What book have you started the most times without ever finishing?

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What book have you started the most times without ever finishing?

I asked this question on Twitter a few days ago (and then asked it a few more times, probably annoying some of the nice people who follow me), and I’ll write a bit about some of the responses later this week. I’m hoping too that some of this blog’s readers will share the novel (or novels) they’ve opened the most times without actually ever finishing.

I got to dwelling on the question a bit after talking with two friends, separately, over the past few weeks, both of whom were having a tough time with Gravity’s Rainbow. Up until last year, Gravity’s Rainbow would easily have been my first answer to this question. How many times did I try to read it between 1997 and 2015? Probably like, what, once a year? At least? And while I don’t think Gravity’s Rainbow is the best starting place for Pynchon, the book is endlessly rewarding, and fits nicely into a little mental shelf comprised of books I made plenty of false starts on before finally finishing (Moby-DickUlyssesInfinite Jest…titles that cropped up on Twitter in answer to my silly question).

Gravity’s Rainbow impacted me so much that I immediately reread it. But I don’t think I would’ve gotten there if I hadn’t read more Pynchon first—and honestly, if I didn’t trust certain critics, if I didn’t trust the book’s reputation. But what about all the books I keep cracking open but can’t quite crack into? Am I missing something? I’m probably missing something.

I rounded up most of the novels I could think of that I’ve tried to read at least four times (conspicuously absent is Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, which I’ve tried to read, hell, what four times? Five including an audiobook?)—I’ll riff a little on them. (As an aside: There are certain books I’ll probably never “finish,” that I have no aim of finishing, which I’m not riffing on here—I’ll write about them separately. The include Tristram ShandyThe Anatomy of MelancholyDon Quixote, and Finnegans Wake).

 Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of my favorite writers, yet I can’t get past Ch. 6 of The Marble Faun. His pal Melville’s Moby-Dick is easily one of my favorite books, one that I return to again and again, and yet I can’t seem to get through Pierre without skimming. I “read” the book in grad school, but I didn’t really read it. I’m fairly determined to read both of these, if only to ameliorate my shame as a would-be completist.

Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma is another book I’m determined to finish (at some point, not now! Not today!—is there another translation besides the Moncrieff?!). If the bookmark in the edition above is true, I made it to page 43 on my last attempt (stopping in the middle of a chapter—never a good sign).

By my wholly unscientific calculations, Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice is the book I’ve started and quit the most times. It’s not even a novel. It’s barely a novella. I should be able to finish it. Maybe it’s a stamina issue. Maybe if I could just sit and read it in one go…

I’ll never finish Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark, but I tried to finish it repeatedly because I, uh, took it from a bookstore without, uh, purchasing it first—the only time I ever did such a thing. When I was a kid. A stupid kid. I confessed (on this blog, years ago—not to the store. The store is gone).

I think I might have read too much Thomas Bernhard too fast, because I keep stalling out on The Lime Works. To be fair, it’s almost impossible for me to read Bernhard in hot or warm weather, and I live in Florida, so the Thomas-Bernhard-reading-weather window is slim. Next winter.

Watching Tarr’s film adaptation of Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s Satantango was difficult enough. (No, I did not do it one sitting). I tried. I tried. I doubt I’ll ever try again.

My Struggle, Book 1. Again, I tried, I tried. Several times. I can’t get down with Knausgaard.

I’ve tried to read Georges Perec’s Life A User’s Manual every summer for a few years now, and I’m not really sure why I can’t get past Part I (about 75 pages or so in). Every time I start into Life, I feel as if I’m missing something, as if some of its humor or complexity is lost on me. Maybe I need something like A User’s Manual for Life A User’s Manual.

I’m sure I’m forgetting plenty of titles (I’m really great at not finishing novels)—but these are the ones that stand out in recent years.

By way of closing: I’m almost finished with Stanley Elkin’s 1975 novel The Franchiser, which would’ve been on this list just a few months ago.

And again, I’d love to hear what novel (or novels) you’ve started the most times without finishing (yet!).

 

List of writers mentioned in Gordon Lish’s Paris Review interview

A list of writers mentioned in Gordon Lish’s Winter 2015 (No. 215) Paris Review interview

Jean Baudrillard

Harold Bloom

Harold Brodkey

William F. Buckley

William S. Burroughs

Raymond Carver

Neal Cassady

Cormac McCarthy

Don DeLillo

Jacques Derrida

Denis Donoghue

Tess Gallagher

Leonard Gardner

Jack Gilbert

Allen Ginsberg

Barry Hannah

Giles Harvey

 Victor Herman

Noy Holland

John Clellon Holmes

Jack Kerouac

Ken Kesey

Stephen King

Romulus Linney

Sam Lipsyte

Atticus Lish

Gary Lutz

Norman Mailer

Ben Marcus

Patty Marx

Cynthia Ozick

Grace Paley

James Purdy

J.D. Salinger

Christine Schutt

Jason Schwartz

Allan Temko

Joy Williams

Tom Wolfe

List with no name #56

  1. King Lear
  2. Henry IV, Part I/II
  3. The Tempest
  4. Othello
  5. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  6. Hamlet
  7. Antony and Cleopatra
  8. Twelfth Night
  9. Much Ado about Nothing
  10. Macbeth

List with no name #55

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List with No Name #54

  1. Fargo
  2. A Serious Man
  3. The Big Lebowski
  4. Inside Llewyn Davis
  5. No Country for Old Men
  6. Barton Fink
  7. Blood Simple
  8. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  9. Raising Arizona
  10. The Man Who Wasn’t There
  11. Miller’s Crossing
  12. True Grit
  13. Burn After Reading
  14. The Ladykillers
  15. The Hudsucker Proxy
  16. Hail, Caesar!
  17. Intolerable Cruelty

A probably incomplete list of books I’ve read so far this year

The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon

Dockwood, Jon McNaught

A German Picturesque, Jason Schwartz

Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon

Two Serious Ladies, Jane Bowles

Flee, Evan Dara

Birchfield Close, Jon McNaught

Signs Preceding the End of the World, Yuri Herrera

Infinite Fictions, David Winters

Syrian Notebooks, Jonathan Littell

Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon

Can’t and Won’t, Lydia Davis

Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon

Gaha: Babes of the Abyss, Jon Frankel

The Spectators, Victor Hussenot

Mumbo Jumbo, Ishmael Reed

Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

The Wallcreeper, Nell Zink

Cess, Gordon Lish

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

High Rise, J.G. Ballard

Millennium People, J.G. Ballard

Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov


Updating the reviews page to this blog today (a chore! a bore!) I realized just how many books I’d read this year and failed to write about…so far, anyway. The list above is probably incomplete, and only includes books I read cover-to-cover (or in a few cases audited on mp3)—so stuff like essays by William Gass and collections like Vollmann’s Last Stories and William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion (etc.) I left off. And yes, I’m aware that the list is heavy on white guys.

Nabokov, in answer to the question: What scenes one would like to have filmed

IN ANSWER TO THE QUESTION: WHAT SCENES ONE WOULD LIKE TO HAVE FILMED

Shakespeare in the part of the King’s Ghost.

The beheading of Louis the Sixteenth, the drums drowning his speech on the scaffold.

Herman Melville at breakfast, feeding a sardine to his cat.

Poe’s wedding. Lewis Carroll’s picnics.

The Russians leaving Alaska, delighted with the deal. Shot of a seal applauding.

From a 1966 interview with Alfred Appel Jr., originally published in Wisconsin Studies and reprinted in the collection Strong Opinions (1973).

List with No Name #53

  1. Agapē Agape
  2. Amerika
  3. Billy Budd
  4. The Castle
  5. The Garden of Eden
  6. Hadji Murat
  7. Islands in the Stream
  8. Juneteenth
  9. The Leopard
  10. The Master and Margarita
  11. The Metamorphosis
  12. The Mysterious Stranger
  13. October Ferry to Gabriola
  14. The Pale King
  15. Persuasion
  16. Stephen Hero
  17. The Third Policeman
  18. The Third Reich
  19. Three Days Before the Shooting…

List with No Name #51

  1. The Master
  2. Inherent Vice
  3. Boogie Nights
  4. There Will Be Blood
  5. Punch Drunk Love
  6. Magnolia
  7. Hard Eight

List with No Name #50

Mason & Dixon, Thomas Pynchon (incomplete)

The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis

Woman on the Edge of Time, Marge Piercy (abandoned)

Life A User’s Manual, Georges Perec (abandoned with intentions to return)

An Armful of Warm Girl, W.M. Spackman

Dockwood, Jon McNaught

The Laughing Monsters, Denis Johnson

The Trip to Echo Spring , Olivia Laing (incomplete)

An Ecology of World Literature, Alexander Beercroft (incomplete)

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of PilgrimageHaruki Murakami

The Age of the Poets, Alain Badiou (incomplete)

Wittgenstein’s Nephew, Thomas Bernhard

Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor

The Habit of Being, Flannery O’Connor (incomplete)

I, Little Asylum, Emmanuelle Guattari

Continue reading “List with No Name #50”

List with No Name #49

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List with No Name #48

  1. The desire to manufacture and maintain happiness leads our culture, our society, our whatever to repeatedly perform contrived aesthetic scenarios.
  2. Happiness being, perhaps, a modern, or at least modernish, invention.
  3. Modernish affect.
  4. And happiness, we maybe telling ourselves, the goal, the telos, the whatever, of religion, politics, culture.
  5. Like many Americans, I have absolutely no idea what will make me happy.
  6. I know that happiness is not stable.
  7. One of Blake’s chimney sweepers remarks that because he is happy and dances and sings they (God/priest/king) are absolved from the belief that they’ve done him injury.
  8. Religion, or the practice and observance of religion, is the maintenance, repetition, and performance of contrived aesthetic scenarios.
  9. Months ago at a baptism I witnessed a man sway.
  10. The swayer swayed rhythmically: his eyes closed, his brow wrinkled, his mouth downturned in the pretense of ecstasy—he swayed to the guitar-strumming of an Episcopalian priest, who plucked and sang a song I’d never heard.
  11. The assembled witnesses mumbling through words of which they weren’t sure.
  12. (Or mute, glaring, like my brother, my father, myself).
  13. Later the priest reserved damning words for this world.
  14. (I’ve committed no details of the sermon to memory, but we may file the whole damn deal under “Platonic shadows of some other promised Real-to-Come“).
  15. And yet the backdrop of the whole affair—did I mention this baptism was outside?—this backdrop was the mighty north-flowing St Johns River, a beautiful spring day, hot, goddamn was it hot-–this backdrop was beautiful, ecstatically beautiful, the deep dark blue choppy river, so broad, coursed in the background, dotted with white sails—trees: announce them: cypress, sweetbay, oak—they swayed—or their branches swayed, their green leaves tickled in the occasional too-brief wind—the sky blazed azure, that’s the word we have, streaked with violent clouds (they were not fluffy)—birds flew—can I remember them, the birds? Let’s license my memory: let’s say white ibises beat past the spectacle, that black vultures hovered not too close. Let’s imagine limpkins and red-shouldered hawks, like the proud avian who lives in the oak across the street from me. Ospreys. Hell, throw in a bald eagle.
  16. The world, this world, which is to say this particular aesthetic arrangement had the potential to authorize happiness—and yet the man in black yapped on about its utter falsenessthis world, this beautiful beautiful world.
  17. Emily Dickinson claimed to keep the Sabbath at home, by which I think she meant her back yard. Sounds nice there—the sermon is never long, and instead of getting to Heaven at last – you’re going, all along.
  18. (I had to preserve and repeat and maintain the aesthetics of Ms. Dickinson’s dash).
  19. I went and stood in the shade and tried to feel happy.
  20. But the man, the swaying man—his performance of ecstasy—all this, mixed with the sermon to spoil the happiness, which I probably enjoyed just as much—the which there referring to the feeling of feeling spoiled happiness, or rather the feeling of potential happiness spoiled.
  21. That the feeling of the feeling was as pure as it might be, mediated by Nature and its enemy Religion.
  22. And finding the man’s swaying performance so thoroughly unconvincing, having witnessed ecstasy my own damn self, at least once or even twice in thirty-five years.
  23. And maybe even experiencing ecstasy, its edges, its agony.
  24. (Ms. Dickinson reported that she liked a look of agony. Its truth).
  25. That ecstasy, or awe, or reverence, or pick your own synonym, because, hey, language is weak as usual, as always, as always-shall-be—language can’t pin down transcendence to a signifying utterance—where was I, am I?—that ecstasy might be pantomimed in the service of a service, of a system, of a religion—this is the shadow of happiness, the shadow of the ideal of happiness: the problem. The problem.
  26. I was never close enough to hear the infant’s cries, coos, wails, burbles, sounds, which she must have uttered—maybe she slept through the ordeal—but any sounds she made must have been the purest utterances at the occasion, the repetitions of Nature, still outside of the culture in which we had gathered to inscribe her.
  27. I wrote all this for me, not for you, not for anyone else—but let me end with the cloying sentimental jeering pretense that I wrote it for the baptized baby, a supporting character in this narrative, whose life I hope is mostly happy.

The Top 10 Best Novels of 2014

10. The Beekeeper’s Daughter by Sissy Sextuplington

By turns uproarious, scandalous, and emotionally-moving, this kaleidoscopic novel tells the multi-generational story of the Apis clan, from their humble beginnings starting a clandestine honey-service in the catacombs of Ellis Island in the 1890s, to their triumphant crest in the honey-boom of the Buzzing Twenties, to their decline and rebirth from their own ashes/wax over the course of the 20th century. This sting stuns!

9. Cacanisius’ Crossing by Caomh-Caolan FitzSimmons-Hughes

How wonderful that this “lost classic” has been recovered anew! FitzSimmons-Hughes of course wrote the novel over a series of decades; each section was written in the language of the European country he was living in self-imposed exile in at the time. Cacanisius’ Crossing was then translated into Irish Gaelic, and has finally been translated into English. The 1085-page story details the last five minutes in the life of its central character. Kaleidoscopically stunning.

8. Dovetail by Samuel Samold

In this dystopian romance-thriller, society is split into two groups: those who have earned their genetically-grafted tails, and those who must go “SansTail.” Will plucky Becky Fang pass the Trials of Wattle and earn her place in the dominant tribe (along with dreamboat Crispin’s affection)—or will she follow the strange mysteries of the secret resistance force, The Cloacal Tunnel? A compelling stunner.

7. The Kite Runner 2 by Khaled Hosseini

The whole book club bawled. Again.

6. Jimmy Hat Johannson and the Crystal Creeper Caper (A Charleston ‘Nights’ Mystery) by Edwin Turner

I feel a little weird putting my own NaNoWriMo novel on here—not the least because it hasn’t come out yet (FS&G in hardback in the US, March 2016; Penguin in the UK, Australia, Canada, and NZ in May 2016; Japanese and Latvian translations TBD)—but it’s really, really good. I even let a friend look over it to check for any bad writing (there wasn’t any) before I sent it to the Wylie Agency. The plot: Jimmy Hat Johansson is just a good ole boy from a backwoods burg…but a summer job with his Uncle Ray’s lawn business plunges him headfirst into a world of sinister intrigue–housewife murderesses, a corrupt sheriff, and a crystal meth syndicate!

5. The Lumberjack’s Apprentice by Knob Hayden

Knob Hayden’s remarkable journey comes to life in this remarkable collection of stories (The Lumberjack’s Apprentice is a novel-in-stories). Remarkably, this book was Hayden’s thesis for an experimental MFA program offered by the EGS (via Transylvania University, Kentucky). Each short story is a remarkable entry in this angry young man’s tour-de-force-of-truth. Hayden is only 24, but he’s hardly tender—six days as a lumberjack’s apprentice will roughen any soft palms! Our hero also tries his hand as a busboy, a mail clerk at Monsanto, and a cabin boy. This guy has definitely read Jesus’ Son!

4. Working On My Screenplay by Angela Criss

Kudos to Penguin for this achievement. This is a book of tweets from people who have included the phrase “working on my screenplay” in their tweet, interspersed with sketches of kittens. Sure, you might criticize it as lazy, not particularly insightful, barely interesting, the sort of joke that others like John Cage played decades ago, a gimmick, cruel, boring, or smug. But it’s art and it’s subversive and it provides much-needed metacommentary and it can be yours for only 10 bucks!

3. Too Many Cooks: The Novelization by Jonathan Franzen

Stunningly remarkable work from Franzen, who slowly teases out the Adult Swim’s immediate cult-classic 11-minute video to 475 pages in this sweeping multigenerational epic. Stunning to think that Mr. Franzen never even watched the short film!

2. Brooklyn Novel Title TK  by Daktoa Rugburn

Wyoming Strongniece has no idea what to do after college—an internship at a Fortune 500 company offered by one of her father’s friends? An experimental MFA program offered by the EGS? Should she work the summer at her favorite bar, making artisanal cocktails for the surly locals, and continue to support her suicidal roommate Hershey as she tries to launch her acting career? Or maybe—just maybe—she can have it all. A dazzling debut sure to stun and reward.

1. The Sector of Attention by Moses Kingson

In vivid prose, Kingson’s unforgettable 27th novel explores the nadirs and acmes of the human soul. A swirling kaleidoscope of epiphanies and soul-searching, this kaleidoscopic stunner makes us reexamine all we thought we knew about WWII. I can’t wait to actually read it.

List with No Name #47

  1. Charles Weedon Westover killed himself on February 8th, 1990.
  2. He was 55.
  3. He shot himself in the head with a .22-caliber rifle.
  4. Between the eye and the ear.
  5. The right eye and the right ear.
  6. The temple.
  7. Charles Weedon Westover was better known by his stage name, Del Shannon.
  8. The name printed on his death certificate is “Charles Weedon Westover” though.
  9. CWW found success as Del Shannon, performing and recording the song “Runaway.”
  10. The 7″ 45rpm recording of “Runaway” became a number one Billboard hit in the United States of America in February of 1961.
  11. “Runaway” was the number one hit in America for four weeks.
  12. It was later a number one hit in the United Kingdom.
  13. And Australia.
  14. But it was not a number one hit in 1967, when CWW as Del Shannon rerecorded it as “Runaway ’67.”
  15. In fact, “Runaway ’67” failed to chart.
  16. CWW, under the name Del Shannon, wrote “Runaway” with Max Crook.
  17. Crook played the strange, dark, jaunty, bipolar solo in “Runaway.”
  18. Crook played the solo on a musical instrument of his own invention, a type of early electronic synthesizer he called the Musitron.
  19. Crook’s Musitron was a modified version of an earlier synthesizer, the clavioline (similar, of course, to an ondioline).
  20. Perhaps Crook’s most significant modification was adding reverb to his organ via a custom-built echo chamber that incorporated garden gate springs.
  21. Crook’s solo is the haunting spirit of a haunting song.
  22. Or maybe the haunting spirit is actually CWW/DS’s falsetto, which cracks through the piano and baritone sax approximately 45 seconds into the song, announcing that the narrator wah-wah-wah-wah-wonders why why why why why why she ran away.
  23. The lyric is simple but also dark, portentous, loaded with a primal anxiety that hints at outright menace.
  24. Why a “runaway”?
  25. Why did she run away?
  26. And why does the narrator want her there with him, walking in the rain?
  27. (To end this misery).
  28. CWW continued recording and performing as Del Shannon for the rest of his life.
  29. His final performance was in Fargo, ND, not a week before his suicide.
  30. Of course he sang “Runaway” there.
  31. It was his biggest hit.
  32. None of his other songs came even close.
  33. He did the alcoholic thing, the drug addict thing, and then the AA thing.
  34. He was, by all accounts, a life-long manic depressive.
  35. And many claimed a kind man.
  36. A generous man.
  37. He played “Runaway” on the David Letterman Show in 1986, shouting the song but hitting the falsetto.
  38. (Back in 1961, Harry Balk, who produced “Runaway,” had to speed up the recording–from an A minor to a B flat–to match CWW’s vocal–he was nervous and flat).
  39. Shirley Westover, his wife of 31 years, had left him the year before his Letterman appearance.
  40. CWW remarried in 1987. He married a neighbor’s daughter, Bonnie Tyson (also known as LeAnne Gutierrez), who was half his age at the time of the marriage.
  41. Bonnie found CWW’s body.
  42. Slumped in a rocking chair, wearing his bathrobe but not his hair piece.
  43. He was working on music with Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne around the time of his death.
  44. And clearly a Wilbury in spirit.
  45. CWW has no grave.

Biblioklept’s Dictionary of Literary Terms

AUTEUR

French for author, this term denotes a film director who makes the same film again and again and again.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

A detailed list of the books from which the author plundered all his or her good ideas.

CIRCUMLOCUTION

The rhetorical device of circumlocution can be seen by the reader or made evident to the reader when a writer chooses to compose phrases, clauses, or sentences that are inordinately complex, exaggerated, long-winded, or otherwise unnecessarily verbose in order to demonstrate, convey, show, or express an idea, image, or meaning that might have been demonstrated, conveyed, shown, or expressed via the use of shorter, simpler, more direct phrases, clauses, or sentences that demonstrate brevity.

Inexperienced writers, especially composition students, are advised to use circumlocution to pad their writing and meet the assigned word count.

DESCRIPTIVIST

A grammarian who holds strong opinions and judgments about prescriptivists.

EXPOSITION

Telling without showing. Exposition can be extremely useful to the reader, who will slight the author who successfully employs it.

FREE INDIRECT STYLE

James Wood Approved!™

GOLDEN AGE

A comforting, nebulous fantasy.

HAGIOGRAPHY

A biography composed entirely of distortions, half-truths, and outright lies.

INNUENDO

The funny dirty bits that make you feel clever.

JARGON

Trade-specific diction employed (preferably clumsily) to confuse the average reader and offend the expert reader.

KINDLE

Early 21st-century reading device, often mistaken as a harbinger of literary doom.

LITERALLY

An adverb that most often means figuratively.

MYTH

The most enduring—and therefore most true—kind of story.

NEGATIVE CAPABILITY

A writer’s ability to just chill and not know. (Also useful for lazy frauds).

OBJECTIVE POINT OF VIEW

A comforting, nebulous fantasy.

PRESCRIPTIVIST

A grammarian who holds strong opinions and judgments about descriptivists.

QUEST

The story-teller’s scheme. Make it up as you go along. Steal as necessary.

REALISM

A comforting, nebulous fantasy.

SEBALDIAN

An adjective used to describe a literary work that is not quite as good as anything by W.G. Sebald.

TRAGEDY

A work often mistaken as more serious or more important or more literary than a comedy.

UNIVERSAL SYMBOL

A comforting, nebulous fantasy.

VULGARITY

A specific type of lucidity that authors sometimes use.

WELTSCHMERZ

The emotional byproduct of attempting to maintain comforting, nebulous fantasies.

XANAX

A stop-gap for bouts of Weltschmerz.

YOKNAPATAWPHA COUNTY

Faulkner’s Middle-earth.

ZYZZYVA

Zyzzyva is a real word, and this fact should give us all some small measure of hope..

(Previous entries here and here and here.).

List with No Name #46

  1. Flann O’Brien
  2. Mark Twain
  3. Daniel Defoe
  4. Iceberg Slim
  5. Edith Van Dyne
  6. Acton Bell
  7. Victoria Lucas
  8. Æ
  9. H.D.
  10. S.E. Hinton
  11. George Eliot
  12. George Sand
  13. George Orwell
  14. Toni Morrison
  15. Anne Rice
  16. Ford Madox Ford
  17. Robert Galbraith
  18. Paul Celan
  19. Boz
  20. Saki
  21. Stendahl
  22. Novalis
  23. Voltaire
  24. Lewis Carroll
  25. Franklin W. Dixon
  26. Lemony Snickett
  27. O. Henry
  28. Richard Bachman
  29. John le Carré
  30. Italo Svevo

List with No Name #45

  1. Walking down the street—a windy night, a blustery night, the last remnant of winter poking into new spring—walking with my family, I ran into my former cat. My wife coaxed him from the brick home five doors down the road, where he has lived for the last three years, or maybe habited is the word, browner, fatter than I remember him when I remember him. He ran up and bit me. I burst into tears.
  2. The time I called my parents, weaving home from the izakaya–It must be daytime, the supper hour, back at home in Florida, yes?—asking after my father, my brother, my grandmother, my childhood dog, how was she, her health, etc.? The lie in my mother’s voice. Stumbling in tears back to my tiny apartment. I missed the train.
  3. (I missed the train on purpose so that I could cry on the long walk home).
  4. On our bed, our old bed, a slimmish bed, tickling my wife, my fingers all over her beautiful young body, her laughter, shrieks, protest, delight. Our cat—our kitten—how he dashed in and bit me all over, viciously, striking like some other animal, like one might imagine a cobra or a weasel would strike. My hand, my arm, my shoulder. That I had a genuine wound there. Blood. My wife calming him, explaining him. Sweethearts.
  5. When my mother brought home the dog, a border collie, a beautiful black and white border collie—no, her name, I can’t share that, I can’t—me, twelve, furious, trembling even, walking into the neighbors’ yard, away, the dog, her, she, the dog in our garage, my younger brother petting her, my father suspicious, but me—Why so angry?
  6. I loved the dog. So much. She was the best.
  7. A few years ago, finding a picture of my dog, a puppy still, wet, in a bathtub of a house I lived in twice, finding the picture in the pages of a book, handing it to my daughter, who asked after the dog, her condition, name, whereabouts, etc., concerned, an edge or shade of protocol in her voice.
  8. That picture now tacked to my daughter’s wall on a corkboard reserved for such tackings.
  9. The cat—how he jumped into my daughter’s crib, curled about her. How it frightened us.
  10. He was never the same after the daughter, or we were never the same, an understatement, an obvious, obvious understatement, of course.
  11. He went to wander a bit, stroll in the world; he failed to return at nights. He took up with an orange tabby, a dusty bland beast my wife dubbed Pearly.
  12. A ridiculous name for a cat.
  13. And then I took to feeding them both. On the porch.
  14. There were other dogs after the dog I loved. A chow, a beagle that couldn’t keep up. What happened to them?
  15. The cat took residency under the house. He refused to move in. He was some kind of scrapper now. We might see him of an evening, curled on the porch, nestled, maybe, with dust-orange Pearly.
  16. But he stopped coming in.
  17. What happened to my dog? The details? I don’t know. This is still a sore spot, but I seem to refuse to ask.
  18. (I suppose I enjoy a sore spot, a wound to worry).
  19. The cat did not like my daughter, I think, and when we had the son, well, I know he didn’t like that. He made it clear. But we subscribe to a fiction wherein the cat loved the children and the children loved the cat.
  20. My daughter has a sweet little framed photo of my cat. He is curled snugly (is there another way for a cat to curl?) in a little wicker basket atop a kitchen cabinet in our old home. My daughter insisted on keeping the photo when I went to throw it away.
  21. Every person, or most persons, that is, most folks—-most folks love their dogs and like their dogs and will say of a dog they like and love: He was a good dog. But my dog! My dog was a very good dog, a smart dog, a dog of impeccable training. My father, returning from years of work overseas to a few months of not working (overseas or otherwise)—my father he trained the beast. It was his project.
  22. (I say, I write, My dog, knowing goddamn well that that dog was my father’s dog).
  23. Returning home from a week in the Smoky Mountains, unable to locate my cat. A miasma about the backporch. Flies, that dead-animal smell that permeates the nostrils, the brain. Finding a raccoon corpse under the house, its body bloated but whole, vile, large and swollen. Discarding it in a series of trash bags.
  24. Its fur was the same color as my cat’s fur.
  25. The strange joy when my cat arrived two days later, his feet trotting down the pavement, sauntering even, arriving on the porch indifferent to my delight but hungry.
  26. That he had taken up first with a possum, and then a raccoon.
  27. The first time I suspected the affair was when I heard the strange crunch of a new jaw crunching on my cat’s own food—a louder, drier crunch. I made myself, hollered, arms above head, chest-thrust, Hey raccoon—off the porch!
  28. But that furred trio just stared at me, knowing I’d go on feeding them as I had been, all Darwinian competition suspended by domestic tendencies, blinking in a series.
  29. How horrifying!
  30. And yet and still—my children, via the designs and tendencies of my wife and me—don’t they turn woodland creatures into anthropomorphic totems? Don’t they squeeze stuffed dolls? Draw and mold and paint forest friends? Make stories about such beasts?
  31. I can’t believe for a minute that the dog would’ve taken to such nocturnal company, nor would her sweet heart spurn my babies for night adventures.
  32. But who knows.
  33. My parents now live with an awful yapping terrier dog, his two rows of teeth set above his rotten beard, and above that mutant jaw, his eyes skewed, akimbo, their colors mismatched.
  34. There is a picture of my cat, or the cat that I am calling my cat who is so plainly now his own cat—there is a picture of that cat in the crib with my daughter. In the picture, both cat and daughter face the camera, the crib horizontal to the viewer, its vertical white bars framing the pair. The cat’s head intersects with the daughter’s head, occluding half her face from the viewer’s view.
  35. This picture horrified my daughter.
  36. (And perhaps signaled a sense of self, or, more importantly, or more significantly, or just plain more interestingly, the sense that there was a self that could be occluded, obstructed, obscured, incomplete).
  37. My wife and I, repeatedly testing our daughter’s reaction to the photo, varying times of day, situations, etc., in order to observe her reaction.
  38. (I almost used the verb gauge for observe but oh my that would be so dishonest, yes?).
  39. Anyway, it horrified this little girl, moved her to tears, gasping, this cat’s head blocking half of her head.
  40. With the dog I don’t know what happened, not really: She was old; her hips were bad, we had to put her down. There’s no image there, just the sound of my mother’s voice passing through some 7,000 miles, telling me that she—the dog—was dead. Or not to tell me, but rather to avoid telling me.
  41. But I do know what happened to the cat.
  42. Here’s what happened to the cat: We moved—not far—from a colorfullivelyurban neighborhood, to an old old suburb of that early urban plot. We moved.
  43. And he was an afterthought, the cat—with his roving, his adventures, he was hard to pin down, to catch in a carrier, a box. I’d tried to coax him and trap him and chase him over a few weeks, but in the thin interval between buying the new house and moving into the new house and selling the old house—well I couldn’t get him, grab him, hold him.
  44. Until I finally did. I engineered (the verb here is too kind) a trap of sorts, bating him with the food, constructing a perimeter, waiting. Pearly showed himself (he knew he was not wanted), but my cat was far slippier. But I waited. And I nabbed him: In a carrier purposed for cats and then into a big box and then into the back of my station wagon and then howling for five or six or seven minutes as we traveled, not far, but over a short, old bridge, into our new old neighborhood, his howling yelping shrieking raising my anxiety about the whole thing, his rustling fury palpable in acute waves from the rear of the car, my voice which could not even call him to me under the brightest of conditions in no way alleviating any of this and so yes of course the first thing I did when I got to the new old house was to open the hatchback, open the box, pull out the carrier, and try to grip the cat who yes of course sprang down (like a cat!) onto the unfamiliar concrete drive, hunting perhaps a crawlspace to crawl into, sensing none, none, none what to do what to do?
  45. And then he ran away.