Blog about some recent reading

I have a leak in my roof and I’ve canceled my Thanksgiving plans and I’m not sure what to do about the soft coup, but, books—

Top to bottom:

I’m still scratching my head about Two Stories by Osvaldo Lamborghini (translated by Jessica Sequeira). Sneaky strange stuff, prose-poem stuff like elastic concrete, or concrete elastic.

Started Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers last night (on the late David Berman’s recommendation) and really digging it so far. Set at the end of the Vietnam War, it seems to be about a heroin deal going sideways. Maybe the CIA is involved, maybe not. Everyone’s a bit grimy. I guess it comes from the Hemingway tree, or really, maybe, the Stephen Crane tree—Denis Johnson’s tree, Leonard Gardner’s tree, Raymond Carver’s tree, etc. Reminds me a lot of Johnson’s Angels (and, to some extent, Tree of Smoke), but also Russell Banks’s 1985 novel Continental Drift, which I read years ago, hated, and still remember—which means I think it must be a really good novel?

I wrote Top to bottom up at the top, but Leonard Gardner’s Fat City is in line with Stone’s Dog Soldiers—Stone’s losers, I guess. The book is about an “old” boxer (he’s not thirty) on the way out of his career and a young boxer on the rise. (Rise here is a really suspect term.) I really can’t believe I was 41 when I read this. I should’ve read it at 20. I wouldn’t have understood it the same way, of course, and the biggest sincerest compliment I can pin on the novel is that I would’ve loved it at 20 but I know that I would’ve appreciated it more 20 years later. There are plenty of novels that I read and think, Hmm, would’ve loved this years ago, but now, nah, but Fat City is wonderful. It’s a boxing story, sure, but it’s really a book about bodies breaking down, aging, getting stuck in dreams and fantasies. Gardner’s only novel (!) is simultaneously mock-tragic and real tragic, pathetic and moving, and very very moving. Great stuff.

John Brunner’s big fat dystopian novel Stand on Zanzibar frankly overwhelmed me and then sorta underwhelmed me there at the end. This sci-fi classic is a big weird shaggy dog that managed to predict the future in all kinds of ways, and it’s mean and funny, but it’s also bloated and booming, the kind of novel that sucks all the air out of the room. It’s several dozen essays dressed up as sci-fi adventure—not a bad deal in and of itself—but there’s very little space left for the reader.

David Ohle’s lean mean mutant Motorman is a dystopia carved from stranger stuff. Ohle’s cult novel leaves plenty of room for the reader to wonder and wander around in. Abject, spare, funny, and depressing, Motorman sputters and jerks on its own nightmare logic. Its hapless hero Moldenke anti-quests through an artificial world, tumbling occasionally into strange moments of agency, but mostly lost and unillusioned in a broken universe. I loved it.

After I finished it, I made a list with no name of books that are “like” Motorman in their “unalikeness” to other books:

 

What draws me to this landscape/dreamscape again and again is probably very much like what attracts a gamer to his game world | David Ohle

JA Tyler: Since Motorman was first published by Knopf in 1972, you’ve written two more novels and two novellas based on the world of the character Moldenke, and this year, we’ll see another two: The Blast in July and The Old Reactor in late 2014. Why are you so drawn to this landscape—this future ruin of flood and famine and oppression?

David Ohle: What draws me to this landscape/dreamscape again and again is probably very much like what attracts a gamer to his game world. It’s a gnarly place where anything can happen, but you’re in control of what does. Getting there for me as a writer and reporting about it is accomplished with a simple formula: take current trends and add time. The more time I add, the more ruin I see. But it isn’t total ruin in my novels. Transportation is available in one form or another. There’s food, drugs, and beverages around, however crappy they may be. People don’t starve. And they get high on williwhack, stonepicks, and maximine to ease oppression in general, whether religious (Reverend Hooker in Pisstown Chaos) or governmental (President Michael Ratt in The Age of Sinatra). Once I venture to these landscapes, I become a documentarian, recording what I see. My narrative style is camera-eye, almost entirely visual. I “see” what goes on in these bleak places and times, and I like being there just long enough to write it down.

From a 2014 Bomb interview with Motorman novelist David Ohle.

The interview includes a number of scans of The City Moon, a dadaesque “newspaper” Ohle made with his friend Roger Martin:

The City Moon was a satirical print “newspaper” that a friend, Roger Martin, and I produced back in the early-to-mid ’70s. Other friends became involved from time to time, too. It was mainly a cut-and-paste operation. We had a vast collection of old—and sometimes new—newspapers and magazines from which we mined headlines and stories that we “processed” into better and more interesting stories and headlines. This mix of current and old news gave the paper a steampunk aspect. The University of Kansas libraries at the time were tossing out collections of newspapers dating back to the turn of the century, papers like The New York Herald, which still featured articles about horse and motorcar collisions, The Rock City Daily Rocket, and many foreign papers as well. The library tossed them after they were microfilmed. We harvested them from a dumpster behind the library. We also invented stories and characters, many of which found their way into my later fiction in different form. Not long ago, the University of Kansas’s Spencer Research Library undertook to digitize all eighteen issues of the Moon and was generous enough to allow them to be put online where anyone can view them.

“Situation Reaction,” a questionnaire from David Ohle’s dystopian cult novel Motorman