This week’s unlikely literary motif: puppetry. Over the course of the past week, I read a pair of excellent novels, which — unbeknownst to me — both prominently featured puppets. The first was Jesse Ball’s The Curfew. It focuses on a father and daughter living in a totalitarian state. At first glance, you might not expect it to work: Ball’s style is incredibly general in places, and emotionally honed-in at others. And yet the end result is complex and moving, subtly playing with the narrative even as the emotional honesty remains intact.
Norman Lock’s Shadowplay focuses (as the title might suggest) on a Dalang, whose obsession with a younger woman leads to tragedies both physical and metaphysical. It’s both a tragic narrative on its own and a meditation on the same: its protagonist is inspired after being told the myth of Orpheus and Euridyce, and the novel’s narrator emerges briefly into the story at one point. I’m reading Derek White’s thoughts on it now, which are (no pun intended) illuminating.
I also went through a spot of nonfiction reading. Bryan Waterman’s book on Television’s Marquee Moon was, as expected, nicely informative and analytical, and took a smart perspective on the band’s own penchant for rewriting their own mythology. (I’m going to need to revisit Jason’s interview with Waterman, and soon.)
Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run works on a number of levels. It’s an examination of ultramarathon running, a challenge to the conventional wisdom with respect to running, and an unexpectedly inspirational work of nonfiction — a smart blend of excellent reportage and personal experience. It’s also a flat-out terrific read. Valery Panyushkin’s Twelve Who Don’t Agree is a different sort of reporting: a focus on twelve different people who, in Putin-era Russia, have found themselves in dissident roles. They ardent supporters of democracy, hardcore Bolsheviks, and ordinary citizens simply appalled by the current government’s hypocrisy.
For both the McDougall and Panyushkin books, I have the fine people at Greenpoint’s WORD to thank for the recommendations. Now, on to Yannick Murphy’s The Call, which I’ll likely be reviewing on Vol.1 in the coming weeks.
After listening to the n+1 podcast on Sam Lipsyte, I decided to spend most of my Friday night re-reading his short stories in Venus Drive. I got to thinking about Lipsyte the short story writer vs. Lipsyte the novelist, and I began to think about how happy I’d be if Lipsyte’s next book was another collection of short stories. I loved The Ask, and Home Land was totally brilliant; Lipsyte in short bursts, however, is really something else entirely. I’m not really sure if there is some unwritten rule that you can’t do a book of short stories in the middle of your novel writing peak. I’m not sure if it’s bad form to say, “You know what? I’m gonna take a break from these longer books, and just put out all these stories.”
If that’s the case, I’d understand.
I’ve been listening to Days in the Wake by Palace Brothers a whole lot this week. I don’t want to get into some bullshit, “Will Oldham is this generation’s Dylan” type of conversation, because just like there is no next Beatles or next Nirvana, there will never be another Dylan. Oldham likes old Americana and strums an acoustic guitar, beyond that, I don’t think there are any real similarities between the two. I will say, however, that “When you have no one, no one can hurt you,” is to my generation (god, I feel old saying that) what “When you ain’t got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.”