The Road, the Pulitzer

“In a great turnaround, upstart Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, billed as something of an homage to The Omega Man‘s Charlton Heston, whom McCarthy once did stunt-work for, but owing more probably to Walter Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Liebowitz, managed to steal the 2007 Pulitzer for fiction from — “

Okay, sorry. Just figured out that any book I put in there’s either going to be insulting that book or trying to pull down The Road. Neither of which I want to do. And putting Demon Theory there’d be almost as cheap as just mentioning it here.

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Five Most Intense Reads

Which, I’m finding, aren’t at all the same as my five favorite books. Ridiculous, yes? Wish I had some fix for that, or at least an explanation, or suspicion. I mean, it’s kind of presupposing some major disconnect between intensity and . . . I don’t know: appreciation? Revisitability? Not some Pirsig-ish ‘quality,’ I don’t think. But who knows. Anyway, today, were I picking my five favorite-ever books, they’d look something like this:

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After Lazarus

Man, turns out Only Revolutions, at 360 pages, was an easy read, yeah? I mean, as compared to three million pages. But it is Richard Grossman, so maybe three million pages is just the right amount [ see below ]. As some of y’all know, I’m always pushing that seventy-page sentence fragment from his The Book of Lazarus as maybe the most beautiful piece of prose in the English language (like I know any other languages — it just sounds ‘grand’ to qualify it like that, I guess). At least that piece of writing which I’m most jealous of. Anyway, cue the trumpets, here’s the blockquote:

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What I wrote after (finally) reading Ben Marcus’s piece in Harper’s on Jonathan Franzen and experimental fiction

[ the title and the whole piece here may not make much sense–it may not anyway–without cueing into, which, it looks like, may have the orignial Marcus article in PDF ]

Just what is experimental fiction, then?

The easiest definition for experimental or innovative or non-conventional fiction is fiction that, both at armslength and upon closer inspection, doesn’t look or read at all like standard, mainstream, commercial fiction. A more biased definition would be ‘fiction that takes chances.’ The other side of that, of course, would be ‘fiction that doesn’t sell.’ Take them both together, and what you have is ‘Fiction that plays enough with form or language or narrative syntax that, quite often, it loses the audience altogether.’ The ‘innovative’ writer’s response to this will often be that it’s not their job to spoonfeed their story out in easily digestible bites—that the real corruption here is an audience that feels entitled to ‘easy’ stories; the ‘mainstream’ writers will counter that, really, it’s not all that hard to make your story difficult to swallow. The hard part, actually, is making it not only edible, but sweet enough that the reader will want more and more.

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Against the Day

I first read Pynchon when I was twenty-two, I think, between a B.A. and an M.A. The only reason I read him, too, was because I’d hit up a professor I trusted for a list of books I’d need to have read if I didn’t want to get laughed out of grad school. She of course gave me an excellent list — Nabokov, Heller, etc — but, when guiding me through the highs and the lows of all these titles, that professor stopped at Gravity’s Rainbow, said I wanted to stay far away from that one, as it had 500 characters and a storyline for each. Which, I mean, I’d just inhaled all of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky I could, and had a bachelor’s in philosophy in my pocket. So I accepted the challenge, went to the library, dug up a Gravity’s Rainbow and went swirling down into it, taking notes and making marginalia as I went, like I always do (more below), but doing it this time on a slip of paper, as I was going to have to turn this book back in. Years down the road, I’d of course pick up my own copies of GR, and, for a while even, remember which version my little slip of notes went with. But it’s gone now, so I don’t have any record of my first (and, so far, only) read of GR. The experience, though: it did twist my head, lose me, make me grin and leave me laughing, wanting more. So I found V., The Crying of Lot 49 — and this one I have read I don’t know how-many-times — then fell deeper into that hole, hit Vineland and the short stories and every scrap of Pynchonalia I could find, by, about, whatever. I was hooked, a convert, an acolyte. But. To know something about me that first summer I read Pynchon: all I knew then, I think, were sentences. I mean, I’d stumble onto a decent story-ending every now and again, or a nice hook, a nice shuffle between scenes or whatever, but by and large I was having some big romantic affair with language; I read Cormac McCarthy not for the stories, but, first, the vocabulary, and, second, the prose rhythm. And of course Pynchon’s sentences, while not quite as stacked as McCarthy’s when he’s really rolling, still, there’s a different, maybe even more permanent kind of magic there. Because he moves things back and forth at . . . I’ve yet to figure it out, I guess. But it’s a level just above the words.

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The Good, The Bad, and Demon Theory

toxic universe

Looks like, in pre-celebration for TURISTAS1, Demon Theory pulled two reviews this week:


[ click em to hit the rvws ]

Cool places each, though the reviews are kind of opposites of each other.

Anyway, it’s none other than Mike Bracken on the Toxic Universe one. Which, I mean — for my first novel, I remember telling somebody that it would only be complete when I knew that Gerald Vizenor had read it. And then, bam, it was suddenly complete before it was even published: FC2 had somehow got Vizenor to blurb it. About the coolest thing in the world.

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Man is in the Forest

and his freezer’s now spilling over with elk. which is to say dancing days are here again, all that.

and, because all this can’t seem to organize itself any other way, a list:

  • That 32 Poems (Fall/Winter 4.2) with my story “Lunch” is out and about now.
  • Just had “The Sadness of Two People Meeting in a Bar” accepted at Red Rock Review.
  • That end of November reading I was doing at Texas Tech has now been moved, tentatively, to March 1, 2007.
  • WORLD WAR Z rocks. Especially the Megatron footnote; it made my day. As did that . . . I don’t know: ending epigraph? envoy? Very cool (I love you, Mom). As for praise for WWZ: a lot of things I read, I think (or lie to myself, whichever) ‘C’mon, I could have written that.’ Not so with WWZ. Brooks is 6000 times more cued into the geopolitical machine than I can ever hope to be. I mean, if I were going to hijack the conventions of non-fiction (‘literary journalism’ may be the better term here) to tell a patently fictional story, I’m pretty sure I’d still end up localizing it to a neighborhood or something. I mean, all these places he talks about — some of them I recognize from the RISK! board, but most might as well be Mars. Which is my own failing, don’t get me wrong. What I’m meaning to say is, man, I really respect that somebody can both have all that in their brain and still spin out zombie lies. Which I guess reveals my prejudice that the two are supposed to be somewhat exclusive of each other. But maybe that’s precisely the magic of WWZ. Now I’m going to have to go back and read the ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE too, of course. Just in case.
  • Counting down the days until AGAINST THE DAY here. I plan to savor it for three or four weeks, while I’m writing this new horror-thing. Maybe two new horror things. They’re each making a complete and total mess of my head right now.
  • And, was counting down the days until CASINO ROYALE, but it’s here already. All hot to watch FREAK OUT too, which was waiting in my mailbox for me last night.
  • It very much hurts to write with fingertips all sliced to ribbons (skinning all kinds of elk and deer).
  • People at the airport give you plenty of second looks when you stand out front with your hair down and an elk skin wrapped around you (it was cold). But they don’t say anything.
  • Reading now: LISEY’S STORY. And man, it’s a top-notch writer writing at the exact top of his game, near as I can tell. Not a single misplaced word. Cool too having Chabon on the back cover, he of, if I’m recalling correctly, “The Arsonist’s Daughter,” just because in LISEY’S STORY King has “The Coaster’s Daughter.” I also really like his (King’s) “latening skies.” Not sure I’ve ever heard that before, or as well, anyway. Then of course this goes straight to the heart: “Scott takes a book with him everywhere he goes, there are absolutely no exceptions.” Only thing I haven’t liked in it so far (100 pages from the end), is that it makes some quiet fun of wallet chains. Just on principle, of course, I have to resist this kind of humor (though I’ve got to say, searches like this make me question the whole culture of wallet chains . . . ). Anyway, the structure or ‘layering’ of LISEY’S STORY, it’s exactly what I usually hate — flashbacks cutting back and forth with a couple of more time periods — but, man, King, he’s making it sing. And, more important, I suspect it’s one of those rare cases where that ‘layered’/simultaneous way of telling the thing is directly related to the content of the story. Which is cool. It’s why he’s king, I suspect.
  • Friends’ newish books, which I mention not because they’re friends, but because they’re each very strong writers: GOODNIGHT, TEXAS and NEWSWORLD
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    . . . But the Party Never Ends

    the road goes on for five hours

    Bleak. Unremitting. Is to the road trip book what THE HILLS HAVE EYES was to the family vacation movie. And as far as post-apocalyptic stuff goes, Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD makes you see what a happy fantasy A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ was, how tame DR. BLOODMONEY was. That that road in THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER was gold brick.

    Anyway, though this is a non-review like all the others, still, some steering if you’ll take it: read THE ROAD in five hours or less, all in one sitting. That way you don’t have to be sad and/or suicidal for the whole afternoon. Not that it doesn’t stick with you, but, just to sanitize your mind, you can try to poke holes in your memory of it anyway: if the wheelbarrow turns back into a cart for no real reason, does that make this all not real? if the apostrophes aren’t perfectly consistent, does that make THE ROAD a more constructed thing? Not really, no. It is fun to try to resist it, though, this book. To say it’s all just set-up — that, in a landscape this dark, even a spark seen from miles away can be enough to melt your heart once and forever. That it’s all about that spark, really.

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    Torn to Pisces (by that Leftwrist Twist)

    OR via Amazon

    everyone dreams the dream
                      but we are it

    It’s like a word problem: If two ribbons, one gold one green, approach each other at a rate of eight pages at a time in a three hundred and sixty page book, will they ever meet? Because of course one-eighty isn’t a multiple of eight — you’re either four short or four over. Which kind of makes it a double-true middle, yeah, and, as you get closer and closer to it, can tell it’s going to be a hinge, a whirlpool, a peak, it gets hard not to cheat and page ahead. But wait if you can — it’s a weird tension to have a in book, right? Waiting to get to the exact middle? That’s ONLY REVOLUTIONS for you, though: all the conventional trappings of reading, the things we take for granted, don’t even acknowledge anymore, haven’t since never, Danielewski takes them away and then reimagines the book for us. Not ‘story’ or ‘narrative,’ but that simple up/down=>linear thing that we maybe all assumed was just the way things were, and should be.

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