Friday, June 02, 2006

Idle Pursuits

I return to something about books after a couple of political posts (it's difficult to strike the right balance). I am now in the midst of Little, Big by John Crowley, which so far is delightful. I'd never heard of Crowley before last year, when I read posts at Mad Ink Beard and The Pinocchio Theory about his newest book, Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land (the title reminds me of the title of Paul West's Lord Byron's Doctor (which I haven't yet read, but have sitting on the shelf), making me idly wonder about the mini-genre of novels about literary figures). I was intrigued, but didn't want to jump right into this latest work to start. Then last fall I was excited to find a used, beat-up copy of Little, Big. Waggish's interesting post from earlier this week, in which he discusses his re-reading of it immediately following Finnegans Wake, prompted me to pull it off the shelf and read it. (Incidentally, his post about reading Wake was fascinating and has me thinking that, who knows, I may eventually read more of it than I'd hoped.)

In my post about Harry Mathews, I linked to the Lit Blog Co-Op discussion of Jean-Philippe Toussaint's novel, Television. I read and enjoyed this novel last year (I bought it based on this review, also by Derik Badman at Mad Ink Beard). There's some good stuff about this novel in the LBC discussion; I don't have much to add to it, other than it's made me want to read the book again.

As for the Lit Blog Co-Op, I've been following it from afar since it started, occasionally commenting. I haven't yet been able to acquire or read too many of the books that have been discussed, so that's kind of limited my involvement, though I have added a number of titles to my list. Overall, I think the last couple of batches of books have been the most interesting yet. I did read the Winter selection, Kirstin Allio's Garner, which I enjoyed immensely, as well as the previous selection, Steve Stern's The Angel of Forgetfulness, which I also liked, if not as much as I expected to (anyway, as with Television, I already had this book, this time because of an earlier rave by Dan Green). Also, the discussions with Edward Falco were very interesting and, as a result, I sought his nominated collection of stories, Sabbath Night in the Church of the Piranha. I wasn't able to find it in a store (I wanted to see and hold it before buying), but I did unexpectedly find his earlier collection, Acid, which contains some of the stories later to appear in Sabbath Night. I thoroughly enjoyed Acid--the stories were astonishingly good and subtle--and as a result I intend to find and read a lot more of Falco (Wolf Point is high on my list of books to get). From the current group, I'm really looking forward to Yannick Murphy's Here They Come. All in all, I'd say the LBC has found its legs and is doing the job it set out to do.

Just prior to reading Mathews' 20 Lines a Day, I'd read Stanley Elkin's A Bad Man (finally) and Carole Maso's The American Woman in the Chinese Hat. I didn't like A Bad Man nearly as much as some others by Elkin, particularly The Franchiser and The Magic Kingdom. It starts off great--there are some wonderful set pieces, but about halfway through, the language felt a little too close to being schtik, the jokes and puns grating, something Elkin usually manages to avoid. I feel as if it's because the language riffs didn't go on long enough--it never really took off for me. With the best of Elkin, I am continually astonished by extended stretches where the language comes fast and furious: jokes, puns, metaphors piling up for pages at a time, after which you can only gasp for breath. I didn't get much of that with A Bad Man. Don't get me wrong--there's some good stuff here. The Kafkaesque setting and story (imagine K. gets sent to prison; and is a department store owner in the Land of Consumer Abundance; and talks like Stanley Elkin) is bizarre and funny in its own right. It's a fine novel, but not his best.

(By the way, at one stretch I suddenly felt that, in some obscure way, reading Elkin is not entirely unlike reading Richard Powers. There are some obvious differences: Powers is not funny, for one--so it may seem a weird comparison to make. But, I feel like the thick sentences--not long, thick--loaded, almost over-loaded with unexpected, vivid, and yet extended metaphor, are not too far off from what Powers does. Maybe I'm insane.)

The American Woman in the Chinese Hat is the third novel by Carole Maso I've read (the others are Ghost Dance and Defiance). Depression plays a big part in all three--the titular character in this one is a writer living in Paris, trying to do what she can to hang on. I liked the novel. I don't have a lot to say about it (though I may polish up and post something I wrote about Ghost Dance a couple of years ago); it's sad; Maso's writing is typically beautiful.


Scraps said...

Little, Big is my favorite fantasy novel, ever.

The two great books published in the fantasy and science fiction genre that ought to show up on "Best American Novel of the last twenty-five years" lists are Little, Big and Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. Crowley, at least, gets some mainstream attention -- I believe Mark Helprin praised it at the time, and Harold Bloom has written about Crowley -- but Wolfe remains almost completely unknown outside the genre, and since his work is steeped in the tropes of science fiction in a way that Crowley's is not (at least, not since his early Engine Summer), Wolfe is likely to remain neglected, which is a damned shame: his imagination is astonishing, yes, but it is his depth of thought and the deceptive, pellucid lucidity of his prose that makes him a great living writer.

Richard said...

Yeah, I'm thoroughly enjoying Little, Big, and I am interested in Crowley's other work, such as the Aegypt series people are so excited about.

In general, I've read very little science fiction, and even less fantasy. I've heard of Gene Wolfe, though. He seems to be a key figure for a lot of people. Thanks for the tip on Book of the New Sun; I'll be sure to look for it.