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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Purple America / R. Moody

Stunning, this novel goes directly into the black hole of one's deepest fears about aging, placing one wholly within the skin of an aged Cliffie suffering from advanced MS and ALS, making one feel one is risking one's life by continuing to turn the pages and eliciting torrents of compassion and horror.  It takes nerve to read this work and watch as her son attempts to assume the burden of caring for her when her husband deserts her, she insisting that at a time of her choosing the son assist her in ending her life, to his shock, the story rendered in long and welcome Proustian constructions.  This is a novel there is a good probability I will finish, despite having to brace myself each time I pick it up.

January 7, 2015--Finished it, first novel that's held one all the way through for some time. Stunning, absolutely; deeply scary and deeply penetrating, extreme depths of human nature explored but, the universe of literature being what it is, the story was a festival of Negativity.  The relationship between literature and the Negative is a long and seemingly unbreakable one, and the truism that we cannot bear reading about happy people doing fulfilling things suggests a troubling fact about human nature.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cosmopolis / DeLillo

I picked this up as a used paperback with multiple creases in the pages that annoyed me every step of the way; it was as if someone had bent it in half a dozen times at different angles, most annoying, and the story, as of the halfway point, which is where I bailed, concerns a wealthy cold-blooded insomniac sex addict "genius" currency trader who takes a limousine ride crosstown in Manhattan to get a haircut, receiving a prostate exam from his personal physician en route during which he, yes, during which he has a consultation with a female principal of his firm, how charming, and comes across a political demonstration near Times Square protesting capitalism (cleverly, as a "specter that haunts the U.S.)--not my type a guy.  Some interesting observations about the mechanisms by which cyber-capital circulates, but the coldness of the novel is a turn-off.  Stylistically, not much to notice; too many short sentences, kept tripping over full-stops; isn't that the way beginning writers write?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Hesse / Joyce

In the opening of Demian, Hesse writes:

"I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teachings my blood whispers to me."

And Joyce:

"We must write what's in our blood, not our brain."

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Search for Christa T. / Christa Wolf

In this novel, from the pages of which a steady cold wind blows, the one-time East-German Wolf writes of the title character:

"One's wishes are only what one is capable of. Thus her deep and persistent wish guarantees the secret existence of her work: this long and never-ending journey toward oneself."

In Demian, the paperback cover art for which ranks among the top ten of all time, Hesse's narrator ventures:

"Each man had only one genuine vocation--to find the way to himself."

But to define the "self"--work of a lifetime.  Cf. Being & Nothingness, The Way of Zen, and on and on.  Consider Demian's (unattributed) epigraph:

"I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self.  Why was that so very difficult?"

Thursday, December 11, 2014


A documentary on the global finance industry, Let's Make Money, available on Netflix, ends by stating that if the total private wealth in tax shelters around the world were subject to the taxes of the countries in which the holders of the wealth live, the governments of the world would have a total of an additional $250 billion a year in tax revenues to put toward reducing poverty and hunger, improving education, doing medical research, upgrading infrastructure, etc.

The depravity of the global banking and financial services industries, which directly enable tax evasion, is so extreme as to approach the paranormal.  Too many bankers are not fit human beings. They view the world in numerical, not human, terms and belong behind bars.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Restraint of Beasts / Magnus Mills

Picked this blue-collar novel up a few years ago at Rodney's solely because it had a puff quote from Th. Pynchon--not a writer who makes a point of dispersing comments in the literary marketplace--on the back cover, read it, thought it was okay, shelved it, and recently pulled it at random from the bookshelf in an idle moment and, strangely, found it much funnier the second time around.  There's no style to speak of, no philosophical generalizations, no backstories, no speculations about human nature, no tropes; none of the characters are described as to their appearance, and two of the three main players are laconic to an extreme, greeting each work assignment (they install high-tensile wire fences with wooden posts) with "For fuck sake," or "Suffering fuck,"  but the manual labor is described in close detail and I found myself significantly hooked, following the trio from job site to job site, watching them work in the rain, drink at local pubs where they meet no one, in the end undecided as to whether the narrator is fully compos mentis or not, the book clearly based on Mills' personal experience but with some starkly strange elements thrown in to raise it from memoir to novel status, much of the charm of the work rising from its radical simplicity and rigorously aliterary environment.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Alphabet / R. Silliman

A seven-pound book of verse that goes down like a cinderblock in a sea of incomprehensibility.  I tried to cultivate a taste for it over a period of weeks, but felt as if I were drowning in an ocean of maple syrup each time I picked it up.  Cf. George Brandes on Anatole France: "France has what he himself calls the French writer's three great qualities—in the first place, lucidity; in the second, lucidity; in the third and last, lucidity."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Elsa / Tsipi Keller

One is astonished and outraged by the inadequacy of the critical recognition this novel has received.

Shame on The New York Review of Each Other's Books.

This penetrating character study, set in Gotham, is a delightful, effortless, scary read, portraying ambivalence as a way of life and the quest for romance as a wonderful and dangerous instinct.

Third volume of a trilogy.

Literature & Evil / G. Bataille

As Bataille writes in this work of criticism:

"Literature is not innocent."

Caveat emptor.

Letters / J. Barth

A hideous academic novel that will make you wish you never learned to read.  A reliable conduit to repeated occasions of frustration and unhappiness.  A failed attempt at I don't know what.

Women & Men / J. McElroy

Didn't get far--unreadable tripe.  As a wag said of Gertrude Stein: "She gives you nothing very slowly."

Answered Prayers / T. Capote

Though carefully crafted, it gives off an almost detectable stink.  But when a novel drives a woman to actual suicide, you gotta take a look at it, yes?

Infinite Jest

Read halfway and bailed; felt I was in a room filled exclusively with alcoholics and stoners--not ideal company.  And The Broom was amateurish in its gross prolixity.