The Old People (Book acquired, Sept. 2021)

The Old People is a 2014 novel by A.J. Perry. The Old People gets a new life thanks to Carrying Woman Originals, an imprint of Cow Eye Press, which also published Perry’s novel Cow Country a few years ago.  As you can see in the photo above, Perry’s name is not on the cover. There’s no blurb on the back. Perry’s name shows up on the editions page and then on a second title page that faces the edition page (but not on the first title page).

I was under metaphorical water in September when The Old People arrived, having decided to recommit to doing a good job at my job, by which I mean trying to provide much more feedback and coaching and general mental attendance to my students than I think I was giving in the last (covid-drenched) semesters, all the while worrying about the utter idiocy of Florida Fall 2021’s Death Campaign. Anyway, I stacked it in a growing stack of other TBR copies and retreated into Barthelme’s stories I’d already read a few times when I made the time to read for pleasure.

I moved the stack around today, dropping The Old People to the floor. I picked it up, decided to read the opening pages, and then kept reading. It’s really good! I mean, it’s a really strange thing. It’s a book about tying a knot, which I guess is a metaphor, but it’s really focused on that metaphor’s concrete component. Pages and pages of digging holes and tying knots. I’m not sure exactly what The Old People reminds me of, but it taps into the intersection of myth and anthropology, all without being precious or pretentious (so far, anyway). I hunted down a blurb on Cow Eye’s site:

Since the beginnings of darkest silence the people of a mythical island have spent their days tying the ancient knot that binds them to their past. To tie this knot they must dig a hole; to dig a hole they first must have fire; and to make a fire that is hot enough for hole digging, the knot that they have been tying must finally be tied. From silence to mud to rope to knot to wood to words to fire, the Old People will work to tie their knot under the cool shade of the island’s original knotmaking.

 

W.D. Clarke’s She Sang to Them, She Sang (Book acquired, 12 June 2021)

W.D. Clarke’s second novel She Sang to Them, She Sang is new from Slovenian indie corona\samizdat, which describes it as a “Pocket book 425 pages.”

It’s a nice little faboy, and the print isn’t pocket-sized, although I don’t know if I own a pair of pants with pockets that could accomodate She Sang to Them, She Sang. (I’ve included a beer can in the photo and a backdrop of NYRBs to give a sense of the novel’s odd physical scale).

Here’s Clarke’s blurb:

Katie, Jo, and Manny have got the deal of their lifetimes finally in their sights, but nowhere is it written in the Family Home Inspection Kit to triple-check the stories they tell themselves—about issues overlooked, upkeep not kept up, or damage concealed; about how more than finances flow from one generation to the next; about veiled motivations for entering into relationships of a contractual nature (be they fiduciary, informal, or solemnized); finally, about the real origins of these stories themselves, which upon closer inspection are revealed to be mere lean-tos built upon shabby foundations, and whose parlors furnish-forth tedious after-dinner speakers, who are not only the most long-winded, but also the most unreliable, of guests….

Through an innovative presentation of events (in which thoughts nested within and discoursing with other thoughts are “corralled” visually on the page), the narrative moves from one perspective to the next as each protagonist somehow manages to convince themselves of their autonomy, even as this most seemingly banal of events, the simple sale of a house, gathers to itself enough psycho-kinetic energy to threaten all who find themselves in need of shelter under its creaking joists.

I was a fan of Clarke’s first novel White Mythology. I wish I’d given it a proper review back in 2016.