Anthony Michael Perri’s Lonely Boxer (Book acquired, 7 June 2022)

Anthony Michael Perri’s Lonely Boxer is good stuff—a terse, dark (and often funny) boxing story packed with punchy sentences. Jacket copy:

Lonely Boxer is a novella in vignettes. It deals with the themes of depression, loneliness, violence and morals. Recently released from jail, Lonely Boxer resumes his training regime. After all, this is the only place he feels comfortable – in the ring. And when a title fight between himself and the world’s most popular boxer, Famous Rafael, is announced, Lonely asks himself; will he be able to overcome his opponent? Along the way he’ll have to contend against an indifferent psychologist, an unreliable best friend, and an abusive mother. Will he be able to overcome all of these challenges and become the World Champ?

Trey Ellis’s Platitudes (Book acquired, 6 June 2022)

I had a full 90 minutes to browse the second, downtown location of my favorite bookshop today, while my daughter completed onboarding at City Hall for her summer job. I picked up assigned summer reading for both of my kids, and came across a Vintage Contemporaries edition I’d never seen before: Trey Ellis’s debut novel PlatitudesThe blurb on the back by Ishmael Reed sold me on Platitudes:

I was zapped by Trey Ellis’s humongous talent. His book, Platitudes, is delightfully rad. He dares to have the gumption to write comically about American literary politics.

I also managed to avoid leaving with a bunch of massmarket paperbacks by Philip K. Dick—but here’s a pic of all their covers: 

—which I think are so much more interesting than these handsome, respectable, uniform contemporaries:

Last day of school

Today was the last day of school for my kids. They both started new schools this year (high school and middle school). It’s been a weird few years and a bad few days. My son chose not to attend the last two days but my daughter wanted to see her friends. My mother called me the afternoon of the Ulvade murders to ask if my kids were okay and I didn’t even know how to answer. My daughter has been in two active-shooter lockdowns already in her life and she’s not even 15. They’ve spent their entire life fully inscribed in this nightmare. One of the worst memories of my early parenthood was my daughter coming home from kindergarten and describing her first active-shooter practice drill: “Some of us were weeping,” she said. It was the word weeping that really stuck with my wife and me—the odd precision of it.

I don’t want to rant on here; that’s not what this blog is for, and not what I imagine those who check in on it want to read or see. I expressed my own sense of horror and despair obliquely on here the other day, in any case.

I spent too much of today staring at screens, reading, horrified and angry, still stunned by the stupidity of the world we’ve botched together. I tried to pick up the book I’ve been trying to read, but I found I couldn’t press into it, couldn’t focus on a sentence let alone a paragraph. I ended up playing a lot of internet chess, on the smaller screen.

And then I found myself exhausted, needing to get out of the house. So I pulled the same Friday trick I always do, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. I went to the used bookstore down the road.

I like to browse and handle the material there, looking for oddities and weird scores. I ended up with a hardback ex-library copy of Vladimir Sorokin’s Day of the Oprichnik (trans. Jamey Gambrell, RIP). It’s in the stack below, a stack of books I’ve read or am (ostensibly) reading:

And so some mini-not-reviews, top to bottom:

Kou Machida’s Rip It Up (trans. Daniel Joseph): Read it back in April when I was finishing up the semester—it was a wonderful punk-psych antidote to final essay doldrums. Short, kinetic, caustic, and surreal. I wrote about the first part here.

Caren Beilin’s Revenge of the Scapegoat: This is the novel I attempted to start a few days ago, after finishing William Burroughs’s The Western Lands. I am having a hard time reading anything right now, let alone writing any proper review. I hope the thing I once had comes back.

Vladimir Sorokin’s Telluria (trans. Max Lawton): The best contemporary novel I’ve read in a long time—a polyglossic satirical epic pieced together in vital miniatures. Rich and dense but also loose and funny, Sorokin’s post-collapse world doesn’t seem all that bad.

Antonio di Benedtto’s The Silentiary (trans. Esther Allen): The narrator of this understated Kafkaesque novel cannot abide the increasing cacophony of 20th-century life. His resistance to noise is futile though, and comes at great cost to both himself and his family. The Silentiary is good stuff, but not as achieved as Di Benedetto’s novel Zama.

I bought Sorokin’s Day of Oprichnik today.

(Parenthetically: I went to the bookstore, as I stated above, to try to decompress, get away from screens, news, etc.—but I could not.

There was a young woman standing near the “RE” area in General Fiction having the loudest possible conversation one can have on a phone without actually yelling. She was talking at her mother about all the strife she has with her brother, who is also her roommate, and her father (who is divorced from the mother). The young woman cursed in almost every sentence she spoke, damning her brother for not taking out the trash, for not doing the dishes, etc. She near-shouted about her father’s siding with her brother, and about how the whole situation necessitates more therapy for her, and how she is the sane responsible one, while her brother is not. Her brother refuses to engage with her when she addresses him, claiming that he claims he can’t talk to her when she shouts, but how can she not be emotional when she’s angry? And how does that mean that she’s not rational, just because she’s yelling? And isn’t he really the abusive one, for shutting down on her and not responding when she, a grown-ass adult, is simply trying to confront him about not doing what he should be doing?

I put this information together in waves over 45 minutes. It was like running up a caustic radio show that tuned in and out depending on my proximity to its signal. Vile.)

William S. Burroughs’s final trilogy: I haven’t read WSB in ages, but I finished up his last novel, The Western Lands a few days ago (not pictured because it’s still in my car; I’d been rereading bits during carpool pick-up).. The final three books in Burroughs’s oeuvre are maybe his best (and most-overlooked), and The Place of Dead Roads is particularly fantastic.

Okay, I’m out of juice. I hope the summer is better for most of us, although there’s not much force in that verb, hope.

Percy’s Ruins, Reed’s Spring (Books acquired, 5 May 2022)

A few years ago I passed up on a hardback first-edition copy of Walker Percy’s weird dystopian Southern Gothic Love in the Ruins, and have regretted it ever since, or at least ever since I read a run of his novels back in 2020. I wound I’m reading a digital copy of Love from my local library, loved it, and would put it up there with Lancelot as his best, knowing damn well I still haven’t read The Last Gentleman or The Thanatos Syndrome. (The Thanatos Syndrome sounds like the name of a bad novel in a dystopian parody novel or film.) The cover for this edition of Love in the Ruins is by Janet Halverson.

I’ve read nine of Ishmael Reed’s first ten novels, but I still haven’t read Japanese by Spring, his ninth work, a campus novel that parodies America’s ever-ongoing culture wars. I picked up this first-edition hardback today. Before I even opened the copy, I wondered if it belonged to the same dude who I’ve managed to cop so many used postmodern novels of the past three decades. This guy—I won’t write his name out here—this guy put stamps or stickers of his name and address in the books he bought, I guess, and I ended up picking up a lot of them used over the years: Ishmael Reed, Stanley Elkin, Don DeLillo…I was thinking about maybe writing the guy? Anyway, sure enough, this copy of Japanese by Spring included a sticker bearing this guy’s name and the same address. I did a basic internet search and it looks like he’s moved, but not far, and that he’s (probably) eighty years old. I guess I’d just want to say Thanks is all.

The Uncollected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick (Book acquired, 25 April 2022)

NYRB has collected the uncollected essays of Elizabeth Hardwick and published it as The Uncollected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick. Thirty-five essays, out in late May. NYRB’s blurb:

The Uncollected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick is a companion collection to The Collected Essays, a book that proved a revelation of what, for many, had been an open secret: that Elizabeth Hardwick was one of the great American literary critics, and an extraordinary stylist in her own right. The thirty-five pieces that Alex Andriesse has gathered here—none previously featured in volumes of Hardwick’s work—make it clear that her powers extended far beyond literary criticism, encompassing a vast range of subjects, from New York City to Faye Dunaway, from Wagner’s Parsifal to Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions, and from the pleasures of summertime to grits soufflé. In these often surprising, always well-wrought essays, we see Hardwick’s passion for people and places, her politics, her thoughts on feminism, and her ability, especially from the 1970s on, to write well about seemingly anything.

Kou Machida’s Rip It Up (Book acquired, 15 April 2022)

So I got into Kou Machida’s short novel Rip It Up last night. This Japanese novel (original title, きれぎれ [Kiregire]) gets its first English translation, via Daniel Joseph and Mercurial Editions, a new translation imprint from Inpatient Press. This is how the publisher describes Rip It Up:

Set in a kaleidoscopic hyperreal Japan circa Y2K, Rip It Up catalogues the misdeeds and misgivings of a down-and-out wannabe debonair who ekes out a meager living at the fringes of the art world, wracked by jealousy at his friend’s success and despondency of his own creative (and moral) bankruptcy. In turn hilarious and also horrifying, Machida’s pyrotechnic prose plumbs the discursive depths of the creative spirit, a head-spinning survey of degeneration and self-sabotage.

Machida’s psychedelic punk prose takes a few pages to tune into. The (as-yet?) unnamed narrator’s voice is tinged with madness and soaked with vitriol for the conformist society he can’t seem to get out of. He’s a rich kid, a lout, and a bum, obsessed with Satoe the horse-headed girl. Her head isn’t really a horse’s head; rather, it’s a mask she’s wearing when he first runs into her at a drunken Setsubun party at the “panty bar” where she works. He’s stumbled in after getting drunk at his friend’s funeral. The scene Machida conjures is simultaneously vile, hallucinatory, and hilarious, with salarymen and “little people gotten up to look like Fukusuke dolls” crashing about the place in a bizarre karaoke showdown. The narrator takes the mic, belting out malapropisms that synthesize and parody the lyrics of Western pop songs:

It’s not unusual to hi-de hi-de hi-de-hi

You’re as chaste as ice

And baby we were born to nun

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on Moon River

Any way the lunch grows, doesn’t really matter

A few pages later, the narrator still pines for the horse-headed girl, spending all his money at the panty bar. He has to go visit his rich mother for a “loan,” but she makes him embark on a stolid omiai, a marriage interview, which he torpedoes by declaring to the prospective partner and her dour mother “exactly what kind of person I am”:

That I spend all my free time at the panty bar. That I dropped out of high school. That I’m a spendthrift. That I’ve got my head in the clouds and I’ve never done an honest days work in my life because I despise hard work. That’s all.

I’m digging Rip It Up so far; it’s alienating, self-indulgent stuff. Daniel Joseph’s translation conveys a desperate, stuffy world, and shows how linguistic resistance might puncture stifling conformity. More thoughts to come. Check out Kou Machida’s seminal punk band Inu,

 

Elizabeth Sewell’s The Orphic Voice (Book acquired, 12 April 2022)

Elizabeth Sewell’s 1960 work The Orphic Voice is getting a new edition this summer from NYRB. Their blurb:

Taking its bearings from the Greek myth of Orpheus, whose singing had the power to move the rocks and trees and to quiet the animals, Elizabeth Sewell’s The Orphic Voice transforms our understanding of the relationship between mind and nature. Myth, Sewell argues, is not mere fable but an ancient and vital form of reflection that unites poetry, philosophy, and natural science: Shakespeare with Francis Bacon and Giambattista Vico; Wordsworth and Rilke with Michael Polanyi. All these members of the Orphic company share a common perception that “discovery, in science and poetry, is a mythological situation in which the mind unites with a figure of its own devising as a means toward understanding the world.” Sewell’s visionary book, first published in 1960, presents brilliantly illuminating readings of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, among other masterpieces, while deepening our understanding not only of poetry and the history of ideas but of the biological reach of the mind.

Pushkin’s Peter the Great’s African (Book acquired, sometime in the last week of March 2022)

NYRB has a new collection of Alexander Pushkin stories called Peter the Great’s African out later this month. The long short stories are translated by by Robert Chandler (who also provides the afterword), Elizabeth Chandler, and Boris Dralyuk. NYRB’s blurb:

Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s foundational writer, was constantly experimenting with new genres, and this fresh selection ushers readers into his creative laboratory. Politics and history weighed heavily on Pushkin’s imagination, and in “Peter the Great’s African” he depicts the Tsar through the eyes of one of his closest confidantes, Ibrahim, a former slave, modeled on Pushkin’s maternal great-grandfather. At once outsider and insider, Ibrahim offers a sympathetic yet questioning view of Peter’s attempt to integrate his vast, archaic empire into Europe. In the witty “History of the Village of Goriukhino” Pushkin employs parody and self-parody to explore problems of writing history, while “Dubrovsky” is both a gripping adventure story and a vivid picture of provincial Russia in the late eighteenth century, with its class conflicts ready to boil over in violence. “The Egyptian Nights,” an effervescent mixture of prose and poetry, reflects on the nature of artistic inspiration and the problem of the poet’s place in a rapidly changing and ever more commercialized society.

 

Kobo Abe’s Inter Ice Age 4 (Book acquired, 1 April 2022)

I was thrilled to find a first-edition U.S. hardback (Knopf, 1970, Book Club Edition) of Kobo Abe’s novel Inter Ice Age 4. The translation is by E. Dale Saunders, and is the only English translation of the novel that I am aware of. The jacket design is by Joseph del Gaudio; I’m not sure if he is responsible for this lovely little embossed image that takes up the bottom-right corner of the cover:

This edition includes five line drawings by Abe’s wife, the artist Machi Abe. Here is one of those drawings:

I’ve had a samizdat e-copy of Inter Ice Age 4 for ages now, but haven’t made it past the first 20 or so pages, but the intriguing, prescient plot has always intrigued me. First composed and published in serialization at the end of the 1950s, Inter Ice Age 4 is set in a world where the polar ice caps are rapidly melting. Scientists genetically modify gilled children to survive this new reality. A proto-AI, a computer that can tell the future is the novel’s central antagonist. Thank god nothing like that’s shaking down these days!

John Elizabeth Stintzi’s novel My Volcano (Book acquired, 20 Feb. 2022)

I finally had a spare half hour to dip into John Elizabeth Stintzi’s novel My Volcano this afternoon. After hearing about the novel from the good folks at weirdo indie stalwart Two Dollar Radio, I thought—well, look, here’s the publisher’s blurb:

My Volcano is a kaleidoscopic portrait of a menagerie of characters, as they each undergo personal eruptions, while the Earth itself is constantly shifting. It takes place during the turbulent summer of 2016, which saw the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, and a spate of horrific hate-crimes across the country. This grounding in reality, contrasted with the sensational action that occurs in the narrative, floats the idea — which appears as the epigraph to the book, and also as a line within — that “reality is nothing but the opinion of power.” Parable, myth, science-fiction, eco-horror, My Volcano is a radical work of literary art, emerging as a subversive, intoxicating artistic statement.

–and the blurb at the TDR website is more detailed—

On June 2, 2016, a protrusion of rock growing from the Central Park Reservoir is spotted by a jogger. Three weeks later, when it finally stops growing, it’s nearly two-and-a-half miles tall, and has been determined to be an active volcano.

As the volcano grows and then looms over New York, an eight-year-old boy in Mexico City finds himself transported 500 years into the past, where he witnesses the fall of the Aztec Empire; a Nigerian scholar in Tokyo studies a folktale about a woman of fire who descends a mountain and destroys an entire village; a white trans writer in Jersey City struggles to write a sci-fi novel about a thriving civilization on an impossible planet; a nurse tends to Syrian refugees in Greece while grappling with the trauma of living through the bombing of a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan; a nomadic farmer in Mongolia is stung by a bee, magically transforming him into a green, thorned, flowering creature that aspires to connect every living thing into its consciousness.

With its riveting and audacious vision, My Volcano is a tapestry on fire, a distorted and cinematic new work from the fiercely talented John Elizabeth Stintzi.

—anyway, I expected a kind of weirdness of prose, something “experimental” — but Stintzi’s prose is tight, lucid, and crisp. They employ filmic techniques, including interstitial chapters announcing the myriad horrific deaths recorded in 2016, including Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre. Flicking through the novel to graze these placards reminded me of the cruelty of the 2016, but also underlined that that cruelty was not especially special, besides, maybe, the fact that more folk could not deny systematic institutional violence in the grand ole USA. (Accept that they did. A lot of folk signed up for denying that shit.)

—well anyway, the intriguing thing, so far, is Stintzi’s spare evocations of extraordinary moments. There’s something both banal and beautiful in a sentence like, “The bumblebee in central Mongolia was eaten by a whitethroated needletail on JUNE 5.” Or hardly banal, but still frank and clear: “It didn’t take more than seeing strangely dressed Angel ingest a cloud for the Mexica people of Tenochtitlan to believe that he was holy.”

There’s also a heavy sadness under what I read, although maybe I brought that myself.

Józef Czapski’s Memories of Starobielsk (Book acquired, 7 Feb. 2022)

Józef Czapski’s Memories of Starobielsk: Essays between Art and History is forthcoming from NYRB in Alissa Valles’s translation. Their blurb:

Interned with thousands of Polish officers in the Soviet prisoner-of-war camp at Starobielsk in September 1939, Józef Czapski was one of a very small number to survive the massacre in the forest of Katyń in April 1940. Memories of Starobielsk portrays these doomed men, some with the detail of a finished portrait, others in vivid sketches that mingle intimacy with respect, as Czapski describes their struggle to remain human under hopeless circumstances. Essays on art, history, and literature complement the memoir, showing Czapski’s lifelong engagement with Russian culture. The short pieces on painting that he wrote while on a train traveling from Moscow to the Second Polish Army’s strategic base in Central Asia stand among his most lyrical and insightful reflections on art.

Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewish Woman by Hannah Arendt (Book acquired, mid-January 2022)

Hannah Arendt’s Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewish Woman is forthcoming from NYRB (in translation by Clara Winston and Richard Winston, and with an introduction by Barbara Hahn). NYRB’s blurb:

Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewish Woman was Hannah Arendt’s first book, largely completed when she went into exile from Germany in 1933, though not published until the 1950s. It is the biography of a remarkable, complicated, passionate woman, and an important figure in German romanticism. Rahel Varnhagen also bore the burdens of being an unusual woman in a man’s world and an assimilated Jew in Germany.

She was, Arendt writes, “neither beautiful nor attractive . . . and possessed no talents with which to employ her extraordinary intelligence and passionate originality.” Arendt sets out to tell the story of Rahel’s life as Rahel might have told it and, in doing so, to reveal the way in which assimilation defined one person’s destiny. On her deathbed Rahel is reported to have said, “The thing which all my life seemed to me the greatest shame, which was the misery and misfortune of my life—having been born a Jewess—this I should on no account now wish to have missed.” Only because she had remained both a Jew and a pariah, Arendt observes, “did she find a place in the history of European humanity.”

Antonio di Benedetto’s The Silentiary (Book acquired, 6 Jan. 2022)

This afternoon I finally jumped in to Esther Allen’s new translation of Antonio di Benedetto’s novel The Silentiary (the original title, El silenciero means something like “the silencer,” I think). We have an unnamed narrator living in an unnamed Latin America in a not-entirely unspecified time (“as of the late postwar era”). Our narrator is an office worker who lives with his mother. He dreams of being a writer and is in love with a neighbor. He despises noise, which is too bad because an autoshop has just opened up right next to his bedroom wall.

There’s a Kafkaesque vibe to The Silentiary—everything’s a bit uncanny, a wavelength off. The narrator is a wavelength off, I suppose. The prose is sometimes crisp and economic, and then zips out into wonderfully estranging images, like this odd sentence just a few pages in:

At dawn, the daylight a glaze of watery milk on the widowpanes, as my mind, jerked into a state of alertness, discerns a noise attached to the rear wall of my room, something like my heart grows agitated within me.

Or this little moment, longer than a haiku but still in the same spirit:

Last night the big gray cat of my childhood came to me.

I told him that noise stalks and harries me.

Slowly, intensely, he cast his animal, companionable gaze upon me.

It took me a few dozen pages to attune to the humor of The Silentiary. It’s just as odd and dry as the dark humor in Di Benedetto’s 1965 novel Zama,  but again, a wavelength off, a different flavor from the same palate. An episode of drinking that ends with our narrator carried home by his fellows is particularly entertaining. When I type out the description the bit seems hardly subtle. But it is.

More thoughts to come, but for now here’s NYRB’s blurb:

The Silentiary takes place in a nameless Latin American city during the early 1950s. A young man employed in middle management entertains an ambition to write a book of some sort. But first he must establish the necessary precondition, which the crowded and noisily industrialized city always denies him, however often he and his mother and wife move in search of it. He thinks of embarking on his writing career with something simple, a detective novel, and ponders the possibility of choosing a victim among the people he knows and planning a crime as if he himself were the killer. That way, he hopes, his book might finally begin to take shape.

The Silentiary, along with Zama and The Suicides, is one of the three thematically linked novels by Di Benedetto that have come to be known as the Trilogy of Expectation, after the dedication “To the victims of expectation” in Zama. Together they constitute, in Juan José Saer’s words, “one of the culminating moments of twentieth-century narrative fiction in Spanish.”

Vladimir Sorokin’s Telluria (Book acquired, 13 Jan. 2022)

I read the first few bits of Vladmir Sorokin’s postapocalyptic novel Telluria today. The book is forthcoming from NYRB in translation by Max Lawton. The fantastic blurb captured my interest right away:

Telluria is set in the future, when a devastating holy war between Europe and Islam has succeeded in returning the world to the torpor and disorganization of the Middle Ages. Europe, China, and Russia have all broken up. The people of the world now live in an array of little nations that are like puzzle pieces, each cultivating its own ideology or identity, a neo-feudal world of fads and feuds, in which no one power dominates. What does, however, travel everywhere is the appetite for the special substance tellurium. A spike of tellurium, driven into the brain by an expert hand, offers a transforming experience of bliss; incorrectly administered, it means death.

The fifty chapters of Telluria map out this brave new world from fifty different angles, as Vladimir Sorokin, always a virtuoso of the word, introduces us to, among many other figures, partisans and princes, peasants and party leaders, a new Knights Templar, a harem of phalluses, and a dog-headed poet and philosopher who feasts on carrion from the battlefield. The book is an immense and sumptuous tapestry of the word, carnivalesque and cruel, and Max Lawton, Sorokin’s gifted translator, has captured it in an English that carries the charge of Cormac McCarthy and William Gibson.

Telluria is forthcoming this summer; NYRB plans to publish three more by Sorokin, including Blue Lard, “which included a sex scene between clones of Stalin and Khrushchev [and] led to public demonstrations against the book and to demands that Sorokin be prosecuted as a pornographer.”

John Berryman’s Stephen Crane biography (Book acquired, 9 Dec. 2021)

I’ve been casually looking for a copy of John Berryman’s 1950 biography of Stephen Crane for a few years now. Berryman is one of my favorite poets and Crane is one of my favorite short story writers. A write up of Paul Auster’s new Crane bio led me to reread some Crane favorites over the past few weeks, which in turn made me look a bit harder for Berryman’s Stephen Crane. The used bookstore I frequent has something like two and a half million books; I had been looking for the Crane bio in three sections: with Crane’s fiction, in biographies, and in literary criticism. This week I grabbed a stool and searched through the overstock above the Crane section and found what I’d been looking for.

As he points out in his preface, Berryman’s approach is a mix of biography and critical appraisal. Berryman claims that very little was written about Crane’s fiction (apart from The Red Badge of Courage) after his death, and that his (Crane’s) reputation was essentially invisible apart from “the war book” until later modernists took to championing him (much like earlier modernists recovered Herman Melville).

After the preface, I couldn’t help but read some of the section on composing “The Open Boat”; it’s a favorite of mine, I live in Jacksonville, where the story originates, and I use it in the classroom every semester. I also dipped into the penultimate chapter, “Crane’s Art,” which includes this nugget:

…Crane has been dead half a century, academic interest has avoided him as both peculiar and undocumented, and some of his work is still decidedly alive. This is long enough.

Elizabeth Taylor’s Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (Book acquired, late Nov. 2021)

NYRB is reprinting the last novel of Elizabeth Taylor (not that one, the other one), Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont. NYRB’s blurb:

On a rainy Sunday afternoon in January, the recently widowed Mrs. Palfrey moves to the Claremont Hotel in South Kensington. “If it’s not nice, I needn’t stay,” she promises herself, as she settles into this haven for the genteel and the decayed. “Three elderly widows and one old man . . . who seemed to dislike female company and seldom got any other kind” serve for her fellow residents, and there is the staff, too, and they are one and all lonely. What is Mrs. Palfrey to do with herself now that she has all the time in the world? Go for a walk. Go to a museum. Go to the end of the block. Well, she does have her grandson who works at the British Museum, and he is sure to visit any day.

Mrs. Palfrey prides herself on having always known “the right thing to do,” but in this new situation she discovers that resource is much reduced. Before she knows it, in fact, she tries something else.

Elizabeth Taylor’s final and most popular novel is as unsparing as it is, ultimately, heartbreaking.

Heimito von Doderer’s The Strudlhof Steps (Book acquired, 15 Nov. 2021)

Heimito von Doderer’s The Strudlhof Steps is forthcoming in translation by Vincent Kling from NYRB. Their blurb:

The Strudlhof Steps is an unsurpassed portrait of Vienna in the early twentieth century, a vast novel crowded with characters ranging from an elegant, alcoholic Prussian aristocrat to an innocent ingenue to “respectable” shopkeepers and tireless sexual adventurers, bohemians, grifters, and honest working-class folk. The greatest character in the book, however, is Vienna, which Heimito von Doderer renders as distinctly as James Joyce does Dublin or Alfred Döblin does Berlin. Interweaving two time periods, 1908 to 1911 and 1923 to 1925, the novel takes the monumental eponymous outdoor double staircase as a governing metaphor for its characters’ intersecting and diverging fates. The Strudlhof Steps is an experimental tour de force with the suspense and surprise of a soap opera. Here Doderer illuminates the darkness of passing years with the dazzling extravagance that is uniquely his.