The more I delve into Caponegro’s art, the more I see an anthropologist at work–a Joycean scientist who curls bright, unexpected words (like “obnubilating”) around common and uncommon questions of heritage, soul and civilization. Anthropologist but also philosopher–a Plato with the vocabulary of Keats. Consider this sentence of “The Mother’s Mirror,” a story of a family, but more an investigation into how the family keeps itself apart (written in first person plural, an incredibly apt tense for Caponegro’s investigation):
Perhaps we keep our disappointment to ourself or perhaps we voice it, and once articulated, it is all too seductive to make a ritual of the words, as if they were beads of a rosary and we gathered by each repetition indulgences instead of alienation. (32)
Lamentation in Art: Giotto's "Lamentation over Jesus" 1305-6
The first story in Mary Caponegro’s book we are reading for February is “The Daughter’s Lamentation.” Caponegro follows the word to its root, as this “story” is more lamentation; that is a song, poem or piece of music that laments–expresses grief or regret.
The daughter, unnamed, is a women who has returned to her family house on the largest of the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York. She is the only “loyal sibling” to her father, a widower and architect of some renown. The woman spends a good part of the story recounting her childhood: her sad and weary mother, as well as the pedantic father who took the family all over the world to look at architectural wonders, including Stonehenge, the Pyramids and the Eiffel Tower. Early on she says, “It is customary, is it not, in times of loss or instability, to cultivate an intimacy with memories?” (12) But there is a tint she cannot take from these memories and Caponegro subtly builds a menace into the story. Throughout she also recollects her early history as a ballerina and soon images from that past pop up: “…one is always leaping up from or into the arms of a man who sex is trapped in a stocking, like the squeezed face of a thief.” (15) Something else is going on as the story seesaws between paragraphs about the now quiet and decaying house on the lake the father built (and his loneliness in old age as he roosts there) and a childhood with a man part bully and part something much more terrifying.
This month we will be reading The Complexities of Intimacy by Mary Caponegro. It’s a book of 4 short stories and a novella. I will be posting on each story. Let’s try to do the first three short stories in the next ten days. The 120-page novella we can examine in the second half of this month. A wonderful resource is her Bookworm interview about this book.
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
Writing the title of this post actually felt very silly; it seems such an arbitrary way of gathering a list of writers to look out for. What could be sillier than singling out writers in this way, according to their age? Surely, there are more worthy criteria. Well, there is an answer to what could be sillier than singling out over forty writers over forty to watch, namely, singling twenty writers under forty to watch, especially largely mainstream writers writing, for the most part, conventional and redundant fiction. And the New Yorker has done just that. But this isn’t surprising. Theirs is an idea once again institutionalizing, reinforcing our decayed culture’s obsession with youth, not to mention its eyes wide shut wallowing in mediocrity. So, not only have they missed, for the most part, who are the best fiction writers under forty to watch, but, with their unapologetic valorization of youth, they missed entirely. The following writers (and I include poets, essayists, and theorists among them) are writers who have consistently written great work. I anticipate great things from each of them in the years and years to come. With full awareness of how a corrective sometimes ironically and paradoxically legitimizes what it seeks to correct, here, in the order in which I thought of them, are over forty writers over forty whose work I will be busy watching.
Tonight the first Soda Series: Writers in Conversation will take place at Soda Bar with Dawn Raffel, David Peak, Ana Božičević and Edward Mullany reading and conversing with you, the audience.
On Monday June 14th at Pacific Standard Bar in Brooklyn, a Big Other extravaganza will be taking place with games, prizes, raffles, music and readings. Mary Caponegro will be the headliner.
Music by John Madera and Robert Lopez (yes, that Robert Lopez).
Readings by Michael Leong, John Dermot Woods, Shya Scanlon, Edward Mullany, John Madera, Greg Gerke, Nicolle Elizabeth.
I can’t keep gushing about Mary Caponegro. A few days ago, I found this timely passage from her novella A Son’s Burden which is narrated by Thomas Smalldridge, an “ever-aspiring” inventor. The story is basically a conversation between him and his nutty family, and it once again displays Caponegro’s psychological acuity as well as her taste for the bizarre. After calling the phrase “Ring in the new” a “cursed universal slogan,” Smalldridge states:
‘Ring in the new,’ we are annually instructed in the all too familiar collective exhortation, but something rings false in my ear when I, repeatedly, am recipient of the flaccid greeting, ‘Happy New Year!’ Does this trite formula do justice to the mix of trepidation and relief that marks the close of one collection of regrets and the promiscuous proliferation of an entirely new set of vacuous promises? Round again we go, one might more accurately say: the ineluctable disguised as marvel, and yet our rituals, no matter they be made of air or straw, appear to comfort. Familiarity cushions the blow of transition; tradition ensconces novelty.