Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Robert Coover, Huck Out West (2017)


Hey look, a new novel by the eighty-four-year-old Robert Coover!  And it’s...a sequel to Huckleberry Finn, of all things?  I did NOT see that coming!  But once I did, there was no way in heck I was not going to read that shit.  When you think about it, it’s kind of surprising that more writers haven’t essayed something like this with Twain’s safely-out-of-copyright work.  I mean, a few have, but they’re sure not well-known enough that I’m able to name them.  Will Coover be the one to turn the tide?!?  While no one could have predicted this, it actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it.  Coover has always been interested in the sort of Americana that Twain himself played a big part in creating.  The Origin of the Brunists is about weird, cultish, religious mania; The Public Burning is about our flavor of political insanity (and BOY do I wish that brilliant novel weren’t seeming more apropos than ever).  He’s also written novels about baseball, noir, and the Western.  This is a natural, really.
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Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)

"You hadn't read Catch-22? Really?" Yes, really! I was actually assigned it in a college class, but this was while I was still somewhat half-assed, and I never got past the first friggin' page or two, where Yossarian is censoring mail. In retrospect, it always seemed odd to me, as this does indeed feel like something I would've read at some point. So, I decided to remedy that. Although to be honest...it probably would've been better if I'd been less half-assed and read it back in the day. I feel like if I were younger, the nihilistic fatalism would've seemed more edgy; the black absurdist humor more revolutionary (and, well...funnier).
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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Youval Shimoni, A Room (1999, I think)

1999 seems like the most reliable date, but the actual translated book says 2006, so I dunno.  Probably a mistake.

This is the first Hebrew novel I’ve ever read (as far as I can remember).  I was looking forward to the translation since before it was published, in 2016; it promised to be the kind of long, postmodern thing that I enjoy--so much so that when it came out, I got a copy and took it all the way to Jakarta with me.  It may well be the only one of its kind in Indonesia. I’m not sure if it’s actually been compared to Gravity’s Rainbow and The Recognitions, but all the reviews say “it has been compared to Gravity’s Rainbow and The Recognitions,” so probably some guy somewhere did.  Sure; seems plausible. 
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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

B.S. Johnson, Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry (1973)

I do not think it merely an unfortunate coincidence that Bryan Stanley Johnson (1933-1973)--British novelist, playwright, poet, critic, and filmmaker--went by "B.S."  On the evidence of this novel, he was very concerned with whether fiction has truth value or whether it is, indeed, bullshit.

I'd been wanting to read Johnson for some time. He moved in the same literary circles as Ann Quin, the novelist I was somewhat disappointed by last year (horrible to relate, but just months after she drowned herself, he slit his wrists, at the age of forty).  "You didn't like her, so why would you go on to read a similar novelist?" you ask.  Well, I don't actually KNOW they're similar, and more to the point, I just can't resist an experimental novelist. I certainly never had any plans to read ALL his novels if I didn't like this one (he wrote seven, one published posthumously).

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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Adolfo Bioy Casares, The Invention of Morel (1940)

See?  Something shorter.  BAM.  This little book had been on my radar for a long time—a piece of fantastic fiction by an Argentine writer who was also a friend and collaborator with Borges, who provides an introduction here, in which he provides what would probably be the best pull-quote in the history of publishing:

To classify it as perfect is neither an imprecision nor a hyperbole.
--Jorges Luis Borges

I mean, damn.

It really is very good.  It’s written in the form of a diary by a fugitive who finds himself on a strange island: it’s deserted, but there’s a hotel, a swimming pool, and a museum.  There’s also a group of tourists living it up.  The narrator tries to avoid them, and sometimes to interact with them, but it’s pretty quickly apparent that they can’t see or otherwise perceive him.  Among them is a woman named Faustina on whom he conceives a crush, as well as, yes, a man named Morel (and I’m embarrassed that the introduction had to point out to me that this is an obvious allusion to Dr. Moreau).

There’s really little else you can say without spoiling things—and while I don’t think knowing its secrets would ruin it exactly, I’m still loath to say anything else about it, because I think it deserves to be experienced more or less cold.  It’s possible that the fantastic elements will be somewhat less shocking than they would’ve been at the time of its publication, but it remains mysterious, frightening, and profound in turn; and given how short it is, there’s no reason not to experience it for yourself.  It’s Casares’ most well-known work, but he had a long career, and I’m kinda keen on reading more of his material.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Anthony Trollope, Can You Forgive Her? (1864)

...well, can ya, punk?

This is the first of Trollope’s Palliser novels, centering around one Plantagenet Palliser—unfathomably wealthy politician, and heir to the Duke of Omnium; his wife, Glencora; and (in future volumes) their offspring.  Plantagenet first appeared in a tiny, superfluous subplot in The Small House at Allington; he was contemplating trying to have an affair with a married woman, then didn’t, was quickly married off, and that was that.  I suppose it’s possible that Trollope was consciously setting up this spin-off series, but I have my doubts.  I think it was just more of his sometimes-maladroit way of filling up pages.
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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Trumpbird

I
Among thirteen greasy candidates
The only thing polling well
Were the numbers of the trumpbird

II
I was of three minds
Like a podium
Where the trumpbird speaks three times.

III
The trumpbird raged in the political climate
It was a large part of the disease.

IV
A man and a woman are one.
A man and a rapist and a trumpbird
Are one.

V
I do not know which to prefer,
The babbling of pundits
Or the beauty of innuendos about emails,
The trumpbird bellowing
Or just after.

VI
Images filled the TV screen
With vacuous words.
The shadow of the trumpbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the lights
An incomprehensible platform.

VII
O dim men of National Review
Why do you imagine serious candidates?
Do you not see how the trumpbird
Grabs the pussies
Of the women about you?

VIII
I know xenophobic babbling
And lurid, unbelievable claims;
And I know, too,
That the trumpbird is the source
Of what I know.

IX
When the trumpbird was elected,
It marked the end
Of one of many countries.

X
At the sight of trumpbirds
Governing in a corrupt haze,
Even the fans of non-voting
Would cry out sharply.

XI
He rode over America
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The sounds of a Klan rally
for trumpbirds.

XII
The bombs are falling.
The trumpbird must be tweeting.

XIII
It was evening all afternoon.
It was sucking
And it was going to suck.
The trumpbird sat
In the seat of power.