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Monday, September 15, 2014

Knausgaard's Struggle

Oh I don't know, I bought it because of the publicity and my first impression after reading perhaps fifty pages in the middle of the first volume is that the style is commonplace.  Karl Ove Knausgaard could learn a lot from Johnny Updike.  I finished Rabbit at Rest a couple months ago, having dropped it halfway through a few years back and picking it up again I know not why, and was deeply impressed, there's nothing the man couldn't articulate clearly and his description of Rabbit's relationship with commercial television shows was remarkably well done and his descriptions of old songs on the radio as he ran away once again, this time to Florida, were extraordinary.  Updike's world is alive and vivid to an almost surreal degree; Karl's is humdrum.  His general approach, based on what I've read so far, is so old-fashioned the pages creak as you read them.

I watched half an interview with our loquacious Norwegian on Silliman's blog and when he referred to the six-volume project, My Struggle, written over three years, as "anti-Proust," I couldn't have agreed more.  Karl said that when writing he couldn't distinguish between "quality writing" and writing that lacked quality.  Why he said this I couldn't tell you.

Madame Bovary, a mere one-volume work written over four years, approaches perfection and I commend it to our Norwegian titan.  But what in God's name is the point of semi-cryptically referencing Hitler in the title of an explicitly (the narrator's name is Karl Ove Knausgaard) autobiographical novel?  What am I missing?

Sunday, September 14, 2014



Now there's a Sunday morning reading one can cleave to.  And to add to the fun, an insightful quote from Kafka which surfaced during the past week:

"In the duel between you and the world, back the world."

The Kindly Ones

A heavily researched novel that reads like a heavily researched novel, it's like reading a history text, has author Jonathan Littell never heard Wilde's comment that "The most important thing in life is style"?, it's like reading a reference book on the Third Reich, how it won Le Prix Goncourt I'll never know.  I started at the beginning, got bored after forty pages, dipped into it midway and got bored again, having bought it for $.01 online because it was a debut novel of more than a thousand pages with a first-person narrator, 2000 copies (!) of an advance reader's edition (bound paperback) having been mailed, reportedly, to reviewers, etc., prior to publication by Harper's, wonder what the sales turned out to be, Hitler's inner circle a subject I can't say I've ever been much interested in, perhaps I'll give it one final try.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Telegraph Avenue Trance

And this Michael Chabon, bending over backwards to make every sentence clever and precious and "special," oh I can't stand it, it's so self-defeating, I mean you just keep registering 'Here's this ultra clever writer getting between me and the material of the story, time after time after time, he never lets up"--he doesn't give you reality, he gives you writerly reality and it reeks of artifice.  It's as if every sentence has a tiny white bow on it.  Give me a break.  You want a writer to bring you closer to reality, not to put barriers up that you have to be constantly climbing over.  He needs to be more reticent, he really does.  He's too ostentatiously clever, I can't stand it.  I'm referring to Telegraph Avenue which I picked up in an airport primarily because the price was 50 percent reduced because it was used.  Give me my rancid Th. Bernhard or my rancid Beckett, please.  

Now when Christopher Sorrentino writes in his wonderful documentary novel Trance about the abduction of Patty Hearst by the SLA, that a character buys a burrito wrapped in "thin" aluminum foil, this extremely close observation places the burrito in your hands and you experience the reality of the moment just as the character does; the writing brings you closer to reality, doesn't push you away, doesn't show off with imagined imported paraphernalia alien to the moment . . . though on a different day, in a different mood, the fireworks and acrobatic stunts and miniature white bows of Chabon's style might well come across as enjoyable to read, my main concern about him perhaps being the level of intellectual energy he brings to his material, which approaches the straight-up mania of D.F. Wallace and Robin Williams, which can have a massive downside, oh yes, most definitely . . . most tragically.

Why the paragraph supra is highlighted in white I couldn't tell you.  I've tried to get rid of the highlighting but can't seem to do it.

February 20, 2015--This Chabon is a writer infatuated with objective reality.  He presents an unending stream of material objects and provides brandnames for many.  Though I have to admit there are times when I enjoy it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Kingsley Amis, Martin Amis, David Ives

Reading Lucky Jim which I got half-price used at H. Bookstore in a deluxe paperback edition published by the eminent New York Review of Each Other's Books and am not much enjoying it, set as it is in a college and peopled by academics but I do very much share his low opinion of Dylan Thomas though I would not go so far as to describe him as "excrementally evil" or express a desire to "walk on his face" though, in fairness, this was the young Amis speaking, and speaking of young, his son Martin Amis's Yellow Dog is an extraordinarily funny novel (funny ha-ha) in places though in the second half it descends into an exploration of the pornographic film industry that I read with distaste and which spoils the book as a whole but still, the laughs were great, and speaking of laughs, David Ives's play Polish Joke, which I read in an edition from Dramatists Play Service, had me laughing, over the first two scenes, harder than almost anything I've ever read, hand to God--after that it tails off horribly, pity.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Michael Hemmingson

Stunned to discover a week or three ago that Hemmingson died in Zona Norte (Tijuana) in the recent past.  A prolific writer of "racy" novels, journalist, screenwriter, ethnologist, playwright, he commented on this blog once when I happened to write a few words about Gordon Lish a few years ago, who would be the perfect husband for novelist Gish Jen (if I'm spelling that correctly), what cooler name than Gish Lish?, Hemmingson, having activated a Google Alert for Gordon in connection with a book of literary criticism he (Hemmingson) was writing on him, letting me know Gordon shies away from the Interweb and does not have a blog . . . just brings you to a halt when someone you know, no matter how slightly, dies.  R.I.P. Michael.  

Donald Barthelme

A sheer waste of time.  I keep trying to find something to like but only find whimsy, frivolousness.  An immensely irritating writer.  Darling of The New Yorker.  Though thanks to Forvo I finally, after decades of wondering, know how to pronounce his name: bar-TOL-oh-may.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Mulligan Stew

A writer who intentionally engages in bathetic writing to generate laughs runs the risk of descending into "silliness," embarrassing himself and the reader, and Sorrentino suffers from this here and there in the headline novel, but when he hits just the right note he is hilarious, as in his description of the business methods employed in the unnamed publishing house protagonist Martin Halpin runs with his partner Ned:

"Ned Beaumont and I devised contracts that scrambled, boiled, fried, poached, roasted, sautéed, baked, broiled, and basted our faithful authors at every turn; marvels of economy, they ever wert."

And I should mention that my earlier comments on Claude Simon's The Trolley were superficial and ridiculous and should be disregarded.  This novella, on closer inspection, is a gem.