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Covid-19 Diary, part 4: We aren’t in prison.

30 Mar

64.

We went to the park today. I looked for a soccer ball but could only find a frisbee. Under ideal circumstances I can’t throw a frisbee well, and with a bum knee—my wife keeps telling me I need to get it worked out before we fall into Mad Max territory—it was embarrassing. I couldn’t catch any throws that weren’t right at me, which were few. Still, it was a good outing for the family.

65.

Then we got home. The daily press conference was a disaster, a bizarre case study in mendacity and propaganda. Our country is flying off the rails, with more than 25,000 people with Covid-19 in New York alone. To hear Trump talk, we’re nearing the end of a crisis that even his own people admit is just beginning.

66.

In our apartment, we’re averaging two blowups a day, and they aren’t all from the children. I’ve been an ogre for the last two days.

67.

Anyone else feel like they’re in prison? I do, and then, of course, I know I’m not.

68.

I’ve been thinking about American prisons a lot lately. Crowded. Violent. Racist. And how the prisoners will be exposed to the worst possible version of this pandemic. Little medical supplies. No external voices calling for better treatment. Imagining life in prison is a challenge, but putting yourself into the idea of prison during a pandemic? Escalating panic and fear spiraling out of control.

69.

Big Black: Stand at Attica is a graphic novel about the Attica uprising. It is an eye-opening reading experience. I never knew the backstory. (I mostly only knew Al Pacino chanting “Attica, Attica” in Dog Day Afternoon.) The backstory is heart-breaking. The prisoners demands include basic necessities, such as toothpaste. Governor Rockefeller sent in a swat team that shot-gunned he hostages and prisoners alike.

70.

I used to believe in the law and order stuff. Criminals were evil. Lock them away and throw away the key.

71.

I was wrong. About everything. It was a throw-away line from a dumb movie that started my evolution: “You can judge a society by how it treats its prisoners.” Dostoevsky wrote that. John Cusack says it in Con Air.

72.

So, yes, Con Air started the realignment of my thinking regarding prisons and prisoners. I don’t . . . like admitting that.

73.

In the Belly of the Beast, the collected letters from Jack Henry Abbott to Norman Mailer, really knocked me for a loop. It is a stunning book. Abbott is a superb writer; he evokes the mental anguish of being incarcerated in lyrical terms. Like many other prison writers, he argues that the guards are the sadists, the prisoners the victims.

74.

Mailer and others pushed to have Abbott paroled. They succeeded. Feted as a major new artist, he moved to New York City to start a new life as one of the newly anointed literati.

75.

I hated The Joker. I know it’s connecting this anarchic villain to urban revenge fantasies from the 1970s. I see what they’re doing. Bernard Goetz, The King of Comedy, etcetera. The movie looks good. Phoenix is astonishing. But the movie is just kind of bad. The storyline doesn’t hold together. And nowhere does Arthur Fleck become Batman’s nemesis. He’s a lonely wreck who stops taking his medicine. Some people die. Big fucking whoop.

76.

Abbott lasted three weeks. He stabbed a waiter in the street, killing him. Reading Beast, it’s clear that Abbott has been conditioned to be violent. Writers aren’t necessarily good people. Many of them are narcissistic assholes. Mailer once stabbed his wife at a party; he was trying to kill her.

77.

The Joker was popular, and for some reason, this makes me dislike it more. What are people seeing in this poorly conceived, poorly written, poorly constructed movie?

78.

Abbott hung himself in 2002. He was 58. He used a shoelace and a sheet.

79.

A memory: my dad picks me up for my grandfather’s funeral. I am 22. We drive through Mississippi and southern Louisiana to meet up with my mom and two sisters and the rest of our family. I’ve never noticed the land as much as I did during this drive—verdant forests and bayous and rivers and swamps, all of it stitched together with a remarkable series of bridges. I am an emotionally stunted new adult; I don’t know how to process the funeral, won’t look at my grandfather’s body and spend most of the wake leaning against a church wall, fighting back tears. My older sister and my dad do the exact same thing.

80.

I spend five minutes looking at the interior sleeve of Revolver, by The Beatles. It’s a list of Capitol recording artists. I’ve only heard of three of them. Popular culture—nothing lasts very long.

81.

Does anyone read Jack Henry Abbott anymore?

82.

What is The Joker saying about, well, anything? The clown-faced mob near the end is what exactly? Us?

83.

It is near midnight and my daughters are sleeping. Time to put this day away. Tomorrow awaits. More of the same, but it could be worse. I could be in prison.

Covid-19, Diary: Part 3. Death and Lee Marvin.

25 Mar

41.

All memory is processed as fiction. Paul Fussell wrote that about World War I. Time passes and real events transmogrify into novels, plays, movies, and, eventually, into parables. Tidy little lessons. Disturbed people become monsters. Decent people become heroes. The messy truth flecks away.

42.

We are in week two of our shelter in place. We’ve gone to grocery stores a few times. Taken a few walks. Bickered. Squabbled. It’s messy, volatile. Everyone is in everyone else’s way. Plus, we have a one year old. Quantity time. 

43.

A memory: It’s 2007, Beth and I watch fireworks from a bridge in Iowa City. An undergrad curses freely, dropping motherfucks and shits left and right, and with some children around her friends ask her to tone it down. I’m not going to censor myself, she says. We watch the explosions in the sky with our dog, Pepper, who is freaked out by the noise. The distant fireworks echo in the clouds like bomb blasts. We walk home, it’s late, I feel exposed and harried by unknown forces, let’s call them invisible tigers, they are pursuing me at every step, I don’t understand how or why but I feel besieged by sinister forces. I wasn’t alone. The subprime housing crisis is just around the corner. Beth goes to sleep. I pace the house. Someone outside is breaking beer bottles by throwing them into the street. I peer through the windows into the astral night. I can’t see the thrower, but catch glimpses of my own, aging face in the glass. 

44.

I’ve always been fascinated by the last people to die in a war. We know the last American who died in World War II: Anthony Marchione. Three days after Japan surrendered, he was strafed by Japanese fighter pilots. He was taking aerial photographs, as evidence that Japan was honoring the terms of their agreement. 

45.

I like to think when we die, there is some transition from life to non-life. Charon ferrying us to the other side. Death, in my thinking, would look something like a clean-shaven Lee Marvin. 

46.

In The Big Red One, Lee Marvin plays an American soldier who bayonets a weaponless German. A few minutes later Marvin learns that an armistice had been signed earlier that day. The war was over. He murdered an unarmed civilian. He committed the last kill. 

47.

Irony? I don’t know. The movie is fiction. But there was a last German killed in the first World War, and odds are it happened after the war was over.  

48.

Twelve years earlier, Lee Marvin stars alongside Toshiro Mifume in Hell in the Pacific. An American GI and a Japanese soldier duel on a tiny island where they’ve both been marooned. The war is over. They work together, then betray each other, and it’s all for nothing. The movie ends with them both killed by an errant explosion. Nothing is resolved. The entire movie is pointless. 

49.

Metaphor? Sure. But for what? 

50.

Camus wrote The Plague in 1947. The Plague follows the exact storyline of the Corona-Virus, only in a smaller city. The citizens are quarantined. The religious leaders ignore medical advice and lecture the townspeople, saying that this is happening to them for a reason. God’s judgment. The doctor in the novel knows better. The virus kills without morality. It has no function beyond contagion. God is unnecessary. The word will find ways to kill you without divine involvement. 

51.

Lee Marvin’s last movie was The Delta Force. Chuck Norris is the star. A sad ending to a great career. Not sure how Marvin got into my thinking today. 

52.

Clearly, I’ve seen too many movies. 

53.

The last two Americans to die in Vietnam were Charles McMahon and Darwin Lee Judge, killed by a rocket attack. They died on April 29, which happens to be my birthday. Saigon fell a day later. 

54.

Covid-19 sounds like a science fiction death ray. Something out of a dumb Michael Crichton novel. 

55.

Here’s the end of every person’s story: One day you wake up and something random kills you.

56.

That’s a mean-spirited thing to write. I could delete it, but I won’t. 

57.

No one really remembers McMahon or Judge or Marchione. These are names that have been sublimated into the larger narratives of war. In the ancient world, individual lives didn’t matter. When kings and pharoahs died, their servants and animals were often slaughtered and entombed with them. 

58.

Are we so different now? I hear Trump in his press conferences bump up against the rising death toll. He doesn’t care about the individual people. We’re all just numbers.

59. 

So who will be the last person to die from Covid-19? And how will they be remembered?

60.

Put another way, how will we fictionalize the world we’re living in?

61.

Put yet another way, how will this world-wide crisis be condensed into some digestible lesson?

62.

A memory: In 2007, I am walking Pepper one evening. I notice a man watching me from his window. He ducks when I look up at him, and then sort of peeks over the sill. He sees me looking up at him and ducks again. I am bewildered. I walk faster. I look back. The man is still watching me, half-hidden. Something’s not right. One early morning a week later, I see twenty-somethings running out of a house carrying guitars. I walk Pepper along, curious, and look back to see that their house is on fire. The house on fire is the same house with the odd peeper. I want to help, but I am walking my dog.

63.

Lee Marvin died from a heart attack in 1987. He was 63.

Covid-19 Diary, part 2: No fields of sunflowers.

22 Mar

15.

We start the day, every day, with a summary of the bad and the terrible: the news. “The sewers are backing up,” my wife says. “People are flushing baby wipes into their toilets.”

“Baby wipes?”

“That’s right,” my wife says. “We are now in a sewer crisis.”

I shake my head. She is making scones. I am re-heating coffee. “I would rather a toilet paper shortage than a coffee shortage.”

“Really?”

“I mean it,” I say.

A few minutes later, I say: “There is no one, at least cinematically speaking, as well equipped to deal with this situation as me.”

16.

It’s true. I matriculated in post-apocalyptic movies. I’ve seen them all, even the forgotten ones. I watched The Ultimate Warrior twice. 

17.

A Boy and His Dog, The Last Man on Earth, On the Beach, Logan’s Run, Pontypool.

18.

Did World War Z get it right?

“Movement is life,” Brad Pitt tells a bunkered family. But in our current crisis, isn’t this exactly, precisely wrong? He should have said, “Staying in place is life.” He should have said, “Bunkering is life. Doing nothing, nothing, is life.”

19.

I’m reading, or trying to. One non-fiction book and one novel, with some comics and articles and short stories tossed in. 

20.

For nonfiction, I suggest either weighty topics with a light touch, At the Existentialist Cafe, or pop culture topics taken way too seriously, such as I Wear the Black Hat or anything by Chuck Klosterman, Griel Marcus, or Lester Bangs. 

21.

This is not the time for poetry. I love poetry but it evokes yearning. Poetry peddles desire. Poetry inculcates ache.

22. 

How long with the mail last? Do I need to forage for seeds? What weeds are edible? Is my miniature wooden bat a sufficient weapon? These are some of the questions rattling around in my head.

They’ve replaced: Why is there evil? What is the purpose to all this striving? Why do humans have ten toes?

23.

One of my favorite movies is the original Dawn of the Dead. Consider it a primer. The zombies are deadly but predictable; it’s the other humans you really have to look out for.

24.

(And I don’t really believe this. I think most people are decent and helpful and good. But, I kind of do think this, that beneath the surface theres a roiling combo of chimp and snake brain: appetite and anger and fear.

25.

I always planned to write a sequel set 100 years later, in the suburbs. Humans have fractured into clans, and live in the second stories of houses, with aerial, wooden walkways connecting the tops of houses. New religions have appeared. Some clans are cannibals, some are herbivores, some raise domesticated livestock. The zombies mill about in the backyards and living rooms. One clan decides to eradicate another. There’s a love story. That’s as far as I got. 

26.

I remember a John McPhee article where he lives off foraged food with some oddball survivalist. Boiled acorns. Dandelion tea. I’d like to think I would be some wise leader in the new society, but who am I kidding, I’d be one of the cooks. 

27.

Are the trees rooting for us to fail? Ae the zoos tittering with the happy riot of gleeful nature? Do the fish know that we are recoiling in fear?

28.

We’ve been listening to Puccini. It doesn’t mean anything, or it means everything. 

29.

It Comes at Night. The Thing. They Live. Brazil. The Running Man. Alphaville. Akira. 

30.

If this were an H.P. Lovecraft story, the virus would be an elder go, waking from eons of slumber. Philip K. Dick would have it be a self-aware alien, maybe not trying to hurt us at all, but help us curb our addiction to fossil fools and red meat and self-sabotage.

31.

Beth: “They’re predicting possibly 140 million Americans contracting the virus by mid-summer.”

Me: “If the death toll stays at 1 percent—”

Beth: “That’s one and half million dead.”

Me: “Jesus Christ. Just . . . Jesus.”

32.

Can one conversation stand in for every conversation? Are we so much more alike than I thought?

33.

Beth is knitting. Pearl is painting. Simone is reading. Bernadette is napping. I am writing. I can hear our landlord talking through the ceiling. He sounds angry. He’s never angry. 

34.

In Children of Men, Danny Huston’s character has pilfered great works of art in his domicile. What are would I steal? What art would give me the most happiness? 

Van Gogh’s field of sunflowers. 

35.

I wrote a novel once, where the various characters repeat the same line: “All time is happening at once.” It’s an idea I stumbled across in some obscure text. I still don’t quite understand it. Here are others: the time is running backwards but the human mind experiences it forward. That there are infinite realities all running next to each simultaneously. That, according to Joyce, there is only one event in history and that it’s the manifestation of God.

36.

Our past selves are real but don’t exist. Our future selves exist but aren’t yet real. We can visit the past but not the future. We can envision the future but not the past. The human mind is a strange organ.

37.

The Corona-virus: an extra-dimensional being manifesting in our dimension?

38.

All the other pandemics—Sars, ebola, H1N1—invasions of gaseous intelligences leaking into our reality through permeable membranes?

39.

With this thought, I’ve disgusted myself. 

40.

Outside, it’s snowing. It should be beautiful, but somehow it isn’t. There’s less magic in the world.

Covid-19 diary, part 1: The Darkness isn’t total.

21 Mar

1.

I’ve been walking at night, once Bernadette is asleep, and it is an eerie, discomfiting experience. The houses are dark. The streets are empty. The restaurants are closed. The few cars on the road drive reckless and fast. It feels like a movie set. Omega Man. The World, the Flesh and the Devil. Vanilla Sky. 28 Days Later. The few people I do see stay away from me, and I stay away from them. Everyone seems dangerous, threatening, sinister.

I catch a glimpse of a red, neon sign from a liquor store. In the quiet night, it radiates a burning vision of hell: our civilization—gawdy, tacky, chintzy, and gutter-bound—devoid of people.

I walk in an alley along the train tracks, thinking about how this would be a great place to film a movie. The mind is a bizarre organ. I imagine the tracking shot. I can see the crew blocking the scene. I hear an engine and notice a car, in the alley behind me, its headlights heading my way. I dash under the EL and pretend to go into a building. The car passes me. A doofus, in the vicinity of 60, fumbles with his i-phone as he speeds past. So much for menacing.

I hear the chorus of a Nick Cave song rattling around in my ears: “If you’re gonna dine with them cannibals, sooner or later, darling, you’re going to get eaten.”

I don’t know, in my own disordered thoughts, who the cannibals are, not anymore.

2.

I turn to sci fi for succor. It doesn’t offer much, but there’s something about alternative realities that makes living in this one easier to take. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe provides a meta-aware existence where time travel is possible but, weirdly, doesn’t fix anything. “The good news is,” the narrator tells us, “you don’t have to worry, no matter how hard you try, you can’t change the past. The bad new is, you don’t have to worry, no matter how hard you try, you can’t change the past. The universe just doesn’t put up with that. We aren’t important enough.”

I take comfort in how small our suffering is in comparison to the larger heat death of the universe. Somehow, it works, knowing that none of this really matters.

3.

We’ve descended into the tomb world of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The dominant religion is Mercerism, where individuals put their hands on an empathy box and are transported into the consciousness of a doddering old man. The old man is trudging up a hill and someone, or something, begins to throw stones at him. The stones strike him in the face and head, he stumbles and he never reaches the top of the hill. That’s the entirety of the religion. But it allows the disconnected, disenchanted humans to feel part of something larger, even if it’s only for a few pain-filled seconds. Who wouldn’t want an empathy box right now?

4.

The last Star Wars movie has a resurrected corpse wizard hoarding star cruisers under vast sheets of ice. It’s a bad movie. There, I saved you two hours of your time.

5.

I have a friend, he’s a writer who used to be a professional fighter, and he has a tattoo on his chest: “The function of man is to live, not to exist.” Now, there’s a fucking line I can get behind. My wife just turned to me and reported that the scientists are predicting two million deaths in the United States alone, as a worst-case scenario and that no one knows what society is going to look like afterwards, mass unemployment, extreme disruption to food and water, and an eventual gasoline shortage. It sounds just like Mad fucking Max. We are living in the future.

6.

Or the distant past. I keep thinking of the middle ages, when priests and scribes worked in caves and windowless scriptoriums, by eye-ruining candlelight, spending their lives illuminating ancient manuscripts. They were heroes. Collectively they saved much of the world’s wisdom. This ancient wisdom, rediscovered in the 1500s, kickstarted the Renaissance. The world, it seems, works in a cycle, discovery, loss, rediscovery. We thought we had evolved past this cycle. We. Were. Wrong.

7.

Last night, in Chicago, thousands of people waited in lines for St. Patrick’s Day festivities at bars around town. They smoked, told dirty jokes, flirted, paired off, danced, drank, and acted as if nothing has changed, that life is for living, that the tigers and dragons in the world cannot touch them, not here.

8.

It reminds me of “Masque of the Red Death,” the Edgar Allen Poe short story where a wealthy count locks himself in his castle with all of his royal family and friends, and in boredom they host a costume ball. Outside, the black death rages. The ball is a success, the revelers are having a blast drinking and dancing, and everyone marvels at a wonderful costume. Someone has dressed up like a sick man, dying of the Bubonic Plague. He lurches around, in character, pretending to spread the plague.

9.

Of course, it isn’t a costume, and he isn’t pretending. The plague is inside the walls. I take no satisfaction out of writing that line.

10.

At night, the darkness isn’t total. I can see trees, streetlights, even the light from distant stars. The light is traveling at a constant speed, over unimaginable distances. I am literally looking into the past. I find solace in the idea of ancient things. Recipes from ancient Rome. Creosote bushes. The Epic of Gilgamesh.

11.

Gilgamesh tells the story of a terrible god-king, who becomes a good leader through friendship with Enkidu, his double. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh sets out to discover immortality. By book’s end, he is lonelier than ever, certain he will die, and shackled with despair. He is, in a word, fully human. Suffering turns him into a better person.

12.

Writing is useless. It can’t avert disaster, plant crops, repair engines or stabilize an economy. Writing can’t even rewrite history, as much as we’d like it to. Philip K. Dick, in The Man in the High Castle, reveals an America that has been bifurcated by the victorious Axis powers. The Germans have the East Coast, the Japanese the West. Various characters are all obsessed with a novel that posits a different history, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. In that book, our reality, the Allies were victorious.

13.

Books, he is saying, are doorways to other worlds. But where is Philip K. Dick now?  I can’t write an escape pod for my friends and family. I can’t imagine a better world and also transport us there. It’s the flaw in fiction; we can’t ever, not really, supplant reality.

14.

So, I sit and write, and in true 21st century fashion, the act of writing becomes the reason I write. I take no solace in self-aware prose; in many ways I detest it. But there is something shiny, and vital, in refusing despair. In doing something, anything. As the light of distant stars hurtles through the cosmos, bravely making its way to our weary eyes, I fight for comfort in the fact that everything matters, because nothing is important. Suffering makes us better. We are living in the future, which is another way of saying we are living in the past. The darkness isn’t total. The function of people is to live, not just exist. Let’s get on with it.

Forty Crows in Paris. A poem for my birthday.

27 Apr

(I write one of these every year, and why should turning forty be any different?)

Forty Crows in Paris

1.

Walking the streets of Paris,

I run into Picasso.

Sun-burnt

Wind-burnt

sandy-dusty

fidgety-edgy

and charcoal-eyed.

He smiles.

I worship a god with a bull head, he says.

Pigeon-wing arms

Crucified over an altar of satin-covered wood.

Huh, I say.

The heart is a ventricle labyrinth, he says.

We are often lost in its chambers.

There is a bull in all men.

The bull-man shares my face.

And at night, he says,

I dream of the minotaur.

Okay, I say.

I have some wisdom for you, he says.

Please, I say.

Love thyself first of all.

No, Pablo.

Then you’ve failed, he says.

Okay, I say.

But never marry.

Too late, I say.

This makes him angry.

Doe-eyed women.

Wolf-bitches in heat.

Kali, destroyer of artists.

Astarte, breaker of men.

His mouth is foaming.

I wave him away.

And off he goes.

 

2.

Picasso.

Impossible at restaurants.

Lover of bullfighting, brothels, women.

Hater of entanglements.

Despiser of interruptions.

Painter of Christs, myths, nude women.

Painter, sculptor, cruel genius.

Bull face half-hidden from the world.

Bulls are wild creatures

of pure id

snorting charging

holy in many lands.

Energy,

Often unfocused,

Goring others with sharp horns.

A symbol of creative destruction.

Picasso:

Pagan hero

praying to broken stones.

 

3.

I leave Pablo behind,

And move along the boulevards of Paris.

Cobalt skies

Sun with perfect heat

sculpted faces radiated

streaks of self-righteous indignation.

The French obsession:

How to be good in a godless world?

I meander through the royal gardens.

I stroll past the Seine.

I trot over to the Left Bank.

I see Simone de Beauvoir sitting under a tree.

She waves me over.

Bespectacled, raven-haired

Thin lipped, high cheek-boned.

Hands sharp like knitting needles.

I worship the first crow, she says.

Creator of all existence.

Midnight wings covering the cosmos with speckled night.

Metaphor? I ask.

She shakes her head.

Don’t worship anyone but yourself, she says.

I don’t know how to do that.

All men do it, she says.

I was speaking through you to your daughters.

Hairy-cheeked men.

Simple-minded and direct.

Zeus and Odin.

Rapers of earth and sky.

Imprisoners of women.

Always misunderstanding everything.

I’m a man, I say.

She shoos me along.

 

4.

Simone the unheralded.

Namesake of my eldest.

Philosopher-queen

Writer of great novels

Existentialist par excellence.

She saw the strictures of the father-world.

The demands that partition a woman’s consciousness.

In bondage to child-rearing,

Home-making

Cooking cleaning

Belittled or ignored.

Entombed in invisible prisons.

Simone!

Lover of life and men.

Neither bull nor wolf.

A being of pure mind.

Wise and wonderful

But worshiper of nothing

Empty voices dissipating into cold, sterile air.

 

5.

I walk on,

My shoes touching the streets of Paris,

But my thoughts anchored in the past year.

2016.

Eater of the great.

Jim Harrison died.

David Bowie died.

Debbie Reynolds died.

Prince and goddamn George Michael.

Died and died and goddamn died.

Amidst the political grotesqueries of my home country.

What the fuck is happening?

In Luxembourg Gardens,

A single crow picks grubs and worms

While my daughters run amok.

Crow the wise.

Crow the lonely.

Crow the portentous.

Dark omen of

Death war mystery

 

6.

Crows were thought to ferry the souls of the dead.

Black bird wings

Cosmic undulations

Souls tiny pebbles in the crows’ beaks.

The pebbles tossed into a giant heap

Melted in a vast smelter

And cooling in an endless semi-conscious sea.

I liken crows to a single year.

They appear,

They make a little noise

Then they fly away.

I am now forty.

Forty years.

Forty crows.

In Paris.

7.

I watch too many movies.

Tis a sickness.

No substitute for wisdom.

Just a tired, bleary-eyed deity,

That is almost self-aware.

The other day,

A character asked:

What is your spirit animal?

What is mine?

I feel a magic connection to wolves.

An affinity with crows.

A psychic corkscrew with bulls.

I feel love for elephants.

And, sometimes late at night,

I reverberate prayers to Ganesha,

The remover of obstacles.

He of the elephant head.

Bulls, crows, wolves, elephants—

Totems of my cloudy mind.

I write and read and work,

Believing that it means something.

Trump says it doesn’t.

 

8.

Okay, politics and poetry

Not the friendliest combo.

But ask a wolf like Trump:

How to be good?

He has no answer.

Wolves don’t care about goodness.

Wolves don’t understand decency.

They hunger and thirst

And go about chomping on things with bloody mouths.

Trump inhabits the father-world.

Cynical and vile.

Billionaire pickpockets

Out to stripmine our very souls.

Prostrate before a dank cave,

Invisible coal dust

Filling their nostrils,

They worship a jade-green snake

Swallowing its own tail.

I don’t begrudge them their selfish

Shallow, superficial meanness.

But these ghouls don’t believe

In any kind of future.

They want to consume the present.

And that, I cannot forgive.

 

9.

From there to here.

I’ve left Paris behind.

Returned to the States.

I turned 10 in Florida.

20 in Alabama.

30 in Iowa.

Now 40 in Illinois.

Forty years.

Jesus Christo.

Twenty-two years of writing?

Carter Reagan Bush Clinton Obama

And now Trump.

I never know where a poem is going.

They zig.

They zag.

They sputter.

They spark.

My antennae cogitate in a zippered buzz.

My thoughts collide like loosed atoms.

Today it’s the bull.

Yesterday the crow.

Tomorrow the wolf.

Picasso and Beauvoir never go away.

Trump will.

Not fast enough.

Not without scarring.

Not without pain.

But he will go away.

Until then,

It’s the search for small gods

With totem heads.

A new decade begins.

Ganesha, I’m still here.

Let’s remove these obstacles.

Or a new god,

Crow-headed

Animist, small-scaled

Housebound, perhaps,

Listening only to my neurotic fears

Powerless but present

Here to vitiate the father-world’s powers

Until De Beauvoir can reincarnate

And lead us back to the Crow’s delight.

2016: A year of disrupted reading.

3 Jan

(2016 was a terrible year for me and for our country. A series of professional setbacks jarred my writing, sapped my resolve and left me an inner stew of rancor and resentment. As above, so below. The sinister election cycle and the ghastly result haven’t helped any. I’ve neglected the blog, too, although I have a dozen or so posts in various states of decay. But I did maintain my reading log, and here it is, 2016, with notes and annotations. I also read The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, and a smattering of monthly comic books. Around November I stopped keeping track of everything I was reading, and a few books slipped off the list. The most memorable novels I read were probably The People in the Trees and The Painted Bird. Anyway, here’s to a new year.)

 

Trying It Out In America: Literary and Other Performances—Richard Poirer’s essays on writers and writing, focusing on Whitman and Mailer and others, is funny, well-written and intriguing.

 

The Seven Madmen—Roberto Arlt’s astonishing novel of murder, madness and social instability. A down on his luck inventor decides to kidnap an insane friend to help fund an insane man, known as the Astrologer, who wants to destabilize the world to bring back an age of mystery and magic. Sounds funny, but reads as tragedy. Excellent and unforgettable.

 

Crow—Ted Hughes, y’all! His astonishing poems concerning the origin of good and evil, centering on a sometimes sinister creature named Crow, who is part Lucifer, part Pan, part Amerindian totem. Haunting stuff, and a great place to start for poetry neophytes. (A category I will probably remain in the rest of my life.)

 

The Armies of the Night—Norman Mailer inserts himself into this extended piece of new journalism, “history as novel,” as he calls it, and “the novel as history.” It’s a great companion to other books on the sixties, and Mailer’s abilities are on display. But it feels a bit dated. I keep coming back to Mailer (and Burroughs) even though he as often as not disappoints.

 

Exiles Return—Malcolm Cowley’s revisiting of the Lost Generation—their values, their ambitions, their triumphs and failures—is a masterpiece of criticism, belief and biography. I’ve wanted to read this for years.

 

Mapuche—Argentinian crime novel about a detective obsessed with the disappeared. Pretty good, solid stuff, if maybe not quite as strong as it sounds. A transvestite is murdered.

 

The Thirsty Muse—A critical and literary history of Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and O’Neill through their alcoholism. Pretty damn good stuff.

 

The Hundred Days—Joseph Roth’s novel of Napoleon’s return from exile is interesting, if a major letdown compared to His masterful The Radetsky March.

 

Geniuses Together: American Writers in Paris in the 1920s—A solid history of the Lost Generation and their adventures and travails in Paris. Really enjoyed this one.

 

The Movie Book—I can never read enough overviews, histories, anecdotes and biographies about the movies and the people who make them. Great photographs.

 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao—Junot Diaz’s polyglot novel traces a cursed family from the Dominican Republic, back and forth in time. This novel is many things, most of them enjoyable, some of them profound, but the pop cultural references and the occasional light touch barely conceal the anger.

 

Breaking and Entering—Joy Williams’s novel follows a married couple who break into vacation homes in Florida, as a way of adventure and relaxation. Stunning prose; she makes it all look so easy. (She’s kin, writer-wise, to Ellen Gilchrist.)

 

A Little Life—Hanya Yanagihara’s epic tale of trauma and sadism with little moments of kindness is compelling to read, but the engines are mucked with narrative torture-porn. She can write and write well, but the punishing, relentless torment of her abused man-child is . . . hard to understand. Why write a 750-page novel about how grim and shitty life is? Thomas Bernhard does this in 100. Still, unforgettable.

 

Three Hainish Novels—On a recommendation, I tried these novels from Ursela Le Guin. I shouldn’t have. The ideas are fine but the writing isn’t for me. There’s a couple of hours I’ll never get back.

 

The Story of a New Name—Elena Ferrante’s second novel of a sour friendship in the violent, mafia-controlled poor sections of Naples. Lean and superb.

 

Captain America: Loose Nuke—Writer Remender finds his groove with this third arc of his Captain America run. (His first two involved Cap trapped on another earth, with Arnim Zola in control. A great idea, but poorly executed.) Remender uses Nuke, the great cipher of Marvel comics, a stand-in for American foreign malfeasance, weakness and strength, depending on the author.

 

Terrorist—Moving and compelling comic portrait of Gavrilo Princip, the assassin who killed Franz Ferdinand and inadvertently started World War I. Great, haunting art and a firm presentation of the background conflicts in the Balkans. The best book on the subject since Hans Koning’s Death of a Schoolboy.

 

Best of Enemies—Comic history of the first order, about U.S. relations with the Middle East. Insightful and excellent.

 

Terra Obscura: S.M.A.S.H. of Two Worlds—The cover lists Alan Moore as the writer but he isn’t. He’s more of a story consultant, and it shows. Old characters from his late-90s run of Wildstorm comics make their appearances here, but the pacing is off and the story isn’t clear. Would probably unread this if I could.

 

Bacchus: Immortality Isn’t Forever—Eddie Campbell, underground comic artist extraordinaire—kicks off his long-running series of Bacchus in the present-day with moody art and a light, narrative touch. Not for everyone, but intriguing.

 

The White Hotel—A strange companion, of sorts, to Nabakov’s Pale Fire, a novel with poems, surreal catastrophes, and a case file written by Sigmund Freud. Perhaps not as great as its underground reputation—and inferior to Pale Fire, but most novels are—but still a good read. Pretentious weirdness.

 

Love Me Back—Fierce and stunning debut novel, about a troubled waitress and her navigations through an often sinister and traumatic world.

 

A Brief History of Seven Killings—Marlon James won the Man-Booker for this explosive crime novel based on a real-life assassination attempt on Bob Marley. James captures the rough and tumble terrors of Jamaica by utilizing the pidgin English of its people.

 

Solo—Wright Morris, a very fine writer now mostly forgotten, wrote a memoir of his time in Paris before World War II. He was young, hungry and alive, and this is one of the better books about the joys and risks of travel.

 

The Voyeurs—Graphic novel that is hilarious and self-lacerating, an American woman’s journey with her boyfriend to Paris. Similar to Peepshow.

 

An Imaginary Life—David Malouf’s novel of the ancient world follows Ovid and a feral child. Ovid has been banished to the edge of the empire by Augustus. There he tries to civilize a wild child. Short, lyrical, memorable.

 

Between the World and Me—Te-Nahesi Coates’s letter to his son outlines the dangers his son faces in America. It’s a very fine book, more of an extended essay really, that is touching and angry. The sections about his own experiences with police are jaw-dropping.

 

“The Great God Pan”—Arthur Machen’s short story I’ve been meaning to read for almost a decade. Atmospheric and intriguing, yes, but written in the Victorian style that I have less and less patience for as I get older.

 

“The Killers”—Gots to read it as often as you can, Hemingway’s perfect short story about two hitmen waiting to murder a boxer, while Nick Adams is held hostage with a black cook and the owner. So good.

 

The Oxherding Tale—Making my way through Charles Johnson’s oeuvre, and this is a funny—laugh out loud funny—novel about a mixed-race slave child who is educated by a free-thinking weirdo intellectual. Part renunciation of Candide, part picaresque romp.

 

Memorial—poet Alice Oswald invigorates the dead from the Iliad in a haunting and majestic 80-page poem. An absolute stunner.

 

Bacchus, volume one—A phone book, and a rich, strange, diverting, digressive comic book that follows the aging god of wine through essays, history, and gang-land violence. Eddie Campbell is fun, but not easy. For fans of literature and comics, here you go.

 

The Farmer’s Daughter—Jim Harrison’s latest novellas, and there quite good. My favorite is The Games of Night, a werewolf story in typical Harrison fashion, as a metaphor for sex and fishing and hunting and meat-eating.

 

The Long Home—the great William Gay’s first novel, and it’s a great and ghastly southern gothic, with loads of humor thrown in. Gay is a master of funny, deep south dialogue.

My vote for the most disturbing novel of all time.

My vote for the most disturbing novel of all time.

The Painted Bird—Jersy Kosinski’s World War II novel follows a lost child wandering through the Polish countryside. Kosinski paints one horrifying atrocity after another. One of the hardest, meanest, vilest novels I’ve ever read. (And I’ve read 120 Days of Sodom, The Story of the Eye, The Story of O, and My Dark Places.)

 

Avengers: Time Runs Out, vol. 1.—Hickman’s beginning of the end. He uses cosmic dangers to turn the super-intelligent characters—Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Mr. Fantastic, Hulk, Tony Stark, and a handful of others—from heroes into world-destroying monsters. It’s a grim and in its way terrifying feat, but Hickman pulls it off.

 

Avengers: Time Runs Out, vol. 2—The second installment, and it pits an aged Captain America against the Illuminati, the cabal of elite Marvel heroes who are destroying other realities to save the earth. Hickman is my kind of nerd: he uses Starbrand.

 

Uncanny Avengers: Avenge the Earth—Remender is a solid writer, but Acuna is a great artist. The storyline follows Thor’s failure, the destruction of the earth by one of the Celestials. The X-men are shunted away to an alternate timeline, where the children of Kang rule. But Kang has a trick up his sleeve, a way to save the old earth, by erasing everything that’s happened on their new planet. Convoluted, grim, but rewarding. (Not for new fans.)

 

The Getaway—One of the few Jim Thompson novels I haven’t read. It’s a crime caper gone wrong, with a quick double cross after a bank job and a surreal, violent journey into Mexico. Sam Peckinpah made a movie version that was pretty damn good.

 

Joe Sacco: Journalism—A collection of Joe Sacco’s shorter pieces. He’s an excellent journalist, and his work is a great argument for more comics journalism.

 

The Monster Show—David J. Skal’s history of horror movies (and to a lesser extent, horror fiction) shows time and again how atrocities in the real world impacted the presentation of horror tropes. I’ve come across most of it all before, but still a damn good book.

 

Area 51—comic reportage on the government testing site that is shrouded in mystery and, apparently, the air force likes it that way.

 

Winter’s Bone—Woodrell’s very fine crime novel follows a young woman looking for her missing meth-cook of a father, across a wintry Arkansas haunted by violence blood feuds and bloodshed. Great stuff.

 

Robert Altman: Jumping off a Cliff—For research, but worth reading. A careful study of Altman, his methods, his friends and collaborators, his victories and failures.

 

Junkets on a Sad Planet—Tom Clark’s biographical poems about the life of John Keats. I wanted to like it more than I did.

 

Palefire—diverting graphic novel about a young woman’s night at a party and her crush on an angry dude. Not bad, but . . .

 

Watermelon Wine—research, but excellent. Frye Gaillard wrote this in the 1970s, about the country music scene in Nashville, and how big money invaded the angry, hillbilly and mountain music.

 

Winners Got Scars, Too—I’ve owned this book for 15 years, was never sure what it was about, and never read it. Until now. It’s the story of Johnny Cash, zipping back and forth in time. Pretty damn good, if a bit straight-forward.

 

The Patrick Melrose Novels: Bad News—I read the first of these a few years ago. It’s brilliant, funny, devastating, about young Patrick Melrose and his horrid, rich family. I was so upset by the first book I put it down. Now I’ve picked it back up. Acerbic doesn’t begin to describe the rancor and rage hiding beneath the cleverness and wit.

 

West of Everything—Brilliant examination of western films and novels by Jane Tompkins. Picked this up at random, and enjoyed every minute of it: personal, academic, historical, a spicy and pungent book.

Pollock writes with a pulpy love of trash and excess.

Pollock writes with a pulpy love of trash and excess.

The Devil all the Time—Donald Ray Pollack’s first story collection, Knockemstiff, knocked me on my ass. This, his first novel, is similarly strong, grotesque, masculine. A very fine writer who shoves the reader into the gutter.

 

Patience—Daniel Clowes time travel fantasia is beautiful, cruel and fascinating. One of his better books, which is saying a lot. I can’t stop thinking about it.

 

The Trial—Mairowit’z graphic adaptation of Kafka’s best book. His notes are excellent, and informative.

 

Eat this document—Dana Spiotta’s subtle story of two ex-radicals living new lives after an act of terrorism twenty years prior. Spiotta is a strong writer, and does great work comparing the radicalism of the 1960s with the weird rebellion of the early 1990s.

 

Lovecraft Country—Matt Ruff riffs on America’s racism, pulp fiction from the 1930s, and the contemporary horror literature scene. Reminded me of Victor LaVelle’s Big Machine.

 

Animal Man, vols. 1-3—Grant Morrison’s self-reflective run on Animal Man remains not only one of his greatest comics, but also one of the best interrogations of morality, fate and responsibility in fiction. It’s getting better all the time.

 

Warning Shadows—Gary Giddins essays on film are chewy and delightful, intriguing and fun to read. I loved this book.

 

Where All Light Tends to Go—A southern noir, or Appalachian noir, that’s pretty good stuff. An eighteen year old man-boy works for his meth-kingpin father. Then it all goes to shit.

 

The Sellout—A dense, complex and funny as fuck novel about a black man in contemporary Los Angeles who ends up owning a slave. References galore, and a brisk pace that doesn’t hide the seething anger at all. Went on to win the Man-Booker.

 

Country: The Crazy roots of Rock n Roll—Nick Tosches being Nick Tosches. A rumination on and rooting around in early rockabilly and country music stars, stitched together with first-class research and Tosches demon-dog sensibility.

 

The History of Rock ’N’ Roll in Ten Songs—I’ve been on a kick lately, reading books on music and musicians. I enjoy Greil Marcus’s writing as much as anyone’s, even if I don’t always agree or even quite understand. He has a strange lyricism, a chewy way with words, that grips me. Here he roots around in the lesser known songs that often resulted in big hits.

 

Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh—An astonishing biography of Tennessee Williams, one of the best I’ve ever read, sexy, erotic, heart-breaking. A must-read for everyone interested in theatre, fiction or wild lives on the periphery.
Killing Yourself To Live—wunderkind Chuck Klosterman’s personal journey visiting the sites where rock stars died, only it’s really an odyssey through his fuckups, relationships, tastes.

 

Beatlebone—Kevin Barry’s follow-up to his acclaimed City of Bohane follows John Lennon over a four-day crack up, as he tries to visit his own personal island. An astonishing marvel of a novel.

 

The People in the Trees—Hanya Yanihagarah’s first novel is a compelling, sinister experience. A Nobel-prize-winning anthropologist is accused of sexually molesting his adopted children. His defense—and the novel­—is his life story, layered with intimations of psychopathic impulses and a bizarre disaffection for fellow human beings. Excellent stuff.

 

The Searchers: The Making of An American Legend—the story behind the story, with the captive narratives of the 1830s and 1840s, on up to John Ford’s drunken misbehavior on the set. A good, solid book.

 

The Fifth Beatle—graphic biography on Brian Epstein, with beautiful art, if a bit sloppy storytelling.

 

In a Lonely Place—Dorothy Hughes’s absolutely smashing crime novel from the 1940s—and a damn good film from Nicholas Ray ten or so years later—follows Dixon Steele, a psychopath and murderer, as he meanders through Los Angeles in the post-war years. What makes it so good, besides the spare and clean writing, is Hughes places the reader’s sympathy with Steele, showing is repulsive, but identifiable, self-rationalization and self-pity.

 

A Manuel for Cleaning Women—Lucia Berlin’s autobiographical stories are straight-forward, brilliantly written, heart-breaking and wonderful.

 

Paper Girls—Brian Vaughan’s newest science fiction comic, and it’s a fun ride. Papergirls, who delivery newspapers, run afoul of a war between time traveling factions in the suburbs of the 1980s. Great fun.

 

Showman—Had this book for a long time. Film critic and historian David Thomson covers the life and films of David Selznick, the brilliant, contradictory, self-sabotaging movie producer who made Rebecca and Gone with the Wind, among other films.

 

The Expendable Man—Dorothy Hughes’s mid-century crime masterpiece, a tour into the dark corridors of American justice, where a black man is accused of murdering a white woman.

 

Father of Lies—A very disturbing novel by Brian Evenson, his first, about a pastor in a church who is hurting his parishioners, but he doesn’t see it that way. Reminiscent of Jim Thomson, in a good way.

 

The Bad and the Beautiful—An interesting overview of 1950s movie culture, with the gossip rags as the narrative through-point for the book. Douglous Sirk, Charles Loughton, Burt Lancaster, Kim Novak—an intriguing book, if perhaps not quite the overview of the decade’s movies that it seems.

 

I Lost it at the Movies—Pauline Kael’s best book? Probably. A collection film reviews and essays, including her devastating, and hilarious, take-down of La Notte, La Dolce Vita, and Last Year at Marienbad.

 

The Dick Gibson Show—Stanley Elkin’s superb, and very strange, story of a man’s love affair with radio, and the pitch and timbre of people’s voices, including his own. Similar to Pynchon, although with more syntactic control.

 

The Great Movies III—Roger Ebert’s astonishing last collection of film essays, every bit as good as part II, and a very fine piece of writing. I loved it.

 

Negative Space: Manny Farber at the Movies—Hard to describe, as it hasn’t dated well, but a precursor to most of the great American movie critics.

 

Post Office—Charles Bukowski’s first novel, a very funny, bitter exploration of a working man’s life, and how he hates his job. A great place to start with Bukowski.

 

Women—Bukowski’s pornographic novel about his relationships with different women, when he is in his fifties and beginning to build a reputation as a poet.

 

The Trip To Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking—Olivia Laing’s excellent history cum travelogue of the hard drinking of a handful of great writers, including Tennessee Williams and John Cheever. Unforgettable; Laing is a masterful storyteller in her own right.

 

The Paper Menagerie—Fantastical short stories from Ken Liu. Read most of them, and like a lot of fantasy writers nowadays, he is a controlled and talented stylist.
The Reivers—Faulkner’s last novel, a picaresque journey involving a stolen car and horse racing. Pretty good, pretty funny, a meandering little thing.

 

Intruders in the Dust—Two-thirds a good novel, one-third a didactic piece of butt. A black man is arrested for the murder of a white man, and a white teenager—who loathes the African American man because he once did the white boy a favor—who tries to prove his innocence.

 

Sanctuary—Faulkner’s gothic potboiler, one that he was embarrassed of and tried to rewrite. The result is odd; it feels trashy, but it’s written in an often dense and opaque style. Not sure what to make of it, really.

 

The Looming Tower—Should have read this years ago. Lawrence Wright’s epic reporting on the formation of terrorist groups in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and how these often educated men became involved in a foreign war in Afghanistan, and how their hatred of the Soviet Union turned toward the U.S.

 

The Hero’s Journey—Transcriptions of interviews with Joseph Campbell. His erudition, and his eccentric interpretations, are legendary, and rightly so.

 

“The Swimmer”—One of John Cheever’s most haunting short stories, which is saying a lot. A middle-aged man decides to swim home through the backyard pools of his neighbors. It sounds silly or droll or dumb, but it is none of these. It’s magnificent.

 

Storm of Steel—Picked it back up in October—it’s amazing. Junger’s memoir of being a German soldier in World War I might be the best book about that war I’ve read.

 

Barbarian Days—William Finnegan’s astonishing memoir of a life consumed by surfing. The writing is jaw dropping.

 

Mississippi, 1964—Dispatches on the civil rights movement from here and there. An interesting and diverting piece of writing, with some great anecdotes.

 

Innocents and Others—Dana Spiotta’s fractured novel about artists, filmmaking, success and purity is a very fine, very thoughtful piece of work. She’s always good.

 

The Flamethrowers—Rachel Kushner’s novel about art, artists, motorcycles, business and Italy is intriguing and worth reading.

 

<Trump won the electoral college around here; my reading life, along with every thing else, was disrupted; I read four or five books here but can’t quite remember what they were. I think I read two other Brian Evenson novels, but that might have been last year>

 

It Can’t Happen Here—Sinclair Lewis’s late novel, not a good novel at all, but chilling, about an American dictatorial takeover by a tough-talking non-politician.

 

The Plot Against America—Philip Roth’s very fine counter-factual novel, where Charles Lindbergh defeats Roosevelt on an anti-war, anti-Jewish platform. A very fine, very disturbing novel about how quickly American politics can go wrong.

 

The Death of Jim Loney—James Welch’s near-perfect slim novel about an American Indian’s last days. He is deranged by the past, and alienated by the present, meandering towards a bitter end. Excellent.

 

Dead Man’s Float—Jim Harrison’s last collection of poetry is beautiful and soothing, like swimming in a cool creek on a hot summer day. His same obsessions—horses, fishing, sex and food—are infused with an end of life acceptance of death and suffering.

Jerzy Kosinski and The Painted Bird.

30 Mar

(I’m not dead and I’m still writing. All the time. I just have a lot of irons in the fire. Anyway, still here. Have a new pre-strike entry coming and loads of movie/book stuff.)

Good title, great writing, horrifying novel.

Good title, great writing, horrifying novel.

In 42 points!

  1. I just finished Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird. Yowzers.
  2. I’ve written on him before, on his award-winning Steps, one of the few works of fiction that I think could be categorized as evil. (My review is here.) It’s also a masterpiece of creep and menace, a one-of-a-kind collection of stories.
  3. The Painted Bird is his World War II novel. His Holocaust novel.
  4. And it is a catalog of atrocities. A road show of horror. An astonishing menagerie of depravity.
  5. Incest, rape, bestiality, mutilation. Check.
  6. The story is simple: a young child wanders the countryside of Poland during the war. He bounces back and forth between various villages. He is . . . ill-used by each and every one.
  7. Put another way: peasants spend the entire novel abusing, tormenting and torturing him.
  8. One widower hangs him from ceiling straps above a hungry dog. A farmer whips him twice a day for no particular reason. A group of children try to drown him in ice. A mob tosses him into a pit of excrement. And more and more and more.
  9. For most of the novel, the boy is under ten years old.
  10. Kosinski is breaking one of the unspoken rules of fiction, inflicting harm on a child. Most writers will only dip into this pool, but then pull back, or have the harm happen off-page, or have some type of comeuppance for the perpetrators.
  11. Um, not here.
  12. The boy also encounters strange peasant beliefs, backcountry anti-Semitism, and scorched earth poverty.
  13. (Some of the scenes reminded me of Bela Tarr’s last movie, The Turin Horse. A kind of end of the earth desperation.)
  14. The running commentary on peasant superstitions got him in trouble. For he isn’t just describing them, but rather arguing that the horrors of World War II were at least in part caused by the irrational beliefs, and tremendous suffering, of the countryside peasants. Superstition equals murder.
  15. How do I read this? How am I supposed to take this?
  16. The boy witnesses astonishing acts of cruelty to animals. The book is first and foremost an index of maimed and mutilated animals.
  17. Here’s a scene, where the boy is tasked with killing a rabbit before skinning it:

 

First I cut the skin on the legs, carefully separating the tissue from the muscle, anxiously avoiding any damage to the hide. After each cut I pulled the skin down, until I got to the neck. That was a difficult spot, for the blow behind the ears had caused so much bleeding it made it hard to distinguish between the skin and the muscle. . . .

I starting detaching the skin with added care, pulling it slowly toward the head, when suddenly a tremor ran through the hanging body. Cold sweat covered me. I waited a moment, but the body remained still. I was reassured and, thinking it an illusion, resumed my task. Then the body twitched again. The rabbit must have been only stunned.

I ran for the club to kill her, but a horrible shriek stopped me. The partially skinned carcass started to jump and squirm on the post where it was suspended. Bewildered and not knowing what I was doing, I released the struggling rabbit. She fell down and started running immediately, now forward, now backward. With her skin hanging down behind her she rolled on the ground uttering and unending squeal. Sawdust, leaves, dirt, dung clung to the bare, bloody flesh. . . .

Her piercing squeals caused pandemonium in the yard. The terrified rabbits went mad in their hutches, the excited females trampled their young, the males fought one another, squealing, hitting their rumps on the walls. . . .

The rabbit, now completely read, was still running.

  1. I’ll stop there. The passage only gets worse, ending with the young narrator stomped so hard he is bedridden for weeks.
  2. It’s strong writing. Muscular, vivid and evocative. And it’s a precursor to a Kalmuk raid on a peasant village full of slaughter and rape, equaled in ferocity only by Blood Meridian. I won’t quote from either here.
  3. I love Blood Meridian. Through it’s astonishing prose and mythic underpinnings, it somehow leaves me warm and inspired. (It also has a thesis, that war is god, and so the poetic and lyrical descriptions of bloodshed seem fitting.) McCarthy carries weird religious convictions, and is the direct inheritor of Melville. McCarthy cares about the horrors he’s cataloging somehow. Life matters to him.
  4. Kosinski leaves me cold and terrified. And also a bit disgusted. There’s something slick and sinister and overly sexualized to his work. He doesn’t seem to give a shit about anyone.
  5. My god, there’s a disgusting rape scene in every one of his novels I’ve read, but here there must be a rape every five pages. Kosinski was, by all accounts, quite the kinkster in his own life, although I’ve only stumbled across innuendoes.
  6. I’ve said it elsewhere, but every time I read one of his novels I have a startling feeling that he raped someone in real life.
  7. An unpleasant sensation.
  8. Kosinski carries no religious belief, weird or otherwise. And in its absence, without some type of spiritual or moral balance to the peasant superstitions and the repugnant violence, the novel feels like a shopping list of perversity.
  9. Why am I reading this?
  10. (I read the bulk of it in the emergency room of a suburban hospital, on Easter morning. How’s that for a sequence of non-sequiturs? I wondered, while reading it, if I were the only person on earth in this exact situation? And, why am I reading this?)
  11. Kosinksi alluded that the novel was, in essence, a true story. That he was the little boy.
  12. Which makes the novel that much more powerful, a survivor’s tale. Truth casts the atrocities as documented; writing about them gives the author some power over the experiences, and helps expiate guilt.
  13. Only, well, it probably isn’t true.
  14. Which makes the litany of dismemberment much, much harder to understand. As well as the chilly, amoral point of view.
  15. The Painted Bird has the most heinous murder scene I have ever read on page 55—I won’t write it out here), and I’ve read DeSade, Bataille and the gamut of horror fiction. The gamut.
  16. I shudder.
  17. A few more things.
  18. Kosinski isn’t a minor writer. He was a full-blown celebrity, appearing on the Tonight Show. He was also a judge for a variety of writing contests, and the president of P.E.N. He won dozens of awards. He was feted. He was praised.
  19. Kosinski was close friends with Roman Polanski. By all accounts, he was supposed to attend the get-together at Polanski’s house the night the Manson family attacked. This strikes me as so fucking strange, and in a way I can’t explain, helps me understand his novels, even the ones he wrote before the murder of Sharon Tate.
  20. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it makes sense to me. Charles Manson is everywhere.
  21. Kosinski was critiqued for much of his later writing life. He was accused of all manner of malfeasance, including plagiarism, and paying unknown authors to write books under his name.
  22. Paul Auster, in one of his biographies, either alludes to this or outright claims it. (The book he says he wrote some of is Pinball.)
  23. Kosinski eventually killed himself. Here’s his suicide note: “I am going to put myself to sleep a bit longer than usual. Call it eternity.”
  24. How long did he consider those words? Is that supposed to be . . . funny? It isn’t.
  25. I won’t recommend The Painted Bird, but you will never forget it. You just can’t un-read it, either.
  26. The consistent vision of his books is one of moral decrepitude and fathomless evil. Self-analysis?

 

NBAW, number 40: 2015’s non-winner, A Little Life.

9 Feb

1.

In 2015, Hanya Yanigara did not win the National Book Award for her astonishing novel of childhood trauma, A Little Life. And although it doesn’t exactly fit with this series to focus on the non-winners, but I’ve been so enraptured and consumed by this horrifying novel that I can’t stop thinking about it.

Two weeks ago, my wife read A Little Life. She cried, gasped and even sobbed while she read it in a mad spree of near-constant reading. I picked it up the day she left off. And I feel headlong into the same compulsive experience.

A quick synopsis:

There are four college roommates—Jude, Malcolm, Willem and JB—who all go on to immense success in a variety of fields. But as the year’s pass, Jude’s childhood traumas, and his inability to talk about them or deal with them in any meaningful way, continue to bubble up to the surface. The friendships are handled with delicacy and care, and the various characters, except perhaps Malcolm, are finely drawn. The novel follows them for close to 50 years of their lives.

Time passes, everyone is rich and successful, New York is amazing, and the actual struggles most people have—the stuff of real life, no matter how big or little—are mostly elided. But it doesn’t matter, and might even be part of what Yanigara is up to, as Jude’s self-loathing and self-disgust are the twin engines of much of the novel. The novel is about Jude’s suffering, and how his traumas impact the decent and caring people around him.

Yanigara’s latched on to something profound. Maybe. The story is propulsive, but in a tormented and disgusting parade of suffering, pain, suffering, pain, self-loathing, disgust, suffering, pain, all punctuated by moments of human warmth and decency. She writes in the Stephen King style, fun to read and sliding back and forth through time, when convenient for the author. This isn’t a criticism, but rather something interesting in a novel so ballyhooed. (She was, after all, short-listed for both the Man-Booker and a finalist for the National Book Award.)

She writes well. She’s a natural storyteller, creating strong scenes. And if she lacks the zip and pow of the fiction I enjoy reading, the dissonant dialogue, or the jangly electric shock of a character’s sudden shift in attitude or behavior (I just finished Joy Williams’s Breaking and Entering, which is all of these things and more), she’s still a very fine writer. A sense of inevitable doom hangs over everything, and she does little to cut against it. There is little humor, and some of the subplots go nowhere.

So, I continued to read it out of a disturbing desire to see what fucked up thing the author was going to subject Jude to next. Base prurience. And this would be brilliant, if she were forcing me to interrogate this desire to see a fictional character suffer. (Go see Funny Games, if you want to know what I mean.) But there is no meta-fictional satire or challenge to the reader. It’s basic presentation, layered onto social situations where Jude, as an adult, is reliving over and over the traumas of his childhood. It works, only there’s so much dread and suffering, it begins to lose its power. By the time she cuts loose with her inner DeSade, ecstatically delineating the rape and mutilation of Jude as a child, it feels obscene. And not in a good way. Great art is as much about what isn’t on the page, and here, by her uncompromising and unflinching encyclopedic exploration of Jude’s various disasters, it loses its power and its shock. It’s almost funny—if you see excess on the page as a kind of over-the-top carny show, especially when gussied up with literary window dressing—how much horror she heaps on her main character. The near-relentless degradation of Jude reads like parts of Oldboy, or some sado-masochistic paperback pulp novel from the 1950s.

Unforgettable and haunting.

Unforgettable and haunting.

But she writes the scenes of abuse with such precision, it’s difficult to dismiss. Here he’s discovered by a character who narrates a few sections in the first person:

“He turned toward me then, and his face was an animal skinned and turned inside out and left in the heat, its organs melting together in a puddle of flesh: all I could see of his eyes were their long line of lashes, a smudge of black against his cheeks, which were a horrible blue, the blue of decay, of mold.”

Or here, later:

“At lunchtime he changes the bandage he had applied the night before, and as he eases it off, his skin tears as well, and he stuffs his pocket square into his mouth so he won’t scream out loud. But things are falling out of his arm, clots with the consistency of blood but the color of coal, and he sits on the floor of his bathroom, rocking himself back and forth, his stomach heaving forth old foods and acids, his arm heaving forth its own disease, its own excretia.”

There’s always more, more, more. More suffering. More degradation. More damage. All rendered in a direct, descriptive and compelling style.

 

2.

And she pulls it off, up to a point. In fact, up to a point, A Little Life is one of the better novels I’ve read in a long time. But Yanagihara lost me with this sentence, right here: “At the home, they knew what he was, they knew what he had done, they knew he was ruined already, and so he wasn’t surprised when some of the counselors began doing to him what people had been doing to him for years.”

Let me unpack it for you: Jude has been beaten, raped, assaulted, debased, degraded his entire life. And then, after he’s been saved from a pimp, the counselors and therapists who are assigned to help him, they decide, oh, well, let’s just rape him some more. It isn’t just highly implausible—that this particular boy has the worst luck in the history of the world—it becomes nigh impossible, the endless succession of sexual predators who work in the field of childcare and mental health. And without plausibility, a novel about the effects of trauma falls apart.

This passage cut into the verisimilitude of Yanagihara’s novel, and turns any metaphor into mush. It isn’t enough for Jude to be betrayed, beaten, savaged and raped; he has to be subjected to these things by everyone. That isn’t the way the world works, and it isn’t the way her novel works, either; she’s breaking the very rules she’s created in the first 400+ pages. Two, and this is a stranger critique, I don’t think a writer should pummel his/her characters with endless horror for no particular reason. There is still some type of moral structure, I believe, in fictional worlds. Most writers, when pressed, agree on this. Roberto Bolaño, for example, had this great realization that he would never kill another child in a story or novel again, not after having his own children. He found the idea indecent. And Bolaño was, anyone can attest, not a prude.

Then there’s the sexuality. The horror of it. Yanagihara captures Jude’s disgust, with himself and with all sexual acts, well. But she seems unsure of her own writing prowess, returning to it over and over. As if to re-iterate and reinforce the psychological bedrock of her novel. It grows tedious. And inelegant. And long.

Here’s a line that threw me, too: “. . . he’d had sex with men before, everyone he knew had.” Um, what? Is there some immense colony of bi-sexual men hiding in plain sight? Yanagihara has already established the sexuality of her characters. Five hundred pages in, all of a sudden? It isn’t just a strange writing choice; it harms the novel’s central relationship. This surfeit of shifting bi-sexuality distracts from the love and affection many of the characters share with each other. As if Yanigahara lives in a world where sexual preferences are obsolete and a thing of the past. A place where people can just jump into bed with lifelong friends.

It’s excess of a different type. And excess in fiction is its own worst enemy. Any act becomes tedious when repeated, ad nauseum, in print. Restraint is needed.

Every novel over 300 pages has problems of one kind or another; it’s inherent in the epic form. Yanagihara hints at an answer of her over-the-top trauma, pointing to Jude’s damaged psyche—so hollowed out and ruined—that the narrative itself has taken on skewered and nightmarish dimensions. (But, honestly, I’m being generous.)

 

3.

And just as I was ready to toss the book aside, with only 75 pages to go, she reigns it back in, switching the tone to somber meditation, ruminating on the feeling of loss and the passing of life. The epic sweep of the book is re-installed; the other characters offer glimpses of their own trials and tribulations. The horror of the flashbacks solidifies. The demons in Jude’s life don’t diminish, but gain power with time. She pulls it all back together, reigns in the squalor, and

The book is moving, heart-rending, one of the saddest literary journeys I’ve been on. The writing is strong—it’s hard to write about it without misrepresenting either its power or how much you care about the characters, and even my criticisms above seem bitchy when thinking about the novel as a whole—but I kept feeling like I was being punished for caring about the characters. Which is a very strange feeling indeed. The ultimate theme of the book seems to be, you can’t escape your past; life is (mostly) suffering. But this feels like a copout, and too philosophically tidy, when extended over 750 pages. Everyone who reads the book says the same thing: it’s punishing, powerful, I wish I hadn’t read it. The last 60 pages, in particular, captures the feelings of loss and melancholy as well as any novel I’ve read. It’s a shattering. The closest thing I can think of is Michel Houellbecq’s The Elementary Particles, or Richard Flanagan’s The Long Road To the Narrow North, or perhaps Bela Tarr’s film, The Turin Horse. But Houellbecq’s novel is short (if not probably grimmer and harder to get through), and Flanagan’s novel has dozens of characters and shifting points of view.

Anyway, here, near the end, are two passages that broke me up:

“His life is a series of dreary patterns.” (Does it matter which character she’s describing?)

And,  “ . . . it feels as if his heart is made of something oozing and cold, like ground meat, and it is being squeezed inside a fist so that chunks of it are falling, plopping to the ground near his feet.” Who hasn’t felt this way? I can’t remember the last novel I read that exactly evoked the precise mood I had experienced. (But here’s a weird one, Philip K. Dick’s The Divine Invasion, where a character feels he is about to be captured and killed, and turns to the character next to him and says, “Tell me the most beautiful thing you know about God.”)

So many novels feels closer to gnomic puzzles, or ironic experiments in narcissism, or cutesy semantic labyrinths. The trend in serious novels is to cut against the novel’s themes through a variety of signposts of authorial inaccuracy or narrative deconstruction. A little voice saying, “You’re reading a novel, you know.”

Yanagihara rejects this trend, staking the entire apparatus of her novel on the emotional resonances of the characters. It’s a risky move, and mostly pays off.

But my recommendation comes with a warning, straight from my wife, who got me to read it in the first place: “I can’t really recommend it to anyone. Not in good conscience.”

 

Eugene O’Neill, in 41 points.

28 Jan

(Reading and writing and reading and writing and not doing enough for the blog. But I’m pushing ahead on other things and I’m submitting as much as possible. Here’s a quickie on Eugene O’Neill. Why not? He’s only been dead for 60 plus years. You can always rely on me to be timely.)

 

  1. Eugene O’Neill. One of my heroes.
  2. Hero isn’t the right word here. One of my favorite writers?
  3. That isn’t quite right, either. Somewhere between hero and writer. Anyway.
  4. His life, Jesus.
  5. Born in a hotel. Alcoholic father. Alcoholic brother. Drug-addicted mother.
  6. His father was a struggling actor who died from intestinal cancer in 1920. His father’s last words: “Life is . . . rotten.”
  7. His mother died less than two years later from a stroke, and his brother, Jamie, had to travel with the body, on a train, across the U.S. Jamie drank and drank during the five-day journey, and he was eventually robbed by a prostitute.
  8. (O’Neill wrote a play about this, his last:A Moon for the Misbegotten.)
  9. Jamie didn’t last much longer. In 1923, after a life of whoring and boozing, the life of a vagabond and rake, Jamie drank himself to death.
  10. His entire family eradicated. In just three years.
  11. Think on that, when you’re having a rough week.
  12. The grim parade isn’t over. His oldest son, Eugene, 27 years later, drank a bottle of whiskey, sliced open his veins in a drunken stupor and then wandered around the house, bleeding to death. His suicide note: “Never let it be said of O’Neill that he failed to empty a bottle.”
  13. His younger son, Shane, after 58 years of abject failure, jumped out of a window.
  14. And his daughter, Oona, married Charles Chaplin when she was just eighteen (he was 54), and O’Neill disowned her. They didn’t speak again.
  15. (So, not one of my heroes then.)
  16. O’Neill spent just a few weeks each writing his early plays, includingThe Hairy Apeand The Great God Brown.
  17. His early work: American settings, Greek themes. Infanticide, patricide, matricide, murder, revenge, fate, suffering.
  18. His early work: patches of brilliance with moments of leaden dialogue.
  19. His early work: rich, complex roles for black actors! O’Neill helped start the career of Paul Robeson.
  20. O’Neill loved drinking, and knocked around the bowery and basement bars of the lower east side. He cavorted with hustlers, card sharks, drunks, hoboes, shitbirds and losers. Even after he had children, he would disappear on benders for weeks at a time.
  21. When he drank, he raged, punching out his wives and smashing furniture, threatening his friends and shrieking at the moon.
  22. He suffered from an undiagnosed degenerative condition that caused his hands to shake. He thought it was DTs, and combated the shakes with more drink. His first drink in the morning required a couple of towels to keep him from spilling whiskey all over his shirt. He went through this routine every morning. Imagine.
  23. He and his brother, Jamie—before he died—would embark on epic drinking bouts, one time spendingone entire weekin a hotel room, guzzling liquors, arguing, talking about when they were going to leave. There’s a play in there, somewhere.
  24. He was friends with Hart Crane, another boozer extraordinaire. Imagine their nights out together. (Malcolm Cowley often accompanied them.) There’s a great play in there, somewhere, too.
  25. Those early plays. Many of them aren’t produced anymore. Many of them are forgotten. Who performs “Marco Millions” anymore? Who remembers “The Dreamy Kid”?
  26. After a horrifying bender in Singapore, where he almost lost his fiancé, O’Neill got on the wagon and stopped drinking. He stayed sober.
  27. Sobriety suited him. It is his late work, undertaken after close to 20 years of non-drinking, that regale. He spent years on a cycle of plays on a fictional family. Near the end, he destroyed almost all of them.
  28. Now that’s gangster. Or insane. Or something.
  29. He wrote “The Iceman Cometh” and “Long Day’s Journey into Night”at the same time. Two of the greatest plays ever written.
  30. “Iceman” follows a group of bottomed out rummies in a dive bar, the kind of characters he caroused with in his youth: losers, hustlers, gamblers, addicts. The play begins with drunks scattered about a bar, slowly regaining consciousness and beginning the hard drinking once again. They’re waiting for their friend and life of the party, Hickey. The language is ribald, furious, poetic, self-lacerating, repetitive, and explosive, mimicking the cadences of the down and out drunk. The characters are self-loathing, self-sabotaging hypocrites, each hauling around—and finding meaning in—delusions and excuses. Their delusions are what keep them going.
  31. There’s nothing like it. It’s a goddamn four-hour miracle.
  32. Hickey appears and begins puncturing the delusions, berating and destroying his former friends. Why he does this is part of the play’s magic. But the last third is a punishing odyssey, a series of bleak epiphanies, grimness and the void. It remains one of the most powerful plays I’ve ever seen. (Full disclosure: I’ve only seen movie versions.)
  33. “Long Day’s Journey into Night” is the better play, O’Neill’s autobiography. The dad is a retired actor and boozer; the brother is a weak-willed rummy (named Jamie) with terminal tuberculosis; the other brother, Edmund, is a booze-addled rake; and the mother, Mary, is a drug fiend, sneaking off throughout the play for her fix. The play is set in a single day, where the family’s ghosts, demons, failures, recriminations and regrets douse each character in a torrential flood. As the day turns to night, the outbursts grow more and more violent, and the tension increases.
  34. It’s an astonishing work, personal, mythic, poetic, dirty, timeless and heart-breaking. O’Neill didn’t want it published or performed until25 years!after his death, and made accommodations to that effect. (His wife interceded.)
  35. About the wife, Carlotta, the same fiancé he almost lost in Singapore. She saved O’Neill from his drinking, that’s indisputable. But they both eventually became addicted to sleeping pills and painkillers, and their relationship suffered, turned vicious and sour. One time he fell outside in the snow, breaking his leg. She mocked him from the front door and left him there to die. (He was saved by a random passerby.)
  36. Of course, during the boozy years, he slapped her at least once in front of a large party of people, and punched her at another. There’s that hero thing again.
  37. Here’s O’Neill on the characters in “Long Day’s Journey”: “At the final curtain, there they still are, trapped within each other by the past, each guilty and at the same time innocent, scorning, loving, pitying each other, understanding and yet not understanding at all, forgiving but still doomed never to be able to forget.”
  38. Doomed never to be able to forget. The perfect mantra for the doomed man.
  39. O’Neill’s life the stuff of enormous tragedy: spiraling addictions, abuse, suicide, disease and death. And a discernible pattern, a kind of dramatist’s flair for plot, irony and just desserts.
  40. His final days were spent in a hotel room. He knew he was dying. His last words: “I knew it! I knew it! Born in a goddamn hotel and dying in a hotel room!”
  41. A dramatist ’til the end.

Thomas Ligotti, Grimscribe, and Songs.

15 Jan

Yep, Ligotti got me.

  1. Thomas Liggoti, ye gods.
  2. After True Detective, I reviewed/interacted with his Conspiracy against the Human Race a few years ago. Despite my rejection of its philosophy, it stuck with me. It isn’t a book you can easily forget.
  3. Short summary: human consciousness is an evolutionary mistake, responsible for all our suffering. Humans should, as a species, stop procreating and die out. This will end our turmoil.
  4. I totally reject this notion. (And I’m not making this up.)
  5. I finally read his first two story collections, Grimscribe and Songs of a Dead Dreamer.
  6. Ligotti, take a bow.
  7. His stories are deeply, jarringly unsettled. Burrowing maggoty narratives that rattle your dreams.
  8. Ligotti is, like Lovecraft, using the parameters and tropes of horror fiction to convey his profound pessimism about the human condition. He believes in nothing, Lebowski, only he really means it.
  9. See Conspiracy.
  10. He’s a better writer than Lovecraft, who often slides into a florid clutching style. Lovecraft was writing in the burgeoning pulp tradition, so his stories often are, well, good as stories. Put another way, Lovecraft, as often as not, keeps his audience in mind.
  11. Ligotti does not.
  12. Ligotti’s talents are in service to a vast negation, which adds to the disturbing feelings.
  13. Put another way: reading Ligotti hurts.
  14. My favorite stories were “The Frolic,” “The Last Feast of the Harlequin,” and “Nethescurial.”
  15. “The Frolic” is a conversation between a jaded psychologist and his wife. The psychologist decides to share the kind of day he’s been having. Their daughter is asleep upstairs. The wife is getting nervous. The husband is getting drunk. It’s terrifying.
  16. “The Last Feast of the Harlequin” follows an academic studying clowns. He discovers a peculiar festival in some bumpkin town and decides to investigate. It’s . . . intense.
  17. “Nethescurial” is the memoir of a man who has gone insane, and why. He’s succumbed to madness due to a tale of a land called Nethescurial, a manuscript he’s stumbled upon; by story’s end he’s not insane at all, everyone else is.
  18. Ligotti utilizes the trappings of horror—shadowy estates, zombies, the unnameable, even vampires—but in his hands they feel fresh, somehow.
  19. He has a fondness for arcane words: lucubration, carnifex, habiliments, tatterdemalion.
  20. Like Nick Cave. (And if you haven’t read And the Ass Saw the Angel, get thee to a bookstore.)
  21. Or William Faulkner.
  22. Reading Ligotti’s early work is fascinating, as he begins directly in Lovecraft’s shadow, clearly imitating him, and then surpasses him in the cosmic reach of his terror. He improves, drastically, in his horror thinking.
  23. Here’s an example. One of the stories involves a narrator discovering that the world and everything in it—objects and all living things—is actually made of a single, black slime. It is the collective delusions of humanity that keep the semblance of order, the demarcations. But every once in a while, our delusions crack, and everything begins to melt. We forget these periods as they are too horrible to remember, and thus the cycle repeats itself.
  24. Pretty bleak stuff. Everything always melting. The only thing in existence a black ooze.
  25. Re-occurring images: puppets, faceless people, dwarves, alienating landscapes, sickly green illumination.
  26. And always, always, always, the spiral of sinister alien stars.
  27. Ligotti moves from fear to disgust, from disgust into existential terror. It’s quite a trick. His characters don’t drink, smoke, eat, copulate. He has a clear disregard to physical pleasures.
  28. Like Jonathan Swift.
  29. His characters also have little to distinguish them. They don’t draw the horror on themselves through chutzpah or ambition; they instead trip over the true terror of the world.
  30. Ligotti is a bit funnier than I expected, but the jokes are few and far between. Just saying.
  31. I happened to read Richard Bausch’s Spirits at the same time. Bausch is a very fine writer, with the fine-tuned feel of a workshop behind him. But he’s writing horror, too; “Police Dreams” and “All the Way to Flagstaff” are both ghost stories, of how rage and terror are passed down from the parents to the children through misunderstanding and fear. Absolutely terrifying.
  32. Ligotti and Bausch, who knew?
  33. Grimscribe is Poe + Lovecraft + Borges. It’s more sophisticated, more intellectual and less fun.
  34. Poe’s bleak assessment of human nature; Lovecraft’s belief in human insignificance; Borges’s notion of stories and texts as self-replicating traps.
  35. Ligotti evokes Borges especially in the later stories. Books are passageways. There are labyrinths, authors collapsing into their fictions. But Borges has a strong sense of intellectual play, even joy. Ligotti proffers only blackness and abnegation.
  36. Ligotti pays homage to Borges in strange ways. There’s little plot or action. But rather dark epiphanies usually stumbled upon. Then, intimation and grim absolutes.
  37. Borges is quite the horrorist himself, although his scares are intellectual. People are always saying how funny he is. Go back and read Tlon. It’s about the destruction of the real world through the invention of a fake one.
  38. Meanwhile, Ligotti negates. Utterly.
  39. I need to be clear about this, as Ligotti has made it clear in the few interviews he’s given. He wants you to be wrecked and wretched after reading his stuff.
  40. Wrecked. And wretched.
  41. He (mostly) succeeds.
  42. I enjoyed his more straight-forward horror. I merely admired the blank rigor of his Borgesian fictions.
  43. I kept thinking, here’s this singular intelligence, driven to write these obscene stories. Why?
  44. Ideas have power. Ligotti seems to have read Schopenhauer and Cioran—he claims to be a disciple of sorts—at the wrong time. If he had stumbled onto Spinoza instead? Or Kierkegaard?