Another month in the can. Lasts two weeks I wasn’t reading like I supposed to, please don’t yell at me Dad, I’ll work harder, I promise. It’s hot here in LA. It’s probably hot where you are likewise. Maybe you noticed the world is on fire? Try and put out whatever you can.
· Cigarettes After Sex sound exactly like their name would indicate.
· Warren Zevon has some of the most vivid, apocalyptic lines in all of pop music – even his outtakes are fabulous
Books I Read
The Late Mattia Pascal by Luigi Pirandello – When an amiable reprobate is incorrectly identified as a suicide, he sees an opportunity to escape his awful wife and the horrid tiny Italian town in which he lives, only to discover himself isolated and empty without his network of obligatory relationships. I did not like this book as much as I anticipated, or to the degree that Pirandello’s reputation merits. I found it a pleasant idle, occasionally humorous but bluntly I couldn’t quite see what the fuss is about. I’ll pick up another by Pirandello down the line and see if I can out which of us is at fault here.
The Chill by Ross McDonald – Lew Archer’s hardened moral super-man investigates a byzantine network of family relations and tragic back stories. All of them basically have this plot, but I thought this one was simpler, harder, and better written. Like this little gem-
…”It’s really amazing, you know? You really can make a decision inside yourself. You can decide to be one thing or the other.”
The only trouble was that you had to make the decision every hour on the hour. But he would have to find that our for himself.
What the shit have you written today, you two-bit penny-scribbling hack?
Norwood by Charles Portis – A well-meaning hick travels to New York City in pursuit of a 70$ debts, with various misadventures arising en route. Very funny, like everything else Portis writes, though my absolute and unswerving commitment to honesty in all things compels me to admit I do wish Portis demonstrated a bit more ambition in this and last month’s Dogs of the South, both of which are kind of lacking in plot or even much by way of point.
Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes – Look, man, they can’t all be fucking experimental narratives and lost classics of world noir, OK? Sometimes you just want to read some dirt about one of your favorite childhood rock and roll stars. Juicy gossip being my only real barometer for celebrity memoir, I would say this was fine, but not as good as Keith Richard’s autobiography (Why did all these fires keep cropping up around Keith? Poor bastard!). It did make me really want to nab a copy of Wildflowers on vinyl, though.
The Siege of Trencher's Farm by Gordon M. Williams – An effeminate American professor and his shrewish, beautiful wife, find themselves besieged by inbred English peasants. It can be a thin line between examining our instincts for violence indiscriminately glorifying in them, and this taught little thriller, the basis for the Peckinpah classic Straw Dogs (and, apparently, a no doubt horrible remake), doesn’t quite meet the line. The first three quarters are a razor-sharp dissection of the fears and anxieties which are the core of masculine self-identity, as well as being relentlessly plotted and bitterly funny. But the end wraps the thing up in so neat a package that one almost feels uncomfortable – of course, everyone dreams about saving their wives from rampaging savages – that there are, these days, so few savages (or perhaps so many) is one of the essential problems of modernity, how to excise masculine energy in a healthy rather than self-destructive fashion. Then again, that might be asking a lot of an awfully slender text. Still, the it starts a lot stronger than it ends.
The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan – A polyphonic retelling of the failed Irish rebellion of 1798, which saw a small army of French revolutionaries and Irish militia put down with brutal severity by the English Crown. This is historical fiction in the Raj Quartet mold – no noble charges, no romantic retellings, only desperate men doing the best they can under terrible circumstances. Flanagan has some fine prose, and each of the many viewpoints – from Lord Cornwallis to a roaming poet/schoolteacher – feel honest and fully fleshed. It goes on for quite a while, but then, it is historical fiction, that’s kinda to be expected.
Heed the Thunder Jim Thompson – Chronicling the downfall of the Fargo family, the Snopes of Kansas, basically, inbred, amoral, fiercely loyal to clan. A lot of what would make Thompson what Thompson was (one of the greatest American noir writers of the 20th century, which is to say, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century) is on display in this, his first book and to the best of my knowledge the only attempt he made at ‘literary’ rather than ‘genre’ fiction. His prose is brutally mean but very funny, and his lived experience shines through the pages. Also here is the stark moral outlook which a lot of reviewers seem to have missed—on the front cover the New York Review of Books proclaims ‘Thompson’s books are palpably evil..’ which is both 1) not really a compliment and 2) completely untrue, indeed so obviously and clearly untrue that one wonders if whoever reviewed this bothered to read the damn thing. Thompson is not a nihilist, not at all – Thompson is moralist, albeit one concerned with the doings of very bad, very sad people, people who inevitably get their tragic and miserable end. Heed the Thunder functions clearly and unambiguously as a critique of American capitalism, indeed of the American way of life, which Thompson (with uncomfortable accuracy) identifies as, basically, an obsessive desire to get yours before your neighbor gets his. It’s not a perfect first novel, but it is very good, well worth the time of any fan of Flannery O’Connor or rural gothic generally.
Compulsory Games by Robert Aickman – Aickman is a fabulous, inventive, peculiar writer, and this collection of his short fiction is so good I’m going to write a paragraph talking about what I don’t like about it. Aickman’s pattern in most of these are, basically –> individual in a highly charged emotional situation + uncanny or surreal situation = mysterious denouement which deliberately fails to clarify things. Sometimes this works marvelously, with the peculiar subtleties of each story’s theme submerged in rhyming narrative madness. Other times I felt like the climax was too vague to live up to the full potential of the set-up, and some vary good set-ups are kind of ruined for want of a clearer, sharper focus. None of which should detract from the first part (and most relevant) part of this capsule review, which is to say that Aickman is excellent, and these are a good way to frighten yourself to sleep one stormy evening.