Tuesday, July 31, 2012

City on a Hill (The story of Keely)

         The story of Keely. Sweet sad Keely. Artist and observer this one red heared and sad eyed she was; no, later, sapped of strength: a simple husk. Girl of a thousand cities, a dozen men: none fathers. A traveler when young, a wanderer by luck, not will. Of a half moon woman born. This woman, this mother also a shattered soul, but a wanderer by necessity. Cigarette smoking at six am in the lemon balm sunrise of Yakima in the summer. Sitting, staring in the driver's seat of her secondhand red pickup eyes hard and cautious. Keely, young, curled in the front seat under a heap of blankets either too rough or too soft. Blankets smelling of soot, sweat or industrial detergent. Moving in and out of halfsleep for hours and hours. Always a sensitive nose on this Keely. Could smell fear as a rough animal undertone, love like a woody warmth. This was a curse in the diners and doublewides of her youth. Ammonia a swarm of chemical bees which stung her eyes. The scent of old beer like heavy stale bread that filled her nose and mouth and made her choke.
        Lovely Keely, lithe when older. Skinny, long hair taut to her shoulders. She: taunted.
       -Hey Ginger, hear laughs, makes the mistake and bites: turns to face the voice -Dropped your soul! When half grown Keely settles down in body, her soul though only begins its motions. Finds solace in music, in slow sad music and songs meant for those many years older than her. Songs for those who have been dealt the blows of life. Keely herself has been dealt blows, far more blows that one her age should know. Each move ripped out her roots, each night spent asleep in a car or cheap motel chilled her to the bone and drew her in a little more. And the men. The string of father. Changing as often as her homes, some stayed for a year. Most for months, weeks. They ignored her, never gave so much as a glance. Others made her an object: talked about "it" or "that". One hit, one worse.
       And the worst? That one was kind, saw what lay deep in Keely, her potential, and brought it out. In all the time past she had learned to read men like an old rancher reads cattle. He brought her out of herself and she bloomed. Breifly. When settled one Christmas she recieved from him a dusty warm sixstring. Her sixshooter. Soon after the mother lost her way, the man lost his patience and so sadly they parted. Keely lost this force; her rock. Thus the most painful man. The mother moved on but always after that  Keely kept him in her heart as a small empty space, unfillable by another. The guitar lay sullen and silent in the corner of her closet for almost a year when (as if drawn to it) bored and heartbroken, she picked it up and began to pick childhood songs out of tune. Those two were a perfect match and she found her language in the songs she wrote. Shy for so many years Keely kept her songs inside and the guitar gladly took on some of the scars she held. She pulled words and phrases from its grained skin with a dull brown pocket knife. Painted lilies on the neck and stained the head with flowers and bark which faded over time to a dull mottle. Hours everyday spent in her room added up to a great skill and imagination in song writing. Could tune it by ear in seconds.
      Self doubt, that nagging demon, lived in the ferriswheel of her heart, brought to her oscillations of worthlessness which kept the songs hidden for years. Found playing one day outside Steele Commons those few encouraging blushwords brought her to play in front of a crowd for the first time her freshman year. The applause sending surges and ripples unshown through her body. Feeling for the first time an acceptance that filled her soul..

Monday, July 30, 2012

Review: One Hour of Television by Kristine Born

         I received a copy of this book for free when I ordered some other books (Nothing and Anatomy Courses both to be reviewed soon) from Blake Butler. So there's that. One hour of Television is 136 pages divided into 3 section, each page a single paragraph of text. Some paragraphs are long, others are short, some more coherent that others. Each paragraph roughly stands alone by itself and many have an unsettling edge as if taken extempore from another work or another world. I would call some of them poems or poetry, but there are no artistic line breaks... So it's prose? I guess? At the very least much of One Hour is poetic. The paragraphs have an aphoristic quality to them and in hindsight One Hour might be as good of a read just picked up and read at random than from cover to cover. Most pages have a surreal flavor or are unusually funny while a few are downright confusing. There is a cohesive story line that picks up a little into the book which relates the tale of the narrator and his friend who steal some money then go to a poker tournament. There is tension between the narrator and his friend over the narrator's wife. Each vignette of the narrative comes a few pages apart however, and i felt that the story line wasn't vitally important to the book as a whole. A major theme touches on nuclear war and cold war era America and actually provide some interesting views on the situation. Born calls out the hypocritical possession of nuclear weapons by a handful of large nations while restricting access to smaller nations, comparing it to the condescending tone of parents arguing in front of their children,
"We have to squat with our hands on our knees so that our face is level with its face and say, This is grown up talk, sweetie. Mommy and Daddy are having a disagreement but they still love each other very much."(29) An astute observation and funny to boot.
        If it hasn't been made clear already One Hour of Television is pretty experimental but there are undercurrents and themes here that hold the book together better than a lot of the other experimental works I've read. Born's attention to larger issues (war, national relations, etc.) while far from rigorous is unusual and fresh in literature of this type and provides a certain maturity and wide scope of thought in a genre that is lacking in both of these.
        Had a quick look at her blog which unfortunately has not been updated in two years. Which is ironic as she could probably just publish a book out of those blog posts that would receive huge alt-lit attention. Born is young, comes from Vancouver, and is endorsed by both Blake Butler and Dennis Cooper facts which should be shooting up flags all over the place. It looks like she hasn't put anything else since One Hour of Television which is a shame as it is an unusual, intriguing, and original debut.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Island Prison

         There are only two truths for which at this present moment I have absolute certainty. First: I reside on an island. It takes me about two hours to cover the circumference of this island at a steady walk so, considering an average man's pace, I have determined that it is roughly 12 miles around and much longer than it is wide. From any point on the shore I can see land 5 to 10 miles away, close enough to determine that the body which surrounds me is forested and most likely uninhabited yet far enough that swimming the distance is out of the question lest I succumb to the murky tendrils of the deep. The island is densely forested but the undergrowth is such that I may move about freely. There are many steep ravines and hills which provide protection from wind, sun and other weather. There are no man made structure aside from a small shack which I have found and subsequently inhabited. There are further no signs of life aside from a few skittish deer and a family of raccoons which I uncovered one day as well as numeous small birds. The vegetation is primarily coniferous trees with a number of bushes which I recognize as azalea, rhododendron and a few others. The soil is fertile and the beaches are rocky. The island is surrounded by fresh water which is very cold.
          Second: I have no memory of my life before a fortnight ago. That is to say I do not know my name, my nationality, my occupation, or any details of my life before this time. I do know that I am in my early forties, that I speak English and that I have a great fondness for daytime television. This fact (that is, the memory loss) does not frighten me. I have come to accept it. My first few days on the island were very unusual. My memory of this time is mostly shrouded in a haze, or delirium. I recall stumbling about for a few hours, drifting in and out of consciousness, naked and thirsty. I remember a strong sense of terror, though at what I could not say. Much of the time was spent running from hollow to hollow, hiding under ferns and such. When I came about myself I was at the bottom of a ravine, unclothed and shivering. I had a few cuts on my legs and was extremely thirsty but other than that was in relatively good shape. I began wandering immediately and found a scrap of a shirt I must have been wearing which I fashioned into a loin cloth. A few hours later I discovered what I will refer to as "The Cache". Upon cresting the highest hill of the island, in a large clearing, I came upon a large pallet tied down with twine. My approach at first was tentative, but the cries of my body outweighed my fears and I approached. Inside was a collection of canned goods, a ream of paper, clothing, wood, some tarps, and various utensils. I was unable at the time to determine how long the cache had been there for but the food was fresh and the remaining goods were undamaged by rain. I quickly took as much has I could carry and descended the hill to continue my wanderings.
          My current home I came upon after 3 or 4 absolutely miserable nights spent shivering and dirty attempting sleep under some shrubbery. By that time I was fairly confident that the island was uninhabited yet was cautious of the shack and watched it for a number of hours. It was made of light cedar and had a small door. The chimney of a small stove (smokeless) penetrated the roof. Inside I found a bed, desk, and a little window overlooking the water. The walls were bare and the whole enclosure was spartan though comfortable. So and when I noticed the shack was unlocked and clean I quickly inhabited it. My days I spent wandering the lengths of the island. My nights I spent in the shack sometimes sleeping though still fearful of raiders, marauders and hostile wildlife.
         At the end of the first week I awoke to a dull roar on the distant edge of my hearing. Terrified I listened in my bed, the thin light outside an indigo shawl bequeathing nothing. The roar grew nearer and I gripped the covers tighter, broke into a sweat. The drone broke stacatto and maintained its intensity for some time then changed pitch and descended until silence swept in to fill the void. I lay still for at least an hour, sure that it would return but slowly as the light outside ascended through its paces to a clear azure the fear left me and I was able to creakily move out of my bed and look out the window. The world was as it had been the night before, no sign of an intruder. I went out on my daily walk later than usual that day, still tentative after the mornings curious event. Around the island nothing had changed, no sign of an apocalypse presented itself.
           That day saw the first of many of my mishaps and setbacks. There exists a small stream that collects water from one of the hillsides and concentrates then funnels it into the sea surrounding the island. Many times I had crossed it already for the stream is only a few feet wide but rather deep and that night it must have rained as it was showing a particularly strong current. I was forced to jump across it and, at the tail end of my leap, as my first foot (the left one) met the slick quagmire on the other side I slipped down and, alas, the entirety of my right leg up to my knee was submerged. The water was rather cold and filled my shoe, the previously clean sock expanding like a sponge (or other absorbent device...) severely restricting the movement of that ankle. The other leg was spared, though the right shoe was muddied more than I would have liked. The whole rest of my  walk was spent in misery, alternate steps sloshing, the water warming to a sticky lukewarm layer on my leg. I was struck by the thought that the sucking noise made by my shoe might give away my position to any malevolent force that happened to be near by, but this was tempered by an extreme apathy brought on by the blow of the fall, so I continued on my way, despondent, almost hoping to by struck down in my soggy path. Luckily I found that the cache had been replenished and I was especially happy to see a new ream of paper as I was running out of kindling for my fires and the nights had begun to grow a little cooler. I spent the rest of the day merrily carrying loads of goods back to the shack and enjoyed a warm dinner by the fire, exhausted, my shoes drying away in the pleasant heat.
          The other evening, while settling down for the night, a distant memory slipped into my mind. It is the first I have had retuern to me and it left a strange taste in my mouth. I see myself sitting at a table before a bowl of cereal and cup of coffee. I feel ragged, upset. I am holding a publication of some sort and a woman, wrinkled, old and fat is speaking to me though the words are drowned out, or I am ignoring them. I put down the paper and continue eating as the woman continues to speak. There the memory fades. The memory is filled with a feeling of vast horror, and disgust, but I cling to it as it is my only link to my past, my only contact with the outside world.         It has been almost three weeks on this island and my despondency and ennui have grown to an extreme degree. Solitude is the harshest curse and I do not know if I will ever leave this island. I sit now, on the crest of one of the smaller hills of the island, looking out over the heartless sea, the taunting cries of the birds a constant reminder of my plight, the sea breeze mussing my hair and burning my cheeks and the sun's harsh rays beating down on me or at least beating down on the spreading tree under which I sit. I found earlier today a stray piece of paper which escaped while I was starting one of my nightly fires in the shack. In my loneliness I have whiled away a half hour today writing down my experience so far so that, in the event that my body, surely decayed beyond recognition, is ever found, someone will be able to recreate the nightmare that is this island.


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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

City On a Hill (Opening scene)

        It is very, very, very difficult to find a place in the small city of Westham where one cannot see, at least on a clear night, the languid flashing red light at the summit of Klickat hill. From downtown (ever moving), to South Campus, the marina, and the quiet suburbs of Parkland, Geogria and Peabody the watchful gaze is everpresent and known by many of the older students as "The Red Eye". Through bathroom windows lined with crumbling paint, on moss matted rooftops, and damp overgrown backyards this single point oscillating in its luminosity is the constant in a town whose residents reliably flow in and out with the seasons, come and go with the years.
        Far up the side of Klickat hill, above the city sleeping in the dust of  a  September night, we find a tortured soul crying out in the midst of a chemical agony. Edwin Cross sits at his wobbling wooden desk beneath a bare hanging bulb before a heavy grit bitten typewriter. His head swirls mad, recently the noise has been growing worse beside the sanguine summer heat. He's taken up residence in this shack a little over a week ago lured by the mere $300 a month he will have to part with to have somewhere to work. It is well back in the property of a half blind old navy man who answered Edwin in monosyllabic responses around a wad of Red Man.The doors here hardly even seal and are poor guards against the wind outside, soon to become bitter cold. The walls of the shack are mostly bare dark pine slats with odd stains and smears at unusual angles. A mattress stacked on a box spring lies in the corner at an awkward angle one long end forming the hypotenuse of a triangle with two walls. Not that the mattress is used much: Edwin falls asleep at the desk, on the floor, in the park in the afternoon. He is beginning to grow thin from a lack of available food, not that he is hungry often anyways. It hardly helps that he goes on marathon walks in Westham's predawn hush around the vacant and ignorant suburbs.     
         Edwin is about to start his graduate studies in mathematics and during his first 4 four years was an outstanding student, if odd. He was loved by a few professors: his startling ability to approach problems from unique angles and his repository of esoteric knowledge and nonsequiters set him apart from the crowd. Even more of his instructors found him unsettling, a force to be wary of. Professors and students alike cringed when they recognized his name during those restless first days of each semester. His unsettling way of staring, without any sign of comprehension or empathy, when talked at. How, when answering a question, Edwin would predictably answer in the most roundabout way possible. And yet even as a rambler he always provided a gem of insight, a nugget of unusual understanding  Edwin's preferred spot in class was front row dead center. Up there (and a big man no less) he was always seen, and smelled: his full denim uniform worn summer and winter dispensed a constant memory of stale sweat and cigarette smoke.      
       Here he is now: banging madly away, jammed keys be damned, forcing out a treatise on the Masons, the coming apocalypse and how the owner of a downtown automotive shop (who Edwin is convinced is the head of a satanic child sex ring) has implanted into his abdomen cursed scrolls which cause Edwin to slur his words and lose his hair.       
       He's been like this before, briefly, each time he's come around, straightened up. Burns his paper mountains and regains contact with friends. Each episode, manic and deluded ,seems like a stress dream after the fact. Fades off into memory leaving little more that a bad taste and mild confusion.      Through the forest now and down the hill, along a row of cramped two story houses, some on the brink of collapse. Red and blue streaks pass on the ground signifying empty beer cans: the lesser casualties of a college neighborhood. Before us now is a pine green house similar in most ways to those that surround it. Windows covered with ash stained tapestries and repurposed sheets folded double. Within the scene is one of high gravity: a filthy living room beer cans scattered everywhere...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

City on a Hill (Class)

        Earlier that day I had seen him walking grey haired and intense across the quad pushing a wheelbarrow in which a beaten drab green duffel bag lay heavy. Based on ubiquitous reports I had imagined he would be a striking figure, but in all honesty I found him a bit shabby. He wore old hiking boots, a dirty pine green polarfleece vest and his hair was uncombed and sparse. I had heard his classes were bizarre, difficult, rumors that once, years ago, he had brought a gun to a seminar and that he was only saved by the institution of tenure which is held especially sacred here.
        The class's first meeting was that afternoon and all morning, through my poli-sci and history lectures my mind drifted back again and again to what would be in store. This man and his imminent presence had built up a fearful mythic status in my anticipation that elicited a numbing in my guts each time he came to mind. When the time finally came, due to a few mundane circumstances, I managed to slip my heart pounding and sweat pooling in my armpitsinto the dusty room of the admin building only a few seconds before two o'clock . The room held maybe fifteen people and the collective nervousness  as a fidgety slime. Others were letting it out the only way they knew how: making halfhearted jokes and laughing in overly loud whispers in the way I imagine death row inmates lighten their burden.
       He had been famous once and now was famous for having been famous once. His created peak was lived in a fertile city durign a fertile time. He practiaclly destroyed himself writing his one great novel then in the face of unwanted attention disappeared to Central asia or some other faceless place. The novel was one of those works raised and relegated to the status of a cult classic. The few that read it understood and kept quiet and cherished its subtle truths while those that didn't screamed about its hideous blasphemies. Regardless, upon his return he was able to enjoy the fruits of a small and avid group of fans which saw after him, some in high places even which ensured that his rare and startling essays and cricism made it into the appropriate avenues for publication. He took up teaching more as a form of grounding and as a way to pass the time than out of necessity. His stipulations with the administration were harsh: No more than two classes a semester, No classes with more than twenty students, No underclassmen, and NO COMMITTEE  WORK. He was grudgingly hired as a shocking name to put in the schools heavy matte promotional brochures.
     As the single bell rang the heavy beaten chair at the front of the class remained empty though the wheelbarrow and duffel were present in the corner staring blankly like a tired horse . Minutes passed and the uncomfortable silence which had struck with the clock was broken at increasingly frequent intervals. One mousy girl hurriedly shouldered her bag and shuffled out of the room, head bent and mouth taut. I occupied myself writing the same word ("Infiltrated") over and over on a page in my notebook.
     It was impossible to tell how much time had passed since the class had lapsed again into silence, I only noticed it when I finished the first page of repeated words. I looked up and saw sitting bolt upright in his chair the professor staring directly at me.
         -Jeffery? He asked, yelled really, a dollop of spit arcing from his mouth.-You are Jeffery Seward? leaning forward slightly. A slight bending of his vowels suggested a Southern accent tempered by years of living and working among northerners.
         -Ye...Phlegm caught in my throat, making a small noise like a outboard motor flooded with sea water.>
         -Open.The.Sea.Bag.Please., he paused after every word as if I were deaf or a child.
-And.Distribute.Its.Contents.To.The.Class.Wrap-ped. I rose slowly to the bag and opened it the zipper running smooth over the green canvas. The contents of the bag held it firm in the wheelbarrow. Inside was a pile of cornered objects wrapped in thick white linen fabric. -One to each person. He said his head down, staring at a thick book on his desk. I distributed them, in my nervousness I returned each time to the bag, once dropping one of the covered objects hard onto a desk. The others were as stunned as I was and no one spoke during this strange exercise. I placed the last object on my desk and sat down. There was exactly one per student, not noticing until months later that he had somehow foreseen the nervous girl's absence.
-Unwrap and write. You can leave at any time you like.We pulled the linen away, some quickly, others with a drawn out and pretentious solemnity. Within was an old brick, dirty and with some mortar attached to the edges.-Whatever you write must be about the brick and I don't want to see any poetry. He then muttered something which I, at the time, and still am convinced was "And may God have mercy on your poor souls".

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Walking down the middle of the street, in the middle of a summer night, slightly drunk, arms spread wide open (in homage)

I'm walking down the middle of the street

and it is dark out

and it is summer time so I am in shorts and a t-shirt

the t-shirt has a picture of a guy with a cigar on it

it says "King of the Philistines".

And my arms are spread wide open.

And every house I walk by has a television on

Like literally every fucking house.


But on a night like this people should be out

Dancing in the streets

(Especially those wrinkly ass old folks.

I imagine whipping out a megaphone

and delivering a message to the wrinkly ass old folks:

"You have approximately 15 minutes of life left

C'mon. Lets go. Start dancing")

The streets are silent

Which is frightening

(there are just so many quiet people here)

but also beautiful

in its own way.

I imagine I am king of the street

Not in the crackhead way

But in the eternal king of the silent night street way.

It 's a good feeling.

A car comes.

The feeling fades.

I move to the sidewalk.

I blend darkly with the trees

and the trees' shadows

I am king of the shadows

I walk past a power box.

I buzzes softly

Day in and day out

Whether or not I

or anyone else

is by it

this box buzzes

for itself

without emotion it just buzzes

That's what it is there for

To buzz 

for one guy

walking down the middle of the street,

in the middle of a summer night,

slightly drunk.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

7 views of the apocalypse

                Three days of released passions were enough to take this city to its knees
The wild and destructive parties began with drinking and dancing,
                ended when the last gas station was set ablaze.
"Destruction is a form of creation" was our rationale,
               questioning the philosophy marked you as the next sacrifice.
No one minded if one of their loved ones was caught in the blaze
              ("Some losses are inevitable...Not everyone can live to see the glorious dawning future.")

           "Its a tense situation" she said
and I believed her in light of the two cars, mutilated, smoking in front of us.
           "Look the metal's still hot."
           "Mmm" knitted brows.
 A distracted, thoughtful affirmation.
           There were gouges in the concrete before us two inches deep
that acted as an Eshkol-Wachman notation to the prelude of the sculpture before us.
           Two oblique and sweeping marks coming from the north,
three straight marks from the south
           a curious gap separating them.
           Crushed rock falls on my head
listen the ocean speaks with a honeyed voice
           Somewhere a fire is burning, I can feel it within me
when the wind blows our bodies are picked up in dance
           This chasm is as wide as my ignorance
we only need one chance.
           I'm stuck, the mud has wise fingers,
this line thoroughly bisects me.
                                                                                                Now I am multitudinous.
            This dampness, the cave's dampness permeates me fully
what are we but a confluence of holy modulations?
                                                                                                Even your lies are lies.
            Steadily forward! The horizon is glowing.
My breaths are labored, they leave me shattered.         
             Peeking through boughs at gnawed knots of wood
these tulips of ordeal are blooming wildly at our feet
             Chunks of concrete rain down leaving hungry divots in the earth,
giving us good reason to cover our heads.
             "I don't know what you're thinking or what you've seen"
"My own memories just seem to get in the way most times"
              "Tricky bastards, stumbling block before the amnesic"
Phantasmagoric recollection spins me around, misty eyeshade that builds walls and builds wall and builds...
Here's broken wood and its army of splinters
Here's burning herbs and its huge host of sinners
Here's a shattered window pane that's paid my list of wishes
Here's your list of hated names compared to all the winners
           This flag waves mighty in the ever blowing winds
 these winds that touch my ears with a muddled accent and flourish of pine
          These winds that bring back stale thoughts and onerous obsessions
So the grass always trembles, day in and day out submitting to the wind and the will of ash
           Did I mention the burning cities?
          Under the sun a thousand flowers bloom,
soil songs rising in plumes that break at the beck of a radiant body.
          Each shoot is a prayer, each shoot is symbol and sign.
The soil is a sleeping womb and at each pulse breathes cool winds of life into these frail tendons.
           Unseen the waters move with unstoppable force under electric pressure and capillary presence.
Unseen the waters move.


      What a great subject: "Apocalypse". Such an obsession with some, predicted by so many for years yet one has never been witnesses and there is no evidence that anything like an apocalypse will happen for perhaps billions of years. Yet apocalypse IS always around the corner. Is it because every tragedy is a personal apocalypse? An old world collapsing in on itself? Yet with every personal apocalypse a new world forms. A literature founded on mortality and fear.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Review of "The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis" by Mark Gluth

         Devastatingly beautiful. Devastating and sad and immensely beautiful. Mark Gluth's debut novella will grip you with its terse, declarative sentences, pull you along with its wandering domestic storylines and make you feel the crushing burden of the seasons, love and being. It will make you long for your loved ones who will one day die and make the world around you stand out in significant beauty simply because it is present and real and exists.
        As in life the events that occur in The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis are driven by chance, have little meaning behind their causation: tragedy occurs, words are said, life goes on. Events happen, many without reason, but which have far reaching effects. Gluth is masterful at writing the main events of the novel off the page, this keeps the narrative's focus away from unnecessary distraction and on the emotions of the characters.This simultaneously shows great restraint on his part and maintains a detached feeling throughout. The events that occur to the characters are sad, insidiously and hopelessly sad and the only force that holds the characters together are the love which they share with each other. Young couples, old couples, humans with each other and humans with animal companions. Love is the quiet central theme of the work and by hiding it beneath layers of tragedy Gluth makes love appear that much more beautiful. Gluth shows that love is fleeting, mortal and insulates us from entropy.            

             Much of Late Work is a study in the connections between dreams, art, love and death. Every character whose profession is mentioned is an artist: sketcher, writer, photographer, playwright. Some are more talented than others but art is universally portrayed as a source of freedom and a way to connect with love after death. Many of the character's works are referred to or written out in full in the novella. Late Work bridges an all to common chasm in literature between pathos and intellect, Gluth combines them remarkably well.There are steady but understated threads of Borgesian recursion and metarecursion which overlap enough (but not too much) and provide the novel with satisfying verisimilitude along with an air of the supernatural. I found that the novel takes on extra dimensions when the nested layers of works described in the novel are mapped out.
            Late Work can be read in one (intense) sitting and yet packs force greater than, say, one of Marquez's tomes.  I can think of one other work for me that has had the same effect per page as Late Work but the intense overwhelming sadness of this novel places it light years beyond. This is in the "Little House on the Bowery" series along with Cows which I reviewed a few months ago. The novels' subject matter is world's apart but both share a particular visceral writing style. I'm almsot sorry to do this but the basic, chained sometimes ambiguous sentances reminded me of Lin at first. I had pegged this style as inherently emotionally detached but Late Work has swayed me to believe quite the opposite. Late Work was Gluth's debut and came out in 2010 but all I have found from Gluth since are some online music reviews. He is from the Pacific Northwest and is certainly one of the most interesting writes I've heard about from up here lately.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Reflection on "The Recognitions" by William Gaddis

           So there is quite a bit of history around this book which is summed up for the most part here. Because of this I've chosen not to write a review which has been too many times already and which would imply some sort of an attempt at objectivity but will rather be writing a reflection of my own experience with the book. So this will be highly subjective, opinionated and heavily YYMV.
          The book is broken into three parts and the first is by far the easiest. I blew through it quickly and it is consistently entertaining, engaging, well paced and appropriately complex. The second part becomes considerably more complex: Gaddis begins to deliver his philosophies and views and the writing really kicks into gear. With these changes the entertainment value becomes less consistent with higher highs and lower lows. You really need to pay attention to seemingly minor, fleeting details (which I did not) to get everything Gaddis puts into the second part out of it but it is still very much worth reading. The third part gets a little sloppy and offers the least redemption. It consists almost entirely of characters dying, going psychotic, and listening to stupid tourists. The third part has the least impact and cohesion and I found myself reading mostly to just get it over with. During the first two parts I looked up some of the references but by the end I just let them go as my interest had waned. The ending however is a spectacular display of great art ( and ignorance) consuming itself and the book does finish on a rather strong (if exhausted) note.
           I would be hard pressed to recommend this book to most people. While not overly complex as such it is highly allusive, there are boatloads of characters and the pace of the book has been described elsewhere, and very accurately, as "glacial". Gaddis' never spoon feeds the book, and you will often need to determine the setting, characters and mood through hints which are not always immediately apparent. This is not awful in itself (and by no means as distracting as some other authors) but he expects you to be a bit more in his head than others and so the book can take a bit of effort. In addition Gaddis does  not consistently reward the work you have to put in. This isn't to say the book isn't rewarding: his sense of humor is dry and caustic (I laughed out loud at multiple points) there are dramatic sections which stand apart in how imaginative they are and the complexity of the story can be very pleasing, but again the rewards never feel "spoon fed". This issue seems to be at the heart of about half of the complaints surrounding the book the other half being that the dialogue is difficult to follow. While I can't argue against complaints regarding enjoyment of the book (The Recognitions simply appeals to a specific taste...) Gaddis always provides clues to who is speaking, you just need to pay attention for them.  It is definitely a book that begs multiple reading to get the full effect and I may feel ready a few years from now. Interestingly many sections (especially descriptive ones) are just as, if not more, striking when read outside the book than within its confines.
         The plot it described in most reviews as being about a painter in New York in the 50's who sells his soul and produces counterfiet paintings. This is a little like saying Ulysses is about a school teacher with a mood disorder or Star Wars is about a father-son relationship. In case I'm not being clear a WHOLE LOT is going on in this novel, at least three major plot lines and maybe a dozen smaller ones. Many plots intertwine in brilliant and satisfying ways, some pop in briefly then disappear only to be alluded to significantly 300 pages later. Suffice it to say Gaddis creates a whole world which closely mirrors our own 50 years ago but which has slightly different rules. The majority of this world fits within the New York art scene over the course of late December in the mid 20th centure but also stretches back to the 14th century Dutch and out to contemporary Central America, Spain and new England. Some characters are borderline insane, and some of those cross the border into full on psychosis. One character's protracted religious ravings are simultaneously confusing, obscure and frightening and after reading these sections felt myself to have slipped briefly into a altered state. While not very enjoyable these sections are a strong testament to Gaddis' writing ability and demonstrate how much power an author can wield over the reader.
       For the most part the novel is satirical and large portions of the book are taken up describing late night parties among groups of intellectual wannabes and has-beens. These sections predictably consist of context free snippets of speech: posturing, malapropism, misunderstanding, and pretension which buffer more coherent sections of drunken drama, ignorance and anxiety. Gaddis portrays the party scene as lonely sad people coming together to keep the harsh outside world at bay though drinking and puffing themselves up. It's at once hilarious and depressing and these sections go on and on and on. These scenes are contrasted by heavy religious imagery and allusion which, like the party conversations, usually end up going no where. Gaddis sticks mostly to Puritan and Catholic imagery and texts and wanders in Mithradatism, Islam and Judaism breifly. Intimate knowledge of these religions is not necassary but I did feel at times like I was missing some subtle cues by my lack of religious knowledge.
       The Recognitions in itself is obviously above average (especially for a first novel) but lacking at too many points to achieve any sort of transcendence. Put into historical context (as occurs in every review and which I will touch on out of necessity) the novel attains greater significance. The Recognitions is pinned as a direct forerunner to Pynchon, Wallace, and the whole bevy of post-modern/maximalist/hysterical realist writers. He isn't quite as far out as any of these other writers but he was one of the (if not THE) first authors to write in this general style. In hindsight he showed incredible care and restraint in how he pulled off the novel slipping in a funny names here or a multilingual joke there with out shoving it in your face every other line like some others. His novel also has heart, a certain sadness, and more depth to the characters than some of the typical post-moderns to follow. His later novels (J.R., Carpenter's Gothic et al.) are apparently more concise and brought him much acclaim.
      I'd like to end by mentioning his writing style. Since the content of his novel is unique, and the effort required at times to unravel it so great, many readers and critics seems to completely ignore Gaddis' style. It is (much like the content) at once unique and highly inventive yet understated. His word choice can be pleasingly unusual and his descriptions, while sparse, can be sublime. He takes great care in describing the sights and sounds of his environments and the way he describes them made me stop and reread multiple times simply because I had never thought of descriptions in the way Gaddis writes. He often anthropomorphizes the sky, sound, the air, a crack in a wall, and other scene items which literally brings the surroundings to life. Again it is often subtle but it is one of Gaddis' great strenghts and what sets him apart from many others.
                I'll recommend this book to:
  • Those who won't mind reading the same book hours a day for more than a month.
  • Those who like to be exposed to classical art, music and ideas.
  • Those who find intellectualism, scene politics and city dwellers artificial and pretentious.
  • Those who enjoy Pynchon's style and attitude but want something more subdued.
  • Those interested in the history of 20th American postmodernism.
  • Those looking for a moderately challenging read.
  • Those who can keep various small character details in their heads for hundreds of pages.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

1 Poem

speak through me in vision of flames
speak through me in a fecund tangle of vines
speak through me as the rolling head of clouds
above a tunnel of wind
speak through me as the force that flattens and builds

Friday, July 6, 2012

Purchased recently/ to be reveiwed soon

Still working through The Recognitions (should have a "reflection" by the end of the weekend)

Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust. Third volume of the seminal and interminable work of modern fiction (will not be reviewing this)

Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. Not sure what to expect. Non fiction, scientific, very highly regarded. (will probably not be reviewing this)

The Late Works of Margret Kroftis by Mark Gluth. "Little House on the Bowery" selection. "Daydreamy" by a writer from Bellingham.

Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai. Wandering, apocalyptic work which launched this Hungarian writer to a certain stardom. Hoping to read it then follow up with watching the (seven hour) screen adaptation by Bella Tarr.

Chromos by Felipe Alfau. Considered a forerunner to all experimental and maximalist writing of the 20th century. From the Dalkey Archive.

Also hope to have another little fiction piece up here soon.

Also please! If you read this and have suggestions for books to review or would like me to review your book: please let me know! I would love to do it!

Monday, July 2, 2012

City on the hill (Keely and the church)

           They never knew Keely went to church. Her abrupt wanderings were common enough behavior for her that no one took notice that she was gone every Sunday morning. Most of the time everyone was asleep or hungover anyways. She didn't attend any church but frequented a particularly conservative outpost 45 minutes outside of town for which the flock was overwhelmingly those on the tumultuous edge between middle age and elderhood: the women uniformly fat, the men stringy and hard eyed. She was always very quiet, sat in the front yet never took communion. Just watched, basked.  She had never gone as a child, thought of attending rather as a social event she needed to experience similar to the desire of certain well off youth that arises like clockwork around their 20th year that propels them to visit third world countries. She began to go regularly but if asked (and she never was) Keely would have been unable to provide a rational reason for why she went to church. She had no sense of duty, and enjoyment played no part. It was simply a pull, a habit almost. Supernatural. During her first few visits she was eyed menacingly from eyes residing deep within folds of flesh but as the months then years wore on she was tentatively accepted even invited to lunch on an occasion by one of the congregations more timid and lonely widows.
      Sandy drove a late 80's Oldsmobile whose maroon interior provided a nose of stale cigarette smoke with a smooth round finish of canned fish. They drove without speaking for what seemed to Keely like a long time and pulled up to a creaking rambler at the end of a long unpaved driveway.
       -You know I go there because Pastor Roger preaches with such fire in his heart Sandy told Keely, smiling, as she held her Kinkaide mug before her face (tree's crimson spray above a smoking cabin). The mug filled with mass market tea and a haphazard handful of sucralose packets, years old, which Sandy kept stashed to the brim in a large drawer, faux wood peeling. -You truly feel the lord in his presence! Don't you? Keely nodded falsely. Keely drank slowly out of polite necessity. Later a sort of pasta dish mixed with ground meat was served, soiled doilies laid under their bowls. Not having the heart to decline Keely remembered this as the first time in twelve years she had eaten meat and it heartily reinforced her conviction for the remaining portion of her life.
       After eating Keely viewed a large collection of painted collectable plates and porcelain clown figurines her feelings towards which began as a mild trepidation then shifted to a genuine interest then (as the detailed history of the third shelf of figurines was explained) apathy which segued imperceptably to a deep dread for this woman and all of humanity, this being a new dread to which even Keely (dread hardened Keely) was unaccustomed. Finally after two and a half hours had passed (Keely was sure it had been closer to five, at least) the woman drove her back to the church and spent an unusually long time hugging Keely as she departed. Keely sat in her car for a long time after the woman drove away, the vacant church behind her, rubbing her temples. The day had started clear and cold but now a layer of clouds had settled and a low steady wind had picked up causing the swings in the playground to begin to arc on their own rusty chains, rattling with each pass. 
        Keely drove back into town slowly unable to shake from her thoughts the world of the woman: living alone and everything in the house (counters, food, tea, car, art) a pale mockery. Fake. The life the woman spun around herself over so many years without thought imply descending the path of least resistance. Offered her belongings in newspaper pullouts and television commercials, acquiring them slowly at first then with fervor. Dwelling on this Keely began to cry softly, knowing. She wanted to help this woman, give her something real, friendship, love, but she felt hopeless, as if nothing she could do could wrest the woman out of her porcelain pit. Keely arrived home as the sun was setting, the house was empty and a little cold. She hadn't been tired but got into bed and pulled the covers over her head, her imagination of the woman's life swirling in her head darker still: the woman's loneliness her loneliness, the woman's shell her shell, the woman's death her death.