Monday, April 25, 2016

Literary Matters

It's time once again for "Literary Matters"! No one enjoys those. They're not enjoyable. 1. I covered this one on twitter yesterday, but it's sticking in my mind. I read in the New York Times about Jimmy Buffett "grinning and splashing Tabasco on a modified Cobb salad." The editorial machinery of the New York Times saw fit - for the sake of accuracy, one supposes - to make sure the reader did not receive the false impression that Jimmy Buffett was eating a completely traditional Cobb salad. BUT! They did not care to let that same reader know in what way the Cobb salad had been modified. That's really all I have to say about that, except that I can't stop thinking about it. 2. EVERYBODY has been telling me to read BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL. Why, Randy Yates stopped me on the corner outside his own restaurant just to ask whether I had read it. And he was only one of many to make that query. And I needed something to read after MEASURE FOR MEASURE. (Ha ha, don't worry, I haven't given up on THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY; I just read this in it: "Cupid and Death met both in an Inn, and being merrily disposed, they did exchange some arrows from either quiver; ever since young men die, and oftentimes old men dote"... but I need a new "carry-around" book.) BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL is done up at least partway in that poetic style that Chandler made permissible for crime stories (instead of bubbles in the bathwater there are "little zeroes of suds"), and I'm more than fine with that! Okay! But then I had to stop on page 12 when he referred to the "trashy tune and words" of a Hank Williams song. The idea of someone sitting around proclaiming something "trashy" has never set well with me. And I know I should not confuse the author with the narrator! But here's a guy working in a genre that has been (unfairly) called "trashy" and he is going to have his narrator refer to the towering melodic and lyric achievements of Hank Williams as "trashy"? He should be on Hank's side! The irony (?) is compounded by the fact that this is a slick nyrb paperback, which has "rehabilitated," I guess, his "pulpy" novel. 3. Have you ever noticed in those books how your tough-guy narrator always wants to tell you when he takes a hot shower and eats some steak and eggs? It's a tendency I noticed in Spillane a lot. Maybe it's realism! I always thought it would be interesting to write a detective novel where there's no crime to solve and the detective just tells you about all the eggs he eats and hot showers he takes. The narrator of BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL "had no more idea of falling in love with her than I had of making a meal of the big yellow cake of soap in the Victorian bathroom," curiously combining both tendencies. 4. So I put down BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL. I'm gonna come back to it! I just have to shake off that unnecessary sideswipe at Hank Williams, though it's really got its claws in me. But in the meantime I thought I'd see what some of these here Shakespeare experts had to say about MEASURE FOR MEASURE. Out of three scholarly tomes I opened, two fell open EXACTLY and AT ONCE to the part about MEASURE FOR MEASURE, as if guided by the ghostly hand of Shakespeare himself! 5. Okay, I told you I'd read some more of this novel. Just three pages later the narrator is complaining that descriptions of women's legs in books are "trash." I don't know whether he's obsessed with trash or I am. But he's used the term twice in three pages. And now he's washing down seconds of potato salad with ice cold beer. Don't get mad at me, kind recommenders! I'm going to give this guy more of a chance than he gave Hank Williams. 6. I WAS WRONG! It's more like Cain than Chandler, but that's not what I mean. See, he's using the Hank Williams song ("If You've Got the Money, Honey") in a much more complex way than I expected... as a kind of shifting leitmotif. "Before it had sounded frank and functional. Before it had sounded gay and uncomplicated. Now the tune had a nasty taste to it." So, see, he was going somewhere with that, and I'm the sap. 7. I'm "not 'blogging' anymore, but I thought a late addendum to an old "post" would be okay. I'll probably come back to brag when I finish THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY too. But in the meantime, from BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL, "She split some canned wieners and fried them with the eggs." See? I told you this kind of narrator always tells you when he eats eggs. 8. "... his hand busy as a tarantula in a fly cage." Gross! And I don't even know what a fly cage is. I assume it is a cage full of flies. And then you put a tarantula in it. But with its obvious debt to Chandler's "tarantula on a slice of angel food," the pendulum of influence swings back. I said I'm not "blogging" anymore but I keep sneakily adding to this list. Pitiful.