Thursday, August 11, 2011

Literary Matters

Time once again for "Literary Matters." Who needs them? Nobody! But here they are. 1) Though Burke has moved away he is still able to communicate through the medium of "email." He says that maybe his favorite line of dialogue in ON THE ROAD comes when a character is showing off his freshly amputated toe - or rather the spot where his toe used to be. He has left the hospital immediately after the operation, over the objections of the staff, of course, which he shrugs off: "What's a toe?" he says. 2) Here are a few lines from ANGELA SLOAN by James Whorton, Jr., which I started reading yesterday: "'Somebody left that chicken sitting out!' He said it in language that was spotted with profanities. I've omitted those." Pure Whorton! I am reminded of a passage from his novel FRANKLAND: "I drew close again to Dweena Price and smelled her hair. I will say no more about what happened next. I draw the curtain." 3) This is sort of the opposite of Scott Phillips's approach in THE ADJUSTMENT, which I just finished reading. Anything goes! Profane is a good word for that book. Depraved is another. It's a thrill ride with a maniac. Our protagonist thinks of doing certain things, tries to do other things, and actually does a bunch of things - each wilder and viler than the last. But he's so good at it! Phillips stays in his head and never winks or blinks. THE ADJUSTMENT has been - as Michael Kupperman once said of another book (THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH by Dan J. Marlowe) - "boiled to a level that is hard." Phillips isn't kidding around. He tried to give his book the pulpy drugstore spinner title SUPPLY SARGE, but "The Man" wasn't having it, sadly. Reading THE ADJUSTMENT feels like a reckless pursuit. Sometimes you put it down for a second - but only a second, because you have to find out what happens next - and think, "Thank goodness reading a book can't kill me. OR CAN IT?" 4) Whorton and Phillips - one explicit, one implicit! Both approaches are valid and chock full of strange rewards. (Here is where the government would like me to remind you that Phillips and Whorton are my pals... but I bought their books with my own money and was in no way bribed or coddled by their presumably sleazy representatives.)
5) And I should mention Whorton's tender and somewhat melancholy style never lets you forget that his book is actually an adventure story with spies, featuring in a bit part (so far) that object of the "blog's" morbid curiosity G. Gordon Liddy! And the narrator is a plucky young girl, which will make some reviewer somewhere call it "HARRIET THE SPY with actual spies," hey, that's not bad. 6) Also, both books are funny. Getting back to Phillips for a second, he's a master of the bleak - maybe nihilistic! - humor that characterizes the hardboiled style. Sometimes people forget that part! 7) Dr. Theresa and I were staying in a hotel a couple of years ago when we heard, coming from somewhere we couldn't exactly place, the eerie tap-tap-tap of typewriter keys, a sound you just don't hear that much anymore. "Barton Fink must be staying here," Dr. Theresa joked. Later we told Jim Whorton about it - he was staying in the same hotel. "That was me," he said. With needless abashment, as I recall it! So maybe he is "hardboiled" in his own way, sitting in a lonesome hotel room typing away on a typewriter like a man out of time. And the book he was working on was ANGELA SLOAN. And now you know... THE REST OF THE STORY. This is Paul Harvey.......... GOOD DAY! 8) That would have made a good ending. But here's another thing: I have nothing against electronic readers, really, oh, I have sentimental things against them, and then there was all that trouble with the kindle and the soulless behemoth that time... but I was reading an article in the New York Times today where the reporter was trying out all sorts of e-readers plus an old-fashioned paperback to see what works best. He writes, "Both iPads offer an immersive reading experience. I found myself jumping back and forth between my book and the Web, looking up old facts and pictures of New York City. I also found myself being sucked into the wormhole of the Internet and a few games of Angry Birds." I know what he means by "immersive," but in a truer way he is describing an experience that is the opposite of immersive, isn't he? Then he tells us about his struggles with a paperback: "It took barely a paragraph for me to feel frustrated. I kept looking up things on my iPhone, and forgetting to earmark my page." And I thought: "Poor thing!" 9) Oh wait. While I've got you here. I've been trying to talk the Doomed Book Club into reading WANDERER, the autobiography of Sterling Hayden. So you can't have this first line for your autobiography because Sterling Hayden beat you to it: "The black pit of oblivion opens like a giant clamshell."