This week’s reading involved catching up with some writers I hadn’t checked in with in a while. First: Stephen Millhauser; specifically, the trio of novellas collected in The King in the Tree. “Revenge,” the first of these, reads a bit oddly — Millhauser’s roundabout style entering Patricia Highsmith territory. But “An Adventure of Don Juan” is fantastically structured, playing with some of his fondness for surreal and ornate structures and revisiting classic figures, with a resonant and brutal resolution.
I also read a pair of books from Geoff Dyer (pictured above): The Missing of the Somme and The Ongoing Moment. The first of them — an early work from Dyer that’s only now seeing release in the US — looks at the First World War from the perspective of memory (and memorials). It’s a short, taut, oddly structured book, delving into aesthetic meditations and (occasionally) Dyer’s own family history, but in the end it ends up clicking.
My admiration for The Missing of the Somme increased after reading The Ongoing Moment, Dyer’s look at photography. One can see the themes introduced in the earlier book flourishing here. Dyer connects a series of twentieth-century photographers via themes, repeated motifs, and a history of influence; in the end, when he reveals just where all of these motifs are headed, the results are stunning.
The ties he establishes between books don’t just encompass these two; late in the book, there’s a reference in passing to Tarkovsky’s Stalker — which, as it turns out, will be the subject of Dyer’s next book, Zona…
Also read (and highly recommended): Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment, which hauntingly chronicled the dissipation of a marriage and its narrator’s collapse into depression. And I’m presently reading Ida Hattemer-Higgins’s The History of History, which — in its shifting and surreal geography — suggests a bit of thematic overlap with the works of Steve Erickson (which is not a bad quality to have, I daresay). Up next: Emily Schultz’s Heaven is Small…
Lev Grossman wrote a piece for Salon a few weeks back, about writers doubling as book critics (and vice versa), and it got me to thinking back on the New York Times review of Keith Gessen’s All The Sad Young Literary Men, from a few years back. The review started off by saying that, “Literary editors who write novels are like princesses who get involved in the manufacture of tiaras: they want a piece of the action, sure, but also they must want to play a more invigorating part in creating the dazzle that defines them,” and then goes on to make a few examples of critics and editors writing novels — one of which was Cyril Connolly’s The Rock Pool. I’d been meaning to get to Connolly’s 1936 snarky take on English speaking artists living in France for quite some time, and Grossman’s piece making me revisit the Gessen review brought made me remember that. I guess it’s interesting how certain things can make you work backwards, and remind you of books you had placed high on your mental queue.
I’ve spent the better part of my last week shuffling through the catalog of Dan Melchior. He’s got a new album upcoming on Northern Spy Records, which I’m quite curious to hear. Melchior is a savant when it comes to dirty garage rock. He’s a lot like Billy Childish, where you usually know what you’re getting into when you drop the needle on one of his records; but like with Mr. Childish, that’s totally alright by me.