Friday, February 19, 2010

And quiet flow the links

Over at the Denver Bibliophile, Adlai Jurek studies the tragic element in Roth’s American Pastoral. He says that Nathan Zuckerman is wrong to conclude that “every man’s tragedy” is that “[n]o one is prepared to face tragedy.” No, “man’s greatest tragedy is his distorted perception, for it creates a world that does not actually exist, creating expectations that can never be met by the true world and the hidden truth of the real people in it.” This is deeply untrue to Roth, but as always, Jurek has interesting things to say, even when he himself is wrong.

Perched On the Seawall, Ron Slate reviews two new poetry anthologies—a gathering of Cuban poetry over the past six decades, and a selection of poems on breaking up, which is intended to be “non-therapeutic yet transformative.” I wouldn’t touch the latter with space-suit gloves, but Slate makes a good case that poetry is the only form of free expression (or as free as anything under Communist tyranny can be) in Cuba. “Although all publishing in Cuba is controlled by the state,” he observes, “the state’s literary powers either don’t see a significant threat in most of the new poetry or just don’t care—so long as the poet avoids open dissent and accepts censorship.“

Taking a Leap in the Dark, Richard Marcus introduces Ruby and the Stone Age Diet, the third novel by the Scottish writer Martin Millar, originally published in 1989 and reissued here by Soft Skull Press. (Despite what Marcus says, the novel is not Millar’s “most recent.” Since 1989 he has written six under his own name and eight fantasies in the Thraxas series under the name of Martin Scott.) Ruby and the Stone Age Diet is the tale of an unlikely friendship in the mode, say, of The Second Coming, but with different sympathies.

Although I am only now getting to it, you should really took a look at Brad Bigelow’s rediscovery of Irvin Faust, a marvelously inventive story writer and novelist, which is up at the Neglected Books Page. Faust is an exception to my usual disdain for short stories. His Roar Lion Roar, named a best book of the year by the New York Times in 1965, offers a glittery mosaic portrait of Manhattan in the ’sixties from the perspective of those on the fringe of the city’s life. Faust downplayed his Jewishness, saying that he did not belong in the same company as Bellow and Malamud, but he is an important neglected American Jewish writer nevertheless.

The Amateur Reader continues his investigations into Robert Louis Stevenson, whom he acknowledges is a “professional writer, a hack, although he lived at some distance from New Grub Street.” Edmund Wilson shared this estimate of Stevenson, and could never understand Nabokov’s relish for him. Reading through the appreciations for him at Wuthering Expectations, which began Monday and persevered into Tuesday and Wednesday, one begins to understand why.

Meanwhile, Tim Davis has reached Part Three of his provocative autobiographical reading of Wise Blood. Anyone who plans to teach O’Connor’s novel any time soon ought to bookmark Davis’s commentary. As usual at Novels, Stores, and More, the criticism is not a finished, magisterial pronouncement, but the adventure of an excellent mind working its way carefully through an excellent literary text. Part One in the sequence is here and Part Two, here. Highly recommended.

Persisting in his return to “white-guy-literature” after a self-imposed year-long absence, Andrew Seal glances at The Big Sleep. This follows quick looks at John Le Carré and J. G. Ballard. Apparently, Seal must ease back into the political hegemony by way of “genre fiction.” Of course, the criticism at Blographia Literaria remains stiff with jargon (“Realistic scene-dressing is the provision of quotidian details which, because of their superfluity or excessiveness, demonstrate at least the authorial intention of anchoring the action in reality”), but at least Seal has given up moral preening for a bit.


H.G. Stabler said...

Could you expand on your "usual disdain for short stories"? Why disdain them?

Richard LeComte said...

That's Dr. Faust! He was the head guidance counselor at my high school. He was my mentor for my senior project -- a 70-page novella that had all my friends in it. I've been meaning to revisit his work for years and haven't pulled the trigger yet.

D. G. Myers said...


You really need to write a memoir about your counseling at the hands of Dr. Faust[us].

Start your visit with Roar Lion Roar. I used to have a first edition, but I loaned to a friend—can’t remember who—and never got it back.

D. G. Myers said...


A blind spot or prejudice on my part. That’s all. Nothing principled. They give me a sour stomach. Can’t explain why. Wouldn’t be very interesting even if I could.

Jonathan said...

"Faust is an exception to my usual disdain for short stories".

I had no idea. I guess your thinking through of the Carver/Lish question left me with a different impression. Is there something particular to the form of the short story that you find objectionable? Or, instead, do you merely dislike its practitioners (Of course I mean their writing rather than the authors themselves)?

Making a mental list of short story collections that impress me (Roth, Welty, O'Connor, Cheever, Updike, Chekhov, Carver - along with the good things I've heard of Peter Taylor,J.F. Powers and Guy Davenport), I suspect it's the form you object to. But why?

If you haven't already (and if you have, I can't recall) might there be a post dedicated to this disdain someday?

Jonathan said...

A Sholokhov fan?

I'm learning lots today.

D. G. Myers said...

A Sholokhov fan?

Hardly. His novel is on my mind because of a joke in Bend Sinister. Fleeing the capital, Krug takes David to the country, where they stay with old friends to escape the tyranny of Ekwilism. In the “common bathroom” of the “friendly house” (its only “inhospitable section”), there is a shelf which holds two popular novels: Flung Roses and All Quiet on the Don.

In an Introduction written two decades later, Nabokov explains the joke: “a slight shift in the spectrum of meaning replaces the title Gone With the Wind (filched from Dowson’s Cynara) with that of Flung Roses (filched from the same poem), and a fusion between two cheap novels (by Remarque and Sholokhov) produces the neat All Quiet on the Don.”

I am no Nabokov (“no kidding,” the reader mumbles), but I too enjoy a private literary joke.

Jonathan said...

I like it! Hope I didn't take the fun out of it for you. I hate using punctuation to express emotion, but I was grinning while asking.

R/T said...

Thank you, Professor Myers, for your gracious acknowledgement of my O'Connor articles and my blog. Your endorsement and enthusiasm humbles me.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your kind acknowledgment of my review of American Pastoral.

Jonathan said...

re. Irvin Faust as neglected.

Apparently he isn't sufficiently "notable" to be included in Wikipedia's list of Jewish American authors.

I know, I know - Wikipedia is hardly reliable or indicative of literary merit.

He does, of course, have his own page on Wikipedia but of his Jewishness there is no mention.

Richard LeComte said...

That's the beauty of Wikipedia -- you get to add it yourself. I say go for it.

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Thanks for the reminder about the Wilson-Nabokov exhange. I just wrote a bit about it. The full Wilson quotation is a little more complicated than what you have here, but not fundamentally different. I also give VN's response, or correction, to Wilson.

Gilion at Rose City Reader said...

I am so pleased I found your blog again. I lost my blog roll when I changed my Rose City Reader address. It took me a while to find them all again.