Saturday, November 21, 2020

Myron Brinig, The Flutter of an Eyelid (1933)

Here's a new reprint from Tough Poets. And guess what? I read it. Unbelievable, but true! It's easy to be at least a little cynical about obscure old books (or operas, or whatever) being lauded as "lost classics." Not that it can't happen, but often, my reaction is more "yeah...I guess that was okay" than "WOW!"

But--not to bury the lede--this one really is kind of a WOW. The Flutter of an Eyelid is quite a thing. What's it about? Well, there's this New England writer, Caslon Ronoake, writer of coolly cerebral novels that receive great critical if not popular acclaim. An acquaintance invites him out to California, where he meets various people. He's there to work on a new novel, and the people around him are having various experiences, only also, he's writing the people around him, even though they're real people, kind of. The Flutter of an Eyelid is at least in part his book. His new environment leads him to a completely new kind of artistic experience.

You extremely don't expect that kind of metafictional conceit from a novel that's almost ninety years old. I love it--it's presented in a very confident, assured way--but it's not all the book has going for it. There are some truly fantastical flights of fancy here, and Brinig is a vivid stylist. There's one scene in particular where two characters are on an island where they meet the god Pan and participate in a midsummer dance with all the creatures that...I mean, it's just mind-boggling. There are also places where Brinig just seems to be enjoying words and phrases in a hermetic way that might make you think of Gertrude Stein or, later, Gilbert Sorrentino. The novel has a very modern feel.

Another thing that contributes to that feel is the way Brinig (who was himself gay) deals with sexuality: there's a gay couple (not stated in quite so many words, but very clearly), and there's a woman, Jack, whom we would today describe either as either non-binary or a very butch lesbian. All of these people are treated sympathetically. The only thing that might raise an eyebrow is the way Brinig treats of race: it's not hugely problematic, and there's nothing hateful, passively or actively, but there is a certain racial essentialism: this character is from this group and therefore is prone to behave in this way. There are much better-known novels that are much worse in this regard.

What else can I say? This is really a brilliant novel that definitely deserved to be rediscovered. Brinig was actually quite prolific, but all of his other novels are decidedly out-of-print. Who knows if any of them are on this level, but on the basis of this one alone, he must be better-known. MUST! I demand it!


Blogger Pan MiluĊ› pontificated to the effect that...

Have you ever read Polish book "In Desert and Wilderness" (by Sienkiewicz)?

There is some controversy about the book being racist in it depiction of black people and yet still being in school as compulsory reading for kids and I would love to hear your perspective on this.

8:39 AM  

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