Eating Barbequed Iguana

I’m on a mexican radio
I wish I was in Tiajuana
Eating barbequed iguana
I’d take requests on the telephone
I’m on a wavelength far from home
I feel a hot wind on my shoulder
I dial it in from south of the border
I hear the talking of the dj
Can’t understand just what does he say?
Radio radio…
—- Wall of Voodoo, Mexican Radio

The Tennessee Williams quote on the wall at the Gallier House, Royal Street, French Quarter, New Orleans.

I wrote about this on my Facebook page back in February – but I don’t think a lot of people followed the link.

At any rate, this story started back in 2012, on a trip to New Orleans. I ran into a group at the St. Vincent’s Guest House and soon was involved in a one-day writing marathon – walking around with a handful of folks, scribbling away.

I was inspired by the experience to the point I organized a Writing Marathon or two of my own, here in Dallas.

Then finally, in July of last year, I was able to swing attending the full week-long Writing Marathon Retreat – branching out from the Gallier House to write across the French Quarter and beyond.

One day, the group I had gone with that day stopped for the fixed-price lunch at Antoine’s (highly recommended if you are in New Orleans in the summer). I remembered an incident that had happened in that very restaurant thirty five years earlier. I pulled out my pen and notebook wrote up my memories in the bar.

At the end of each day, there was the option for a few folks to stand up and read from what they had written earlier. I put my name on the list and read the story from Antoine’s. The readings were recorded.

Then, in February, a selection of the recordings were played on KSLU radio.

You can listen to the 2017 readings AT THIS LINK – If you want to skip ahead, my reading is at about the 14:10 point.

If that link doesn’t work – go here – http://www.kslu.org/awards_recognition/index.html and click on “2017 Writing Marathon.”

People have asked me about the siren at the end of my reading. That isn’t a sound effect – the fire engine actually went by on the street outside, siren blaring, as I finished.

Now I need to get going and register for the 2018 Retreat. So much fun.

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Sixty Six Short Novels

“So many books, so little time.”
― Frank Zappa

Kindle

Call Me Ishmael

Oblique Strategy: Distorting time

I am working on my goals for next year. One thing that I wanted to do is to up my reading game. I was thinking about a goal of reading a hundred books in 2018.

That seemed a little silly. Though an avid reader, I am not as fast as I used to be – brain and eyes are letting me down more and more. I don’t have very much free time and even less excess energy. But that century mark of tomes read was such a siren call.

Then I thought, “They don’t have to be long books.” I could salt my reading list with shorter works (less than 200 pages) and then my goal might be doable. To experiment, I walked through the shelves of the Richardson library looking for thinner editions and found there were plenty to be hunted down.

It was a quick leap from that to heading out onto the web. I typed in “list of best short novels” into Google and opened up the first half-dozen hits or so. An hour of copying and pasting later, I had 66 books in a list. I included the title, the author, and a little blurb from whatever website I scoured the information from. There were a lot of duplicates in the various websites, of course (I think I’ve caught all of those) and I threw out half the books because I had already read them.

One cool thing is that I kept thinking, “Oh, that’s not really a book I would read,” and then I’d catch myself – these are short so there is little lost in starting a book that I might not relate to… this is a great place to experiment, to branch out, to try something new. Of course, there is a satisfaction at finishing a great weighty hunk of a book – maybe I’ll make 2019 the year of reading a few really big books.

The more I think about this, the more excited I get. I think I’ll start early – 2018 is only a couple weeks away. I think I’ll head down to the library with this list in hand and see what I can find. Wish me luck. If you have any recommendations or ideas – I’d be glad to hear them. A hundred books in a year – sounds like a plan.

Here’s the list, so far:

1 Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
“Dept. of Speculation, a series of short dispatches from the front line of a marriage, is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, and often both in the same sentence.”

2 We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
“A gripping tale of murder most foul on the estate of the Blackwood family, Shirley Jackson’s final novel is the kind of book you’ll want everyone to read just so you can talk about it.”

3 The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
“A book about cultural identity as much as politics, The Reluctant Fundamentalist follows a Princeton-educated Pakistani as his life in America collapses post 9/11”

4 Heartburn by Nora Ephron
“In Nora Ephron s hilarious novel, based on the breakdown of her second marriage, group therapy and infidelity share the page with recipes for pot roast.”

5 Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
“Achebe’s classic novel follows Okonkwo, a man who finds himself at odds with society and history amid the changing cultural landscape in Nigeria. 209 pages.”

6 Shopgirl by Steve Martin
“An exploration of loneliness, softened by Martin’s witty observations and dry humour, Shopgirl follows the titular character as she navigates life in Los Angeles.”

7 The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
“Classic Christie, classic Marple. When the body of a young woman is discovered in the library at Gossington Hall, the hunt is on to find out whodunnit.”

8 The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
An examination of life and the narratives we construct for ourselves that won the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

9 Sula by Toni Morrison
“Sula follows the contrasting lives of two girls growing up in a poor, black Ohio neighbourhood, and the different paths they choose.”

10 The Dig by Cynan Jones
“A sparse, dark, brutal novella about a Welsh farmer struggling to make a living from his sheep, and an unnamed man digging up badgers to bait.”

11 How to Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak
“An absurd, delightful novel about a Polish immigrant in Los Angeles who schemes to reinvent herself in order to gain access to the Twin Palms nightclub.”

12 Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
Two friends plot the downfall of a politician in this Booker-winning novella

13 Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates
“The aftermath of a gang rape on a young mother is explored in a searing indictment of rape culture and the lack of justice, care, and understanding for victims.”

14 The Quiet American by Graham Greene
A seasoned English journalist in Vietnam watches as a young American turns good intentions into bad policy and bloodshed in this powerful anti-war allegory.

15 The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
“A fantastical, lyrical love story set during the Napoleonic Wars”

16 Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
“A novel in verse, Autobiography of Red gives voice to a minor character in Greek mythology, updating his story to the present day. There are those who love it and those who haven’t read it. Be the former”

17 The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
A stream-of-consciousness journey into the mind of a man on his lunch break

18 At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom by Amy Hempel
“A collection of 16 utterly compelling, gorgeously crafted short stories.”

19 Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
“A horror novel following the 12th expedition into the uncharted Area X. Any guesses what happened to the previous 11 expeditions Nope, weirder than that.”

20 The Neon Bible by John Kennedy Toole
“Written when Toole was just 16, but not published until after his death. Well worth a read for fans of his A Confederacy of Dunces.”

21 Speedboat by Renata Adler
“An experimental novel that defies literary convention and category, this mix of fiction, critique, memoir, confession, and essay demands to be experienced.”

22 If You’re Not Yet Like Me by Edan Lepucki
“A darkly comic novella in which the narrator tells her unborn daughter the story of how she came to be. A romantic comedy with the emphasis on comedy, not romance.”

23 Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Ethan Frome struggles to tend to his farm and his wife then her beautiful cousin comes to stay.

24 Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
“In a reverse narrative, the protagonist moves backwards from death towards the story’s beginning and his role in one of the most horrific events in recent history.”

25 Lucinella by Lore Segal
“A witty and searing indictment of the ’70s New York literary scene, in which a poet observes her peers at a writer’s colony upstate.”

26 Night by Elie Wiesel
A harrowing account of the author’s time in Nazi concentration camps.

27 Ablutions by Patrick deWitt
“An alcoholic bartender in Los Angeles observes the lonely, broken, and grotesque characters who populate his bar, among whom he may be the most broken.”

28 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
The compelling story of two outsiders striving to find their place in an unforgiving world

29 Cheri by Colette
“L‚a de Lonval is an aging courtesan, a once famous beauty facing the end of her sexual career. She is also facing the end of her most intense love affair, with Fred Peloux known as Ch‚ri a playboy half her age. ”

30 The King by Donald Barthelme
“In The King, a retelling of Le Morte D’Arthur, Donald Barthelme moves the chivalrous Knights of the Round Table to the cruelty of the Second World War.”

31 Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
“This short novel is a dream: the kind you dip into, just for a drowsy second”

32 Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
“The final novel from the acclaimed American author, about an elderly man and woman who come together to tackle their loneliness. A low-key, melancholy yet beautifully tender read about making the most of life.”

33 The Vegetarian By Han Kang and translated by Deborah Smith.
“Set in South Korea, this is the story of Yeong-hye and her decision to become a vegetarian and the shocking reaction that this rebellion triggers in her family. A deserving winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2016.”

34 Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
“Bold and experimental, Virginia Woolf’s story of one day in the lives of Clarissa Dalloway, a fashionable, wealthy and accomplished hostess, and Septimus Warren Smith, a shellshocked survivor of the Great War, is a landmark in twentieth-century fiction. ”

35 Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter
“Winner of the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize and one of the most highly acclaimed novels of recent times, Max Porter s debut novel is an astonishing, and surprisingly humorous, study of a man and his two sons dealing with the loss of their mother.”

36 A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler
“Andreas is a simple man of few words, yet he lives an extraordinary life. At under 160 pages, Robert Seethaler’s novel is a tender book about finding dignity and beauty in solitude.”

37 The Body Artist by Don DeLillo
“An elliptical meditation on the mysteries of love, life and time, this is a sad yet beautiful novel from America s true masters of fiction, Don DeLillo. ”

38 Bonjour Tristesse by Fran‡oise Sagan
“Bonjour Tristesse scandalised 1950s France with its portrayal of teenager terrible C‚cile, a heroine who rejects conventional notions of love, marriage and responsibility to choose her own sexual freedom.”

39 Wilful Disregard by Lena Andersson
“Highly praised by the likes of Lena Dunham and Alice Sebold, this is a compelling read about a poet leaving behind her sensible boyfriend for a renowned artist, a decision which causes her rational world to begin to unravel.”

40 All This Has Nothing To Do With Me by Monica Sabolo
“MS interviews the mysterious XX for a job and hires him because she fancies him. As their relationship develops, and then collapses, MS lays bare her feelings in emails, text messages, photographs that show the tragedy and the comedy of her obsession. ”

41 The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
This charming novel about a cat that brings joy into a couple’s life was a surprise bestseller around the world.

42 The Salmon Who Dared to Leap Higher by Ahn Do-hyun
“Wise, tender and inspiring, this is the story of a salmon whose silver scales mark him out as different – who dares to leap beyond his fate. It’s a story about growing up, and about aching and ardent love.”

43 The End We Start From by Megan Hunter
“In the midst of a mysterious environmental crisis, as London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, the family are forced to leave their home in search of safety. As they move from place to place, shelter to shelter, their journey traces both fear and wonder as Z’s small fists grasp at the things he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds. ”

44 By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolano
“There s a passage in Bolano s own great tome, 2666, attacking people who prefer the perfect exercises of the great masters to the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. Admittedly, By Night in Chile is not quite on par with 2666, but it manages to be both a perfect exercise and a blazing path into the unknown.”

45 Child of God by Cormac McCarthy
“Perhaps McCarthy s second greatest novel, after the incomparable Blood Meridian, Child of God is an Appalachian nightmare written in gorgeously lush prose.” 

46 In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan
“Brautigan at his best and weirdest. This surreal novel is set in a commune named iDEATH where different colored watermelons provide building materials. A lot of modern indie fiction seems indebted to Brautigan s unique combination of whimsy and sadness, but few if any match his power.”

47 The Third Policeman by Flann O Brien
“One of the greatest novels of the 20th century, this underrated book is a wild roller coaster of dark comedy, surreal images, and just plain brilliant writing.”

48 Jakob von Gunten by Robert Walser
“Walser seems to be experience a well-deserved revival in recent years. If you haven t read his joyous yet bizarre writings, Jakob von Gunten is the place to start.”

49 Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
“Dreamy and completely beautiful, Robinson s slim 1981 novel is frequently cited as one of the greatest American novels of the last 50 years. I agree.”

50 The Loser by Thomas Bernhard
“If you are like me, there s nothing you love as much as a witty grump. Bernhard s novels take the form of acerbic rants, and The Loser is among the best of them.”

51 Giovanni s Room by James Baldwin
James Baldwin s second and perhaps best novel is a beautiful and moving story about a homosexual American man in Paris.

52 The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector
“Most people seem to read Lispector s also very short novel The Hour of the Star and call it a day. However, her other novels are even stronger. The Passion is an energetic yet philosophical short novel that everyone should read.”

53 The Lime Twig by John Hawkes
“A dark nightmare in the form of a crime novel, Hawkes explores terror through innovative prose. I only just read The Lime Twig this week and already feel happy recommending it.”

54 Ray by Barry Hannah
“One of the greatest Southern American writers which is saying something given that the region has given us O Connor, Faulkner, Hurston, and more Barry Hannah s prose is acrobatic and addictive. Ray, his shortest novel, is a great starting place if you have never read him.”

55 Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
“This is a weird hallucination of a book reading it feels like an experience, like something that happens to you, as infectious and mysterious and unstoppable and possibly magical as the disease that powers its plot. There is absolutely no way to put it down without breaking the spell, so make sure you re comfy.”

56 Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck
“A lovely, slim novel that tells the stories of the various inhabitants of a house on a wooded bit of land near a lake outside Berlin, before, during and after WWII but like Woolf s To the Lighthouse, it is not really about the inhabitants, but rather very pointedly about time, and the pull of place.”

57 A Separation by Katie Kitamura
“This one s a cheat, because it doesn t actually come out until February, but mark your calendar for sleeplessness, because if you re anything like me, you ll read it straight through without stopping. The plot is, essentially, this: a woman follows her estranged (and unresponsive) husband to Greece, where she proceeds to look for him (and discover the mysteries he s left in his wake). Kitamura s spare language somehow seems barely able to control the emotion it signifies. In some ways, this is a meditation on the stories we paint onto other people, and how little we can really know them which, honestly, keeps me up at night as much or more than any missing person.”

58 A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
“A surprisingly terrifying short novel about children kidnapped by pirates, elevated from its silliness by surprising moments of violence and introspection, as well as repeated flourishes of literary brilliance. Also, it s funny. Take for instance, this passage: Being nearly four years old, she was certainly a child: and children are human (if one allows the term human a wide sense): but she had not altogether ceased to be a baby: and babies are of course not human they are animals, and have a very ancient and ramified culture, as cats have, and fishes, and even snakes: the same in kind as these, but much more complicated and vivid, since babies are, after all, one of the most developed species of the lower vertebrates. ”

59 Desperate Characters by Paula Fox
“At this beginning of this novel, Sophie Bentwood is bitten by a cat that may or may not have rabies. The ensuing domestic drama wonderful and terrible in its own right is then overlaid with this crazed, manic specter of disease that had me turning pages like a madwoman.”

60 Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World by Donald Antrim
“For my money one of the best novels ever written, of any length. Something bad is happening in Pete Robinson s town something that has his neighbors building moats around their homes and all the members of the Rotary Club finding their inner animals (his wife is, apparently, the prehistoric coelacanth). Oh, and the mayor has been drawn and quartered. Even if you don t want to know what happens next, this novel will have you flipping pages just to get to each new delicious surrealist detail.”

61 Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates
“You d think that the structure of this novel, a sort of mythologized retelling of the Chappaquiddick incident, would strip it of any of its tension after all, it begins with the car going off the road. But as Oates goes over and over the event and everything that led up to it from different angles, from different moments, from different points of view the reader keeps hoping that that repeated phrase ( As the black water filled her lungs, and she died. ) will somehow be made untrue. And yet, we know it will not be. And yet, we keep reading, more horrified by the moment.”

62 The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares
“This novel is the diary of a fugitive, hiding on a strange island, who falls in love with one of the mysterious tourists that appear on his shores. A hallucinatory examination of the nature of reality, with a romantic twist, which won high praise from Jorge Luis Borges and Octavio Paz, among others.”

63 Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector
“I ve always thought of Lispector s first novel as a pulsing, beating thing not just near, but the wild heart itself. It’s not a plot-heavy book, but the internal life of the amoral, incendiary Joana and what she will do, and what she will think, and what she will say is endlessly fascinating.”

64 The Room by Jonas Karlsson
Funny, clever, surreal, and thought-provoking, this Kafkaesque masterpiece introduces the unforgettable Bjorn, an exceptionally meticulous office worker striving to live life on his own terms.

65 We the Animals by Justin Torres
“I was sold on this book a coming of age story told in luminous prose from the very first paragraph, which by itself might keep me up for a few extra hours, looking for some of that more:”” We wanted more. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men. We wanted more music on the radio; we wanted beats; we wanted rock. We wanted muscles on our skinny arms. We had bird bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight. We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more. ”

66 Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls
“The story of a disaffected housewife with a cheating husband, who starts an affair with wait for it a 6-foot-7 amphibious monster man named Larry. So.”

Die of a Sort of Creeping Common Sense

“Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Sculpture, Tree welded from cable, DCCCD Bill J. Priest Institute for Economic Development, Dallas, Texas

Oblique Strategy: Honor thy error as a hidden intention

After a long day of not getting much done I found myself bereft of ideas. My computer has thousands of text files that I have typed up to remember things, going back twenty years, and I decided to peruse them and see if I could find something useful.

I came across this quote about a Chekhov short story by one of my favorite writers, Tobias Wolff:

There’s a wonderful story of his about a soldier who’s returning from Manchuria, dying on a troop ship, but too ignorant to realize he’s dying. He was a brute, and that comes through, but he also has a very tender side. So he dies, in this state of longing and unredeemed ignorance, and most stories would end there. But Chekhov has the burial at sea, and then he follows the body, the weighted body going down and down and down. And a shark comes up, and nudges it, and swims away. And then he moves the vision back up to the sea and the sky where just at that moment the sun is breaking through the clouds and he talks about the light dancing on the water — and I’m trying to get this right — with a sort of joy for which there is no word in the language of men. So you get this tragic thing, this man dying in complete ignorance, a man with all the goodness in his heart that was never realized, so you have that incredible focus on the individual. And then suddenly he opens it up so we can see where we fit into this and how small it is. It doesn’t diminish your feeling for the character, but it gives you a sense of the finitude of our duration here and our problems. He’s an amazing writer. I love Chekhov. I could go on all day about him.

What an amazing story review. I, too, love Chekhov, but I doubt that the story will be as good as this review.

I don’t know, maybe it’s better. A quick Google search and I found the name of the story is Gusev.

It’s readily available online. Here’s one translation:

Gusev by Anton Chekhov, translated by Constance Garnett

I’m going off to read it now – I suggest you do likewise.

I Would Hate To Be Murdered In A Lounge Chair

“I would hate to be murdered in a lounge chair. You would lose not only your life, but a chance at a nice nap.”
—-Armando Vitalis, From Hell’s Heart I Stab At Thee

Continental Bridge Park,  Dallas, Texas (click for larger version on Flickr)

Continental Bridge Park,
Dallas, Texas
(click for larger version on Flickr)

I try not to take so many photographs that don’t have people in them. But there aren’t many folks on the Continental Bridge Park on a workday afternoon, even on a preternaturally warm autumn day.

The few people that did walk by as I ate a takeout sweet potato were interesting enough:

A large young man with headphones – he sauntered by and I saw him at a distance once he reached an unoccupied section dancing by himself.

A young couple, very casually dressed, moving around in some sort of elaborate ritual in each open area. I think they were planning a wedding on the bridge – or at least a photo-shoot – and were trying out all the angles.

A couple with two chihuahuas. They passed one way with the dogs on leashes – then returned with the dogs loose. I later saw them chasing the pooches along the Trinity River Levee – they must have seen something interesting.

—-but the bridge is very long and narrow, and the interesting stuff was too far away. So all I did was sit in one of the lounge chairs and read a couple of horrifically gruesome short stories.

For example, in one an astoundingly stupid young man is experimenting with an ethanol-based homemade hair gel when he accidentally ignites his coif with a cigarette. Aflame, he runs into the road in a panic where he is struck by a speeding wrecker. The impact flips him over a rail into the Sabine river, which does serve to extinguish the flames – but before his friends can rescue him a large alligator drags him off by the head.

Things go downhill from there. If you don’t believe me – the story seems to be available online.

What I learned this week, December 5, 2014

So little time, so many books….

100 Notable Books of 2014


What we learned from 5 million books

Have you played with Google Labs’ Ngram Viewer? It’s an addicting tool that lets you search for words and ideas in a database of 5 million books from across centuries. Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel show us how it works, and a few of the surprising things we can learn from 500 billion words.


Heavy Hitter beer flight at Luck, in Trinity Groves, Dallas, Texas

Heavy Hitter beer flight at Luck, in Trinity Groves, Dallas, Texas

Celebrate the grand opening of a new brewery in Fort Worth December 12

Panther Island – what a great name for a brewery.


Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write

Love to write? What about a Need to Write? If writing isn’t an unresistable addiction – it’s not worth it.


Writing Surface Dropped Down

The hinged writing surface dropped down on the secretary.

Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators


Travelling Man - sculpture east of Downtown Dallas

Travelling Man – sculpture east of Downtown Dallas

23 Words That Mean Something Entirely Different In Dallas


I was more than a little surprised when I realized that I had already read all of these.

11 Books All Aspiring Writers Should Read, Because Spending Time With These Titles is Like a Mini-Workshop


THE RANGE OF FACES PEOPLE MAKE WHILE BEING TASERED IS SURPRISINGLY VAST

One Groove’s Difference

“What goes around may come around, but it never ends up exactly the same place, you ever notice? Like a record on a turntable, all it takes is one groove’s difference and the universe can be on into a whole ‘nother song.”
—-Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

Cover of Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon

Cover of Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon

I have always had an odd and powerful relationship with the novels of Thomas Pynchon. I have spent a good portion of my life with his work in my hands. It started with Gravity’s Rainbow – which took me twenty five years to read… and I consider it to be my favorite novel. Even though I first tried to read it in college I was not able to get through the massive tome until the advent of the internet. I had to follow along with a chapter by chapter summary and a hypertext compendium of characters and information to keep from getting lost.

Then, over the years, there was the almost equally massive V – then the short and bitter Crying of Lot 49. Time marched on to the West-Coast based Vineland and by the time Mason & Dixon arrived I was writing online and chronicled the devouring of this text as I went along.

From my old blog – The Daily Epiphany

Daily Epiphany -Friday, March 19, 1999

Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs

May 2, 1997. A little less than two years ago. That’s the exact day that
Mason & Dixon arrived from Amazon (an online journal is useful for finding useless factoids like that).

Over those two years I have, sometimes dutifully, more often sporadically, with plenty of vacations and sabbaticals, slogged through the pages. I was well known to be seen carrying that book around, it’s cover handmade by me from the red white and blue Tyvek wrapper it arrived in. “Aren’t you finished yet?” asked on many occasions.

That didn’t bother me. After all, it took me twenty five years to read Gravity’s Rainbow. In some ways, Mason & Dixon, though shorter and less complex, was even more difficult. The weird faux colonial Olde English and bizarre capitalization and punctuation added an Extra Dimension of Difficulty to the usual Pynchonian Puzzlements.

So slowly I kept at it. Week by week the irregular, oval coffee-stain on the pager-edges moved, slice by imperceptible slice, from my right hand to my left.

Tonight, I finished it.

I bent the cover back and slid the crude Tyvek cover off and dropped it into the trash. It was replaced with the original two-layer cover, preserved from the travails of two years of pawing, stored safely in a dresser drawer.

In order to make room in my bookcase for the Pynchon, I had to pull something out. So, now, it’s Infinite Jest. It’s only 1,079 pages long. Print looks a little small. I even have a bookmark for it. I bought the book used and it contains a loose snapshot of some scrubby looking guy posing by a motorcycle. I have, of course, absolutely no idea who this is. That’ll do.

The thickness and size seemed familiar so, on a whim, I pulled that Tyvek bookcover out of the basket, turned the cover around.

It fit exactly.

A few years later, I tackled Against the Day, then fell off the Pynchon wagon (for no real reason except maybe the intrusion of real life) until now.

Now, I decided to read Inherent Vice – Pynchon’s noirish dark psychedelic detective crime novel.

“Dealing with the Hippie is generally straightforward. His childlike nature will usually respond positively to drugs, sex, and/or rock and roll, although in which order these are to be deployed must depend on conditions specific to the moment.”
—- Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

“It had been dark at the beach for hours, he hadn’t been smoking much and it wasn’t headlights – but before she turned away, he could swear he saw light falling on her face, the orange light just after sunset that catches a face turned to the west, watching the ocean for someone to come in on the last wave of the day, in to shore and safety.”
—- Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

I had the trade sale paperback on the shelf for a long time, but I had to read it right now because, next month, they are coming out with a movie made from the story.

Oh, and not just any movie, a Paul Thomas Anderson movie.

Imagine that, Paul Thomas Anderson filming a Pynchon novel. This is truly the best of all possible worlds.

Modern technology has advanced now to the point I could sit in my reading chair with the book in one hand and a tablet in the other, with web pages queued up to alphabetical and page-by-page summaries to help me with the complex plot and kaleidoscope of characters.

This is arguably his most accessible novel, if for no other reason it has a familiar setting and is woven upon a loom of an established detective genre. It is the only thing I’ve read by Pynchon that I would say is remotely filmable – though just barely.

It still has the Pynchonian style of paranoia, subtle complexity, and, especially, a huge cast of odd characters with odder names. I enjoyed the book immensely. It is, without a doubt, the kind of thing you will like if you like that kind of thing.

Now I am psyched for the film. Only a few days before the premiere. This will be the second beloved book (after Cloud Atlas) committed to celluloid (actually its digital equivalent) by a stylish director in the last two years. I loved Cloud Atlas (both the book and the film) though it predictably bombed at the box office.

I suspect a similar fate for Inherent Vice – I can’t imagine the ordinary teenage-minded moviegoer enjoying the complex interplay of humor and horror that the Pynchonian Universe produces splashed across the silver screen. But I will be there, staring up as if it were meant for me alone.

“You need to find true love, Doc.”
Actually, he thought, I’ll settle for finding my way through this. His fingers, with a mind of their own, began to creep toward the plastic hedge. Maybe if he searched through it long enough, late enough into the night, he’d find something that might help — some tiny forgotten scrap of his life he didn’t even know was missing, something that would make all the difference now.”
—- Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

Looking at the IMDB page – it sure looks weird, seeing all those big time (and not so much) stars arranged against those wonderfully outlandish Thomas Pynchon character names.

Reese Witherspoon … Penny
Jena Malone … Hope Harlingen
Joaquin Phoenix … Doc Sportello
Josh Brolin … Bigfoot Bjornsen
Sasha Pieterse … Japonica Fenway
Owen Wilson … Coy Harlingen
Benicio Del Toro … Sauncho Smilax
Michael K. Williams … Tariq Khalil
Eric Roberts … Mickey Wolfmann
Maya Rudolph … Petunia Leeway
Martin Short … Dr. Blatnoyd
Sam Jaeger … Agent Flatweed
Katherine Waterston … Shasta Fay Hepworth
Martin Donovan … Crocker Fenway
Timothy Simons … Agent Borderline
Yvette Yates … Luz
Serena Scott Thomas … Sloane Wolfmann
Keith Jardine … Puck Beaverton
Elaine Tan … Xandra
Madison Leisle … Goldfang
Steven Wiig … Portola Barkeep
Jeannie Berlin … Aunt Reet
Christopher Allen Nelson … Glenn Charlock
Hong Chau … Jade
Jefferson Mays … Dr. Threeply
Peter McRobbie … Adrian Prussia
Samantha Lemole … Gold Fang Mom
Toyia Brown … Harmony
Diana Elizabeth Torres … Lourdes
Sophia Markov … Amethyst Harlingen
Andrew Simpson … Riggs Warbling
Victoria Markov … Amethyst Harlingen
Martin Dew … Dr. Tubeside
Michael Cotter … Rhus Farthington
Taylor Bonin … Ensenada Slim
Laura Kranz … Chryskylodon Patient

“Later they went outside, where a light rain was blowing in, mixed with salt spray feathering off the surf. Shasta wandered slowly down to the beach and through the wet sand, her nape in a curve she had learned, from times when back-turning came into it, the charm of. Doc followed the prints of her bare feet already collapsing into rain and shadow, as if in a fool’s attempt to find his way back into a past that despite them both had gone on into the future it did. The surf, only now and then visible, was hammering at his spirit, knocking things loose, some to fall into the dark and be lost forever, some to edge into the fitful light of his attention whether he wanted to see them or not.”
—-Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 30 – A Horseman in the Sky

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day thirty – A Horseman in the Sky, by Ambrose Bierce

Read it online here:

A Horseman in the Sky

When I think of Ambrose Bierce, I think of carefully written, exquisitely detailed military stories – with the wild addition of fanciful magic realism. I suppose that, today, well over a century after he lived and wrote, his most well-known tale, An Occurence at Owl Street Bridge, fits that description.

He also wrote The Devil’s Dictionary – which is a little dated today – but is still valid in its bitter satire on life and its foibles.

To wit:
From The Devil’s Dictionary”

LIFE, n. A spiritual pickle preserving the body from decay. We live in daily apprehension of its loss; yet when lost it is not missed. The question, “Is life worth living?” has been much discussed; particularly by those who think it is not, many of whom have written at great length in support of their view and by careful observance of the laws of health enjoyed for long terms of years the honors of successful controversy.

“Life’s not worth living, and that’s the truth,”
Carelessly caroled the golden youth.
In manhood still he maintained that view
And held it more strongly the older he grew.
When kicked by a jackass at eighty-three,
“Go fetch me a surgeon at once!” cried he.
—Han Soper

or, from the “S”:

SAUCE, n. The one infallible sign of civilization and enlightenment. A people with no sauces has one thousand vices; a people with one sauce has only nine hundred and ninety-nine. For every sauce invented and accepted a vice is renounced and forgiven.

(this is a fact that I agree with)

There is much to say about today’s short and simple story… but I want to point out one simple aspect. The story has, among other things, a surprise or twist ending.

This sort of story is hard to pull off. A successful surprise ending really has to be no surprise at all – at least no surprise after you have read it. Though you should not be able to see it coming, after it has passed you have to realize that things could not be any other way.

Bierce does all this in today’s. Through careful manipulation of point of view, time shifting, and judicious information release by the omniscient narrator the ending is concealed until the end, yet is foreshadowed to the extent that the reader knows that no other plot direction would be possible.

That’s especially tricky because this is the most common and hoary of all twist endings, still being done to this day.

Hope I didn’t ruin it for you. It’s still a cool story.

For an instant Druse had a strange, half-defined feeling that he had slept to the end of the war and was looking upon a noble work of art reared upon that eminence to commemorate the deeds of an heroic past of which he had been an inglorious part. The feeling was dispelled by a slight movement of the group: the horse, without moving its feet, had drawn its body slightly backward from the verge; the man remained immobile as before. Broad awake and keenly alive to the significance of the situation, Druse now brought the butt of his rifle against his cheek by cautiously pushing the barrel forward through the bushes, cocked the piece, and glancing through the sights covered a vital spot of the horseman’s breast. A touch upon the trigger and all would have been well with Carter Druse. At that instant the horseman turned his head and looked in the direction of his concealed foeman–seemed to look into his very face, into his eyes, into his brave, compassionate heart.