Black Hole — Ian Cumberland

Black Hole, 2016 by Ian Cumberland (b. 1983)

Cormac McCarthy’s Cinematic Trash

The above is an unsigned New York Times article published on 8 Nov. 1998.

Cormac’s Trash was released in 1999.

In a 2001 interview, producer Mylène Moreno suggests that the short film did not violate McCarthy’s privacy:

AC: You’re also showing the short “Cormac’s Trash,” that you produced and your husband Rafe Greenlee wrote and directed, about how the obsessed fans of the elusive, reclusive El Paso resident/writer Cormac McCarthy try to smoke him out, one even going so far as to go through his trash. How did that project come about?

MM: From the moment we arrived, Cormac’s presence loomed very large. There was always a lot of buzz about him. We lived near him and were always aware of his presence in the neighborhood, though we never saw him. He was Rafe’s favorite author. The film explores Cormac’s relationship to El Paso’s artists and its literary community. As a lawyer, Rafe was interested in privacy issues, and he takes the position in the film that he’s not going to cross the line — even though the film reveals that others probably have. He was careful about revealing the sorts of things found in Cormac’s trash. He didn’t show all of what was in there.

I think we should leave Cormac’s trash alone.

Blog about some recent reading

From the bottom of the stack to the top:

I read most of Padgett Powell’s 1984 debut Edisto in a few sittings, settling down easily into its rich evocation of a strange childhood in the changing Southern Sea Islands. I’d always been ambivalent about Powell, struggling and failing to finish some of his later novels (Mrs. Hollingsworth’s MenThe Interrogative Mood), but Edisto captured me from its opening lines. The story takes two simple tacks–it’s a coming of age tale as well as a stranger-comes-to-town riff. Powell’s sentences are lively and invigorating; they show refinement without the wearing-down of being overworked. The book is fresh, vital.

So when I finished Edisto, I thought I’d go for some more early Padgett. On Friday I picked up his second novel, A Woman Named Drown, started it that afternoon, and put it down 70 pages later the following afternoon. There wasn’t a single sentence that made me want to read the next sentence. Worse, it was turning into an ugly slog, a kind of attempt to refine Harry Crews’s dirty south into something closer to grimy eloquence. I like gross stuff, but this wasn’t my particular flavor.

In between, I took another palate cleansing essay from Brian Dillon’s collection Suppose a Sentence. Dillon’s collection of essays is perfect for resetting a reader’s mood between texts. Each essay reflects, sometimes obliquely, sometimes more directly on a single sentence from a range of authors. Good stuff.

I am working on a full review of William Melvin Kelley’s cult classic Dunfords Travels Everywheres. I have misused the phrase “cult classic” in the preceding sentence Dunfords has been long out of print, almost impossible to find, and largely unheralded for the past few decades. However, new editions from Anchor are rectifying this problem. The book is weird, a bit shaggy, funny and perplexing. More thoughts to come.

When I put down Powell’s A Woman Named Drown I picked up Grace Krilanovich’s novel The Orange Eats Creeps. I bought Orange back in July, pulling it out based on its spine (Two Dollar Radio, a small press I admire) and its title (c’mon!). The Steve Erickson blurb sealed the deal. I’m really digging Orange right now. It’s a novel about Slutty Teenage Hobo Vampire Junkies (the narrators term) bumming around and sucking blood and drugs in the Pacific Northwest. It reminds me a lot of Kathryn Bigelow’s film Near Dark, Tim Hunter’s film River’s Edge, and Harmony Korine’s film Gummo. There’s also a healthy dose of Twin Peaks in here, as well as the abject contours of Charles Burns’s Black Hole.

I’ve also been using Pierre Senges’s Studies of Silhouettes (English translation by Jacob Siefring) as literary palate cleansers, opening the book at random to read Senges’s strange riffs on Kafka’s leads. As Siefring’s blurb puts it, “Each of the texts in this work proceed from the fragments and cryptic beginnings found scattered throughout the notebooks Max Brod took possession of after Kafka’s death.” The results are sometimes very funny, sometimes profound, sometimes both. I hope to have a fuller review down the line.

Midas — Adam Miller

Midas, 2020 by Adam Miller (b. 1979)

October 18, 1971 — Stanislaw Fijalkowski

October 18, 1971, 1971 by Stanislaw Fijalkowski (b. 1922)

Love and the Anti-Void — Jean-Pierre Roy

Love and the Anti-Void, 2020 by Jean-Pierre Roy (b. 1974)

Could Barthelme be considered your literary father?

BLVR: Could Barthelme be considered your literary father? He played a significant role in the shaping of Edisto, yes?

Padgett Powell: Barthelme edited the book, cutting for cleanliness and strength. In terms of my overall development as a writer, he lamented that he had found me already “fully formed.” By this he meant that I was, then, formed by my vision of realistic writing as more or less an amalgam of Faulkner and O’Connor and Williams and Percy and, say, Mailer.

I could not at the time make sense of Barthelme and Beckett and so forth. I never would have had I not, in knowing Don personally, seen that he was a red-blooded normal dude, not a wacko that the writing might suggest. Before I met him in fact I anticipated a Warhol kind of beast. He showed up in jeans and a yoked cowboy shirt a little drunk and introducing himself as Don and shaking hands firmly. We had not had a teacher to that point in our tour in Houston who would deign shake hands.

I referred to Don, as did many of the students, as Uncle Don. He did not shape Edisto beyond cleaning up, with considerable deftness, what I gave him. He could have been a professional editor of the highest caliber. He did in fact select the ten non-consecutive chapters that were sent to the New Yorker. They admitted later that they would not have seen that excerpt had they been given the entire book at first.

I assumed some influence from Don along what we’ll call surreal lines only later. Either that or I just naturally got tired or empty of the purely realistic utterance. I’ve swung so far in this direction now that I’m virtually unpublishable. Don himself at this age was swinging back to realism; he was a man of sense.

From a 2006 Believer interview with Padgett Powell.

Three Books (Books acquired, 16 Oct. 2020–John Barth, Walker Percy, and Padgett Powell)

Chimera by John Barth. First edition 1973 hardback from Random House. Jacket design by George Giusti.

I couldn’t pass up this pristine first edition Barth today when browsing the used bookstore with my kids. I first read Chimera twenty or more years ago, as an undergrad, and it broke my brain a bit.

The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy. Second printing 1972 trade paperback from Noonday. Cover design by Janet Halverson.

Earlier this year in the same used bookshop I came across a first edition hardback copy of Percy’s 1971 novel Love in the Ruins. I hadn’t read Percy at the time (I’ve since loved his later novel Lancelot and been kinda sorta iffy on his famous debut The Moviegoer), but Janet Halverson’s oh-so-seventies Schoolhouse Rock!ish cover grabbed my attention. I really wish I’d bought it now (I think it was six bucks). Two weeks ago I came across two more Percys (Percies?) with Halverson covers, but let them be. But not today—at least not for this copy of The Last Gentleman.

A Woman Named Drown by Padgett Powell. First edition 1987 hardback from FS&G.. Jacket design by Cynthia Krupat, using a photograph by William Wegman.

On the aforementioned-fortnight-last trip to the bookstore, I picked up, somewhat at random, Padgett Powell’s first novel Edisto. I finished it in three days, enjoying it very much, so I couldn’t pass up this copy of his slim second novel today.

Atlas — Dragan Bibin

Atlas, 2020 by Dragan Bibin (b. 1984)

Did not make the second show

Eluhim — Leonora Carrington

Eluhim, 1960 by Leonora Carrington (1917–2011)

Susan Taubes’s Divorcing (Book acquired, 14 Oct. 2020)

Susan Taubes’s forgotten semi-autobiographical novel Divorcing is being republished by NRYB.

I had never heard of Taubes until Divorcing showed up at Biblioklept World Headquarters yesterday. Divorce was Taubes’s first, and only (to my knowledge) novel. It was first published in 1969 and received a mixed (and somewhat sexist) review in The New York Times by Hugh Kenner. A few days after the review was published, Taubes committed suicide by walking into the Atlantic Ocean. Her body was identified by her friend and contemporary Susan Sontag.

Here’s NYRB’s blurb for Divorcing:

Dream and reality overlap in Divorcing, a book in which divorce is not just a question of a broken marriage but names a rift that runs right through the inner and outer worlds of Sophie Blind, its brilliant but desperate protagonist. Can the rift be mended? Perhaps in the form of a novel, one that goes back from present-day New York to Sophie’s childhood in pre–World War II Budapest, that revisits the divorce between her Freudian father and her fickle mother, and finds a place for a host of further tensions and contradictions in her present life. The question that haunts Divorcing, however, is whether any novel can be fleet and bitter and true and light enough to gather up all the darkness of a given life.

Susan Taubes’s startlingly original novel was published in 1969 but largely ignored at the time; after the author’s tragic early death, it was forgotten. Its republication presents a chance to discover a splintered, glancing, caustic, and lyrical work by a dazzlingly intense and inventive writer.

Here’s a note on Taubes from one of Sontag’s 1965 journal entries. Sontag’s son edited the journals collected in As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks 1964-1980, and provides the note that Sontag identified Taubes’s body:

My Little Pigs — Mu Pan

My Little Pigs, 2020 by Mu Pan (b. 1976)

Little more to say (William Gaddis)

William Gaddis’s contribution to a 6 June 1982 New York Times article asking numerous authors what their next book will be. I suppose that Carpenter’s Gothic, being a Gothic, is a romance.

Read “The Piano Player,” a very short story by Donald Barthelme

“The Piano Player”

by Donald Barthelme

from Come Back, Dr. Caligari (1964)


Outside his window five-year-old Priscilla Hess, square and squat as a mailbox (red sweater, blue lumpy corduroy pants), looked around poignantly for someone to wipe her overflowing nose. There was a butterfly locked inside that mailbox, surely; would it ever escape? Or was the quality of mailboxes stuck to her forever, like her parents, like her name? The sky was sunny and blue. A filet of green Silly Putty disappeared into fat Priscilla Hess and he turned to greet his wife who was crawling through the door and her hands and knees.

“Yes?” he said. “What now?”

“I’m ugly,” she said, sitting back on her haunches. “Our children are ugly.”

“Nonsense,” Brian said sharply. “They’re wonderful children. Wonderful and beautiful. Other people’s children are ugly, not our children. Now get up and go back out to the smokeroom. You’re supposed to be curing a ham.”

“The ham died,” she said. “I couldn’t cure it. I tried everything. You don’t love me any more. The penicillin was stale. I’m ugly and so are the children. It said to tell you goodbye.”

“It?”

“The ham,” she said. “Is one of our children named Ambrose? Somebody named Ambrose has been sending us telegrams. How many do we have now? Four? Five? Do you think they’re heterosexual?”

She made a moue and ran a hand through her artichoke hair. “The house is rusting away. Why did you want a steel house? Why did I think I wanted to live in Connecticut? I don’t know.”

“Get up,” he said softly, “get up, dearly beloved. Stand up and sing. Sing Parsifal.”

“I want a Triumph,” she said from the floor. “A TR-4. Everyone in Stamford, every single person, has one but me. If you gave me a TR-4 I’d put our ugly children in it and drive away. To Wellfleet. I’d take all the ugliness out of your life.”

“A green one?”

“A red one,” she said menacingly. “Red with red leather seats.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be chipping paint?” he asked. “I bought us an electric data processing system. An IBM.”

“I want to go to Wellfleet,” she said. “I want to talk to

Edmund Wilson and take him for a ride in my red TR-4. The children can dig clams. We have a lot to talk about, Bunny and me.”

“Why don’t you remove those shoulder pads?” Brian said kindly. “It’s too bad about the ham.”

“I loved that ham,” she said viciously. “When you galloped into the University of Texas on your roan Volvo, I thought you were going to be somebody. I gave you my hand. You put rings on it. Rings that my mother gave me. I thought you were going to be distinguished, like Bunny.”

He showed her his broad, shouldered back. “Everything is in flitters,” he said. “Play the piano, won’t you?”

“You always were afraid of my piano, she said. “My four or five children are afraid of the piano. You taught them to be afraid of it. The giraffe is on fire, but I don’t suppose you care.”

“What can we eat,” he asked, “with the ham gone?”

“There’s some Silly Putty in the deepfreeze,” she said tonelessly.

“Rain is falling,” he observed. “Rain or something.”

“When you graduated from the Wharton School of Business,” she said, “I thought at last! I thought now we can move to Stamford and have interesting neighbors. But they’re not interesting. The giraffe is interesting but he sleeps so much of the time. The mailbox is rather interesting. The man didn’t open it at 3:31 P.M. today. He was five minutes late. The government lied again.”

With a gesture of impatience, Brian turned on the light. The great burst of electricity illuminated her upturned tiny face. Eyes like snow peas, he thought. Tamar dancing. My name in the dictionary, in the back. The Law of Bilateral Good Fortune. Piano bread perhaps. A nibble of pain running through the Western World. Coriolanus.

“Oh God,” she said, from the floor. “Look at my knees.”

Brian looked. Her knees were blushing.

“It’s senseless, senseless,” she said. “I’ve been caulking the medicine chest. What for? I don’t know. You’ve got to give me more money. Ben is bleeding. Bessie wants to be an S.S. man. She’s reading The Rise and Fall. She’s identified with Himmler. Is that her name? Bessie?”

“Yes. Bessie.”

“What’s the other one’s name? The blond one?”

“Billy. Named after your father. Your Dad.”

“You’ve got to get me an air hammer. To clean the children’s teeth. What’s the name of that disease? They’ll all have it, every single one, if you don’t get me an air hammer.”

“And a compressor,” Brian said. “And a Pinetop Smith record. I remember.”

She lay on her back. The shoulder pads clattered against the terrazzo. Her number, 17, was written large on her chest. Her eyes were screwed tight shut. “Altman’s is having a sale,” she said, “Maybe
I should go in.”

“Listen,” he said. “Get up. Go into the grape arbor. I’ll trundle the piano out there. You’ve been chipping too much paint. ”

“You wouldn’t touch that piano,” she said. “Not in a million years.”

“You really think I’m afraid of it?”

“Not in a million years,” she said, “you phoney.”

“All right,” Brian said quietly. “All right.” He strode over to the piano. He took a good grip on its black varnishedness. He began to trundle it across the room, and, after a slight hesitation, it struck him dead.

Cast your jacket, noble dream, over the shoulders of the child (Pierre Senges)

From Studies of Silhouettes by Pierre Senges. English translation by Jacob Siefring. Get it from Sublunary Editions.

Mammon — George Frederic Watts

Mammon,1885 by George Frederic Watts (1817-1904)