Friday, November 19, 2021

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

“Why does that obstinate little voice in our heads torment us so? Could it be because it reminds us that we are alive, of our mortality, of our individual souls – which, after all, we are too afraid to surrender but yet make us feel more miserable than any other thing? It is a terrible thing to learn as a child that one is a being separate from the world, that no one and no thing hurts along with one’s burned tongues and skinned knees, that one’s aches and pains are all one’s own. Even more terrible, as we grow older, to learn that no person, no matter how beloved, can ever truly understand us. Our own selves make us most unhappy, and that’s why we’re so anxious to lose them, don’t you think? Remember the Erinyes?”

Gorgeously written, leaden and long, and pretentious,  but I couldn't stop reading. A lesson to be learned about writing melodrama, page-turnings, etc. What we know about each insufferable main character is not enough to distinguish them one from another, except for Julian, their magister, who remains mostly hidden from the action but limned in by indirect reference.

James Wood of the London Review of Books gave it a mediocre review, writing: "The story compels, but it doesn't involve...It offers mysteries and polished revelations on every page, but its true secrets are too deep, too unintended to be menacing or profound."

Monday, November 01, 2021

Bewilderment by Richard Powers


The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane


Why I'm just getting around to reading this now we'll never know. Pretty amazing, atmospheric, psychological novel about a young man's first days serving in the Civil War. Completely unconventional. Almost all of the plot is mental, internal.

In the present, he declared to himself that it was only the doomed and the damned who roared with sincerity at circumstance. Few but they ever did it. A man with a full stomach and the respect of his fellows had no business to scold about anything that he might think to be wrong in the ways of the universe, or even with the ways of society. Let the unfortunates rail; the others may play marbles. (p. 83, Bantam Classic, 2004)

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Sabbath's Theater by Philip Roth

Loved this first time I read it, when it came out in 1994. First Roth (along with American Pastoral) that I felt was really had serious scope, family history, character depth. Also enjoyed is this time around, but the sex continues cringey.

The mad puppeteer Micky Sabbath loses his shit. In swirling flashbacks he relates his several wives, his stunted 1960s career as an obscure genius actor and performer, then pushes back to his childhood in the 30s and 40s in Jersey and the pivotal, inescapable loss of his brother Mortie in WWII.

When We Cease To Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Harpo Speaks! by Harpo Marx


Ohio by Stephen Markley


Great, thoughtful novel: high school reunions and the effect of the Iraq War on America in the early 21st century.

While hollering and breathing so long so deep
Memory came on and dove down to my sleep 
Dreaming this memory of space all around
Silence becomes breath becomes thought becomes sound.
John Hardee

He thought of the sudden pressure in his eardrums when the bomb went off beneath the wheels. The screaming pain in his skull and how the world abruptly went half-dark. Three tours. He gave his youth to the dust of those theaters. An eye, some skin, blood, and hair, and his ability to walk more than a few miles without a crippling pain in his knees and an ache in his spine that made him feel seventy years old. On tour #3, the day before the incident on Highway 1, he was reading about Ohio’s place in the Civil War and came across a quote about a Union general: At the sight of these dead men whom other men had killed, something went out of him, the habit of a lifetime, that never came back again: the sense of the sacredness of life and the impossibility of destroying it.

 Then you get tired and lie down and wait for the medevac. A part of you is sickly impressed with how the enemy orchestrated all this. They got you good this time. You figure your life is over, but the investigation will clear you easily. You saw a threat in the cell phone boy and removed it from your section. The bullet Rudy took to the head—a 5.56mm piece of U.S. hardware—it turns out that came from extra ammo carelessly left in the rear cooking off in the heat. And lying there in the dust, head buzzing from the burning fuel, the wind smoldering with black smoke and ash trailing to a seared pink twilight sky, you understand that something’s gone out of you, the habit of your lifetime. Any notion of the sacredness of life or the impossibility of destroying it. You go over to what’s left of your friend, sit down, bleed from your face, and wait for some rescue. [p. 358]

Source: Theses on the Philosophy of History (1940), IX Context: A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.


Paul Klee "Angelus Novus 1920" Poster

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Thirst for Love by Yukio Mishima

To me this is a false diary, although no human being can be so honest as to become completely false. (p.17)

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