the third main figure of the novel. she influences both the men and the pattern of the novel but she is still secondary to the two men; she is their ophelia.
this is a perfectly paced, completely engaging and wonderfully written novel. the characters are etched they are so well drawn, and their voices will ring in your inner ear. it's raw. it's not exactly life-affirming, but it is as real as fiction gets, i think. ...more
i have learned many things over the course of my life. now that i am older, knowledge comes in fits and spurts; and lately i have been seized, shakeni have learned many things over the course of my life. now that i am older, knowledge comes in fits and spurts; and lately i have been seized, shaken like a fist, with new thoughts, and ideas about myself, and the order of things. and i seem to see the reflection of these views everywhere. i see them here, in the book of ebenezer le page, presented as the reminisces of a very old man, who is from the channel island of guernsey, and has watched the world change from his little stone house, as it moves through some of the most chaotic moments in history. the characters relay not only their everyday concerns, but their fears for what the world is constantly becoming, at what progress will do to their little island, and so all the world, in its inexorable march. it is a deeply sad, and nostalgic work, and while there are many moments that are committed to concern about technology, and people, it is at its core, also a fundamentally pragmatic book, echoing the values of the world before. as ebenezer says:
Mind you, I am not one of those who say living on Guernsey in the good old days was a bed of roses. I think living in this world is hell on earth for most of us most of the time, it don't matter when or where we are born; but the way we used to live over here, I mean in the country parts, was more or less as it had been for many hundreds of years; and it was real....When I think what have happened to our island, I could sit down on the ground and cry.
but as tabitha puts it most directly, "Ah well, there is only one way of living in this world, and that is to go on from day to day, and see what the next day bring." it is the only choice left to anybody who wants to live, even if they fear the changes that inevitably come, that are out of our control.
this is also a book that made me cry like a broken-hearted child, and yet it partly hates me, because i am a woman, and so it cannot understand me, or expect me to understand. even when the women in this book claim that men have understood them, they are deceived. liza is as complex as character as i've stumbled across but she is never understood, even by raymond, the radiant and tortured soul at the heart of this book who distrusts women, and rails against them. ebenezer himself, a self-described skirt chaser defends them to raymond, but then spews forth his own rage. i should say this alienation is really only evinced in dialogue. in characterization the women aren't shells, or interchangeable, or one dimensional: they are strong, and brave, and weak, and silly, and wise, and many other things besides. but the author's antipathy to women is never fully submerged even as he presents them with complicated, differentiated characters. in contrast the love relationships between men in this book were a revelation to me. one might at first, see the depth of love between the boon comrades recounted in these pages as homosexual, and there is no doubt in my mind that some of these characters do feel that kind of love. but it also reminds us that there was a time when men felt they could never find an equality in love with women, who were so different than they, and that they shared their lives with other men, who understood them as women could not, who shared experiences with them that women could not. one could perhaps see this as a triumph of the progress feared in the novel, that the women in pants that ebenezer reviles, the women of today, might have been the kind that he could have loved as equally, as companionably, as he did jim.
the depth of all these characters, women and men, is a spectacular feat: these characters truly breathe. they are rational, and irrational, and step through these pages as a vivid pageant of complex people that you come to know, as ebenezer did. i went to live with ebenezer when i read this book. i stayed with him at les moulins, and i shared his pain, and his loneliness, and revelled with him at the top of a greasy pole, and whether he wanted me or not, i loved the rascal, and his book too....more
i've been thinking about writing a review for mr. bridge (and one for mrs. bridge) for three years now. in the midst of reading and even after i am ali've been thinking about writing a review for mr. bridge (and one for mrs. bridge) for three years now. in the midst of reading and even after i am always overflowing with reaction to the books but it's been hell trying to restrain my thoughts. each time i've found i think so much about them that i spin out to my own context, considering the influences of culture and community and nature and nurture and then i think many outrageous things about the world and find it hard to spin it back down to midwestern america, let alone actually writing a review, let alone two!
and it's hard for me now to want to read one of these novels without reading the other because while they do stand as individual and distinct works (mrs. bridge's naive repression resonates very differently from mr. bridge's view of the proprieties of a white middle-class american dream) back-to-back they are magical, reflecting and echoing, each enriching the other, the two books making a magnificent literary marriage from one complicated one. published ten years apart (this one came out in 1969, ten years after mrs. bridge) they are such perfectly complementary portraits, perspectives of a mister and a missus who ostensibly shared a life. but i finally think i know what i want to say now, so do forgive me if you happen to stumble upon one and then the other of these reviews and see some repetition in my theme. heck, i may even reuse these opening paragraphs for both! :)
mr. bridge would want you to know that he is a devoted father and husband. he works very hard so his family will have all the advantages he did not, and so they will be very provided for when he is gone. he is very fastidious and very conservative. he has his own code of honour but what he tells you without telling you by telling you what he thinks, in this masterful book by evan s. connell, is that he's pompous, bigoted and opinionated and he thinks that makes him the right kind of american. it's the most amazing thing about mr. bridge, how intimately you get to know him -- all his aspects. and connell does it just that way, sketching him in, one vignette at a time, revealing the man by his actions and his words, in marvellously controlled, charming, engaging, and sometimes acerbic prose. each chapter reveals or compounds another aspect of this finely wrought character and his world: his family, his work, his employees, his club, his business associates -- he doesn't have any friends. mr. bridge can't breach his own distance and really? nothing gets out, and nothing comes in, nor does he really want it to. he feels he has done right by his family and has lived a productive and useful life.
mr bridge is a testament to an early twentieth century midwestern american man, to an era, a time that came before, in a community i could never have fit into, a place i've never really been able to comprehend. connell's portrait of mr. bridge is a fully-realized frankenstein who suffused me when i read his book. i felt very strongly in both my readings that these very WASP-y books finally helped me understand a worldview so outside my own understanding. i've never been able to learn the ability to remain composed, impassive, unemotional. i've often thought it might be nice to be stoic in person and also philosophy, to quell the storms of passion and empathy, to exchange them for stolid control, and the closest i think i might get is to step into mr. bridge's world and live a part of his life with him again. and even though his world is harsh and unfair, it is also funny and wise and mr. bridge himself is seductive is his arrogance. i copy the last two paragraphs of the novel in spoiler tags below. there's no grand reveal in these words but they complete his picture, and i often think of them, and at last, with compassion.
(view spoiler)[Mr. Bridge got to his feet reluctantly. He opened the book and held it for his wife, who sang in a pure, slender tone. The congregation sang "Joy to the World," and he sang a few phrases because he enjoyed the Christmas carols.
Yet while he was singing he reflected on the word "joy"--the archaic sound of this odd word, and its meaning. He reflected that he had occasionally heard people use this word. Evidently they had experienced joy, or believed they had experienced it. He asked himself if he ever had known it. If so, he could not remember. But he thought he must have known it because he understood the connotation, would be impossible without having experienced it. However, if he had once known joy it must have been a long time ago. Satisfaction, yes, and pleasure of several sorts, and pride, and possibly a feeling which might be called "rejoicing" after some serious worry or problem had been resolved. There were many such feelings, but none of them should be called "joy". He remembered enthusiasm, hope, and a kind of jubilation or exultation. Cheerfulness, yes, and joviality, and the brief gratification of sex. Gladness too, fullness of heart, appreciation, and many other emotions. But not joy. No, that belonged to simpler minds. (hide spoiler)]
when i was in mcnally jackson on my last visit to new york, i dragged greg over to a table, asking him about Son of the Morning Star, the evan s. connwhen i was in mcnally jackson on my last visit to new york, i dragged greg over to a table, asking him about Son of the Morning Star, the evan s. connell book i'd set out to read several years ago before stumbling upon this book, mrs. bridge, instead. i was concerned about the small font size in the morning star edition the store carried and wanted to know if b&n had a bigger-fonted one. when we returned to the book there was a man standing there looking at mrs. bridge, stationed just beside connell's other famous work, and i accosted him with enthusiasm.. i told him how wonderful it was and then reiterated my constant refrain that even though written ten years apart, the two books are perfectly matched, i feel strongly that both mrs. bridge and mr. bridge together should, and must be read. individually, they are accomplished works; together they are magic. he nervously shied away and i did not sell a book for mcnally-jackson that day (though i did buy a cabell through their book expresso machine). you are welcome to sneak away from my exhortations, but i will just feel sorry for you that you deprived yourself of these exquisite portraits.
considering mrs. bridge, i have learned that connell began trying to write it in the early 1950s, attempting a more straightforward narrative but eventually set upon its final form: a series of vignettes, a stack of literary polaroids taken by a budding family photographer if you will, organized in an album in such a way that these scattered moments, that overlap and sometimes gap but come together to quietly and intimately reveal mrs. bridge's character to the reader, alleviating the growing distance that she feels the longer she lives, and echoing the album she will take refuge in late in life. some twelve of these vignettes were published starting in 1955 in the paris review, and eventually the full book saw light of day in 1959. i think that structure coupled with connell's consummately concise yet compassionate prose allowed me to connect with this WASP-y woman in a way that would never happen in real life, seeing as i am practically everything she has ever suppressed, or repressed. she would never know what to make of me, even if she were to read a book about me, even if evan s. connell had written it. and she would certainly not want me to go bowling with her douglas. i imagine she'd size me up the way she does the lucky paquita:
"The girl was a gypsy-looking business with stringy black uncombed hair, hairy brown arms jingling with bracelets, and glittering mascaraed eyes in which there was a look of deadly experience. ... "How do you, Paquita?" she said, smiling neutrally, after Douglas had mumbled an introduction. The girl did not speak and Mrs. Bridge wondered if she understood English."
and yet, i felt a lot of compassion for mrs. bridge. she's not a very strong woman, she's not very bright either, and she's not exceptionally beautiful. she's not especially great at anything, really, beyond collecting silver, and making every effort to be respectable. but she means well, or at least wants to, and she feels she ought to be better, and to know more. sometimes being better means reinforcing segregation, or stifling creativity, imposing limitations not only on her children but herself, to ensure that she is the right kind of person because she is doing the best job she can to be the best wife and mother to her three children that she can be. yet she has self-doubt and the turmoil she feels is represented by the time she spends with madge arlen, the ladies' club lady, and grace barron, who plays baseball with her kids and goes to art galleries. it's mrs. bridge's tragedy to be just a little self-aware, to be cognizant of the distance, and the lacks in her life, of intimacy, and of passion of any kind. there are sometimes flickers but she extinguishes them almost as soon as they begin to burn. This passage comes early on in the book and is the beginning of understanding her:
"She was not certain what she wanted from life, or what to expect from it, for she had seen so little of it, but she was sure that in some way - because she willed it to be so - her wants and her expectations were the same. For a while after their marriage she was in such demand that it was not unpleasant when he fell asleep. Presently, however, he began sleeping all night, and it was then she awoke more frequently, and looked into the darkness, wondering about the nature of men, doubtful of the future, until at last there came a night when she shook her husband awake and spoke of her own desire. Affably he placed one of his long white arms around her waist; she turned to him then, contentedly, expectantly, and secure. However, nothing else occurred, and in a few minutes he had gone back to sleep."
and a longer one from "voting", which demonstrates one of her closest breakthroughs: (if interested, the paris review versions of the 1955 stories were reposted online to honour connell's death in january of this year: http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/20... i found it most edifying to see how much revision these saw before inclusion in the novel.)
"This was how she defended herself to Mable Ong after having incautiously let slip the information that her husband always told her how to vote. "Don’t you have a mind of your own?" Mabel demanded, looking quite grim. "Great Scott, woman, you’re an adult. Speak out! We've been emancipated." She rocked back and forth from her heels to her toes, hands clasped behind her back, while she frowned at the carpet of the Auxiliary clubhouse. "You’re right, of course," Mrs. Bridge apologized, discreetly avoiding the stream of smoke from Mabel's cigarette. "But don't you find it hard to know what to think? There’s so much scandal and fraud everywhere you turn, and I suppose the papers only print what they want us to know." She hesitated, then spoke out boldly, "How do you make up your mind?" Mabel Ong, without removing the cigarette from her small lips, considered the ceiling, the carpet, and squinted critically at a Degas print on the wall, as though debating on how to answer such an ingenuous question, and finally she suggested that Mrs. Bridge might begin to grasp the fundamentals by a deliberate reading of certain books, which she jotted down on the margin of a tally card. Mrs. Bridge had not heard of any of these books except one, and this was because its author had committed suicide, but she decided to read it anyway.
The lady at her favourite rental library had never heard of the book, which was somehow gratifying; even so, having resolved to read it, Mrs. Bridge set out for the public library. Here, at last, she got it and settled down to the deliberate reading that Mabel had advised. The author’s name was Zokoloff, which certainly sounded threatening, and to be sure the first chapter was about bribery in the circuit courts.
When she had gotten far enough along that she felt capable of discussing it she left it on the hall table; however Mr. Bridge did not even notice it until it had lain there for three days. She watched him pick it up, saw his nostrils flatten as he read the title, and then she waited nervously and excitedly. He opened the book, read a few sentences, grunted, and dropped the book on the table. This was disappointing. In fact, now that there was no danger involved, she had trouble finishing the book; she thought it would be better in a magazine digest. But eventually she did finish it and returned it to the library, saying with a slight air of sophistication, "I can't honestly say I agree with it all but he’s certainly well informed."
Certain arguments of Zokoloff remained with her and she found that the longer she thought about them the more penetrating and logical they became; surely it was time, as he insisted, for a change in government. She decided to vote liberal at the next election, and as time for it approached she became filled with such enthusiasm and with such conviction and determination that she planned to discuss her new attitude with her husband. She became confident that she could persuade him to change his vote also. Politics were not mysterious after all. However, when she challenged him to discussion he did not seem especially interested; in fact he did not answer. He was studying a sheaf of legal papers and only glanced across at her for an instant with an annoyed expression. She let it go until the following evening when he was momentarily unoccupied, and this time, he stared at her curiously, intently, as if probing her mind, and then all at once he snorted.
She really intended to force a discussion on election eve. She was going to quote from the book of Zokoloff. But he came home so late, so exhausted, that she had not the heart to upset him. She concluded it would be best to let him vote as he always had, and she would do as she herself wished; still, on getting to the polls, which were conveniently located in the country-club shopping district, she became doubtful and a little uneasy. And when the moment finally came she pulled the lever recording her wish for the world to remain as it was."
poor mrs. bridge. as you can see, in all things, she means well. and when we look at ourselves in her mirror, we identify with her despite our differences. at least i did to a very great degree. an amazing novel. apparently there are others cut from this cloth but i do not feel any desire to read them. i have already found the two i needed....more
another rollicking adventure with jeeves and wooster. bertie manages to get himself a rash and a prescription for country air. it gets harder to distianother rollicking adventure with jeeves and wooster. bertie manages to get himself a rash and a prescription for country air. it gets harder to distinguish the tales wodehouse tells of these two characters, especially when he is forever referencing other stories he's told about them while he's telling you new ones. i will remember this one as the one with the horse who was in love with a cat, that made funny jokes about bird watching. :P...more
a phenomenal book i keep carrying around with me and dipping into over and over again. i read it twice the first time i read it which is always the haa phenomenal book i keep carrying around with me and dipping into over and over again. i read it twice the first time i read it which is always the hallmark of my great favourites.
the simple story really sort of sketches in a lovely series of scenes that play out in a matter of fact way that always hints at poetry, and engages my imagination so that i can see everything so vividly. i love everything about these characters: they are so real to me, natural and uttterly charming.
though it's supposed to be a gothic western, in some ways i feel very strongly a kinship here to viking sagas or beowulf: fighting, eating, fucking, codes, women, and monsters. ...more
daphne du maurier haunts me. not only do her books reverberate with ghosts (of the past, imagination, emotion to name a few) but her writing stays witdaphne du maurier haunts me. not only do her books reverberate with ghosts (of the past, imagination, emotion to name a few) but her writing stays with you, your mind being tormented by the tales she's told you. even as i read this book, i found myself comparing it to rebecca. i would deeply love to compare those two books here, especially their haunted aspects but i love the book enough not to want to possibly ruin that adventure for anybody who may read these remarks. suffice to say that i found my cousin rachel gripping, frustrating, harrowing, and i do not think i shall forget her any sooner that i shall forget rebecca de winter, never having met her.
**spoiler alert** last night i dreamt that unguentine wouldn't let me pee. i kept wanting to go, i kept begging him to please let me relieve my bladde**spoiler alert** last night i dreamt that unguentine wouldn't let me pee. i kept wanting to go, i kept begging him to please let me relieve my bladder but he wouldn't let me. when i woke up i went to the bathroom, and thought about how odd but appropriate it was that my subconscious should decide that unguentine was the one preventing me from relief, that this character took on the form of my sleeping control of my body.
the language is very beautiful but this book made me blue. i give it five stars despite this because it also made me think. there is gorgeous creation and re-creation on this barge but also a desperate loneliness in the marriage of the two unguentines aboard it. i thought about them along the lines of adam and eve for a while, and it's easy to think about them as brian did, two suburban harpies, destroying each other. there is so little in love to trust, that even as mrs. unguentine faces her death, she is struggling in her marriage. and that makes me despair. love in itself does not seem enough. the distance and the destruction, the loneliness and the lies make me sad.
i have read this book at least a dozen times, and always enjoy it. i definitely have the feeling of being let in on the secrets of old hollywood whenei have read this book at least a dozen times, and always enjoy it. i definitely have the feeling of being let in on the secrets of old hollywood whenever i read it, though i do tend to skip past the sections about "missy" a pseudonymous starlet that niven uses to highlight the frailty of a star like marilyn monroe, or judy garland because i'm very familiar with it now, and it's a strange little narrative in the midst of a most fascinating memoir of the golden age....more