Saturday, August 30, 2014

Omens and Fiends

Lisa Howorth was talking to me about MRS. DALLOWAY and I realized I have never read it. So I went and got a copy at Square Books. At the same time, Bill Boyle's birthday was coming up. So I got him a pretty nice edition of AN AMERICAN DREAM by Norman Mailer. And then I realized I've never read that either, though I have a copy I got from that used book stall I told you about before. And what poor taste to give a gift on which you can't stamp your personal guarantee! So that's how I started reading MRS. DALLOWAY and AN AMERICAN DREAM at the same time. Incompatible, one would think! Oh, but the human brain loves to mash stuff together, am I right, people? (See also.) So when I put down AN AMERICAN DREAM and picked up MRS. DALLOWAY and read about "one of those spectres who stand astride us and suck up half our life-blood... It rasped her, though, to have stirring about in her this brutal monster! to hear twigs cracking and feel hooves planted down in the depths of that leaf-encumbered forest, the soul," well, I thought: "That's kind of Norman Mailery!" I mean, I had just read in AN AMERICAN DREAM, "Yes, I had come to believe in spirits and demons, in devils, warlocks, omens, wizards and fiends, in incubi and succubi..." Of course, in Woolf these things are metaphorical, and I'm never sure with Mailer. Ghosts and magic are real for him. It's to his credit (I think!) that I can't tell whether AN AMERICAN DREAM is ABOUT a crazy person or BY a crazy person. Then you have Woolf's Septimus Smith (makes me think of the name of the Mailer character Sergius O'Shaughnessy) who thinks clouds are sending him messages (to be fair, I may be exaggerating: it's a skywriter advertising toffee, so Mr. Smith IS being sent a message, but not one to him personally - he believes it's part of something beautiful and universal) and that "the human voice in certain atmospheric conditions... can quicken trees to life!" Whereas when I last left AN AMERICAN DREAM's Steve Rojack (like Septimus Smith, forever changed by his experience of war) he was sitting in a bar, convinced that he could make one patron's foot hurt or another get the hiccups with magical invisible bullets he'd mentally send their way... Oh well, I'm just a short way into both books and like Steve Rojack and Septimus Smith and everybody else I'm making connections that aren't really there.