Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks : Excellent comic book, with multiple levels of narration that don’t make it impenetrable but only add to its charm. The story is set in a town in New Zealand where all the citizens either write comic books or talk about them at the local tearoom. It’s one of those quaint villages full of colorful locals who all know each other. We get samples of comics writing from many of the characters, one of which contains this great bit of dialogue: “Perhaps I missed my true vocation when I became a cartoonist… Maybe I was meant to be a mortician… or else Morrissey.” In its evocation of place, Hicksville reminds me a bit of Night Fisher by R. Kikuo Johnson (Hawaii) and Waterwise by Joel Orff (Pacific Northwest, I think? In any case, its Northwestern-ish locale is well conveyed).
Home Land by Sam Lipsyte : Am I not accustomed to books that bend reality to such a great degree for the sake of humor? I forgive it all the time in movies. Well, I’ve warmed up to this, because (1) the underlying tragedies of the reprehensible narrator’s life start to emerge in pieces fairly early on, and (2) a crucial moment in which he proves himself, with unquestionable logic and great emotion, to be the least reprehensible character in the book. If you haven’t forgiven the book’s absurdity by the time his former high school’s former principal engages in sex with a vacuum, it’s time to give up, and I haven’t given up yet. Here’s my favorite line: “I’d hopped the bus out there to perv on rich wives from Tobias Hills, drop in on Roni’s mother at Slice of Life, cop some snatches of what contemporary amnesiacs call punk rock on those consoles at the record outlet.” Specifically the last part.
No mystery why Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train is such a “seminal text,” if a work of rock criticism can be so named. Just call it an established classic, I guess. The best compliment I can give it is that I now want to start listening to The Band (couldn’t shake the feeling he was actually writing about Fleet Foxes in that chapter) and Randy Newman, and at the same time know that they won’t live up to Marcus’s descriptions. He writes with such authority, which only bothers me when the subject is Sly Stone or Newman’s slave ship fantasy “Sail Away.” If you’re going to start a sentence with, “Young black men began to imitate the movies,” at least insert a “some” or a “maybe” at the beginning. But then, I’ve always been apologetic in my writing.
Other recent reads:
The Strange Case of Edward Gorey by Alexander Theroux : Not very informative Gorey biography, though I suppose it’s the best we’ll ever get. It works fairly well as a character sketch, but is mostly just an endless list of the man’s varied interests. Most of the sentences follow this construction: He liked ____, and also _____! Fill in the first blank with a work of high art, and the second with some low culture junk. The novels of Anthony Trollope and Days of Our Lives? Yep, he liked both of them.
Speaking of, the remainder of Amphigorey was wonderful. I agree with Theroux’s estimation of Gorey as a writer of realism; a story called “The Willowdale Handcar,” in which three bored young people go riding off on a handcar, have some modest adventures, and never return, could not ring truer, in any of its details or in overall effect.
Girl Factory had a characteristically great ending, an unexpected indictment of the American prison system wrapped up in the narrator’s plea to remember his sad tale.
Haunting my bookshelf:
Early William Maxwell novels; Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day; Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters’ Club; William Kennedy’s Ironweed; the rest of James Baldwin; Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin. Can anyone recommend any of these? Is John Wray’s Lowboy as great as they say? Why am I such an undisciplined reader these days? Why do all these authors have such unspectacular names?
Happy birthday to occasional blog commenter Aaron (I still feel guilty for forgetting earlier).