Monday, October 30, 2006
Maybe I’m being too analytical, or maybe I’m revisiting my graduate school classes, but I read Philip Roth’s Everyman as some sort of companion piece to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. They couldn’t be farther apart in style or subject matter, but still, somehow, the themes are the same. They both concern the oncoming, unavoidable death. The men of both novels know that it is coming, that it is only a matter of time, but they both want desperately to stave off the event. The nameless man of The Road wants both to save his son and take him with him when he goes. In Everyman, the protagonist wants the security of his daughter’s company while also wants to spare her from witnessing the ravages of old age.
Everyman is a short book that skips all the details and exemplifying that could have made it a full-length and maybe more fulfilling novel. We are simply given his feelings, his thoughts. In this way, it is a very superficial book. Our theme overall may be dark, but Roth doesn’t delve into it in any way that illuminates the idea. It seems to me it is a book about old age written by a man who feels himself growing older but has yet not discovered the way to express the wealth of fear and the rapid changes aging brings.
Friday, October 27, 2006
- Sometimes I think they float these things just for the fun of it: Rising star Obama weighs White House run
- As if things are good now, GOP losses could spark partisan warfare
- I wonder how much they had to pay a 69-year-old priest living in Malta to confess to “only fondling” Rep. Mark Foley: Fla. church probes priest tied to Foley
- Be prepared for the losers in these elections to claim voter fraud because of Electronic Voting Machines—some of them will be right: Electronic Voting Machines Could Skew Elections
- Because there are so few, President Bush Meets with Organizations that Support the United States Military in Iraq and Afghanistan
- After taking months of abuse for this, Bush Abandons Phrase 'Stay the Course' on Iraq
- Because the press is really to blame for everything that’s going wrong in Iraq, Lawmaker faults CNN for sniper video
- Rush, as per usual, gets to the heart of the matter by accusing Michael J. Fox of exaggerating Parkinson’s symptoms in ads supporting stem cell research: Limbaugh on the Offensive
- Some back and forth over Iraq reveals fundamental trouble. First, US Generals announced “benchmarks,” better known as timetables, for the Iraqi government to control violence (General May Call for Increase in U.S. Troop Levels in Baghdad ). Then the Iraqi prime minister said, no, no—we’re a sovereign nation and no one’s making us do anything (Iraqi Leader Disavows U.S. Timetable). Then the President had to come out in a surprise press conference to find the middle ground, but really just wound up depressing everyone (Bush Offers Sobering Assessment on Iraq ).
- The hot button issue for the week involves a ruling by the NJ Supreme Court on the issue of gay marriage: New Jersey takes step toward same-sex marriages. And the NY Times puts some perspective on it: G.O.P. Moves Fast to Reignite Issue of Gay Marriage
- Oh, and to those writers who might consider running for political office someday, what you write WILL be used against you. Just ask Jim Webb: Webb on sex passage recital: 'It's smear after smear'
Ford's reading was inspirational. It was enjoyable to hear him read, particularly because he read a section of his new novel The Lay of The Land that had been excerpted in the New Yorker. Ford is funny. Or should I say, his character Frank Bascombe is funny. To hear Ford read it really brought out the humor, along with the exasperated cynicism. What was more inspirational was his ability to answer audience questions with thorough and honest answers. He said that young authors should not be afraid to fill their novels with everything they can do. The writer's whole wealth of knowledge should be allowed into the book. This is important, but it leads, I think, to a problem that I think Ford has of putting everything into a novel and walking away quite empty. It probably leads to some of the problems that Michiko Kakutani sees with the novel.
And, of course, it was good to brush fame, to shake the man's hand and share a few words.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
This novel showcases many of Mr. Ford’s gifts: his ability to capture the nubby, variegated texture of ordinary life; his unerring ear for how ordinary people talk; his talent for conjuring up subsidiary characters with a handful of brilliant brushstrokes. But it is a padded, static production, far more overstuffed with unnecessary asides and digressions than its predecessors. Nearly every minute of these three days in Frank’s life is chronicled in this nearly 500-page volume, which means that the reader has to hear about every time he needs to visit the men’s room, every time he gets in his car, every time he has a phone conversation.
I'm going to buy the book just to spite her.
Mr. Bush, this is the—what? – 100th plot your people have revealed, that turned out to be some nonsensical misunderstanding, or the fabrications of somebody hoping to talk his way off a water board in Eastern Europe?Good work, Keith. Keep it up.
If, Mr. President, this is the kind of crack work that your new ad implies that only you and not the Democrats can do, you, sir, need to pull over and ask for directions.
Monday, October 23, 2006
I recently read A Farewell to Arms and in many ways I was reminded of the war sections of that book while reading The Road. Not only are we looking at, in both, the ability of man to persevere even when all hope is gone, but one scene in The Road of the man considering hiding out in a barn seemed so reminiscent of a similar scene in A Farewell to Arms that I had to read it as some sort of tribute. Also we could look at the one image of hope in McCarthy’s novel as also taken from Hemingway, as Jennifer Egan notes in her essay “Men at Work” from Slate.com.
The comparisons to Hemingway end there. The language of The Road may be verbose, more descriptive, but this is much bleaker than anything I’ve read by Hemingway. McCarthy, through repetitive struggles, similar scenes and the perpetual ash, pushes the reader into feeling some of the hopelessness felt by his characters. The lack of chapter breaks in the novel also helps to force us along. I made the mistake of often reading the book before bed and I fell asleep then with the images of burn and barren, ash-covered landscapes and the feeling that someone was always behind me, following, just out of sight.
If we measure a book by its staying power, the way it continues to haunt and linger, The Road surpasses many other books. If I’m asked, though, whether I “like” the book, I might not be able to answer convincingly in the affirmative.
Despite its hand-cut, standard paper format, this rejection received last week from Santa Monica Review for my story "The Disguise" is one of the best worded rejections I've seen. It may be a form-letter, but they are really trying not to make me feel bad. In case the picture resolutions is bad, here's the full text:
We don't know of anyone who hasn't had work returned at one time or another, but that certainly doesn't make it any easier. We hope you will find some consolation in the individuality of editorial tastes and in the assurance that, with persistence, good work will be recognized as such.
Thank you for trying us.
Ah, so nice, but what really says is that there's no accounting for taste, and if your story's good someone, somewhere will like it. Thanks.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
- Election season is scandal and probe season: Weldon faces probe on daughter's deals
- How does an elected official plead guilty of crimes directly related to his elected position and not resign that same day? Ney pleads guilty, says he'll resign
- How does the White House spokesman get away with campaigning for Republicans? Bush’s Press Secretary Is Raising Money, and Some Eyebrows
- This may be the headline, but let’s remember that the Republican opponent is also the Ohio Secretary of State (the one who guaranteed Ohio for Bush and delivered in 2004) and governs elections: Democrat leads in Ohio governor's race
- I can’t even begin to go into all that is wrong with this: Bush Signs New Rules to Prosecute Terror Suspects
- Former staffer for the White House Office of Faith Based Initiatives (don’t get me started on what’s wrong with that in general) has come out with a book claiming that the White House was only looking to take advantage of Christian voters: Kuo: White House 'Seduces Christians'
- The undersell continues with a slew of pundits claiming a potential GOP loss in one or both houses, but beware—this is how they do it. Just ask Bush and Rove: White House Upbeat About GOP: Self-Assurance of Bush, Rove and Others Is Not Shared by Many in the Party
NOTE: The current issue has a story by Steven Schwartz that I'll have to buy the issue to read.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Man allegedly climbs White House fence
Around 6:30 p.m. EDT, Alexis Janicki, 24, jumped the fence, said Secret Service spokeswoman Kim Bruce. He was immediately apprehended by the Secret Service uniformed division and taken into custody.
Let me tell you, late at night, that fence doesn't look too high.
Monday, October 16, 2006
New Yorker fiction: Joyce Carol Oates’s “Landfill”
I could put aside the ripped-from-the-headlines aspect of this story except that it is told (at least the first half or so) in a reportage style. We have facts, laid upon fact, laid upon speculation. We are given no scenes and no real dialogue until late in the story. At the halfway point I was still waiting for the story to start.
Oates is a very talented writer and I have no reason to think that she slapped this one together and the New Yorker printed it on her name alone (although we could spend much more time on how the New Yorker does choose its stories). We get some impressions from the dead son, more memorable ones from his college roommates, but the story really belongs to his mother, Mrs. Campos. During the three weeks before they find her son’s body, she is doing her best to hold onto hope, despite the look on her husband’s face and despite the fact that she knows better. The story begins to move here and we understand her struggle, though Oates dues burden the reader with the all the hopes and fears she had for her son.
What makes the story work, really click, and sustain in memory is the image, the desire and hope in the last paragraph:
Unconsciously caressing her left breast, holding her left breast in her right hand—how like a sac of warm water it is, or warm milk—and, on the brink of a dream of surpassing beauty and tenderness, Mrs. Campos shuts her eyes. Why does Mr. Campos never caress her breasts anymore? Why does Mr. Campos never suck her nipples anymore? Mrs. Campos runs her thumb over the large soft nipple, stirring it to hardness, like a little berry. She is driving back from the city, driving back from ugly Detroit to Whispering Woods Estates, such joy, such pride, turning into the brick-gated subdivision off Southfield Road, making her way floating along Pheasant Pass, Larkspur Drive, Bluebell Lane, and, at last, to Quail Circle, where, in the gleaming-white Colonial at No. 23, the Campos family lives.
Her loss makes her aware of her own desire, her need for love. Then Oates follows up, with contrast, by “floating” back into the fact-laden reporting.
I have much too much respect for Oates to be let down by a story, to say that it’s not a very good story, but I didn’t really appreciate it as much as I would have liked. Leave it to that ending though to explain why I am still thinking about it.
Friday, October 13, 2006
- The North Korean nuke test is the big news at the beginning of the week. Everyone is pointing fingers in every which direction for who is to blame for letting the crazies get the bomb. Meanwhile Bush has to try and walk the thin diplomatic line (while still failing to pronounce “nuclear” correctly): Bush comments on N. Korea nuclear test
- A press conference on Wednesday proved nobody bother to correct the President’s pronunciation: Press Conference by the President
- Polls continue to show Republican hopes of maintaining control of the house and senate fading: Democrats' Momentum Mounts
- Last Friday, this one slid under the door: The top aide to Karl Rove, Susan Ralston, who is also former top assistant to convicted criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff. She is supposedly leaving under questions of exceeding personal gift limits, but she was also the one who was hiding the number of contacts Abramoff and his associates had with the White House. I think there’s more there as well, but we’ll likely not learn about it until after the election: White House aide to Rove resigns
- Remember the thing about Sandy Berger stuffing classified documents down his pants? Well, the GOP wants to be sure that they’re not the only one subject to scandals and probes: GOP leaders seek probe of Berger papers
- Aide to Arlen Specter (R-PA) is being investigated for earmarking legislation for her lobbyist husband. How this doesn’t implicate Specter I don’t know: Specter: FBI investigating senate aide
- Dirty Harry Reid (D-NV) is tied up in a questionable land deal; my defense for Reid: it’s how things are done in Nevada: AP: Reid got $1 million in land sale
- Another Abramoff related item, Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) is expected to plead guilty to taking bribes: Abramoff figure Rep. Ney to plead guilty
- And in what will be depressing news for many Democrats, former Virginia Governor Mark Warner has decided not to run in the 2008 presidential election. If he’s opted out this early, I think there’s more than likely a good (scandalous) reason: Warner Decides Not to Run for President
- Finally, just so you don’t think we’ve forgotten about a good scandal, the House Ethics Committee continues to interview pages (Ex-Aide to Foley Testifies of Warning Speaker’s Office) and the President has come to the aid of embattled Speaker Hastert (Bush Joins Hastert at Rally, and Lavishes the Praise).
Thursday, October 12, 2006
I did pause to look at the book while in DC at Politics and Prose, and it is a beautiful book with different colors in the text, the bits upside down, and the different colors of the eyes on the front and back covers. And the website is equally stunning. And then after hearing Danielewski interviewed on Bookworm, the guy is much too smart.
And, damnit, I'll add this one to the reading list as well.
Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk wins Nobel
The selection of Pamuk, whose recent trial for "insulting Turkishness" raised concerns about free speech in Turkey, continues a trend among Nobel judges of picking writers in conflict with their own governments.
Damn, another book to add to my reading list.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Criticism for Joyce Carol Oates
A New Jersey college has called Joyce Carol Oates insensitive, saying that her latest short story, published in the Oct. 9 issue of The New Yorker, resembles the true story of John A. Fiocco Jr., a 19-year-old freshman at the College of New Jersey whose body was found in a landfill in April. Her story, "Landfill," is the tale of a Michigan State University student, Hector Campos Jr., who is forced down a trash chute in a fraternity house and later found dead in a landfill.
"Insensitive?" Using real-world stories for fiction is far from unusual, and I suppose I understand how it might upset some to read a story about a death that resembles a real-life incident, but it is fiction and what requirement is there for a writer to be "sensitive?"
Kiran Desai wins Man Booker Prize
Kiran Desai won the Man Booker Prize for "The Inheritance of Loss", her book
about the difficulties of life in post-colonial India and as an illegal
immigrant, the prize committee announced.
I guess I better finally add this one to my reading list.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Setting off on these classics sets me up for a let down. How is a book likely to live up to all that's been said about it? And then I wonder if I'm likely to not like it simply because so many others have. The book read almost like a caricature of Hemingway, as if a certain style was expected of him, so he fulfilled it. Oh, all this ability was there was well. Most of the story was told with what wasn't said. And what is said beyond the dry simple sentence, simple descriptions, events, even emotions, stands out dramatically. When there is a flurry of emotion and confession we understand tat what is being felt is ten times greater than what is on the page. We are set up for tragedy when their love comes off so strong and practically unhealthy. I thought for sure they were bound for some Raymond Carver-style tragedy, instead we are given a nearly classical tragedy. I can't help but wonder when a story ends like this one about the lessons learned. If he is only to grow more cynical and hateful after this, is that enough? Great heights bring corresponding lows; we must expect that. And what else was he likely to take away? Did I expect him to go back to the bar, order another dozen demi-blondes and sort things out for us on the page? Could we really see him finding hope in all of this? He wasn't a really hopeful sort to begin with. It's not that I disliked the book, but I wonder that because we were set up with the extremes of love, the subsequent violence of war, then the ending is sort of the simplest one possible. Would we accept such an ending these days? Do we not want more from what we read now than we might have then? Maybe a book with such a simple and tragic ending was so stunning in comparison with what was being published at the time. I just do not thin would laud the book in the same way if it was published today.
Friday, October 06, 2006
I just can’t give it up—I’m addicted to politics. The truth is that it gets so damn ugly that we try and ignore it. And the media itself can be so repulsive that we don’t want to pay attention. So, here’s my attempt to distill the week’s events into what’s really important (from my point of view):
- The Mark Foley Scandal is front and center this week and managing to creep everybody out. The congressman resigned last Friday after being confronted by ABC News’s Brian Ross about (let’s say) inappropriate behavior with teenage Capitol Hill pages: Foley Resigns Over Sexually Explicit Messages to Minors
- And do we really think alcohol was to blame? Foley Lawyer Cites Alcohol, Childhood Abuse
- While Speaker Denny Hastert knew early and did nothing and now the conservative Washington Times is asking for his resignation: Resign, Mr. Speaker
- And Denny wants to blame it all on the Dems and Big Media: Hastert defiant in page scandal
- And who thinks this has to do with him being gay? The Wall Street Journal: Paging Mr. Hastert: Could a gay Congressman be quarantined?
- On Wednesday, an ex-aide to Foley, and current aide to another top Republican, resigned and pointed fingers back and Denny, saying he told: Ex-page says he got messages from Foley
- Woodward’s book continues to stir them up while the book soars up the charts. And one of the strongest charges, that CIA chief Tenet met with Condeleeza Rice to let her know of the immediate threat from Al Qaida two months before the 9/11 attacks, turns out to be true: State Department confirms Rice met with Tenet; disputes terrorist threat information
- And the domestic spying program gets a court pass for now: Court temporarily OKs domestic spying
- Bush signed a bill that gave $1.2 billion to build a border fence: Bush signs homeland security bill
- And according to Bush we will all burn in hell-fire unless we vote Republican: Bush ties campaign to national security
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Monday, October 02, 2006
While Shteyngart's essay does little to encourage me to read the new translation, it does encourage me to read Gary Shteyngart, through bits like this:
Oblomov shrugs, but looks at me good-naturedly. “Take me as I am and love what is good in me!” he says, per the book.
“Don’t you see, good sir!” I say. “We are blessed to live in fascinating places in momentous times. You in 19th-century St. Petersburg, and I in early-21st-century New York. We should bestir from our beds and take heed of what surrounds us. In your day there are great thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Fyodor Dostoyevsky; in my day William Bennett and Condoleezza Rice.”
While I'd love to think a book could really turn national thinkiing about the war and the President, I don't hold out (much) hope for such a thing. Even if we were to say that one of the two journalist responsible for bringing down President Nixon is only cashing in on the turning sentiment towards the war, that is significant enough. That Woodward, or his publisher, would know that the public and the book-buying audience is likely to be extremely receptive to such a book tells me something.
It may be a sign and nothing more, but it is one that gives those of us who oppose this President and his foolish war some hope.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Sure, there was a lot of fire in the writing, but it didn't move me that much. It didn't really work well as a novel. Payne was a model character. There is something about these sort of flamboyant screw-ups. I just don't see the appeal. I like them okay as side characters. I can see that this might have been outstanding when it first came out. I can also see how I might have liked this when I was younger, but I expect more from novels now. But maybe I'm still reeling from Suttree.