Via the WORD’s subscription program, I wound up reading David Stacton’s The Judges of the Secret Court earlier this week. Subtitled “A Novel of John Wilkes Booth,” it isn’t a novel that I would have checked out otherwise, but I’m very glad that I did. (It covers some similar territory to James L. Swanson’s nonfiction Manhunt, which I read a few years ago.) The canvas here is wide, and the focus — such as it is — is centered on the very different lives of Edwin and John Wilkes Booth. But for all that Stacton paints a portrait of a national mood and a disparate group of people, he’s able to blend this with a fearsome specificity. A scene late in the book, in which John Wilkes Booth becomes suddenly cognizant of his own mortality, supplies clarity and horror in equal measure; the effect is stunning.
A different sort of horror arises from the stories in Brian Evenson’s Altmann’s Tongue. Here, there are cult compounds and religious fanatics, crimes in elusive European cities and violence that approaches the ritualistic. Much of what I’ve read from Evenson has been more recent; these stories are, at times, even more visceral and stylized. Though that oversimplifies things a bit — “The Sanza Affair,” the novella which is the penultimate piece in this collection, reads like nothing else I’ve encountered from Evenson. The story delves into a murky, stylized murder investigation in which ambiguity, menace, and corruption abound. It’s one part procedural and one part documentary-style reconstruction, a look into circumstances which defy investigation or trigger obsession.
I’m heading to western Pennsylvania this weekend via bus. Given the length of the trip, I have a lot of reading planned; among the books I’m taking with me: Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy; Péter Nádas’s A Book of Memories*; Valery Panyushkin’s 12 Who Don’t Agree; George R. R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings. Next week’s Indexing will, likely, be a big one.
*-no Indiebound link provided because it’s not showing up in their system, which I assume is a weird and passing issue; it was certainly in there a week or so ago.
When writing, I go between listening to mellow, and listening to loud. I don’t know what brings on these changes, but one hour it will be Nico Muhly and the next I put on Vicious Circle by Indiana 80s punk heroes the Zero Boys. I chalk this all up to the A.D.D., but this week I found myself playing The Sea and the Bells by Rachel’s, and then popping on Ty Segall’s Goodbye Bread for the first time. Now I’m not quite sure if it was due to the preceding album, but damn, Ty’s big time Drag City release is mellow (at least in comparison to his past work). Not necessarily a bad way, and in no way quiet, but not what I was expecting. Gonna listen to it a few more times to wrap my head around this thing.
Read Boss by Mike Royko for the first time since college, but that was for research. Also sat down and started on The Chairs are Where People Go by Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti. I’m not quite sure how you’d define this book. The back defines it as a “self-help book for people who don’t need help,” and almost makes me think of Demetri Martin giving up on being a comedian, and becoming a philosopher.