Dark house

Sitting beside the road, watching the wagon mount the hill toward her, Lena thinks, ‘I have come from Alabama: a fur piece. All the way from Alabama a-walking. A fur piece.’ Thinking although I have not been quite a month on the road I am already in Mississippi, further from home than I have ever been before. I am now further from Doane’s Mill than I have been since I was twelve years old. 

 *****

I'm reading William Faulkner's Light in August, and it is one of the best things I've read in a very long time. Faulkner is a giant, an immense writer of great power. If the world were a better and smarter place, people would forget about Cormac McCarthy and read Faulkner instead. McCarthy writes a lot like Faulkner, except that McCarthy lacks empathy and a broad vision. As I Lay Dying is 10,000 times better than The Road. That is a fair comparison, as both novels feature odysseys and take as one major theme the relationship of parents to their children during traumatic events, each book starting with a dead wife, to boot. I don't know why I'm having a go at poor Cormac. My own novel Cocke & Bull is quite Faulkneresque, and is also a wee little insignificant thing in the shadow of Faulkner's books. Which is perhaps the point of this short but rambling post. I've always admired Faulkner, but for the first time I've actually seen what he's doing, how well he's doing it, and how amazing it all is. Of course you can also see the influence of Chekhov in the works of Faulkner, that awareness of man's bafflement over his predicament, and the moral fog in which most of us stumble and fall.

 *****

The whiskey died away in time and was renewed and died again, but the street ran on. From that night the thousand streets ran as one street, with imperceptible corners and changes of scene, broken by intervals of begged and stolen rides, on trains and trucks, and on country wagons with he at twenty and twenty-five and thirty sitting on the seat with his still, hard face and the clothes (even when soiled and worn) of a city man and the driver of the wagon not knowing who or what the passenger was and not daring to ask. The street ran into Oklahoma and Missouri and as far south as Mexico and then back north to Chicago and Detroit and then back south again and at last to Mississippi. It was fifteen years long: it ran between the savage and spurious board fronts of oil towns where, his inevitable serge clothing and light shoes black with bottomless mud, he ate crude food from tin dishes that cost him ten and fifteen dollars a meal and paid for them with a roll of banknotes the size of a bullfrog and stained too with the rich mud that seemed as bottomless as the gold which it excreted. It ran through yellow wheat fields waving beneath the fierce yellow days of labor and hard sleep in haystacks beneath the cold mad moon of September, and the brittle stars: he was in turn laborer, miner, prospector, gambling tout; he enlisted in the army, served four months and deserted and was never caught. And always, sooner or later, the street ran through cities, through an identical and wellnigh interchangeable section of cities without remembered names, where beneath the dark and equivocal and symbolical archways of midnight he bedded with the women and paid them when he had the money, and when he did not have it he bedded anyway and then told them that he was a negro. For a while it worked; that was while he was still in the south. It was quite simple, quite easy. Usually all he risked was a cursing from the woman and the matron of the house, though now and then he was beaten unconscious by other patrons, to waken later in the street or in the jail.

Georgi and Thomas and me

The Global Literature in Libraries Initiative is hosting Bulgarian Literature Month. For the last couple of years, I've been sporadically reading novels and poetry from a few Bulgarian writers and blogging about it here, so Bulgarian Literature Month is always a good time for me, an opportunity to discover new books and authors.

Writer, economist, and publisher Thomas Hübner (also author of the blog mytwostotinki) acts as master of ceremonies for the online portion of Bulgarian Literature Month. He generously invited me to write about Georgi Gospodinov's first novel, Natural Novel. That essay is right here. A host of other book bloggers have also been invited to write essays about Bulgarian literature, so read those posts as well; they'll be appearing on the GLLI website over the course of June.

Mr Hübner shipped a copy of Kerana Angelova's short-but-impressive novel Elada Pinyo and Time to me, all the way to Seattle from Moldova, and I read that book last week. I hope I find time to write a bit about it here. It's got the kind of folktale/unrealism I like in a lot of modern European literature, sort of Günter Grass meets Brothers Grimm, maybe with Angela Carter knocking at the door. Good stuff.

Soon will be asleep

I've been reading D.H. Lawrence's poetry collection Birds, Beasts and Flowers. It's less like a book of poems than it is like the unedited contents of a poet's notebook: loose, rambling, unfocused, probably too long. I get the sense that Lawrence is talking to himself here, streaming his consciousness onto the page, letting great and trivial thoughts spin him whichever direction they will, while the poet shows very little interest in structure or consistency of idea. It's all quite casual; one is tempted to call it sloppy, in fact.

If this isn't necessarily Lawrence at his best, it might be Lawrence at his most honest nakedness (and for whom is that their best, eh?). Male sexuality is the forward-moving energy of the universe, we learn, while women are fruitful and multiply but are not so interested in the forward-moving of the males through history. Every thing, bird beast or flower, is primarily a sexual organ abetted by a body of some kind, and to be a sexual organ is, for Lawrence, to say, "Here I am, I'm here." And there is little else going on in the universe. Beauty? A side-effect of the beingness of sex. And sex itself is a misplacement/displacement of the primal male energy of violence, of making war. What is the primal female energy? Lawrence is sure he doesn't know, but he's certain that he can't trust it.

Fascinating stuff, from that perspective. It makes me want to write a novel about a character who writes this poetry, this not brilliant poetry. Had Lawrence been Nabokov, that's just what this book would be.

Here's a bit from "The He-Goat," where Lawrence has a buck attempting union with a ewe, who keeps her true self distant and invisible:

With a needle of long red flint he stabs in the dark
At the living rock he is up against;
While she with her goaty mouth stands smiling the while as
    he strikes, since sure
He will never quite strike home, on the target-quick, for her
    quick
Is just beyond range of the arrow he shoots
From his leap at the zenith in her, so it falls just short of the
    mark, far enough.
It is over before it is finished.
She, smiling with goaty munch-mouth, Mona Lisa, arranges
    it so.

My favorite poems in the book might be the ones about turtles. Thanks awfully to Tom Amateur Reader for pointing this book out to me a month or two back. Well worth reading.

flight and flood

I'm very pleased to tell you that my pal Layne Maheu has a new book coming out! See here. I saw (and envied) long swaths of the manuscript of Man of the World during the years Layne was writing it, and I cannot wait to read the finished novel.

Layne and I met about a decade ago, when he and I shared a literary agent. For a while we got together fairly regularly to drink beer, eat nachos, critique each other's works-in-progress, and bitch about publishing. Layne is a beautiful writer and a nice guy, and it's too bad he lives all the way over in Ballard, a hard place for me to get to from my neighborhood.

I confess myself amused to realize that Layne's new novel is about flight and flying over water. His first novel, the excellent Song of the Crow, focuses on birds and flying over water. I've needed about ten years to notice this. The next time I see Layne, I'm going to suggest he get a pilot's license. I think he really wants to fly.