Blood of the Lamb

I initially decided to read The Blood of the Lamb by Peter De Vries based upon this testimony of it by James Lileks:

but it?s a quintessentially comic act penned by a comic novelist, and you can?t ignore the context. It works. It doesn?t work. It?s perfect; it?s contrived. I can?t make up my mind – and the fact that I read it 20 years ago and still think of it today tells you much about the novel. It just aches.

Curiosity monkey that I am, I can’t resist reading another book that affects in such a way. I wanted to like this book, but I just didn’t. I’ve noticed that there tends to be a certain style of American writing, circa 1940s-1960s, which I just cannot enjoy. I’m not sure what it is, exactly, nor even how to describe it, quite. It’s a certain quality or style of prose which grates on me. (And I realize that I am unfairly maligning decades-worth of writing which I would probably adore, otherwise.) I wish that I knew what this quality was. Maybe there’s a certain spare or hollow quality that tires me.

I mean, The Blood of the Lamb is awfully obviously autobiographically based upon a real experience by the author. Is it that which repels me? That De Vries is mining his own life, to such a degree? Or maybe that he didn’t mine it enough? I’m not so certain that reading isn’t a form of voyeurism in this case. Is reading always a form of voyeurism? And is it even a particularly healthy form of it? (At one of his many readings around town, Chuck Palahniuk once remarked that reading about sex was the least interesting way to experience it, that there was something particularly unsexy about it… One could perhaps say a similar thing in regards to reading about any particular experience.) Do I read to avoid experience? Does the voyeur watch to avoid experience? I find it of supreme interest that the concept of reading is, as far as I can tell, held up as an unquestioned Good. This is not something that I would hold to be true, anymore.

This is getting very far away from where I started. I’m not even really sure where I am anymore.

Here’s an essay about Peter De Vries contribution to American humor writing.

I guess I’ll close out with a De Vries quote (as I seem to have written myself into a broom closet):

“It is the final proof of God’s omnipotence that he need not exist in order to save us.”

A cookie to ponder.

Fortress of Solitude

April’s been a pretty light month, writingwise, in this space. I know it. You know it. All it takes is a glum glance at that calendar over there. I’ve been having trouble rustling up the energy or the drive or whatever to tappity-tap something meaningful or not. Change is in the works and that always makes my head spin. And I keep having this feeling that maybe I’ll somehow snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This is probably my blood sugar talking…

Speaking of which, the defeat-from-victory thing seems to have a special resonance with The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem’s* new magnum opus. (This is highly debatable, in my own mind at least, as Motherless Brooklyn is among my list of best books, ever. If you haven’t read this, or that, please do. Boy, are they ever good!)

I’d been putting off writing about this one, even though it was next in my list, because I’m in awe of it and I have difficulty writing about things that I’m in awe of. Fortress of Solitude concerns the childhood of Dylan Ebdus and Mingus Rude and aftermath of same, as they grow up in Brooklyn. I grew up in a small beach town in California. For me, this tale of childhood in Brooklyn might as well be set in France or China, for all the similarities it has to my own life. In Lethem’s hands, Brooklyn becomes a magically weird place.

The story is perfectly deliriously mundane, except for the inclusion of a Ring of Power, which allows the wearer to fly (intermittently) among other things. The amazing thing about Lethem, is that he grafts this superheroic element seamlessly into the world of the story. It’s good to see a writer pushing the limits of “realistic” fiction. Prior to this, Lethem has mostly done so from the other side, with books like his sci-fi, western, coming of age story, Girl in Landscape, or his noir, dystopian, drug-capade, Gun, With Occasional Music.

In the end, Lethem describes his book far better than I ever could:
I wanted to write about what we all want and can never have-the ability to rise above our lives, the ability to see our worlds from an impossibly privileged angle, the ability to rescue other people, or ourselves, from fate, the ability to slip between the seams of the world and disappear, to know what others are doing or saying when we’re not present, the ability to change identities. It seems to me that for the purposes of the book I wanted to assert that we’re all wishing to be superheroes, yet the kind of powers we’d wish for change utterly as we fall through one disappointment to the next.

There’s also an excellent interview with Lethem at the Powell’s website, in which he discusses his other books as well and, generally, the directions he’s gone as a writer.

*For years and years I was pronouncing it LEH-thum, when it’s actually more like LEE-thum. Imagine my surprise.

Interestingly enough, it turns out that Lethem has read more Philip K. Dick than anyone I have ever known:

Alongside comics, another significant factor played a role in Lethem’s writing. In an article for Bookforum called “You Don’t Know Dick” Lethem relayed his experiences both as an avid reader of Philip K Dick, and later, working for the Philip K Dick Society digging through many of Dick’s papers.

Here’s that Bookforum link:

Philip K. Dick (1928?82) is the only prolific author whose whole life’s work I can justly claim to have read through twice, picayune exceptions notwithstanding. The fact that my eyes may have passed over on second attack some of the lesser posthumous novels or the massive volumes of letters is surely compensated for by the fact that I’ve reread Ubik, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Martian Time-Slip, A Scanner Darkly, and a couple of other faves three, four, even five times since my discovery of Dick, long ago, at age fifteen.

crawling out of the steam train

scraveling burberry pies, or conqueso the conquistador stumps about on peglegs built for two. there’s dreams and then there’s dreams.

aside from the scrabbling and the hunchbacked caterwauling (or bellringing or spellswinging), it’s all the time devoted (a devotional writ in glue) to carrying on about this or that. but, contrariwise, there’s a sense that, wow, if the disasterations can be held at bay for just, like, five more minutes, who knows what fiery blossom of passionate effulgence–a gargantuan explosion of spherendrical cakes and ale–might be happenstancing?

transmutation of simple elements or a transmogrification of the brainmatter which makes up the day to day. or, rather, should say takes up the day to day. carries that mundanity as far as it will go and farther. who’s to say that’s bad?

mumble mumble. ???

jove cracks a joke and the dies split with laughter. the concatenation of scurrilous scatalogical and dreary blowsy fleshisms. what body would, if we could, inhavit, if we had no other?
contrariwise, all the seas in the world wouldn’t launch those thousand ships. or, what i mean to say–without those barracude words intruding, ripping the flesh off my cow-of-a-brain, that ruminating muncher of–it wasn’t her face that launched the 1000 ships.

toe the line, milkman! keep your trousers on, carrier of protein-packed bottles of milky goodness! (and here insert: a screeching graham chapman dressed in his best housewifey finery) (which means, of course, that the milkman is probably m. palin, nervously clutching his trundle of milk bottles) (and here the mind plays tricks, because i know that it wasn’t g. chapman at all, but an attic filled with aged, entrapped milkmen and a coy, seductive (for a milkman) carol cleveland) funny the televisual visions that recall from time to time, completely disrupting the thread of thought…

or, if you can call it thought, i mean and not just the meandering fizzing and futzing of some neurochemical stew.