Sunday, June 05, 2022

Steve Katz, Creamy & Delicious (1970)

I read Katz' first novel The Exagggerations [sic] of Peter Prince some time ago, and enjoyed it in the way I enjoy a lot of these old works of avant-garde metafiction that, let's be honest, feel a little quaint these days.  But I never bothered to look any further with Katz.  I was peripherally aware of this book, and I think I could've read it if I'd wanted to; I don't think copies were prohibitively expensive, but, well, I didn't.  So this Tough Poets rereleased seemed like the opportunity.

Interesting phenomenon: in the years 1968 through 1970, ALL the experimental American writers best known as novelists were putting out short story collections: William H. Gass' In the Heart of the Heart of the Country (1968), John Barth's Lost in the Funhouse (1968), Kurt Vonnegut's Welcome to the Monkey House, Robert Coover's Pricksongs and Descants (1969), Ronald Sukenick's Death of the Novel and Other Stories.  I'm leaving off Donald Barthelme's Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts (1968) and City Life (1970) since short stories are what he mostly wrote.  But now we have this, another example of that!  What to make of that?  Was there just something in the zeitgeist?  Further study is warranted.

So anyway, this book: yeah, it's pretty good.  It moves along quickly.  I enjoyed it.  Not necessarily so easy to talk about, though.  Most of the book consists of these "Mythologies," named after cultural or mythological figures and coming at them at a kind of fractured, surrealist level (some of them sort of feature the people they're putatively about; some not).  Some are better than others, but at their best it really feels as though there's some mystery, some message bubbling below the surface that you can't necessarily quite suss out.  Check out "Plastic Man" and "Ghandi."  They're really great.  I sort of don't want to talk about the specifics even if I were able to, because that's half the fun.

That's not ALL that's in here, but the rest follows more or less along the same path.  The initial "Satisfying Stories" will confuse and occasionally horrify you, but ultimately probably, indeed satisfy.  So will "Haiku," an impressionistic thing about a couple in the sixties and anti-war activism and like that.  This book lacks the radical dicking around with format that we saw in Peter Prince--no pages with text in the shape of a giant 'X'--but there is a somewhat strange thing called "In Our Thyme."  It starts on page forty-three and features a whole bunch of crossed-out typescript along with a little that's legible.  You're not likely to get much out of it, but between each of the subsequent stories, there's another brief installment of it, with "(continued on page 43)" at the bottom.  It feels more like flavor text--this is the kind of zany thing we're doing--than a thing itself.

Of course, this being a book of a time and place by a certain kind of dude, you sort of can't not ask: how sexist is it?  And the answer is...not that much, actually.  It could be a lot worse.  It does have its moments, though: "Wonder Woman" in particular will probably make you cringe pretty hard, which is a shame, since there's actually a lot else to recommend it.  Also, I'm trying to decide if "Nancy and Sluggo" (nothing to do with the characters, alas) is homophobic.  It probably kinda is, right?

Well, look, that's just what you have to deal with in books like this.  If you don't want to, it's entirely understandable, but there's definitely literary merit here, of a sort that you really don't see much of lately.  If you haven't specifically tried to read stuff like this, you've probably never read anything like it, so I would recommend it to you, although, really, Larry McCaffery deciding that it's one of the hundred greatest works of English-language twentieth-century fiction seems a bit silly.


Post a Comment

<< Home