Posts tagged US
No one reads Wendy Walker’s The Secret Service (1992), a spellbinding and disorienting spy-novel/gothic fantasy (to narrow it down to two broad and non-exhaustive categories) that nearly defies description.
The premise of The Secret Service is simple, at least in the barest retelling: set in England in 19th century, a continental conspiracy is uncovered that if revealed will disgrace—and quite possibly ruin—the British royal family. The secret service of the title are called to unravel the plot, a task seemingly made easier by a recent discovery that enables agents to transform themselves into objects—in this case: a wine goblet, a bronze statue of Thisbe, and a rosebush—to infiltrate the conspirators’ ranks. As with all remarkable fiction, Walker’s plot at this, the simplest, point turns back upon itself, digresses, and passes into realms familiar to readers of Calvino, Poe, Borges, and Dickens.
The book’s flavor is perhaps best hinted at by lists; lists that tantalizingly allude to the infinite while always falling short even of the object they hope to describe. Henry Wessells writes:
The novel is filled with strange erudition, sensuous descriptive language, broken glass, crackpot science, gruesome technology, unexpected turns, and a succession of stories within stories…
And Douglas Messerli, who published the book in the now-defunct Sun & Moon Classics series, describes it in terms that remind one of a modern Metamorphoses:
Walker’s world is a world of mystery, castles, architectural wonders, secrets, changelings, doubles, madness, terrorism, and death—in short, as she herself prefers to characterize this work, she is writing in the tradition of Gothic fiction, horrible and terrifying in its revelations. If her writing style outshines even her inventiveness of story, these two work in tandem to create themes that for some may be even more overwhelming. For Walker’s world is also one of eternal change, constant alteration where humans and landscape morph into one another and, in so doing, transform experience into a series of encounters dangerous for those who prefer tranquil stasis.
Image: Cezanne, Still Life with Bottles
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No one reads Paul Carroll (1926–96). Carroll was a poet now best remembered for the writers he championed. He was an editor at Chicago Review and a founder of the Poetry Center of Chicago. When Chicago Review refused to continue publishing excerpts of William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch in 1958, Carroll resigned along with fellow editor Irving Rosenthal and founded Big Table in order to promote Burroughs, Kerouac, Ginsberg, and others. Kerouac came up with the name: Big Table occurred to him, Carroll recalled, when Kerouac found a note he had written himself: “Get a bigger table.” The first issue of the magazine was seized by the Post Office for containing obscenity in the locked-down ’50s.
Poet Paul Hoover told K. C. Clarke (as part of an appreciation of Carroll by those who knew him) that even as a tenured professor at UIC, where he founded the writers’ program, he was also driving a cab. “He was driving these people around, and they didn’t care about his subject, Pablo Neruda, so he stops the car and said, ‘Get the fuck out.’ That seemed to be the kind of guy he was.”
His wife, Maryrose, described their life in a 2004 interview [PDF}:
He had an ABSOLUTE passion for poetry.
When we lived in our loft, a factory building not too far from Lincoln Park, when he wasn’t teaching, he would go out on his bike and ride through the park, and make stops, to jot down notes about the weather, the trees, or a dead fish. When he came home the pieces would go into a first stew, and usually he would get up late at night, at 2:00, 3:00 o’clock in the morning, and he would be working again, on poetry. And whether these poems were published or not he kept on writing, rocking and rolling with the words.
"Song After Making Love" (published posthumously in 2008)
Sometimes I want to be a cloud
drifting like a barnacle goose or a galleon
into the winter home of God
The green of these trees
the grass green as oxygen
the green of my excited heart
Shadows of bird between the bones
blood feels sweet
as if moving in maple trees
a part of me is grass
I close my eyes
at the same time full
like a galaxy in daylight
Carroll was suggested to me as a subject by Thomas Sloan, Professor Emeritus in Art History at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His knowledge of lost and forgotten bits of history are rivaled by few people I know.
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I asked Dmitry Samarov — author of Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab — to post about Chicago writers. This is his first post. He even made a portrait of the author!
No one reads Willard Motley (1909–1965) but they certainly used to. He grew up in a middle-class African-American household in the then primarily-white neighborhood of Englewood in Chicago. The prominent painter Archibald Motley was his uncle, cousin, or brother (according to various sources).
He first gained notice when he submitted a short story to the Chicago Defender at the age of 13. This led to his being hired to write a children’s column under the pen-name “Bud Billiken” from 1922 to 1924. (“Bud Billiken” was later used for a South Side Chicago parade which continues to this day.)
Motley was a co-founder of Hull-House Magazine, which published some of his first adult writings.
I. THE STREET
This is the corner. Here is where the women stand at night. This is where the evangelists preach God on Sundays. Here is where knife-play has written a moment’s strange drama; where sweethearts have met; where drunks have tilted bottles; where shoppers have bargained; where men have come looking — for something… This is the humpty-dumpty neighborhood. Maxwell and Newberry…
Here is where the daytime pavement never gets a rest from the shuffle of feet. Where the night-time street lamps lean drunkenly and are an easy target for the youngsters’ rocks. Where garbage cans are pressed full and running over. Where the weary buildings kneel to the street and the cats fight their fights under the tall, knock-kneed legs of the pushcarts. This is the down-to-earth world, the bread and beans world, the tenement-bleak world of poverty and hunger. The world of skipped meals; of skimp pocketbooks; of nonexistent security — shadowed by the miserable little houses that Jane Addams knew. Maxwell and Newberry…
This is the street of noises, of odors, of colors. This is a small hub around which a little world revolves. The spokes shoot off into all countries. This is Jerusalem. The journey to Africa is only one block; from Africa to Mexico one block; from Mexico to Italy two blocks; from Italy to Greece three blocks…
This is the pavement. These are the streets. Here are the people…
Motley’s most popular novel, Knock on any Door, sold 47,000 copies in its first three weeks of release. Its hero Nick Romano famously said, “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.” The book was adapted into a 1949 film directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Humphrey Bogart.
Responding to criticism that he did not directly address race in his work, he said, “My race is the human race.”
Motley died of intestinal gangrene in Mexico City in 1965, poor and forgotten. His papers are held at the Chicago Public Library and Northern Illinois University.
Motley was suggested to me as a subject by Bill Savage, who owns a copy of Nelson Algren's Neon Wilderness inscribed by the author as “the poor man’s Willard Motley.”
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From Ed Park’s piece for the Harry Mathews symposium (he’s describing a 1975 Harper’s edition of Mathew’s early novels called The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium and Other Novels):
The heft of the book, its strange title in stolid green caps—the abundance implicit in the casual “other novels”!—and its enigmatic cover all attracted me, as did this statement on the back:For several years Harry Mathews has enjoyed a growing following among college students, artists, other poets and writers, and fans of the obscure who have never been able to buy his books.
It seemed a contradiction, an impossibility. Being a fan of the obscure was one thing—but being the follower of an author whose books you couldn’t even get? That was another level of perversity. And I was ready to go there.
Don’t miss the footnotes either.
I can’t locate even a simple bio for poor Hal Garrott, author of the children’s fantasies Snythergen (1923) and Squiffer (1924), both illustrated by the somewhat better-known Dugald Stewart Walker. (See illustrations for Snythergen here.)
Never was there a jollier little fellow - although little is scarcely the word - than this Snythergen, and never were there adventures better calculated to delight a child than the tale of how he grew first so very round and later so very tall that he could not remain at home any longer, but was obliged to live in the forest and to become a tree. In the forest lived Squeaky, the pig, and Sancho, the goldfinch, and the three became the best of friends. (publisher’s copy, via)
A tale for young people which is every bit as charming as Mrs. Garrott’s story of the boy-tree, Snythergen. Squiffer is a squirrel whose desire to become a boy sends him upon strange adventures. The characters of the tale include a Bear, a Candy Princess, the wicked Red-Fairy-Hot (with his three quick changes) and ever so many other delightful persons. (publisher’s copy, via)
[update: In the Heather Bright directed me to a PDF article with a mention of Hal Garrott in a list of patrons of Kilmarnock Books in St. Paul (along with Fitzgerald). The article focuses on writer-no-one-reads Thomas Alexander Boyd.]
No one reads Reinhard Lettau (1929-96), a German-American writer, activist, and scholar who wrote: numerous short stories, a radio play, critical works, poetry, English translations (with Ferlinghetti) of love poems by Karl Marx; and, whenever permissible, avoided noting his middle name: Adolf.
Among the vast archipelago of short(-short) fiction—near the islands of Buzzati, Calvino, Thurber, Barthelme, and Hildesheimer—there is the seldom visited and often uncharted islet of Lettau’s short works. Chief thereof is found in his American debut Obstacles (1965), a volume that contains English translations of his first two books of stories: Schwierigkeiten beim Häuserbauen (Difficulties in Housebuilding, 1962) and Auftritt Manigs (Enter Manig, 1963).
The 21 of the three- to eight-page prose pieces that comprise Difficulties in Housebuilding are Lettau at his most charming and inventive. A favourite of mine is the epistolary “Potemkin's Carriage Passes Through”; here is an excerpt that reveals the essence of the book (my emphasis):
April 11, 1784
[…] Of course the roofers are really painters, and so are the glaziers who insert windows with deft brushes. The bricklayers are painters and so are the masons; the only people who work at their true trade here are the stagehands who put up the scaffoldings and lent a hand with our lodgings. But since then no one’s seen them do any work. I am told that they are lying around drinking behind the wooden wall that looks like a tavern from the road. One of them supposedly had the idea of throwing a stone through one of the not-so-well-painted windows in the village, the other day, and replacing it with real glass. If this practice spreads, I almost fear for the success of my mission.
April 12, 1784
The meaning of my last sentence in yesterday’s annotations can best be illustrated by the fact that more and more fake window fronts have, since then, been replaced by real ones. […] Sometimes I can’t help feeling that we are in reality building two villages: a false one and a real one, without actually wanting to build the real one, as though it were growing by itself out of the false one, as if by necessity.
All the stories in the American (Pantheon) edition are translated by the prolific Ursule Molinaro. The British (Calder & Boyars) edition of Obstacles (1966) supplants eight of Molinaro’s translations with new ones by Ellen Sutton and adds a Sutton translation of another Lettau story (“The Road”) to the end of the first book. However, in all eight cases, I prefer Molinaro’s translations for their economy and diction, and her in-sentence sequencing of events makes for better poetic and comedic effects.
[The 57 shorts, none longer than a page, are centered on the character Manig, who] is treated like a tracing powder that is thrown into turbulent water to expose hidden currents: Lettau uses Manig to isolate and depict behavioral patterns, only to cleverly undo them. Manig is portrayed predominately through pantomime, and some of his gesticulations are clownlike. […] Lettau disrupts reality by equating the thing with the word and the absolute with the relative, and by separating image from reality through leaps in logic and optical illusions.
Lettau’s other works in English translation:
- Enemies (1973), Agnes Rook’s translation of Fiende (1963). A six story collection that is best saved for completists, because the set of three new stories ridiculing war are outdone by the two similar war stories in Obstacles: “A Campaign” and “A Pause Between Battles”. The three shorter, supplemental stories, one of which is Rook’s version of “The Road”, are also redundant.
- Breakfast in Miami (1982), Lettau’s and Julie Prandi’s translation of his radio play Frühstücksgespräche im Miami (1977). Caricatures of deposed dictators meet in Miami and say their piece. Yet another only for the completist, but, on the strength of Obstacles, I remain optimistic about his still untranslated later works, which can be found—with promising cover art—in Alle Geschichten (Complete Stories, 1998).
For more about his life and writings:
- BookRags.com has most of the DLB’s article on Lettau.
- The obituary from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), where Lettau taught Writing and German Literature from 1968-90.
(Images: the cover art is by Günter Grass; here’s an online gallery of Grass’ graphic work, 1972-2007.)
Vincent James O’Sullivan (1868-1940) was an American-born writer of macabre stories and Decadent poetry. Oscar Wilde, after having read O’Sullivan’s poems, commented: “In what a midnight his soul seems to walk! and what maladies he draws from the moon!”, and such a remark aptly characterizes most of O’Sullivan’s oeuvre.
It was in Montague Summers' The Supernatural Omnibus (1931) that I first noticed O’Sullivan’s artistry. His stories—even in a collection that includes such figures as J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Bram Stoker, Vernon Lee, and, one of Crowley’s cronies, William Seabrook—immediately stood out for their delivery, if not their content. O’Sullivan’s prose is vivid, flowing, and capable of deathly sudden twists. His most widely anthologized story, "When I Was Dead", was described by Robert Aickman as a “spasm of guilt”, “sudden and shattering”; Aickman included it in The Fourth Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories (1967), a long-running series he edited. However, that story is quite mild in comparison to some of O’Sullivan’s others. A few of my favourites are "Hugo Raven’s Hand", "My Enemy and Myself", "The Bars of the Pit", and the novella-length "Verschoyle’s House".
For more about Vincent O’Sullivan, see:
- Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s essay, "A Fallen Master of the Macabre"; it is from the introduction to Master of Fallen Years: The Complete Supernatural Stories of Vincent O’Sullivan (London: The Ghost Story Press, 1995). (Note: the book is very hard to come by, only 400 were printed, has a creepy cover, and it contains his rarest story, “The Monkey & Basil Holderness”, which I am desperate to read.)
- "Vincent O’Sullivan: Unstrung Second Fiddle", an essay that compares him to other Decadent poets, and discusses in detail his story collection A Dissertation Upon Second Fiddles, which is said to read like an English Léon Bloy.
- Archive.org has the story collection Human Affairs, and the Decadent “prosetry” of The Green Window. Unfortunately, their scan of Sentiment, his second of two novels, is the edition without the stories, and they don’t have his first novel, my favourite, The Good Girl. (I hope to add some of his other works to Archive.org.)
- Horror Masters is a good resource for stories of the supernatural, of Vincent’s, it has: "Will", "The Business of Madame Jahn", "The Interval", "Master of Fallen Years", "When I Was Dead", and "The Burned House".
(Image: the frontispiece was done by the talented Aubrey Beardsley; the drawing does not look to be his most inspired work (see Stanley Weintraub's Beardsley for why =]), but do take a look at this collection.)
It’s refreshing to find a writer embracing the fact that nobody reads him:
My books are better thought about than read. They’re insanely dull and unreadable; I mean, do you really want to sit down and read a year’s worth of weather reports or a transcription of the 1010 WINS traffic reports “on the ones” (every ten minutes) over the course of a twenty-four-hour period? I don’t.
I love the end too: “The rest of culture has moved so far beyond such simplistic notions of originality, yet here we are in literature, still fifty years behind the rest of the world. It’s so tiresome.”
image: Adrian Piper, Untitled 1968 work via
New book by Goldsmith: Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age
No one reads Rudolph Wurlitzer (b. 1937, Texas), that is, if Barthelme and Pynchon—advocates of Wurlitzer’s Nog—don’t count, and if I don’t include the small cult following that the book has had since its debut in 1969. Still, by my esoteric calculations, Wurlitzer could use some more exposure, especially for his later works, e.g., Flats and Quake.
Fans of Beckett, Denis Johnson, and Bukowski—just to name a few kindred spirits—should definitely give Wurlitzer a read.
For more about Rudy, see:
- "Wurlitzer’s Wiles", Gary Indiana's survey of Wurlitzer's books
- Jeremy Hatch’s short, and perceptive, essay on Nog at the Quarterly Conversation
- The official Rudolph Wurlitzer website
- The IMDB listing of Wurlitzer’s filmography
(Image: the 1970 Pocket Books edition; I couldn’t find any artist credit in the paperback—contacted the publisher, still waiting for a reply)
Architectural dreamwork, end-times seascapes so barren they seem cut from the pages of the Bible, coolly-rendered Rube Goldberg apparati, and the crushing sadness that results when you tie your emotional fortunes to a person whose tongue is so fat in his mouth he can barely speak, mark this little masterpiece of a novel. Cast as a soliloquy in the form of a ship’s log, a grief report from someone who has no good insurance she will ever be heard, the novel moves fluidly between its major forms: love song, a treatise on gardening at sea, an argument against the company of others, and a dark science expo for exquisite inventions like a hybrid lichen that makes things invisible. Published by Alfred A. Knopf under the editorial guidance of Gordon Lish, the fiction world’s singular Quixote—a champion of innovative styles and formal ambition—there may have been no better year  in which to tuck such an odd, exquisite book. Instead of rushing for relevance and breaking the news, Crawford was taking the oldest news of all—it is strange and alone here, even when we are surrounded by people, and there is a great degree of pain to be felt—and reporting it as nautical confessional. The result, now thirty-six years later, seems to prove that interior news, the news of what it feels like to want too much from another person, will not readily smother under archival dust.
No one reads Marguerite Young, though my god! we all should. From her obituary in the New York Times:
Afterward she became a legend: the woman with the pageboy haircut who looked like W. H. Auden, wrote like James Joyce, strode through the Village in her signature serapes, had breakfast at Bigelow’s with Richard Wright, got drunk at the White Horse Tavern with Dylan Thomas, palled around with Truman Capote and Carson McCullers, kept a vast collection of dolls in her Bleecker Street apartment and regaled intimates with tales of her romantic conquests
No one reads Thomas Beer, including me, though I’m using him to highlight Robert Nedelkoff’s list on Neglected Books. Nedelkoff writes:
In the 1950s, during his first lectures at the University of Virginia, Faulkner mentioned that in the days when he read the Saturday Evening Post at his Oxford postmaster’s job instead of delivering the magazine, he had admired Thomas Beer’s (1889-1940) stories and had learned something of characterization and plot from them. He asked if any of the students had read Beer; there was silence. He asked if any had heard of him. One student had heard of Beer’s biography of Stephen Crane and of his bestseller of ’26, The Mauve Decade. Others who’ve admired Beer’s work include Lewis Mumford, historian Frank Friedel and Carl Van Vechten (with whom Beer had some aspects of style and sensibility in common). The Fair Rewards is a portrait in novel form of the American theater from 1890 to 1920, and well illustrates Beer’s gift for delineating pre-World War I America in a somewhat melancholy, elliptical fashion. Long out of print.
[READER SUBMISSION…sorry I lost track of his name!]
I have been researching and writing about William March for around 4 years now, but no one else even knows he exists (outside of the Bad Seed film mostly). His WWI anti-war novel “Company K” was hailed as one of the finest war novels ever written (by Graham Greene, nonetheless), but he has faded into obscurity. I authored his wikipedia page, as there was none to be found when I went searching…I find it quite depressing that someone who was heralded as “the unrecognized genius of our time” would simply cease to be relevant.
William March’s wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_March