Sauncho was giving a kind of courtroom summary, as if he’d just been handling a case. “. . . yet there is no avoiding time, the sea of time, the sea of memory and forgetfulness, the years of promise, gone and unrecoverable, of the land almost allowed to claim its better destiny, only to have the claim jumped by evildoers known all too well, and taken instead and held hostage to the future we must live in now forever. May we trust that this blessed ship is bound for some better shore, some undrowned Lemuria, risen and redeemed, where the American fate, mercifully, failed to transpire . . .”
From Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice. The passage, near the end of the novel, acts as a summary—or rather one of several summaries—to Inherent Vice’s shaggy plot. The blessed ship is The Golden Fang, aka Preserved. I’ve been sketching out a riff on Inherent Vice the novel, Inherent Vice the film, and The Crying of Lot 49. (This passage also kinda sorta summarizes The Crying of Lot 49. And Mason & Dixon).
In 2012 Atticus Books released An End To All Things, Jared Yates Sexton’s acclaimed debut collection of stories. Called “invigorating” and “shades of Barry Hannah, Raymond Carver, and Breece D’J Pancake,” it was lauded byThe Portland Book Review as “the beginning of a long literary career.” Here, his next installment of stories, The Hook and The Haymaker, twenty-three award-winning pieces that have appeared in The Southern Humanities Review, Night Train, Verdad, PANK, Midwestern Gothic, among other prominent magazines and publications from around the country.
This book picks up right where Sexton’s debut left off with hard-hitting, gritty glimpses into an America that too-often goes unseen. Set in sweat-saturated sparring rings, the backrooms of gas station speakeasies, and the kitchens of the houses down the street, witness here the untold tales of the losers and the should’ve-beens, the dreamers and the hustlers, all of them just spoiling for their turn at glory or the inevitable one-two punch that puts them down for good.
William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion, new from University of Delaware Press, collects academic essays and memoir-vignettes by a range of critics and authors to make the case that Vollmann is, as the blurb claims, the “most ambitious, productive, and important living author in the US.” I interviewed the book’s editors, Christopher K. Coffman and Daniel Lukes, over a series of emails.
If you live in NYC (or feel like traveling), you can check out the book launch for William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion this weekend, hosted by Coffman and Lukes (4:30pm at the 11th Street Bar).
This is the first part of a two-part interview.
Biblioklept: How did William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion come about?
Daniel Lukes: The starting point would be the MLA panel I put together in January 2011, called “William T. Vollmann: Methodologies and Morals.” Chris’s was the first abstract I received and I remember being impressed with its confidence of vision. Michael Hemmingson also gave a paper, and Larry McCaffery was kind enough to act as respondent. Joshua Jensen was also a panelist. I kept in touch with Chris and we very soon decided that there was a hole in the market, so to speak, so we put out a call for papers and took it from there.
One of my favorite things about putting together this book has been connecting with – and being exposed to – such a range of perspectives on Vollmann: people seem to come at him from – and find in his works – so many different angles. It’s bewildering and thrilling to talk about the same author with someone and not quite believe you are doing so. And I think this started for me, in a way, at least as far as this book is concerned, with reading Chris’ MLA abstract.
Biblioklept: I first heard about Vollmann in connection to David Foster Wallace (Wallace namechecks him in his essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”). A friend “loaned” me his copy of The Ice-Shirt and I never gave it back. When was the first time you read Vollmann?
Christopher K. Coffman: I first encountered William T. Vollmann’s work about ten years ago. At the time, I had just finished grad school, and as my dissertation work had been focused on aspects of modern and contemporary poetry, I had let my attention to contemporary prose slip a bit. When I realized this had happened, I starting reading a lot of recent fiction. Of course David Foster Wallace’s books were part of this effort, and I, like so many others, really developed a love for Infinite Jest and some of the stories in Girl with Curious Hair. My memory’s a bit fuzzy on the timeline, but my best guess, given what I know I was reading and thinking about at the time, is that in my reading around DFW I discovered the Summer 1993 issue of The Review of Contemporary Fiction with which Larry McCaffery had been involved, and that the interview with DFW in that issue–along with the WTV materials themselves–woke me up to WTV and his work. I can’t say enough about how important Larry’s championing of WTV has been, and continues to be. Of course, one could say that about his support for so many of the interesting things that have happened in fiction during the past three or four decades. His interviews, his editorial work, the part he played with the Fiction Collective …. the list of the ways that he identifies and promotes some of the best work out there could go on for a while, and no one else that I know of has done it as well as Larry has for as long as he has. Anyway, as I was pretty much broke at the time, my reading choices were governed in large part by what I could find at libraries or local used bookstores, and The Ice-Shirt was the first volume I came across in one of these venues. I was already a huge fan of The Sot-Weed Factor and Mason & Dixon, and the entire Seven Dreams project very much struck me as a next step forward along the trajectory those books described. As a consequence, I immediately started tracking down and reading not only the rest of the Dreams, but also everything else I could find by WTV.
What about The Ice-Shirt that really won me over, aside from my impression that this was another brilliant reinterpretation of the historical novel, is that WTV was clearly bringing together and pushing to their limits some of my favorite characteristics of post-1945 American fiction (structural hijinks of a sort familiar from works by figures like Barth and Barthelme, a fearlessness in terms of subject matter and the occasional emergence of a vatic tone that reminded me of Burroughs, an autofictional element of the sort you see in Hunter S. Thompson). Furthermore, as a literary critic, I was really intrigued by two additional aspects of the text: the degree to which The Ice-Shirt foregrounds the many ways that it is itself an extended interpretation of earlier texts (the sagas on which he draws for many of the novel’s characters and much of its action), and the inclusion of extensive paratexts–the notes, glossaries, timelines, and so forth. In short, this seemed like a book that united my favorite characteristics of contemporary literary fiction with a dedication to the sort of work that I, as a scholar, spend a lot of my time doing. How could I resist? It took my readings of a few more of WTV’s books for me to be able to recognize what I would argue are his other most significant characteristics: his global scope and his deep moral vision.
As for your also having begun reading WTV with The Ice-Shirt: It’s an interesting coincidence to me that we both started with that book. I have always assumed that most people start into WTV via either the prostitute writings (which have a sort of underground cachet by virtue of subject matter) or Europe Central (which is of course the book that got the most mainstream attention), but here we both are with The Ice-Shirt. WTV has indicated he sees it as under-realized in certain ways, but I am still quite fond of it, even in comparison to some of the later books. Read More
I was hoping to save up a little energy to write a bit about the stories I’ve read in Matt Sumell’s debut collection Making Nice…but I don’t seem to have it. There’s a macho swagger here that will repel a lot of folks but hell I’m a barbarian and I dig what he’s doing, even if it’s been done by a few (many) other folks before (there’s that Carver/Johnson/Lipsyte axis, yes)—it’s funny and savage stuff. Read More
[Editorial note: E.L. James’s novel Fifty Shades of Grey has 13,439 five-star Amazon reviews. James Joyce’s novel Ulysses has 643 reviews on Amazon (that’s total reviews). See also. Below are some selections from five-star reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey].
I was infected with this book
I have read more sex phrases in other books.
I didn’t really even read books! But this is the best book I ever read! read all 3 in a week!
These would be the books I’d take if I was gonna be stranded on a island for the rest of my life.
I read all 3 of them within a week and a half. All while working and going to school and having to do bible lessons.
I’m not a person who likes to read but….
Awesome book for men and women!
I am uberly happy with my purchase
Classy read with a great story line.
The language is extraordinary
The almost primitive style writing, like reading ones journal of secrets, evoked the feelings the characters felt, to me the reader.
There is some parts that are kinky but the story behind it is great.
As a budding author, I appreciate the brilliant usage of the first person.
It isn’t extremely well-written
I red it under 2 days
The product seems well written for the purpose and suitable for the intended purpose and my woman loves the attention she gets as she reads her favorite passages.
People are just judging it for the sex scenes and bad grammar
My inner goddess was sooo funny that she kept me laughing.
My husband was even happy to help watch the babies while I was reading these books.
There’s an actual story in there. And it’s not half bad.
The books skips over frivolous details and gives just enough to visualize and get to the plot.
Let’s face it, all men are f***ed up.
Read a few pages and reminds me of when I was a kid reading penthouse forums stories but whatever, it works!
Love it its the best I ever read if people dont like why the fu.k are they they reading in seeing bad reviews if dont like why u waste ur money
As a mental health professional, I found the characters’ development accurate and fascinating.
I’ll indefinitely recommend this novel.
I truly wish my ex-mormon husband would read these.
This book reminds me of “Pretty Woman” where every girl wanted to be a prostitute and be found by Richard Gere.
Charming & indulging, every sentence manifested into a heart reaching symphony of lust then, love.
Some call it a slut book but I have found it enteresting
I don’t understand how anyone could say something like this bad or terrible.
The BDSM is less than 2% of the book.
I heard about the book on Dr. Oz TV show and how it helped women in menopause.
These Children are afraid to love
It’s definitely a Twilight Fan Fiction novel.
…. wow – the power of words !
I’ve never read a complete novel book, but when it came to Fifty Shades of Grey I finished it in 4 days!!
Would it be as great of a love story without the sex parts? I do not think so, because it is the sex parts that are vital for the unraveling of the story.
This trilogy is BY FAR the best books I have EVER read. I’ve read a LOT of books
I have been up two nights in a role reading this book
For those that say the grammer is bad, what book have you read that had perfect grammer? If the grammer is perfect then the book has no story. It is the grammer that makes us feel like we are in the setting in the book.
Not for children though.
Conjure up some last-minute romance. In the appendix to her collection of Florida folktales, Mules and Men, author Zora Neale Hurston offers up a host of Hoodoo, including the following love spells:
TO MAKE A MAN COME HOME
Take nine deep red or pink candles. Write his name three times on each candle. Wash the candles with Van-Van. Put the name three times on paper and place under the candles, and call the name of the party three times as the candle is placed at the hours of seven, nine or eleven.
TO MAKE PEOPLE LOVE YOU
Take nine lumps of starch, nine of sugar, nine teaspoons of steel dust. Wet it all with Jockey Club cologne. Take nine pieces of ribbon, blue, red or yellow. Take a dessertspoonful and put it on a piece of ribbon and tie it in a bag. As each fold is gathered together call his name. As you wrap it with yellow thread call his name till you finish. Make nine bags and place them under a rug, behind an armoire, under a step or over a door. They will love you and give you everything they can get. Distance makes no difference. Your mind is talking to his mind and nothing beats that.
TO BREAK UP A LOVE AFFAIR
Take nine needles, break each needle in three pieces. Write each person’s name three times on paper. Write one name backwards and one forwards and lay the broken needles on the paper. Take five black candles, four red and three green.
Tie a string across the door from it, suspend a large candle upside down, It will hang low on the door; bum one each day for one hour. If you burn your first in the daytime, keep on in the day; if at night, continue at night. A tin plate with paper and needles in it must be placed to catch wax in.
When the ninth day is finished, go out into the street and get some white or black dog dung. A dog only drops his dung in the street when he is running and barking, and whoever you curse will run and bark likewise. Put it in a bag with the paper and carry it to running water, and one of the parties will leave town.
Anne Tyler’s novel A Spool of Blue Thread is new in hardback from publisher Random House. Their blurb:
“It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon. . .” This is how Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves reveal only part of the picture. Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets. From Red’s father and mother, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to Abby and Red’s grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their anchor.
Brimming with all the insight, humor, and generosity of spirit that are the hallmarks of Anne Tyler’s work, A Spool of Blue Thread tells a poignant yet unsentimental story in praise of family in all its emotional complexity. It is a novel to cherish.
A. What a cover on Evan Dara’s 2013 novel Flee, don’t you agree?
B. From the back cover:
C. That’s all there is. Well, okay, there’s an ISBN too. But no blurbs, no other text.
D. “Something always going on—” is the first line of Flee. It’s also an apt description of Dara’s formal technique, a constantly-shifting series of dialogues, monologues, overlapping, cross-cutting, diverging—always out there ahead of the reader. That dash there—that dash is the simple summative signal of it all, a little typographic pole that simultaneously connects and interrupts.
E. The most obvious point of comparison for Dara’s technique (besides his amazing debut novel The Lost Scrapbook) is William Gaddis’s stuff, particularly J R—the verbal dazzle, the few stray lines of poetic stage-setting in lieu of traditional exposition—the throw-the-reader-in-the-deep-end stuff. David Foster Wallace frequently attempted the same rhetorical mode, most successfully in §19 of The Pale King. (It’s entirely likely that The Lost Scrapbook could have had the same following that Infinite Jest achieved had Dara done anything to promote the book. But here I think of Gaddis in his Paris Review interview: “I’d go back to The Recognitions where Wyatt asks what people want from the man they didn’t get from his work, because presumably that’s where he’s tried to distill this ‘life and personality and views’ you speak of. What’s any artist but the dregs of his work: I gave that line to Wyatt thirty-odd years ago and as far as I’m concerned it’s still valid”).
F. The point of contrast though is Dara’s abrupt transition, sometimes it seems mid-sentence, from one speaker to the next. Just as we feel (nearly) comfortable with who this particular narrator might be, another voice interjects, or rather continues, or re-trajects the discourse—as in the second chapter of Flee (“38,842″), where a college student driving home in snowy weather to pick up a book by Paul Krugman gives over to a number of speakers all describing the closing of the local university, Pitkinson (this closing’s being the presumable, like, plot of Flee so far I suppose)—faculty and staff and townies and residents—until a grad student takes over to report the speech of one Professor Gray, himself bearing witness to the downfall of the school (Ghost Sociology is the issue)—and then of course the chapter gives over to more rumor, more speculation. “Something always going on—.”
G. So I’ve read the first three chapters (“38,839,” “38,842,” “36,551”). But wait: The next chapter (“35,717″–do the titles reflect the dwindling population of the town (Anderburg)?)—but wait the next chapter, I see by scanning, offers some new, perhaps, rhetorical gesture—a section in a different font? Chunkier paragraphs?
I have to go see about this. (More to come).