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)

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

The Humbling by Philip Roth


Interesting start, describing a distinguished actor in his 60s who loses the ability to act. Sort of devolves into a pervy Roth sex fantasy though. Not that that stopped me from finishing it. Movie with Al Pacino supposed to be good, looking forward to watching it.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Who is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews

 Pretty good literary whodunit. Along the lines of THE PLOT.

The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade


Really great, surprisingly moving story of a family in New Mexico: grandmother dying of a brain tumor that no one else knows about, singe unemployed alcoholic father trying to get it together (plays Jesus in Passion play at local morales, has actual nails hammered into his palms), his sixteen year old pregnant daughter trying to get her life together. Very fine, close writing.

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar


good, strange mix of fiction and memoir.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Loved this. First of Lippman I've read, will seek out others. 1960s Baltimore, a 36 year old Jewish woman leaves her husband and seeks a career as a crime reporter, stumbling over clues to an  African-American woman's crucial unsolved murder.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Monday, July 12, 2021

The Invisible Live of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab


Interesting concept but her exhaustiing prose is super-stuffed with melodrama. And I LIKE melodrama, but not to drown in it. At the critical juncture of page 60, but may not continue.

Bullet Park by John Cheever


JC has said of Bullet Park, "I'd like to write a gothic novel without being caught in the act."

I loved this one, even though the final 10 pages or so are ridiculously fast-paced, after a completely langorous setup.

Some reactions: 

Granted, Bullet Park is a strange performance, and it was a bad sign that even reviewers who were nothing but well disposed to Cheever seemed a little puzzled. A few months before her review appeared in the Washington Post Book World, Joyce Carol Oates had been quoted as saying that she was Updike's and Cheever's “ideal reader” (“whatever they write I read immediately, and I read it again two or three times”), so it made sense perhaps that she and Updike were en rapport in regard to Bullet Park: neither thought the book amounted to a novel, properly speaking, but rather that it worked (as Updike wrote in the London Times) “as a slowly revolving mobile of marvellously poeticized moments,” or, as Oates put it, “a series of eerie, sometimes beautiful, sometimes
overwrought vignettes.” Oates knew better than to worry whether the plot was “convincing” or not, pointing out that Cheever was if anything bent on making his plot as outlandish as possible; and yet, for all the novel's seeming absurdity, said Oates, it conveyed a sense of “terror … as deadly, more deadly, than any promised in the glib new genre of ‘black comedy’ Cheever has been writing such comedy for decades.” John Leonard, whose review appeared in the daily New York Times, also realized that conventional narrative was beside the point, and praised the novel as Cheever's “deepest, most challenging book.” And finally a synthesis of sorts was found in Anatole
Broyard's New Republic review, which suggested that the book was a little too fraught with oddities, that Cheever had apparently gotten carried away by his own virtuosity: “He is determined to be surprising or original, even at the cost of incredulity.” [p. 209, Bailey, CHEEVER: A LIFE]

John Gardner wrote a long vindication of the novel for the Times Book Review, declaring that its detractors had been “dead wrong”: “Bullet Park is a novel to pore over, move around in, live with. The image repetitions, the stark and subtle correspondences that create the book's ambiguous meaning, its uneasy courage and compassion, sink in and in, like a curative spell.” [p. 212, Bailey, CHEEVER: A LIFE]

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Home Before Dark by Susan Cheever


Interesting companion book along with John Cheever's own fiction in journals. SC is a bit of a poseur, but she quotes eloquently from her father's writing and from what others wrote about him.

"He was a man who made his own world in relative isolation from most of his kind,"  my brother Fred wrote when I asked him to put down what he remembered about our father. "As a result he had to live with his own impulses and perceptions in ways that most of us can avoid. No one, absolutely no one shared his life with him. There was no one from whom he could get honest advice. Of course this state of affairs was very much his own doing, but it must have been hard sometimes." (p. 154-155)

'My incantation has changed,'' he wrote in 1969 after ''Bullet Park'' had been panned by the critics and his alcoholism was worse and most of the money was spent. ''I am no longer sitting under an apple tree in clean chinos reading. I am sitting naked in the yellow chair in the dining room. In my hand there is a large crystal glass filled to the brim with honey colored whiskey. There are two ice cubes in the whiskey. I am smoking six or seven cigarettes and thinking contentedly about my interesting travels in Egypt and Russia. When the glass is empty I fill it again with ice and whiskey and light another cigarette although there are several burning in the ashtray. I am sitting naked in a yellow chair drinking whiskey and smoking six or seven cigarettes.'' (p. 155)

If He Hollers Let Him Go by Chester Himes

Brutal brief book. Four days in the life of a blue-collar black man in LA during WWII. Angry, intelligent, heart-rending.

But the words kept on in my mind. I got a hard, grinding nonchalance. To hell with everybody, I thought. To hell with the world; if there were any more little worlds, to hell with them too.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Falconer by John Cheever


I swear I read this when it was published with great fanfare in 1977 and I was sixteen years old. Hipster. Scenester. Had I a clue about what it was? Doubt it. I remember admiring it. Or perhaps admiring myself for finishing it.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Monday, June 21, 2021

A Swim In a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders


The Journals of John Cheever


The Wapshot Scandal by John Cheever


A marvelous sequel to The Wapshot Scandal, Dave Eggers bizarre foreword notwithstanding. (Eggers gives his mailing address for some reason.)

The distant mountains had been formed by fire and water but the houses in the valley looked so insubstantial that they seemed, in the dusk, to smell of shirt cardboards. (p. 34)

"Listen, chicken," Murphy said, "Where I grew up you either helped yourself or you ate dirt.” “But this doesn't happen to be where you grew up,” said Coverly. It was the wrong tack." (p.34)

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever


What a stunning book! The chapters about Moses and Melissa and Justina near the end -- when Melissa is sort of shut up in the grim castle her rich loveless Aunt Justina owns, and Moses has to sneak out the window and across the roof at night to make love to her, before they marry -- the chapters come out of nowhere like a mock-Gothic.

He had not fallen in love with her because of her gift with arithmetic, because of her cleanliness, her reasonable mind or any other human excellence. It was because he perceived in her some extraordinary inner comeliness or grace that satisfied his needs.

Fear tastes like a rusty knife and do not let her into your house. Courage tastes of blood. Stand up straight. Admire the world. Relish the love of a gentle woman. Trust in the Lord.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Bodies in Motion and At Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality by Thomas Lynch


Cheever: A Life by Blake Bailey

Really enjoying this earlier title by the cancelled Blake Bailey.

JC came to admire the style as typical of a certain nautical New England mentality that "makes as little as possible of any event." [11]

"As my mother often pointed out," Cheever said, "she drank two Manhattan cocktails that evening. Otherwise I would have remained unborn on a star." [20]

"I think of Europe as a rat-toothed bitch." (1934, from 'Letter from the Mountains.) [70]

"The short story is determined by moving around from place to place, by the interrupted event. The vigorous nineteenth-century novel is based on parish life and a lack of communications." [195]

Malcolm Cowley advice: "Take some situation like the one you treated in Goodbye, My Brother, and work back (not forward) till the characters assumed their full roundness." [101]

"I realized that my father was a better writer than I, and using his style I went on then to invent a character and a life that would have gratified him." (on creating Leander for Wapshot Chronicle) [216]

"The writers explained that—aside from the indifference of publishers—to collect short stories is something like marrying many times and collecting all your wives under one roof on a rainy day. Furthermore, collections of short stories are usually reviewed in tandem or four-inhand and in an atmosphere of combativeness (X is more sensitive than Y) that overlooks the fact, known to most writers, that to make sense out of life is an exertion of uncommon cooperativeness." (from JC Author's Note to Stories) [233]

reax to Wapshot Chronicle: 
“Cheever's venture is exuberantly, cantankerously, absurdly, audaciously alive,” wrote Glendy Culligan, who also found the book “brilliant, ebullient, alternately sad, funny and tender …”  And then there were critics who thought Cheever had decidedly broken loose —not only advancing on previous work, but (as Fanny Butcher claimed in the Chicago Sunday Tribune) “add[ing] something new to the stream of American fiction.” But perhaps the poet Winfield Townley Scott said it best: “It is difficult to think of another contemporary who can write without sentimentality and yet with so much love.” [240]

As Rick Moody wrote in his foreword to a later edition, “Where did [Cheever] get the confidence to begin disassembling and reassembling American naturalist fiction, thereby helping to pave the way for the experimentation of the late sixties and the seventies? He got the confidence by writing The Wapshot Chronicle."  [241]

“One never, of course, asks is it a novel?” he [JC] once wrote. “One asks is it interesting and interest connotes suspense, emotional involvement and a sustained claim on one's attention.” In those terms, at least, Cheever was a consummate novelist, as were his eighteenthcentury forebears, Fielding and Sterne.  [242]

"How can a people who do not mean to understand death hope to understand love, and who will sound the alarm?" (Moses after Justina's funeral) [279]

JC on William Maxwell: "If you don't grow and change he baits you; if you do grow and change he baits you cruelly." [279]

JC repeating his father's adage: "If you run they'll bite you. If you stand still they'll fuck you in the arse." [279]

Susan Cheever on JC: "You have two strings to play. One is the history of your family, the other is your childlike sense of wonder. Both of them are broken."

"It's not possible to talk to you. You say what you don't mean and you mean what you don't say." [309]

some bad reviews: [356]
“It was no accident that Time should have offered Cheever to the world as a kind of crew-cut Ivy-League Faulkner of the New York exurbs.” Cheever's vacuous characters took refuge in “small, arbitrary” rebellions, or in pathetic, misguided nostalgia, or in daydreams “not of Walter Mittyish grandiosity, but of almost girlish modesty and poignance.”

Irving Howe described him as a “toothless Thurber”

Cheever dismissed Aldridge as little better than a vandal, while privately agreeing with him somewhat. “I seem neither sane enough nor mad enough,” he wrote in his journal shortly after the review appeared.

JC on Bullet Park conception “I would like to write a gothic novel,” he [JC] wrote, “without being caught in the act.” [357]

JC in Chicago at awards ceremony: "When The Wapshot Scandal was completed my first instinct was to commit suicide. I thought I might cure my melancholy if I destroyed the novel and I said as much to my wife. She said that it was, after all, my novel and I could do as I pleased but how could she explain to the children what it was that I had been doing for the last four years. Thus my concern for appearances accounted for the publication of the novel." [361]

Updike: “In fact, I know now, the literary scene is a kind of Medusa's raft, small and sinking, and one's instinct when a newcomer tries to clamber aboard is to stamp on his fingers.” [362]

“And to tell the truth I am, alone, utterly incompetent. I step into a bar where there are some whores and my cock seems to strike an affirmative attitude of limpness. Nothing doing, it says. … It seems to be a homeloving cock, attached to simple food, open fires and licit ejaculations.” [363]

The session was the most crowded in recent memory: some two thousand scholars packed a room at the Palmer House, while others listened outside on the PA system. Ellison got things started with a pompous, leaden address that “seemed to puzzle the audience,” as Richard Stern wrote in The New York Review of Books, but Cheever's speech—”The Parable of the Diligent Novelist”—left everybody (but Mailer) “ablaze with pleasure.” Cheever told of a man who quits the seminary to become a writer, until one day (“when he was busily trying to describe the sound of a winter rain”) he glances at the Times and realizes that, given the violence of his age, such an occupation is “contemptible;” thus he becomes a war correspondent in Saigon. When this begins to pall, he returns to New York and writes a pornographic novel titled Manhattan Beach Boy, but it doesn't seem convincing enough: “He saw that
the sexual candor of men like Miller, Updike, Mailer and Roth was not a question of their raw material but of their mastery of the subject.” Therefore he embarks on a spree of buggery and exhibitionism, and in the course of “confronting those barriers of consciousness that should challenge a writer” he also turns to alcohol and drugs: “His writing, while he is drugged, seems to him stupendous but when he reads it over during his few sober moments he realizes it is worthless.” Ultimately, he becomes a spy and is run over by a taxi in Moscow: “Writing a novel,” he gasps, dying, “becomes more difficult each day.”

Mailer was “pissed”: “In those days I took myself very seriously,” he recalled, “and was indeed embattled.” He regarded Cheever as a lightweight—”darling of The New Yorker, Time cover boy, that sort of thing”—a lapdog of the establishment, in short, which was constantly sniping at Mailer back then. Clutching the microphone and glaring at Cheever (who gazed benignantly back), Mailer delivered “a corrosive, brilliant, hit-and-run analysis of the failure of American novelists to keep up with a whirling country,” as Stern described it. “There has been a war at the center of American letters for a long time,” Mailer declared. This began as a “class war” between realists like Dreiser who attempted to produce novels “which would ignite a nation's consciousness of itself,” and genteel entertainers who
appealed to “an uppermiddleclass [looking] for a development of its taste. … That demand is still being made by a magazine called The New Yorker.“ In the end, said Mailer, both impulses had “failed,” and literature was now being superseded by movies and television.  [368]

Because Gurganus had an enlightened reverence for his teacher, he was willing to put forth his best effort in completing the menial “drills” Cheever saw fit to assign: “Write me a love letter in a burning building,” he'd say, or “Give me seven or eight disparate objects or incidents that are superficially alien and yet profoundly allied.” [474]

“John couldn't find one thing to praise in her work,” Gurganus recalled. “He smelled her bad luck and her poverty and her ordinariness, and maybe he felt it was wrong to encourage her if he didn't think she had a future.” [476]

JC to TC Boyle: “All writing is ‘experimental,’ Tom,” he said. “Don't get caught up in fads.” [476]

TC Boyle on JC: To this day he's still reading it, though it's been a long time since he's read any
Barthelme or Barth. “Anyone can write a Barthelme story,” said Boyle. “No one can write a Cheever story.” [376]

While Hansen and Irwin listened with widening eyes, Cheever added, “Fellatio is the nicest thing one human being can do for another.” [478]

When Candida Donadio sent him a copy of the acclaimed new novel by Joseph Heller (another of her clients), Something Happened, Cheever read a few pages and threw it out the window. Because he liked it. [500]

“The director [of the alcoholic intake 28-day program],” he noted, “toward whom I have some complicated vibrations, says that a healthy person can adjust to acceptable social norms. The banality of a TV show, certainly acceptable, is what makes me want to drink.” That was the kind of attitude (the world is to blame in all its deadening banality, especially given one's higher sensibility—etc.) that provoked the staff into insisting, after a week or so, that Cheever stop writing so much in his journal and start concentrating on the Twelve Steps. Resignedly he wrote his brother, Fred, “They don't want me to work and it seems best to play along with this and everything else.” 512]

“I'm really allright but I can't say so here because only the hopeless lush claims to be allright,” he wrote Weaver. “That's a point of view I'm discouraged from taking because I've ruined my life with false light-heartedness.” This was irony, of course, and yet even Cheever's friends had often wondered at his constant, nervous “outward tremor of laughter” (as Shirley Hazzard put it), sometimes at very odd moments; as for the people at Smithers, they were openly startled by it. “Why are you laughing?” they demanded again and again, as Cheever tittered at some grindingly miserable memory from his youth, or some cruelty he'd inflicted on his children.

Bullied at every turn for his “false light-heartedness” and “grandiosity,” Cheever retreated into a vast, fraudulent humility. “Oh, but of course you're right,” he'd mutter (in so many words) when challenged. Nobody was fooled or amused. Carol Kitman, a staff psychologist, remarked that Cheever reminded her of Uriah Heep: “He is a classic denier who moves in and out of focus,” she wrote in her progress notes. “He dislikes seeing self negatively and seems to have internalized many rather imperious upper class Boston attitudes which he ridicules and embraces at the same time. … Press him to deal with his own humanity.” Told he was just like John Berryman, Cheever (“humbly”) replied, “But he was a brilliant poet and an estimable scholar, and I'm neither.” Yes, said the counselor, but he was also a phony and a drunk, and now he's dead; is that what you want? Cheever affected to take this sort of thing in stride, though in fact it was a ghastly humiliation. [513]

For the rest of his life, AA meetings would serve as his main source of social diversion. Two or three times a week, he'd drive to various parish houses around Westchester, usually after dinner when the urge to drink was strongest. Fred helped him get started by going along for a few meetings right after Smithers, pleased to find himself back in a mentorly role vis-à-vis his little brother: “[If John] can do [AA] on an amusing and semi-humorous basis,” he wrote his son, “it will be a great help to him and I'm quite sure, a lot of fun for all those who attend the meetings.” This would prove a prescient summary of his brother's AA experience. Cheever continued to find absurd the whole metaphysical aspect of AA (“lack[ing] the coherence of a redneck cult”), but, that said, it was the only thing that worked—a constant reminder that alcoholism was “an obscene mode of death.” And then, quite apart from the therapeutic benefit, Cheever did manage to enjoy himself after a fashion. He found solace in the simple mantra “My name is Jawn and I am an alcohaulic,” and if called on to speak further, he rarely failed to entertain. Luxuriating in his persona as a rather seedily genteel old lush, he'd wryly tell of past and present sorrows: his “wife of a hundred years” who wasn't speaking to him, his children whom he'd never really understood, and so on.

Mostly Cheever was keen on listening to others tell their stories, the better to recycle them into funny anecdotes and perhaps even fiction. “He certainly didn't respect anybody's confidence,” Federico recalled. “Much as he made fun of the sentimental, badly told tragedies, I think he ate them up and I think they kept him straight.” Some of the more dreadful scenes at AA meetings would excite a peculiar dialogue between the charitable, sober Cheever and the malicious rogue he now sought to repress. Watching a pathetic old man in an “ill-fitting suit” accept a cake with thirty-eight candles commemorating his long, long sobriety, Cheever was tempted to point out that “he could have done as well dying of cirrhosis, but that would be sinful.” That would be sinful: What Cheever kept learning from AA was that being sober was a matter of sacred dignity, and that people from every conceivable class and background could be essential to one another. Only with fellow alcoholics could he comfortably discuss his own loneliness and bewilderment. “ ‘Yesterday was a memory, tomorrow is a dream,’ says a man who is dressed like a gas pumper and has only three front teeth,” he wrote in his journal. “From what text, greeting card, or book he took the message doesn't matter to me at this hour.” At other times, to be sure, he might laugh at such a chestnut—but such laughter (“acid, scornful and motivated by pitiable defensiveness”) was an irksome betrayal of the better person he longed to become. [517-518]

[notes for acceptance speech for Edward MacDowell Medal] The day before yesterday I was saying goodbye to a very dear friend and as I watched him go away it was only, I think, through my grasp of fiction, through narrative and through invention that I could first reproach myself for loving him excessively and then attack psychiatry for having added the element of prudence to love—and then to have concluded that imprudence is a synonym for love, a conclusion I could not have reached were I not an author of fiction. [611]

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Collected Stories by Saul Bellow


Only read "Leaving the Yellow House" so far but it was quite good. Strange to read Bellow in third person, about an elderly woman in the desert coming to the end of her means, rather than his usual first-person intellectual urban rube voice.

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

page turner compared to SONS AND LOVERS. awesome descriptions of flowers and trees. come for the smut, and stay for the trees!

[Bantam Classic, 2007]

He had taken to writing stories; curious, very personal stories about people he had known. Clever, rather spiteful, and yet,  in some mysterious way, meaningless. The observation was extraordinary and peculiar. But there was no touch, no actual contact. (p. 14)

Connie wondered a little over Clifford's blind, imperious instinct to become known; known, that is, to the vast amorphous world he himself did not know; and of which he was uneasily afraid; known as a writer, a first-class modern writer... determined to build himself a monument of reputation quickly, he used any handle rubble in the making. (p. 19)

And dimly she realised one of the great laws of the human soul: that when the emotional soul receives a wounding shock, which does not kill the body, the soul seems to recover as the body recovers. But this is only appearance. It is really only the mechanism of the resumed habit. Slowly, slowly the wound to the soul begins to make itself felt, like a bruise, which only slowly deepens its terrible ache, till it fills all the psyche. And when we think we have recovered and forgotten, it is then that the terrible after-effects have to be encountered at their worst. (p.51)

If you were young, you just set your teeth, and bit on and held on, till the money began to flow from the invisible; it was a question of power. It was a question of will; a subtle, subtle, powerful emanation of will out of yourself brought back to you the mysterious nothingness of money a word on a bit of paper. It was a sort of magic, certainly it was triumph. (p. 67)

'It's amazing,' said Connie, 'how different one feels when there's a really fresh fine day. Usually one feels the very air is half dead. People are killing the very air.'
'Do you think people are doing it?' he asked.
'I do. The steam of so much boredom, and discontent and anger out of all the people, just kills the vitality in the air. I'm sure of it.'
'Perhaps some condition of the atmosphere lowers the vitality of the people?' he said.
'No, it's man that poisons the universe,' she asserted.
'Fouls his own nest,' remarked Clifford. (p. 99)

[O]ne may hear the most private affairs of other people, but only in a spirit of respect for the struggling, battered thing which any human soul is, and in a spirit of fine, discriminative sympathy. For even satire is a form of sympathy. It is the way our sympathy flows and recoils that really determines our lives. And here lies the vast importance of the novel, properly handled. It can inform and lead into new places the flow of our sympathetic consciousness, and it can lead our sympathy away in recoil from things gone dead. Therefore the novel, properly handled, can reveal the most secret places of life: for it is in the passional secret places of life, above all, that the time of sensitive awareness needs to ebb and flow, cleansing and freshening.

But the novel, like gossip, can also excite spurious sympathies and recoils, mechanical and deadening to the psyche. The novel can glorify the most corrupt feeling, so long as they are conventionally ‘pure.’ Then the novel, like gossip, becomes at last vicious, and, like gossip, all the more vicious because it is ostensibly on the side of the angels. …

For this reason, the gossip was humiliating. And for the same reason, most novels, especially popular ones, are humiliating too. The public responds now only to an appeal to its vices. (p. 108-109)

What liars poets and everybody were! They made one think one wanted sentiment. When what one supremely wanted was this piercing, consuming, rather awful sensuality. To find a man who dared do it, without shame or sin or final misgiving! If he had been ashamed afterwards, and made one feel ashamed, how awful! What a pity most men are so doggy, a bit shameful, like Clifford! Like Michaelis even! Both sensually a bit doggy and humiliating. The supreme pleasure of the mind! And what is that to a woman? What is it, really, to the man either! He becomes merely messy and doggy, even in his mind. It needs sheer sensuality even to purify and quicken the mind. Sheer fiery sensuality, not messiness.

Ah, God, how rare a thing a man is! They are all dogs that trot and sniff and copulate. To have found a man who was not afraid and not ashamed! She looked at him now, sleeping so like a wild animal asleep, gone, gone in the remoteness of it. She nestled down, not to be away from him.

Till his rousing waked her completely. He was sitting up in bed, looking down at her. She saw her own nakedness in his eyes, immediate knowledge of her. And the fluid, male knowledge of herself seemed to flow to her from his eyes and wrap her voluptuously. Oh, how voluptuous and lovely it was to have limbs and body half-asleep, heavy and suffused with passion. {p. 273)

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered by William H. Pritchard


Astounding book, not quite biography, not quite literary analysis, but mixing both to sublime effect.

I liked people even when I believed I detested them.  (p. 58)

when Frost was asked if he thought poetry was an escape from life, and replied, No, it's a way of taking life by the throat. (p. 58)

Frost became a teacher not to teach something but because he was seeking kindred spirits- to comfort them to comfort me.

the satisfaction of superior speech (p. 61)

Words exist in the mouth, not in books. (p. 78)

The satiric impulse is deliberately unfair in that it refuses to treat other people as human beings with real feelings, with inner lives-- refuses to try to understand all and thus forgive all. Rather, it seizes on a single aspect of a person, or a person's work, a partial truth, and exaggerates it by developing it into a simplification, a caricature which it is comically satisfying to contemplate. (p. 115)

Frost on "Spoon River Anthology":  "The book chews tobacco I'm afraid." 

on Carl Sandburg: I heard somebody say he was the kind of writer who had everything to gain and nothing to lose by being translated into another language. (117)

I found that by thinking they [Amherst] meant stocking up with radical ideas, by learning they meant stocking up with conservative ideas. (p. 123)

A teacher's talk is an outrage on fresh work that your mind still glows with. Always be far ahead with your writing. Bring only to class old and cold things that you begin to know what you think of yourself. (p. 139)

My love of country is my self-love.

I do love a country that loves itself... that insists on its own nationality which is the same thing as a person's insisting on his own personality."  (139)

Narrative is a fearfully safe place to spend your time. Having ideas that are neither pro nor con is the happy thing. Get up there high enough and the differences that make controversy become only the two legs of a body the weight of which is on one in one period, on the other in the next. Democracy monarchy; puritanism paganism; form content; conservativism radicalism; systole diastole; rustic urbane; literary colloquial; work play.

"elevated play" (182)

I'm a mere selfish artist most of the time. I have no quarrel with the material. The grief will be if I can't transmute it into poems.

I own I never really warmed/To the reformer or the reformed.

He pointed out that it was impossible 'to get outside the age you are in to judge it exactly.' (183)

There is at least so much good in the world that it admits of form and the making of form. And not only admits of it, but calls for it. We people are thrust forward out of the suggestions of form in the rolling clouds of nature. In us nature reaches its height of form and through us exceeds itself. When in doubt there is always form for us to go on with. Anyone who has achieved the least form to be sure of it, is lost to the larger excruciations. I think it must stroke faith the right way. The artist, the poet, might be expected to be the most aware of such assurance. But it is really everybody's sanity to feel it and live by it. Fortunately, too, no forms are more engrossing, gratifying, comforting, staying than those lesser ones we throw off, like vortex rings of smoke, all our individual enterprise and needing nobody's cooperation; a basket, a letter, a garden, a room, an idea, a picture, a poem. For these we haven't to get a team together before we can play. (p. 184)

[after his daughter Marjorie's death] Why all this talk in favor of peace? Peace has her victories over poor mortals no less merciless than war... We thought to move heaven and earth... heaven with prayers and earth with money. We moved nothing. (p. 195)

"if only I could tell you..." (p. 228) - Frost said all poems are substitute for that statement.

Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence


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