I spent most of the past week reading Patrick Hamilton’s Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky. In its chronicling of flawed people interacting and sometimes failing to connect, its portrait of desperation, and its unflinching realism, I’d file it not far from works I recently read from Messrs. Fante and Kerouac. This trilogy encompasses the ecstatic and the harrowing. At times, Hamilton’s narrator does tend to summarize all that we’ve just encountered (a tendency I didn’t entirely love), but ultimately, his candor about and sympathy for his characters is what will likely stay with me. And the final part (The Plains of Cement) features one of the most painfully awkward descriptions of an out-of-sync courtship I’ve ever read. Looking forward to delving into more of Hamilton’s work soon — hopefully Hangover Square or The Slaves of Solitude.
Over the weekend, I read Nathanael West’s A Cool Million and The Dream Life of Balso Snell. It was an odd experience — West’s Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust are both fantastic works, just stylized enough to sting yet recognizably human. These two earlier books are more overtly satirical: Dream Life is a strange collage of styles and nestled narratives; it’s clever, but doesn’t entirely hit home. A Cool Million reads like a parody of up-by-your-bootstraps fiction, as a painfully earnest young man tries to make his way in the big city and ends up becoming the patsy of a nascent fascist movement. It’s cartoonish, and lacks the humanism that make West’s later works so powerful (and balances out his eye for the monstrous).
Also read in the last week: Gary Lutz’s masterful I Looked Alive (see also: Blake Butler’s take on the book). And now I’m in the midst of Jesse Ball’s The Curfew, which I’m enjoying considerably so far.
My summer listening tastes are erratic. I walk about a mile to work through the masses of other New Yorkers who are probably thinking the exact same thing I am, “Please God, don’t let one of those air conditioner units fall onto my head.” But I don’t feel much camaraderie with these people, and I think that’s because I’m terrified of people. When I’m working, I can be listening to anything, but I’ve been playing more Badfinger and Big Star than usual. (I’ve also been listening to Nada! by Death in June on repeat.)
When I’m walking is a much different story. I’ve been listening to as much hardcore as possible. From Los Crudos and Charles Bronson, to Septic Death and the entire Minor Threat discography. This is a normal summer tradition for me, and I embrace it year after year.
I cracked open Mihail Sebastian’s The Accident, after I’d been looking at it on my desk for the last few weeks. I’m guessing there will be a proper review sometime soon.