Friday, November 02, 2018

Erje Ayden, Confessions of a Nowaday Child (1966)

Let us raise a glass to Tough Poets Press, which--as far as I can conceive--is the smallest theoretically possible press: it's just A Guy, name of Rick Schober, who specializes in reprints of quirky, obscure, and long-out-of-print books--just my thing. Apparently, it's perfectly viable to do this just by getting ~six hundred dollars of support per book on Kickstarter: this allows for books to obtain an ISBN number, be printed and--I think; I'm certainly not an expert--to stay in print indefinitely via print-on-demand technology. It's really cool.

I first learned about Tough Poets when they (it? I'm having trouble deciding on the appropriate pronoun) did a series of Marvin Cohen reprints. I've been backing their books ever since. This is definitely an endeavor worthy of support. You can see my name in the acknowledgements! The volume under consideration today was apparently also backed by Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth, or at least someone going by that name. Interesting.

Erje Ayden (1936-2013), a Turkish writer who moved to America in the fifties (and who also, allegedly, was an anti-Soviet spy for the Turkish government) certainly has the obscure part down. He wrote dozens of books (according to this--it's hard to to find definitive information about him on the internet, a testament to his current obscurity). Several of them were apparently cult bestsellers (is there a difference between a "cult bestseller" and the normal kind? And isn't that phrase kind of a contradiction in terms?), but his entire corpus is out-of-print, except, now, Confessions of a Nowaday Child.

It's one of them semi-autobiographical novels. The narrator grows up in a country that one might naturally assume to be Turkey but about which Ayden is intentionally non-specific. Then he moves to New York where he gets involved in the Bohemian scene, struggles with English, has A LOT of sex (very explicit sex, though I think Frank O'Hara's characterization of Ayden as "sexy" is pushing it--yes, I know, he wasn't using the word in those terms). At first he's totally non-productive, but then he learns to be a writer. The book cuts between his time before and after coming to America.

There's definitely something beguiling about this. Ayden's own English is good but not quite native-level (witness that title, whose meaning is very doubtful), and the result is...interesting; it certainly has what O'Hara accurately calls "vigor." Affected or not, it reminds me a bit of Bukowski.  The evocation of a time and place isn't exactly definitive, but it's not quite like anything else I've seen, and as such it carries one through.

So that's all good. And given how short the book is, there's no particular reason not to read it. However...well, when you think about it, the arc is obviously similar to Proust: man who thinks he can't write dicks around for a while before having a breakthrough and realizing that he can indeed write, and also, in both cases, the narrator is a truly unbearable little shit and it's not entirely clear to what extent the writer is self-aware about this. I mean, truly, Ayden's narrator may well be an actual psychopath: he seems incapable of thinking of people--and especially women--except in terms of how he can use them, and he has no compunctions about robbing the hell out of anyone whenever he deems it necessary. And he's very full of himself about his eventual literary success.

I don't know. As I said, there's definitely something about it, but my praise must be tempered. Would I be interested in reading more of Ayden? Tentatively, but only if his other books don't have such an unpleasant side. I am glad to have read this, it introduced me to something new, but if this is the norm for the author then I'd have to's enough for me.

(I must say, though, on an unrelated note, Tough Poets' next project looks like it may well be their most interesting yet.)


Blogger Rick Schober pontificated to the effect that...

Nice review and thanks for the plug! And, yes, it was that Thurston Moore. He's a big fan of Gregory Corso's work and has back most of my Kickstarter campaigns.

9:20 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

Awesome! Thanks for commenting.

3:35 PM  

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