Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Richard Fariña, Been Down so Long It Looks like Up to Me (1966)

It is the sixties (okay, late fifties, technically, but the atmosphere is pure sixties), and Gnossos Pappadopoulis, studying (sort of) at a thinly-veiled Cornell, wanders about, getting involved with sex and drugs and not really much in the way of rock'n'roll, vaguely searching for some kind of transcendence.

Gosh, is there anything else to say about this novel, really?  That's pretty much it.  At first, it struck me as just so much self-indulgent countercultural dicking around.  And, let's be honest, that's what it is to a large extent, but I actually kind of got into its impressionistic rhythms, and started enjoying it.  Let's not get carried away, though.  It really is ultimately kind of aimless, and more importantly, one gets the impression that Fariña may not have been an altogether good person, because Gnossos is clearly to a large extent modeled after the author, and Gnossos is not at all a good person.  He gets, as Thomas Pynchon puts it in his introduction, "publicly abusive with women," but let's not not leave it at that; he is also, quite unambiguously, a rapist.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  Now, it's clear-ish that he is not meant to be wholly a sympathetic character, but he's sure as hell meant to be more so than I found him.  We are obviously supposed to care about his travails, and I didn't, even a tiny bit.  I didn't find the book as a whole quite as irksome as uP, but it trended in the same direction, irksomeness-wise.  

Fariña was a talented writer; there's no question about that.  But I feel like his untimely death has led to people rating this, his only novel, more highly than it deserves: they're giving the book extra credit based on perceived lost potential.  I enjoyed it as a cultural artifact, but I really don't think it's a deathless classic, Pynchon's imprimatur notwithstanding.  Actually, Pynchon's enlightening introduction to the Penguin edition is really the best thing in the book, for me.  The two of them were friends at Cornell in the late fifties, and what's really interesting are the very obvious stylistic and other similarities between this and V.  Pynchon's novel is far more wide-ranging, and also far, well, better, but there are strong similarities between Gnossos and his cohort and Pynchon's Whole Sick Crew (Gnossos as a cross between Benny Profane and Pig Bodine?  Sure, that works for me); Fariña's physical descriptions and dialogue rhythms also strongly resemble Pynchon's.

But c'mon, I want some real Pynchon.  Well, less than a month 'til Bleeding Edge!


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