On Lavender-Smith’s From Old Notebooks

If one ever wondered what happened to the guys in high school who sat around reading philosophy and fancying posey, From Old Notebooks (Blaze Vox) gives a good facsimile of what their life might be like in their thirties, married with children and living in the work-a-day world. If the character of Evan Lavender-Smith in the novel, created by Evan Lavender-Smith the writer, is a foil and not the man himself (how could he be? could he?), he is the foil who breathes braggadocio and bile strewn with acid humor, whose sense of self sprouts from swelling loins, shadowing the silver tongue of Joyce, among others.

Lavender-Smith, the writer and character, is something of a rock star in his seemingly effortless riffs and charting of his own craven, absurd existence in short entries, few no longer than fifty words. Though a candy-colored novel of ennui, the book has a case of the bitters, as Lavender-Smith is not afraid to let all the thoughts of his un-American, sport-obsessed, sexed-up protagonist swill the pages:

The more domestic tragedies the United States suffers (9/11, Hurricane Katrina, etc.), the greater the opportunity for the anniversary of tragedy to coincide with Monday Night Football, the greater the potential poignancy  of Monday Night Football.
             Monday Night Football mobilizes this country to feel. (127)

And:

What if I had to choose, under threat of losing one forever, between poetry and pornography? (42)

The story of the novel is the modern day sophist himself who depends on pop culture and the experiences of famous texts, football and fathering, (“Hey hon, wanna smoke some P-O-T and then F-U-C-K?” (113) to color his own absurd thoughts that drag him around, up and down, making him crazy enough pop Wellbutrin. But over all, the rock star show of novel writing wins out, as FON is at heart a critique of pure ego. At times the character wonders how the book FON will be received and wonders about the translation of the title into other languages: “De vieux cahiers. Aus altern Heften. De los Cuadernos Viegos.”

It’s a book for lovers of books–references abound to Joyce, David Foster Wallace, David Markson, Deleuze and Nietzsche–but more pointedly it is a book on what it’s like to write a book in light of the heavyweights, to have a voice but to be unsure of the results produced from an anxiety-laden mind: “Sometimes it seems like I’m really reading when I’m writing and really writing when I’m reading.” (86) This is the sine qua non of the entire enterprise. How is anything really written? Cormac McCarthy, also alluded to in these pages, said that books were made out of other books and it is no truer than in this novel/memoir of thinking about writing a novel, writing a novel and then thinking about what has been written.

Lavender-Smith’s absurdities are both brusque and hilarious: “Some of the world’s finest detectives many work in the field of sprinkler-system repair” (83), irreverent and apathetic “”All this talk of global warming is killing my buzz”” (168), but always laced a with smile of bleeding artifice. Lavender-Smith pulls off this type of book, triumph that it is, easily enough, but one wonders about the next one, if he will write himself back into or out of this mode? This answer is already on the horizon, as Avatar contains no white space, but it contains Lavander-Smith, both writer and foil.

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One thought on “On Lavender-Smith’s From Old Notebooks

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