Posts Tagged ‘1970s’

It pains me to be hasty in writing about a book I enjoyed so much, but my immune system’s inability to deal with certain allergens yesterday means that I feel like I’m about to collapse. So just a quick one today.

So, it took what seems to be a long time for me to read any Carver. I love tensile writing, and I love minimalist writing even more. So Carver was always going to be a shoo-in for me. I was already familiar with the Gordon Lish controversy, and the lauded minimalist qualities of the prose resulting from Carver’s relationship with Lish, his one-time editor. Literary drama is always fun, and there are lots of arguments to be made on both sides of that fence. But the results of the Lish/Carver collaboration(?) are powerful and timeless, despite whatever might be said about its ethics.

Some of the stories are very short. ‘The Father’, weighing in at two pages, describes something like a pastoral tableau in which a newborn baby is coddled by its family. When trying to work out who the baby looks like, little Carol decides that it is ‘Daddy’. Yet, when the other girls hear this, they express their confusion: ‘But who does Daddy look like?’ Carver allows the father only one appearance at the end of the story, but his lack of expression and paleness in response to these innocent questions speak volumes.

This is really the genius of Carver: to be able to imply desolation without so much as typing a ‘d’. He’s the biggest shower-not-teller I’ve ever read. Carver’s simple sentences seem to play tricks. Straightforward (‘I had a feeling tonight.’); vernacular (‘I’m getting jealous, Rudy says to Joanne.’); and barely touching a 4 on the affect scale, there’s nothing flashy to the discrete parts of language that make up the stories. Neither are there any ‘big bang’ moments; as far as we can tell, these are either in the past or future. Carver places his characters on a cliff which is crumbling from underneath. Woven together, the words, sentences and paragraphs create portraits that would seem mild but for the ellipses and cathexes Carver is able to evoke. Will You Please Be Quiet, Please depicts, over and over again, the inanition of small town American life.

Extra points: Geoffrey Wolff’s review in the New York Times from 1976.

Italo Calvino has always been kind of a Holy Grail author for me. You know, “one day I’ll read him, and it’ll be awesome.” Everyone else seemed already to have been inducted into the Calvino Readers Hall of Fame. Meanwhile I was just hanging around, checking into Young Adult hotels and digging an interminable Literary Classic hole (it goes all the way to China). But it wasn’t like I hadn’t tried reading this book before. My beloved (whose book collection is smaller but more respectable than mine) has a copy from when he’d read it 8 years ago. On my first attempt, I found the first couple of pages too clever-clever, like the person you never sat next to in university classes.

You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice–they won’t hear you otherwise–”I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!”

I like a tricksy literary conceit as much as the next girl, but Calvino be damned if he thought this would charm me. Ok, so he clearly had a handle on the context of modern, even postmodern, reading. But I was tired and didn’t want to go to Overtly Self-Referential Narrative land, so I tossed it aside.

Skip a couple of years, and three of my friends were reading, or had lately read Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Something fun and good was happening in their brains, and I wanted in. Again I forced myself through the first pages (they serve a purpose but with some vulgarity, possibly the only false notes in the novel) and to my surprise I was quickly in love. Though If on a winter’s night a traveller is assiduously metafictional, its assays are preternaturally acute, and playful to boot.

The protagonist is a Reader who is not dissimilar to you. You are putatively reading the same book as he is, after all. But are you as committed, seduced, overwhelmed by the pleasures of reading? To follow Calvino’s Reader through his Arabian Nights-style journey (feminists be appeased or outraged, there is a female Other Reader) is to turn the mirror on one’s own most cherished experiences of reading. The book is intellectual, yet intimate; Calvino balances the esoteric with the congratulatory to make the reader feel like a distinguished accomplice.

Guess what? It’s a bonafide

Diamond TextDiamond TextDiamond TextDiamond TextDiamond TextDiamond TextDiamond TextDiamond TextDiamond TextDiamond TextDiamond TextDiamond Text
Diamond TextDiamond TextDiamond TextDiamond TextDiamond Text

Recommended for: (and I might be overstating this, but) people who love books stupid.