It’s Bradford Morrow’s birthday, today, and so I decided to spend the day reading The Uninnocent, his collection of gothic fictions, a book limning life’s many shadows, whether caused by illness, madness, pain, loss, or death.
It was Curt White who told me to read it. In workshop, he stressed the importance of having a good hook—the reason being, once you’ve captured the reader’s attention, you can get away with just about anything—a good strategy for experimental fiction.
He also said that Travesty had one of the best. Here are its opening four paragraphs:
This month the Big Other Book Club is reading Travesty by John Hawkes. Everyone is welcome to write a post about Travesty or Hawkes. It is 132 pages and out of the handful of books of his I’ve read, the most accessible.
John Hawkes’ short novel Travesty presents a monologue of a person driving an automobile who plans to deliberately crash the car into a farmhouse because his wife and daughter are lovers of his friend Henri. Henri and his daughter are with him. The collision is expected to occur within 100 minutes. – Conte (below)
A few resources:
Design and Debris: John Hawkes’s Travesty, Chaos Theory, and the Swerve by Joseph M. Conte
All That Remains: On the Fiction of John Hawkes by Daniel Green – it looks at Travesty, as well as The Lime Twig and Second Skin
Start Suffering – my appreciation of Hawkes, focused on The Lime Twig, with links to other sources
How can I contain myself? (But perhaps the question is: how could Gass both contain and not contain himself to have done what he did?) Having had The Tunnel to go back to every morning was like having the one you love next to you, to be transfixed and freshened, to be, as that worthy words man said, surprised by joy and impatient as the wind. (First post on approaching The Tunnel)
In the end (and there can’t be an end to such a work that reverberates on itself and the whole of literature, philosophy, and history), Gass’s explication of Kohler’s consciousness is all tongue, all logos, but a logos of the highest order. Is there pity and terror? Is there sentimentality? Many monsters have their sweet side and though some have called Kohler a monster, I would just call him a guy who tells the truth of his story, no matter the lies of old age one tells to lessen the pains of the past. At the center of his thoughts is the idea of the fascism of the heart, with Kohler himself as the case study. He gives us his life in many slices of pie (sugar and sweets, such as ice cream and cake abound in the book). He also heaps us with shit, with the staged, and with something surfacely sentimental, but wholly human:
“You suffer The Lime Twig like a dream. It seems to be something that is happening to you, that you want to escape from but can’t.”
– Flannery O’Connor
The stakes get raised again. After reading John Hawkes’s The Lime Twig I’m of a mind with Louise Glück lines from “Mock Orange”:
And ‘odor’ is a very apt word. I’ve never read a book where there were so many scents, so much olfactory maneuvering. Here the narrator speaks of the femme fatales sent to distract the married Michael Banks:
The smell of women–girlish, matronly–and the smell of meat sauce were the same. As soon as it spread across his plate it went to his nostrils and they might not have bothered with their clothes, with procrastination. (150)
The votes are in, and the winner of the poll for the first book to be discussed in the Big Other Book Club is Tom McCarthy’s C. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, hailed by many and knocked by maybe even more, McCarthy describes the book as dealing with technology and mourning. I’m excited to have, as our first book for discussion, a contest finalist that’s merit has been argued. All the more fuel for our discussion. I’ll start reading quite soon, and begin posting questions, comments and death threats in January.
In the mean time, here’s the rest of the schedule for 2011:
January: Tom McCarthy C
February: Mary Caponegro The Complexities of Intimacy
March: Manuel Puig Betrayed by Rita Hayworth
April: Stanley Elkin Searches and Seizures: 3 Novellas
May: Djuna Barnes Nightwood
June: Lyn Hejinian My Life
July: John Barth The Sotweed Factor
August: Gordon Lish Peru
September: John Gardner and John Maier translation of Gilgamesh
October: John Hawkes Travesty
November: Helen Vendler Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries
December: Mo Yan Big Breasts and Wide Hips
Much is being written on the cutting edge publications happening right now, but I’d like to produce a series of posts here that addresses texts from the past that I feel have been either lost or forgotten or ignored. My hope is that by resurrecting them they might inspire the contemporary generation.
Obviously, there will be those of us who are familiar with some of these recovery projects. I anticipate comments like “How is Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872) a recovery project? – everybody knows that book” or “Who hasn’t read Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764)? My goal is not to uncover unpublished manuscripts; my goal is to bring books from the past back into contemporary conversation.
Those two examples above are from centuries ago, but I also want to revive more recent books that seem to have somehow went under the radar. For instance, I can imagine doing a Recovery Project post on John Hawkes. It always saddens me to hear that so few people have read his work.
Anyway, I’m thinking this might be an interesting addition to Big Other. (I will, of course, contribute other posts on other things, too, but this project seems particularly interesting to me right now.) Any suggestions you might have for potential recovery projects would be greatly appreciated…the more that can be brought back to life the better!