I picked up Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire on a weird whim. I mean, I quite literally passed by it in the bookshop I frequent; it was misshelved, or unshelved, really. Someone had left it in sci-fi, near the “Bs” (B-for-Ballard, if you must know). Pale Fire, eh? I thought. Can’t remember this one. Because I had never read it, somehow. An amazing novel, one I dove into after sampling a bit of Clarice Lispector’s Selected Cronicas (still sampling—this is one of those books that’s lovely to dip gently into between selections) and after failing to get through the first essay in Elizabeth Hardwick’s Seduction and Betrayal. Not sure if I can (should?) muster a “review” of Pale Fire, but it’s one of the better prepostmodern-postmodernist novels I’ve ever read—very very funny and a beautiful mindfuck.
So I finished my second full reading of Gravity’s Rainbow today. And then I read the last section three more times. And my brain feels fried. I was thinking about rereading V. after this, but I think a break will do nicely. So I picked up Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo on Pynchon’s recommendation (“check out Ishmael Reed,” the narrator tells us on page 588 of Gravity’s Rainbow). A stroll through the lit crit section led to my spying (okay, looking for and finding) the 20th Century Views collection on Pynchon. So we’ll see how that reads.
Random House is reissuing Maya Angelou’s seminal memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in both hardback and paperback with the original 1970 cover (love love love the cover). The Complete Poetry is also new (in hardback); love how the cover matches Caged Bird.
The paperback reissue of Caged Bird features a new foreword by Oprah Winfrey.
From The Complete Poetry:
I am taking a class titled 21st-Century Fiction: What Is The Contemporary? and three of the books in this photograph are part of the reading list. Absent titles are by Dan Chaon, Kathryn Davis, Ben Marcus, Blake Butler, Sheila Heti. Some others. Wanted titles: Tao Lin’s Taipei (which I am reading now, which is surprisingly good).
I don’t know anything about Dodie Bellamy beyond the fact that she is often grouped with Kathy Acker, who are both often grouped with Dennis Cooper, who are all New Narrative people. New Narrators make the author present, her body and sexuality usually the prime subject. Letters of Mina Harker is a “sequel” to Dracula, except Mina Harker is a young woman who lives in 1980s San Francisco. On conceit alone, it reminds me of Kathy Acker’s Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream.
Richard Powers and Evan Dara are often grouped together, mainly because Powers blurbed his first book, The Lost Scrapbook, and that both of them write books that weave disparate discourses into their fiction. Also, there is speculation that Powers is Dara (Or Dara is Powers). Flee is, according to its publisher Aurora Books, about “in which a New England town does just that.” I’ve read the first chapter, titled “38,839,” and it reeks of Gaddis (in a good way). Disembodied voices colliding into each other, a cacophonous plot; the absurd & banal drama of everyday, throwaway conversation. An Australian book show on Triple R Radio, who have a good and very rare interview with Gerald Murnane (whose book Inland I was really, really jazzed on), also really loves Dara. I’m pretty excited to read this one.
Evan Dara and Richard Powers are often grouped together, mainly because Dara’s first book was blurbed by Richard Powers, and that both of them write books that weave disparate discourses into their fiction. Dara might be Powers (or Powers might be Dara?), but that doesn’t really matter. The Echo Maker is supposed to be one of those Big, Important American Books (as noted by the shallow, embossed seal on my used copy of the book). As I write this, I am listening to Powers read from The Echo Maker from an old Lannan Foundation talk (who also really love Gass) and I am really intrigued. I haven’t flipped through this, so I will reproduce the back copy.
On a winter night on a remote Nebraska road, twenty-seven-year-old Mark Schluter has a near-fatal car accident. His older sister, Karin, returns reluctantly to their hometown to nurse Mark back from a traumatic head injury. But when Mark emerges fro a coma, he believes that this woman–who looks, acts, and sounds just like his sister–is really an imposter. When Karin contacts the famous cognitive neurologist Gerald Weber for help, he diagnoses Mark as having Capgras syndrome. The mysterious nature of the disease, combined with the strange circumstances surrounding Mark’s accident, threaten to change all of their lives beyond recognition.
Can Xue (which roughly translates from Chinese, according to my mother, to “persistent & dirty snow”) is hailed by western critics to be the Chinese avant-garde heir to Kafka and Borges. Can Xue is a pen name for Deng Xiaohua. She is of my mother’s generation and her class, which means she grew up persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, which means she was sent to a “re-education camp” in the Chinese sticks and learned to farm. She taught herself English, has written criticism on Kafka and Borges. The strangeness of Kafka echoes in Xue. While the former’s strangeness arrives in the narrative with a kind of grim inevitability, the discovery of a debilitating truth lands like an obvious punchline that the reader stupidly forgets (or realizes too late, like the classic Seinfeld episode “The Comeback“), Xue’s arrives with a kind of startling innocence against the backdrop of dramatic irony. It is like watching, in Michael Haneke’s words in his great interview in The Paris Review, a tragedy from the perspective of an idiot. The title story, “Vertical Motion,” can be read here.
So I picked up two ebooks from Verso today for less than a pint of beer. Ridiculous! The Unseen by Nanni Balestrini, and Pasolini’s unproduced screenplay St. Paul. All kinds of great stuff. I think my favorite thing about Verso’s ebooks is how straightforward they are to access—no weird third-party app or DRM issues.
The Haunting Ballad by Michael Nethercott. PW’s review:
Set in 1957, Nethercott’s diverting second Lee Plunkett mystery (after 2013’s The Séance Society) takes the Connecticut PI and his fiancée, Audrey Valish, to Greenwich Village. At the Cafe Mercutio, they witness an acrimonious dispute between two performers, “song-catcher” Lorraine Cobble and troubadour Byron Spires. When Lorraine apparently leaps to her death from the roof of her apartment building, her distraught cousin, Sally Joan Cobble, hires Lee to prove she didn’t commit suicide. Lee is the nominal detective, but the heavy lifting is done by wily Irishman Mr. O’Nelligan, who lends sage advice and guidance. Together, the duo approach Lorraine’s former housemates, such as “ghost chanter” Mrs. Pattinshell and 105-year-old Civil War vet Cornelius Boyle. Nethercott has fun with the bustling Bohemian atmosphere and Lee and Audrey’s awkward romance, but reserves the best lines for the exchanges between O’Nelligan and Lee as they close in on the unlikely culprit.
I read about half of this yesterday. I, Little Asylum by Emmanuelle Guattari. Publisher Semiotext(e)/MIT’s blurb:
A moment later, Lacan is chattering with me, and giving me some crayons to draw with.
—from I, Little Asylum
Founded in 1951 and renowned in the world of psychiatry, the experimental psychiatric clinic of La Borde sought to break with the traditional internment of the mentally ill and to have them participate in the material organization of collective life. The clinic owed much of its approach to psychoanalyst and philosopher Félix Guattari, who was its codirector with Jean Oury until 1992. In this lyrical chronicle of a childhood at La Borde, Félix Guattari’s daughter Emanuelle Guattari offers a series of impressionistic vignettes drawn from her own experiences.
As a child whose parents worked in the clinic, Emanuelle Guattari (“Manou”) experienced La Borde–which is housed in a castle in the middle of a spacious park–as a place not of confinement but of imagination and play. She evokes a landscape that is surreal but also mundane, describing the fat monkey named Boubou her father kept at the clinic, interactions between the “La Borde kids” and the “Residents” (aka, the “Insane,” feared by the locals), the ever fascinating rainbow-hued “shit pit” on the grounds, and prank-calls to the clinic switchboard. And, of course, there is Félix Guattari himself, at the dinner table, battling a rat, and in his daughter’s dreams. Emmanuelle Guattari’s tale of childlike wonder offers a poetic counterpoint to the writings of her father and his intellectual circle.
Susan Vreeland’s historical novel Lisette’s List is new in hardback from Random House. The Kirkus review is pretty enthusiastic:
Une jolie Parisienne in Provence during the turbulent World War II years comes to understand love and great art to the core of her being.
In a sweeping historical novel set in Vichy, France, Lisette Roux, a 20-year-old bride who longs for “window-shopping, cabaret hopping, gallery gazing,” grudgingly moves out of Paris to the rural south to take care of her new husband André’s aging grandfather in 1937. “How are we going to survive in a town without a gallery?” she asks in dismay. But Pascal is not your ordinary grandpère: An ochre miner–turned–pigment salesman, he befriended young, unappreciated painters and amassed a collection of Cézanne, Pissarro and Picasso paintings. After Pascal dies, the loving couple is cast out of an Edenic existence following the German invasion of France. André enlists to fight the Nazis and meets a tragic end midway through the book. Lisette’s short stay in Provence stretches out more than a decade, prolonged by the war and her determined attempt to find Pascal’s pictures, which André hid for safekeeping before going to war. Lisette’s sensibility deepens as she grows closer to former prisoner of war Maxime Legrand, André’s fellow soldier and best friend. Marc and Bella Chagall, hiding in Provence because they are Jewish, show up for a brief but blazing cameo appearance. Vreeland, who has proven in earlier art-themed best-sellers that she has an exquisite eye for detail, is enormously talented at establishing the important societal role of art, particularly relevant here as the Nazis both steal and burn it. While her prose can get a bit fluffy (“apricot trees blossoming with pinkish-white petals like flakes of the moon”) and the book wraps up a tad too tidily, her deeply researched novel is mesmerizing.
Merveilleux. Vreeland’s passionate writing is as good as a private showing at the Louvre.
Came back to work for the fall semester and these were in my mailbox.
I like the older, zanier, less-austere FS&G paperback covers of the Knausgaard better.
So the other week, Turner wrote, at my favorite local bookstore—a labyrinthine maze you wouldn’t believe, formed from wooden frames filled with dusty paper stacks, obstacles of boxed books, unexplored (the boxed books, not the shelves), littering the pathways (the boxed books)—just under 2 million books (all the books, shelved, and boxed), if a certain clerk is to be believed (and I believe her)—and you wouldn’t believe, and I know you wouldn’t believe because I go there often enough, me, living just a mile away, sometimes walking, briskly, or at an even pace—and with this free time on my hands, and with all these unsolicited review copies, creating a little pool of credit, of trade of etc.—I know you wouldn’t believe because I so often hear the irregular clientele remarking on their own personal disbelief, or their own befuddlement, or, more often, I see them get lost, and even then I’m enjoying that, maybe offering (mis)direction, or, more likely, intercepting the high school seniors—What are you reading? Yes? Faulkner! No! Not that edition!—And so the other week at my favorite local bookstore, I happened upon, neatly stacked in a to-be-shelved shelf, a neatly stacked stack of Thomas Bernhard novels, or, more precisely, a compliment stack of Thomas Bernhard novels, a so-called stack of novels that I did not so-call “own,” a so-called stack of Thomas Bernhard novels that I had not read, not to mention have in my own personal possession, a little series of Vintage English translation editions that could be nestled next to my own meager collection, already, yes, Gargoyles and Correction and Concrete and Yes and The Loser and The Voice Imitator and Frost—but not Old Masters, and Old Masters not in this neatly-stacked bundle (it was never a bundle), no, not Old Masters, which, Turner wrote, Chang wrote about on this so-called website, no, no not Old Masters, not in the so-called bundle, but what to begrudge, begrudge that, no, Turner thought and wrote, and then, looking back over what he had written, thought, No, this is rubbish, I must delete all this, I must erase all this and not push publish.
The Bowling Alley on the Tiber (translated by William Arrowsmith) collects the sketches, vignettes, and microfictions that director Michelangelo Antonioni may or may not have intended to film given the time and funds. Braincandy.
Not Barthelme’s finest, but hey. An illustrated artifact, very much of its era.
The nice people at Pantheon sent along a bound galley of Michael Cho’s graphic novel Shoplifter when they sent me a copy of Charles Burns’s Sugar Skull. Both titles are out this fall.
I read Shoplifter in one short sitting—it’s a pleasant read, and Cho’s talent shows in the small panels and big splashes alike.
Corinna Park used to have big plans. Studying English literature in college, she imagined writing a successful novel and leading the idealized life of an author. After graduation, she moved to a big city and took a job at an advertising agency—just to pay off her student loans. Now she’s worked in the same office for five years and the only thing she’s written is . . . copy. She longs for companionship (other than her cat),gets no satisfaction from her job, and feels numbed by the monotony of a life experienced through a series of screens. But whenever she shoplifts a magazine from the corner store near her apartment, she feels a little, what? A little more alive. Yet Corinna knows there must be something more to life, and she faces the same question as does everyone of her generation: how to find it?
Is the story a bit familiar? Sure. But Cho updates it to the post-social media world, where advertisers have convinced almost everyone (especially themselves) that what they are doing is Important Art. There’s a smallness to Shoplifter—the book shouldn’t be an epic, of course, but 96 pages feels slim here. I guess I would’ve liked to see Corinna the biblioklept, you know, steal more. Still, her ultimate resistance to a mundane life feels like a victory in the end.
Two historicalish fictions.
First, Merivel: A Man of His Time by Rose Tremain, which is new in trade paperback; the hardback received good reviews last year. Pub’s blurb:
The wonderful new historical novel set in seventeenth-century England from Rose Tremain, author of Restoration (shortlisted for the Booker Prize), The Road Home (winner of the Orange Prize) and Trespass (a Richard & Judy pick). Merivel has been called ‘wonderfully entertaining’ (Guardian Books of the Year) and ‘an unadulterated delight’ (Independent) and has been shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.
The gaudy years of the Restoration are long gone and Robert Merivel, physician and courtier to King Charles II, sets off for the French court in search of a fresh start. But royal life at the Palace of Versailles – all glitter in front and squalor behind – leaves him in despair, until a chance encounter with the seductive Madame de Flamanville, allows him to dream of a different future.
But will that future ever be his? Summoned home urgently to attend to the ailing King, Merivel finds his loyalty and skill tested to their limits.
Also: Peter Tremayne’s The Seventh Trumpet:
When a murdered corpse of an unknown young noble is discovered, Fidelma of Cashel is brought in to investigate, in Peter Tremayne’s The Seventh TrumpetIreland, AD 670. When the body of a murdered young noble is discovered not far from Cashel, the King calls upon his sister, Fidelma, and her companion Eadulf to investigate. Fidelma, in addition to being the sister of the king, is a dailaigh—an advocate of the Brehon Law Courts—and has a particular talent for resolving the thorniest of mysteries.
But this time, Fidelma and Eadulf have very little to work with—the only clue to the noble’s identity is an emblem originating from the nearby kingdom of Laign. Could the murder be somehow related to the wave of violence erupting in the western lands of the kingdom? The turmoil there is being stirred up by an unknown fanatical figure who claims to have been summoned by “the seventh angel” to remove the “impure of faith.” Fidelma and Eadulf, once again grappling with a tangled skein of murder and intrigue, must somehow learn what connects the dead noble, a murdered alcoholic priest, and an abbot who has turned his monastery into a military fortress. When it appears that things cannot get more complex, Fidelma herself is abducted, and Eadulf must rescue her before the mystery can be solved.