Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro


 Munro's first published book, and a fitting way to kick off my retrospective of her important body of work. She hasn't yet unleashed the "time torquing" technique of her later work, but the stories are wonderfully detailed and the characters deeply engraved.

The Pigman by Paul Zindel

 

Revisiting this 1968 YA title after fifty years! Still pretty good, pretty sad, little melodramatic, but basically a strong story. The ending particularly bittersweet -- narrator's rumination on how the whole human race are "baboons" waiting around the monkey house for someone to visit.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Alice Munro RIP

Self-deception seems almost like something that’s a big mistake, that we should learn not to do. But I’m not sure if we can. Everybody's doing their own novel of their own lives. The novel changes -- at first we have a romance, a very satisfying novel that has a rather simple technique, and then we grow out of that and we end up with a very discontinuous, discordant, very contemporary kind of novel. I think that what happens to a lot of us in middle age is that we can't really hang on to our fiction any more.

Memory is the way we keep telling ourselves our stories – and telling other people a somewhat different version of our stories. We can hardly manage our lives without a powerful ongoing narrative. And underneath all these edited, inspired, self-serving stories there is, we suppose, some big bulging awful mysterious entity called THE TRUTH, which our fictional stories are supposed to be poking at and grabbing pieces of. What would be more interesting as a life’s occupation? One of the ways we do this, I think, is by trying to look at what memory does (different tricks at different stages of our lives) and at the way people’s different memories deal with the same (shared) experience. The more disconcerting the differences are, the more the writer in me feels an odd exhilaration.

I’m sad that I haven’t written a lot of things, but I’m incredibly happy that I’ve written as much as I have. Because there was a point when I was younger where there was a very good chance that I wouldn’t write anything – I was just too frightened.

I want to tell a story, in the old-fashioned way – what happens to somebody – but I want that ‘what happens’ to be delivered with quite a bit of interruption, turnarounds, and strangeness. I want the reader to feel something that is astonishing – not the ‘what happens’ but the way everything happens. These long short story fictions do that best, for me.


Monday, May 06, 2024

Four Novels of the 1960s by Philip K. Dick

 

The Man in the High Castle: Fascinating, weird, psychological alternative history, set in 1962, in the Rockies and in SF, after Germany and Japan won WWII. Dick has quite a beautiful prose style, and several of the characters are obsessed with the I Ching, and the process of casting and reading it are beautifully rendered.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch: Even more gripping. A future (2016!) where the solar system has been colonized and conscripts from Earth are drafted to inhabit the rough and ugly planets, surviving by regular hallucinegenic dosing and fantasizing about life inside a barbie-like game construct of Earth. Dick maneuvers the reader into a labyrinthe of real/unreal/surreal settings - his characters don't know if they're dreaming life or living it.

Friday, April 26, 2024

In The Early Times by Tad Friend

 

Good. Weird. Pretentious.

A brilliantly written and odd book, mostly a memoir and an autobiographic essay by career New Yorker writer Tad friend, but verging at times on crystalline fiction, on sappy self-help relationship book, as furtive apologia by an unreliable narrator who cheats repeatedly on his wife, and finds in his father's life both a justification and a source of blame for this.

Friend's Wasp-y background -- born and raised in New England, his father a distinguished East Asian Studies professor an author and president of Swarthmore, a preppy education and avocations (Tad was a nationally ranked squash player - as was his father) -- this chill and chilly background is at odds with Friend's confessional intention.

If you love a demanding task that requires both discipline and talent...-- you eventually discover an innate boundary: you can apprehend real virtuosity, especially as it's used to best you, but you can never quite incorporate it. You will never be more than almost great...Yet the truly great players sacrifice so much that they stare back at us with equal longing. Or so we console ourselves. [115]

"Oversight" is a Janus word, like "buckle" or "cleave": it means both supervision and neglect [122]

'Life is contemptuous of knowledge; it forces it to sit in the anterooms, to wait outside. Passion, energy, lies: these are what life admires.' - James Salter [128]

'Think well on this, my sweet:
Our bodies need not truly beat 
Upon each other,
But, past their funerary heat.
Will slide together perfectly,
Grain and micrograin
Intimate and without stain,
Closer than ever they were in life.' -Day Friend (Tad's father) [155]

Monday, April 22, 2024

The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty by Sebastian Barry

 

Another winner from Barry, this one from 1988, so the earliest of his work that I've read. A Sligoman is caught between nationalist and royal sides in the Irish civil war, given a death sentence, and flees, effectively banished for life. He returns several times, though, unable to completely leave home, which eventually kills him.

In Eneas, Barry has created a memorable, gentle, conflicted character torn on all sides by family, country, spirit, goodness, and evil.

Some words have no tune for themselves. [13]

... it strikes him that any person alive in the world, any person putting a shoulder against a life, no matter how completely failing to do the smallest good thing, is a class of hero. [130]

... the peculiar clock of God, whose divisions seem both unending and brief in the same span... [130]

He passes a number of bottles with thick blue glass and the faces of people he knows etched in them... whole "dying" passage at end of novel, [307-308]

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