“Ever tried? Ever failed? Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Every writer knows the quote. Every writer knows failure. If you are a writer and you disagree, good for you. I have known failure.
I did an MFA. My final project was a collection of short stories, now called Grow Me Up and Other Oaths. Two years after I graduated from the MFA program, I was awarded a contract to publish Grow Me Up with a small publisher from the South. It made sense. Most of the stories took place in the South and took influence from my experience living in the Deep South from age five until almost eighteen, seminal years during which I read Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty in my English classes. The publisher sent a contract. I signed it. And we were on our way. At the end of the summer of 2012, I decided that I could put aside that project, since it would be published, and begin a new one. This new project was inspired by my visit to my partner’s birthplace: Odessa, Ukraine.
I wrote a post on Facebook much less detailed than this one, received several likes, and felt very validated. The publisher was small, but I felt like I was “making it.” When I asked about a publication date, I was dismayed to hear that it would be a couple of years before the book was published. I mentioned the long wait to Tobias Wolff, and he told me to look for another publisher.
In 2014, two years after I signed the contract, a month before the birth of my first daughter, I received an email from the publisher announcing that they were closing and that upcoming publications, including my own, were canceled. Having a baby on the way, I didn’t take the time one should to grieve the death of that project. Meanwhile, I was still working on this monster of a novel that I had begun when I had thought that I was “making it.”
So that’s what I mean when I say failure. Maybe I could rethink, rewrite the narrative to mean something else. I could resent the publisher for closing. I could blame a number of people and other factors for what happened. I continued along my path.
Since I was awarded that contract in 2012, I have become the father of two women. I have been first-hand witness to more than one person’s death. I have learned of horrible things that have happened in the past to those closest to me. These secrets cause me suffering. There has been joy. There has been pain. There has been a pandemic. I have failed and failed and failed. I can think that the failure has become better.
The project I began in 2012, a novel about Odessa, Ukraine, a woman from there, an Odessitka, and an American who learns Russian and travels there, this project is older than my oldest child. Are our works our children? They certainly demand and receive a lot of our attention.
The project, titled Two Big Differences, will be published by MGraphics in Fall 2021. It is slightly older than nine years, almost a quarter of my life.
At this point, I don’t believe in perfection. I also still have trouble believing it’s going to happen this time. I keep waiting for that email…I like to think that, if I’m still failing, at least I’m failing better, that right now what’s happening is the best of my failure, that I’ll keep trying. If you would like to read my novel, please reach out. It should be available this coming season.
I’m very proud to post about my partner’s interview with Joanna Chen of the Los Angeles Review of Books.
My favorite part is the idea of “quiet noise” discussed in the interview. “Quiet noise” or the noise of the quiet is certainly something we deal with in our little family. Поздравляю!
“Innuendo, when it’s understood, fosters a connection, a partnership between a joker and their audience.”
Here’s my review of Pavel Lembersky’s work @lareviewofbooks.
The Translator’s Invisibility Lawrence Venuti
“The translator’s invisibility is thus a weird self-annihilation, a way of conceiving and practicing translation that undoubtedly reinforces its marginal status in Anglo-American culture.”
A History of Sexuality / Michel Foucault
An application of the principle just to describe rather than prescribe. It’s refreshing, but it also reminds me of the constantly paradoxical and hyper-(which also could be hypo- at times)critical behavior of some intellectuals I know.
In Marx’s Shadow
I read the essay on Havel, Fidelius and Orwell in this volume. The overall project is interesting. I was especially happy to have met Fidelius.
“1/3, 1/3, 1/3” / Richard Brautigan
I never realized how much Denis Johnson has inherited from Brautigan until I reread this. Like it’s era, it seems a little more innocent than Jesus’ Son though. There’s a kind of litany effect at the start of his sentences sometimes.
Зависть Юрия Олеши
Всё про зеркала…и долгие монологи Ивана Бабичева. С завистью делают такую атмосферу, целый спектакль.
The Home Place / Wright Morris
It’s where you hang your childhood. I identify with the narrator here, who’s kind of from there, kind of not. But he has chosen where to hang his childhood. So have I.
Doesn’t this seem so egotistical?
1 Corinthians / Paul
Agape was once “charity.” Then it became “love.”
Трава забвения Валентина Катаева
Так интеллигентно…интересная, типо, апология для Бунина, “страха” при Революции.
Что сказать о смерти его папы. Как я мучу своего папу? Да, увидел слезу недавно. Но только на секундочку. Катаев напомнил. Я благодарен.
The Window Over the Way / Georges Simenon
What an interesting character for a detective novel, a goaded Turk.
The Book of the Grotesque / Sherwood Anderson
Anderson always loved the grotesque of the Midwest, which is always what I loved about it (and the South’s grotesque) too.
My People’s Waltz / Dale Ray Phillips
Phillips’ prose defies all the stereotypes of Southern Gothic, at least the ones I know. It’s smart, thick and dense as kudzu. It demands several readings. It makes sure you don’t take his people for granted.
“Odessa” / Isaak Babel (translated by Val Vinokur in The Odessa Review)
“Одесса” Исаака Бабеля
This is such a great little brochure for Odessa (at first). It becomes very serious, discussing the sun and the need to describe it in Russian literature, ending with a literary messiah figure rising from the Black Sea. Is пряный spicy? It seems more like “nutty” or “piquant,” sharp, like Odessan wit, still sweet, the smell of the acacia.
Пятеро Владимира Жаботинского
У меня были ингибирования о чтение этого. Ревизионистский Сионизм мне очень отвратителен. Я обычно читаю писателя, несмотря на его политику. А это…ну, нахожу меньше такого одесского голоса как у Ильфа и Петрова, как у Катаева, Олеши. Где же такая острота как мессия одесской литературы, Баб-Эль (читайте на вверху). Ну, может быть позже, когда я думаю больше о Палестине, чем об Одессе.
The All-American Anarchist: Joseph A. Labadie and the Labor Movement / Carlotta R. Anderson
I feel a certain kinship with this Detroiter, part-Ojibway, and the namesake of the library of radical literature where I spent many working hours during my undergraduate days. This also introduced me to the Society of Russian Anarchists and helped me find their journals, Пробуждение and Дело труда. Anderson, Labadie’s granddaughter, is gentle, echoing Labadie’s somewhat sentimental description of his childhood among Potawatomi people in Michigan. But she takes us out for a wider view and lets us know the difficult truth about how those Potawatomi with whom Labadie lived in lean-tos and “played Indian” were probably the last to be doing so at the time.
Золотой теленок Ильфа и Петрова
Нда…стыдно, что только что читаю. А на русском, мне только 10 лет. Тебе сколько лет, когда читал?
“Ethics as First Philosophy” / Emmanuel Levinas
“…War and politics, which pass themselves off as the relation of the Same to the Other (l’Autre).”
“It is in the laying down by the ego of its sovereignty that we find ethics and also probably the very spirituality of the soul, but most certainly the question of the meaning of being, that is, its appeal for justification.”
Gareth Jones / Ray Gamache
Чёрный монах Антона Чехова
“В доме опять запели, и издали скрипка производила впечатление человеческого голоса.”
“Дело красивое, милое, здоровое, но и тут страсти и война – подумал он. Должно быть, везде и на всех поприщах идейные люди нервны и отличаются повышенной чувствительностью. Вероятно, это так нужно.”
“Он никогда бы уж не мог полюбить здоровую, крепкую, краснощекую женщину, но бледная, слабая, несчастная Таня ему нравилась.”
Damned to Fame / James Knowlson
“The Novelist” / W.H. Auden
Open City / Teju Cole
“How easy it would be, I thought, to slip gently into the water here, and go down to the depths. I knelt, and trailed my hand in the Hudson. It was frigid. Here we all were, ignoring that water, paying as little attention as possible to the pair of black eternities between which our little light intervened. Our debt, though, to that light: what of it? We owe ourselves our lives. This, about which we physicians say so much to our patients, about which so little can reasonably be said, folds back and also asks us questions.”
“But atrocities is nothing new, not to humans, not to animals. The difference is that in our time it is uniquely well-organized and carried out with pens, train carriages, ledgers, barbed wire, work camps, gas. And this late contribution, the absence of bodies. No bodies were visible, except the falling ones, on the day America’s ticker stopped. Marketable stories of all kinds had thickened around the injured coast of our city, but the depiction of the dead bodies was forbidden. It would have been upsetting to have it otherwise.”
“The Near Transitive Properties of the Political and the Poetical: Erasure” / Solmaz Sharif
I witnessed a reading by this poet in a cool living room. She went from a slam-style speed, common these days, to an incantatory slowness, one that transfixed. I hope this is something she or anybody can duplicate on the page. We talked about that… I can hear her voice in this poem. But there are no line breaks here, as I can tell. Some indentation… It brings up, for me, the question of politics and music. Often, “political” music has a religious sound to it. I’m thinking of Godspeed You, Black Emperor… Is it a leftover of the good old days when texts and art were only to be worshipped?
“Anatolia” / Anis Shivani
I feel very American saying this, but there were too many Turkish and Islamic law terms here. I have thought a lot about this in my own writing, and I think there could be more context and they would work. The title for the main character comes over. I think he is some kind of a low-level judge. But often sentences would have three such terms, each juxtaposed to the others, and leave me baffled as to what they meant. I know a little, since I’ve seen Islamic law terms in books I’ve cataloged in my day job. But I couldn’t go on here. Perhaps this is my own failure, but it was an extension–one that pushed me too far away this time–of the problem in “Gypsy.” There is a lot of exposition, a lot of big blocks of explanation, rather than a varied approach between scenes and narration. I and my reading partner put this aside, and I accept responsibility for having done so.
“The Swimmer” / John Cheever
I read this old classic to my reading partner, my better half (a better reader), who had never read it. Cheever shows you how well a sentence can run, like water in his case, and how far that can get the vehicle of a story. By the way, doesn’t water come up a lot in his work? If I were writing a paper…
“First Love and Other Sorrows” / Harold Brodkey
We loved reading this. It’s so gentle, which makes the sorrow move so much more easily over the story, and makes it easier to hear.
“Один язык” Михаила Шолохова
А, если было так понятно.
“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” / Walt Whitman
I remembered that I used Whitman as a basis for my vows. The world of Whitman feels older, I think because it feels innocent, even though it’s not. It’s naive, but not in a bad way. Hope against hope maybe…
“Directions” / Fyodor Svarovsky (Alex Cigale translated on Facebook)
This was a good way to start the workday.
Катакомбы Валентина Катаева
Ещё читаю. Наивность у писателей может быть не самое плохое, если это не зашишает ужас, как в эссей об Uncle Tom’s Cabin Джеймса Балдвина. Дело в том, узнает ли читатель, что наивность и сентиментальность оправдан или нет, и если они сушествуют (и делает его слепым) в читатели самом.
Gramophone, Film, Typewriter / Friedrich Kittler
I’m more interested in this “desexualization of writing” than the disagreement between Kittler and McLuhan.
“Some Other, Better Otto” / Deborah Eisenberg
I enjoy the richness of this story, its many characters and ideas very cleanly woven.
“Love” / Grace Paley
This reminded me, despite some cognitive resistance to the idea, of Carver…
“Borges on Translation” / Suzanne Jill Levine
“Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” / Jorge Luis Borges
Back to the classic…how silly this is, a revival of Cervantes’ humor, so rarely matched. “Fame is a form–perhaps the worst form–of incomprehension.” And there you go!
“The Hitchhiking Game” / Milan Kundera
Oh, what a great, vampy little story. I loved it. I haven’t read him in such a long time, and now I remember The Joke and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. About his perceived misogyny I have nothing to say.
“Love in Their Time” / William Trevor
A sad English story that made my reading partner cry. It seems to gather momentum and then releases right in that last scene. I love stories that end in the subway.
“The Life You Save May Be Your Own” / Flannery O’Connor
An old classic, something that came up from the bottom of my memory because of a line I myself wrote, taking place in the South and having to do with conservative religious values.
“The Moon in Its Flight” / Gilbert Sorrentino
At first tedious, this story then becomes a story of a minor mistake that leads to a couple not coming together. Was she just a ghost at the end or not? Did it actually happen? Does that really matter?
Dancing in Odessa / Ilya Kaminsky
What a pleasure to return to this, our signed copy. What a kind poet. I remember his reading, and I remember trying to speak to him in Russian and failing to understand. This, of course, has happened multiple times. But he was very gentle with me, which has happened much more rarely.
The “Author’s Prayer” has been especially inspirational.
“Yours” / Mary Robison
This story, short but with long, sweeping, devastating sentences, snatches you by the wrist and claims your attention, for a little bit.
“A Bad Thing” / David Gates
“First Love” / Isaak Babel
Reading Babel in English is always strange. I think that the Russian versions I’ve read were censored. There’s more of a voice here, not that I didn’t like what I read in Russian. But why censor such lines as those about being a boy throwing a tantrum? Was this unmanly?
“У батьки нашего Махно” Исаака Бабеля
Этот рассказ хорошо показывает что-то не только не хорошо, а плохо, а ужасно. Есть в Украине когда-нибудь хорошее народное движение? И как этот мальчик и невинный, и темно настоящий…
“Учение о тачанке” Исаака Бабеля
Ух, хороший, тёмненкий писатель, который так сосредоточиться на странных местах в жизни. Особенно понравилось сравнение южних и штетелских евреев. Опять, тёмный портрет Махна. Кстати, я читал оба рассказа по-русски в самом последном издание его работы, которое только что вышло. В Мэкдафном переводе, переводчик говорит, что исключения были из-за цензуры, а в русском говорят что некоторые были его постоянно редактирования, и не так как Мэкдаф говорит. Бог его знает, но я рад улучениям.
The Book of Daniel / E.L. Doctorow
I’m still hoping the violent scene in the car will be explained somehow. It’s hard to read somebody like that. But I like the style, so I keep going.
“A Gentleman Friend” / Anton Chekhov
This was recommended, I think I remember, in order to see how Chekhov’s more torturous stories are the ones that would seem to end happily, as does this one, unlike “The Kiss” which we read in my Russian Literature class. And it is torturous, like those writhing in tortuous, torturous pleasure in Gustave Doré prints of the Divine Comedy.
“The Salmon Spirit: an Ulchi Tale from Siberia” / Nadyezhda Duvan
Reminds me of the Russian children’s tales I read these days.
Inferno / Dante Alighieri
This is good inspiration…
Конармия Исаака Бабеля
Здесь меньше характеризации чем в одесских рассказах, по-моему. Но конец первой истории страшно для отцов дочерей.
“What Goes Around” / Olga Zilberbourg (B O D Y)
The Wonderful Writing Machine / Bruce Bliven, Jr.
Dedicated “To Naomi” (Horowitz, his wife). This guy was funny. Kittler (above) said he is the most entertaining and quirky writer about the typewriter.
“Fisherman of the Glass Battalion” / Ilya Ilf (translated by Steven Volynets)
Great little story here, which kind of reminds me of Конармия. I’m looking forward to more of these.
“In der Strafkolonie” / Franz Kafka
I read this in German, but I’d like to write in English. It was in a book which discusses the legal aspects of Kafka’s story. Right now I’m thinking, why doesn’t he know his sentence? What part does this ignorance of one’s judgment have? This is probably the worst manifestation of punishment, since the Verurteilte doesn’t even know why and, in this case, how, until he can feel his wounds. In the end, der Reisende threatens with the old rope. He doesn’t need a fancy machine.
“Tonka” / Robert Musil
This story aches with the tension of an intellectual, who nonetheless is fascinated by a woman, inscrutable to him. It could never go to her perspective, in this way, and I’ve heard the comparison with Lolita made. Women’s inscrutability could be code for misogyny.
“In the Shadow of Dante” / Joseph Brodsky
The discussion of rhyme here would have been especially interesting about a year ago when I was writing about the translated poetry of Aleksandr Kushner, a friend of Brodsky’s from Peter. I came to this by way of Ilya Kaminsky’s dedication “To Montale” in Dancing in Odessa.
Зависть Юрия Олеши
Как модно! Может быть из-за настоящего времени голоса рассказчика. Можно подумать о месте, как будто оно Одесса? Настоящее время нормально тогда? Мне кажется, даже сейчас оно странно. Это историческое настоящее?
Трава забвения Валентина Катаева
Хороший советский писатель, который справедлив, по-моему, о других, как Бунине, с которым не был согласен насчет политики. О Бунине нельзя было говорить при Маяковском, и о Маяковском при Бунине.
“Less than One” / Joseph Brodsky
I read this long ago, but it was good to return, since you always find something new. A challenge: how Russian experience bounces off the English language, no matter how will composed.
Twilight of the Superheroes / Deborah Eisenberg
There is something refreshing about how Eisenberg always makes one guess at context. It defamiliarizes with the very straightforward American realist style.
“We Are All Already Gone” / LaTanya McQueen (New South)
I wonder where the “we” went in this haunting story, rough on a parent.
The Home Place / Wright Morris
There is something very strange about Wright Morris, to which I think Charles Baxter is the best heir. What is it? How does this character’s father not know he was raised on a farm? Or is it old age in a Midwestern middle-class grandpa, who hasn’t taken time to reflect much on things and doesn’t remember his own son’s upbringing? If I’m right, this is very sad…to me.
“Любовь” Юрия Олеши
Когда я начал встречаться с женой, она дала мне копию этого рассказа на английском. Я начал читать, но решил, что хочу на русском. 8 лет спустя и вот! Красавец – он.
Love in the Time of Cholera / Gabriel García Márquez
This is a hard one to put down. The love obsession of Florentino matches other experiences of obsession I’ve had in my life.
Time turns in on itself, doubles back, does flips between perspectives. We can learn so much from this writer. Also, the sympathy for the wife, sniffing her husband’s clothes, scented by his lover. He wasn’t a macho man, one who would deny the truth with utterly male violence. Instead, he admits he cheated. Maybe she didn’t want the truth. It’s so damn well done.
Now I finally understand the romance of the riverboat, the perpetual back-and-forth, the ongoing, neverending journey, which not even death ends. Time is not a pressure for Márquez. It’s a way of getting to the ends of things, of returning, and of setting out again.
There Is No Long Distance Now / Naomi Shihab Nye
I’ve been reading against my insomnia. So far, it reminds me of Jessamyn Ward. There’s a tricky innocence to Shihab Nye’s work that keeps me wondering about the experience behind it.
“Стадион в Одессе” Юрия Олеши
Я не знал, что Олеша был такой патриот, ну здесь что-то есть. Есть вопрос, честно ли он пишет. Ну, интересно, всё равно, об истории Одессы, о Ланжероне, и т. д.
Words Will Break Cement: the Passion of Pussy Riot / Masha Gessen
Whatever you think of their music, there’s something different about this protest avant-garde primitivist art group. Masha Gessen seems to be hip to it. Notice the title’s allusion to a holy mission.
Kaleidoscopic Odessa / Tanya Richardson
This is a great mix of academic and more personal study of this beloved city. I especially like the whole chapter dedicated to the Literature Museum and its founding. It was almost as subversive as that museum out in the far east, where forbidden works were and still are displayed.
“Identity, Power, and a Prayer to Our Lady of Repatriation: On Translating and Writing Poetry” / Khaled Mattawa
Wow, what a great essay. I’m looking forward to more from this series on translation. I especially like how these ideas about translation are making it more primary than American letters has tended to.
“Islands” / Aleksandar Hemon
I love the cicadas “revving” and the cat’s “irreversible hatred.” These seem to generally allude to the division of Yugoslavia into islands, such a significant part of Hemon’s life. But, regardless of the content, even though I spent time on that tiny island in the middle of the lake of Mljet, a place just as haunted as this story depicts, a place very much outside of everything, even with that connection, what is striking here is the physical descriptions, how they suggest the mystery of writing. It seems so simple, the language is so rich. But, of course, nothing is so simple.
“Seymour, an Introduction” / J.D. Salinger
Nothing I’ve read more blurs the distinction between a fictional character and a real-life (or real-live?) one. Salinger makes it not really matter. Same as Márquez, he creates a vacuum around his own voice, and it’s difficult to read with any distractions, difficult not to become sucked in, difficult to be objective when near his words.
Interview with Geoff Dyer (Paris Review, Art of Nonfiction No. 6)
After setting “Seymour” down, I picked up this interview, which goes into the same kind of territory, having to do with this blur between fiction and reality, or in Dyer’s case, nonfiction. So, perhaps that’s how it should be approached. This is a constant difficulty, how much of one’s self to put in a piece of fiction, how much of others, how much to make up, how much to research, how much to include that has no relevance whatsoever. It doesn’t work on a logical level. But at least Dyer is hilarious, “Having read military history I knew how catastrophic was early success.” (Perhaps this isn’t an exact quote, but that kind of goes with the point…)
“Ходите в свете пока есть свет” Льва Толстого
Я рад, что эта повесть не такая, как “Крейцеровая соната.” По крайней мере сначала. Разница в том, что эта больше похожа на притчу, чем на историю, рассказ, роман. Драматических моментов мало. Есть только разговоры и повороты сюжета, восновном. Может быть, что повесть слишком моральный, как жена думает?
Досадно, что нечего больше здесь. Я ожидал что-то новое, что этот старичок бы был появляться христианом, который хотел пытать веру Юлия. Такой досад похож на тот, который я имел после “Крейцеровой сонаты”. Может быть лучшая работа лучших писателей нечайно напсианно.
The Optimist’s Daughter / Eudora Welty
The bathos of the death scene is so figured. Welty is a writer of voices, mainly Southern ones, who fill in the space in a baroque way. Then there’s the bathos of the funeral scene, and that image of the birds lifting off. The voices of the various Southern petite bourgeoisie characters overwhelm Laurel’s. It’s a model for how Welty lets them fill her writing. But then an image such as the birds lifting off in the cemetery reminds you of who you want to listen to.
Then the chapter on her mother, Becky. It’s a feminist text dedicated to fathers of girls. But the “optimist” part of his personality came later, and it was not a good thing, as we might think. The ending makes a reader sure of this. The past is solidified, but we can still have a relationship to memory, and that relationship changes as we do.
“Slow and Steady” by Frank Fucile (Kenyon Review)
This has an interesting technique with the changing of paragraphs. The story slowly dissipates into its objects.
“The Minotaur” / Jan Grue, translated by Becky Crook (Asymptote)
Is the killing in this story that of the Dutch cartoonist? I still can’t figure out why Utrecht. Such a moody and good little story.
There’s Something I Want You To Do / Charles Baxter
My interview with him.
King Matt the First / Janusz Korczak
So far I’m enjoying the dynamic of this story. I read it with my daughter sitting in my lap, so that she can see the book too. Мы тоже читаем на русском, а тогда маме надо править моё произношение.
I love Korczak’s ability to show the naivete of the child, even though it still drives the story, because it’s an understandable naivete.
Somewhere in the middle, I get the feeling that this story is just going as randomly as the mind of a child might. But that’s all right, that’s how it should be. We shouldn’t expect so much sense out of life.
Евгений Онегин Александра Пушкина
Это так весело читать Онегина на русском. То, что хорошо в нём есть видная тёмная сторона естественности человека. Так как он, этот рассказщик, который сочувствует с его Онегином, говорит про женщин наверно значит, что Онегин, может быть и Пушкин, так называемый по-английски ass man. Простите грубость.
Четверостишия LV-LX, глава первая, говорят наоборот, что поэт не Онегин, что он типо меньше Онегина, как каждый рассказщик, наверно, должен быть меньше его персонажей.
Какая прелесть читать Онегина на русском!
“The Passengers” / Tobias Wolff
My students all loved, as I did when I laughed out loud reading it, the idea Wolff’s character has of San Francisco: “…a high-ceilinged room with sunlight coming in through stained glass windows, and a lot of naked people on the floor flopping all over each other like seals.” That’s exactly how it is…to a square outsider.
The Symmetry Teacher / Andrei Bitov
Here’s my review.
“Enemies” / Anton Chekhov
This story has always intrigued students I’ve had. It’s interesting to see where people’s feelings lie, whether they understand the characters. I pick it precisely for this reason, for Chekhov’s deft story of how good people can come to hate one another and the beauty of human sorrow.
“Errand” / Raymond Carver
Many students didn’t like this as much. But, for me, it suggests that Carver might have had a late blooming that the world truly missed out on.
“A Story by Maupassant” / Frank O’Connor
Another favorite that I feel like is best understood in an American context, even though it’s Irish here.
Sankya / Zakhar Prilepin
Read Of Translation and Politics in Russian Literature.
The Flamethrowers / Rachel Kushner
I had to return to this last night. Throughout I can hear the way Kushner reads, her voice, the soft retreat of Reno (so far at least).
She has lots of big paragraphs. You can lose yourself in that open female wonder.
The middle chapter, the one of the Kastles’ party, has some strange moments where dialogue and narrative blend, not necessarily in the way indirect discourse does. I’m hoping for the return to the traveling Reno, to the motion of the first half of the Reno parts.
I can’t seem to put this book down despite so many other obligations. I love the detail, now the insights into the various characters are all coming home to roost.
SPOILER ALERT: I know women like Reno, who, scorned once, never return. Would I be a woman like that? For some reason, I wonder if it matches with the quiet and impressionable Reno, the girl looking at Sandro with wide-eyes?
It’s done, sadly. I finished it without looking back. I couldn’t help myself. The end was very clean, without drama, just that idea of waiting. It sounds like it was a nice place to wait. And I couldn’t. I had to go on. I like the ending essay about the photographs and making New York a character who is fully realized and beyond any other thematic tropes.
On Writing Fiction / David Jauss
As if I have time to do so, I snuck in a quick whiskey-sipping read late last night of one of Jauss’ essays in this volume. Ever since I read his article on characterization in the Writer’s Chronicle, I’ve been interested in this. But I didn’t see “Homo Fictus” here. I also haven’t read any of Jauss’ fiction. But unrelated to “Stacking Stones,” an essay about arranging story collections, I started to rearrange sentences according to his idea that a lack of variety can give a stultifying feeling.
“How It Was Done in Odessa” / Isaak Babel
This story is still weird, after years, in English, it’s still weird. There are many layers, people speak in rabbinic proverb, and the fright of people running “as if from a fire” sends spooky spiders tingling down my spine.
“Barnburning” / William Faulkner
I’ve always loved this villainous old coot. Now I think I’ve gotten through. He’s a thief, without sides, only subverting the system, a black-blocer before the turn of the 20th century. He has solidarity with blacks in the South rather than disdain for them. Check out what he says about sweat.
“Root Worker” / Edward P. Jones
This story has always stood out to me, perhaps because it’s Jones with a little bit of Southern mysticism. Of course, it’s done subtly enough that my students ask whether there were really any witches at all. It all has to do with that scene looking down the garden, which I suspect is out of “Rappaccinni’s Daughter”.
Подросток Савенко Эдуарда Лимонова
I just came to what seems like the climax, the scene where he reads his poetry. I’m hoping things will start wrapping themselves up, and there’s more to this than his hunt for money$$$.
The gang-rape (хором, as Limonov puts it) scene at the end of this book is incredibly difficult to read. The teenager doesn’t seem to realize how horrible an event he’s witnessing, and you suddenly become aware of the depravity of life for Soviet youth at that time, at least for this one (not to categorize). This is likely what makes the book unique among memoirs, how raw it is in exposing life on the fringes, (yes, Kharkov I consider a fringe) of the Soviet territory. The frame of reference is so different than anything an American youth, even from the same period, knows, except perhaps for those who have grown up in American ghettoes.
Read Of Translation and Politics in Russian Literature.
“Sonny’s Blues” / James Baldwin
I’ve always loved this story, always loved teaching it, and the students also seem to love it. The family relationships, the jazzing up of an old Blues story, perhaps the original, the failed intervention, reminding me of Frank O’Connor’s “A Story by Maupassant”. Even inspiration for The Birthday Party’s “Sonny’s Burning”.
“Writing American Fiction” / Philip Roth
It’s good to hear a little bit of Roth the vicious critic. But what if writers don’t agree with the politics he’s discussing here?
“Tapka” / David Bezmozgis
There’s something of Babel in this. The ending takes it to a different place, deep into the childhood guilt.
Actually, this story led me to dive into the whole collection. Here’s my review of his latest with mention of this collection.
“Run, Rudolph, Run” / Denis Johnson
A friend mentioned this essay as an example of how there is often a disconnection between liberal Americans, often from cities out of touch with rural areas, and the people from those areas. I remembered growing up in Alabama, and I was particularly interested in this essay because of a story I was writing about my memory of the 1998 Birmingham abortion clinic bombing committed by Eric Rudolph. As an essay writer, I find Johnson pretty clear and sharp. On the other hand, as somebody who has lived in Alabama, not necessarily in a rural area, but who has known people who do live in such areas, the cut-and-dry distinction drawn by this essay and by my friend is more complicated than either of them would like to believe. It seems more for the benefit of spooking some liberals and adding to the abundance of stereotypes of the crazy redneck South that they have. Sure, neither side are talking to each other. But this isn’t anything new, and this disconnect exists in almost every culture. I think it might even be worse in most places. I think the liberal “side” here is a lot closer to the other “side” than liberals tend to think or want to believe. Anyways, the “check your privilege” message could also lead to a “check your family tree” or “check your history.” Benjamin would have something to say about the idea that there is a large class of people who have moved beyond the kind of life rural people live. The very idea that they can constitute another side is problematic. For instance, where’s all the liberal outrage about the death penalty or the appalling conditions of our prisons? (back at ya)
“Today I’m Yours” / Mary Gaitskill
The story of a beautiful love affair. I don’t think anybody writes about uneasy sexuality better than Gaitskill
Love in the Time of Cholera / Gabriel García Márquez
Yes, I’ve finally gotten around to starting to read this, so long after Gaby’s death. I read him first in high school, and this feels the same, another one of his novels, wading into the details. That parrot who catcalls the servant girls…
All the connections made based on physical objects. Now I know what T.S. Eliot’s “objective correlative” is. In this case it also makes connections between objects.
Márquez seems to be able to create symbols out of objects. Mostly, I’m thinking of what he’s doing with almonds at the beginning. The narrative is seamless, flowing through and giving the illusion that everything is unbreakably united, a very safe and magical world. Okay, I get it…”magical realism”. But, I never realized that he was making the magic before.
“Emergency” / Denis Johnson
The students had an amazing take on the Vietnam War’s relation to this story.
“No Place For You, My Love” / Eudora Welty
Yet again, just a bee-youtiful story of New Orleans. My students liked the alligator on the chain leash, or at least I like to pretend they liked that.
“The Nature and Aim of Fiction” / Flannery O’Connor
I reread this essay, or lecture, around the same time that I read it last year. I thought then to use it for my writing class, the same one I’ll teach this year. But it’s so bleak. It makes a writer feel…unworthy. But the principles, the ideas, the concrete matter so important to fiction, all of it is here. Also, here is the religious sense of writing, the idea of something, a mystery I suppose, beyond the hard born words you’ve written, erased, rewritten, and imprinted on the paper.
Night of Pure Breathing / Gerald Fleming
Jerry’s book has got me enthralled. I’m reading it on the train platform as the train is passing at 40mph 5 feet away from me. I’ve watched Youtube videos of this guy read, so I can hear him reading the poems. I agree that “prose poems” is not a grandiose enough term for what he’s doing here.
“Country Living” / Zoe Abramson (Fiddleblack #17)
This is a nice little story that helps me keep in mind upcoming events.