Earlier this week, I finished reading Irmgaud Keun’s After Midnight (at the recommendation of Bookavore). What begins as a depiction of daily life in late-30s Germany from a narrator not particularly disposed towards fascism eventually (and subtly, and quietly) becomes something much more haunting, as the sublimated tendencies towards frustration and despair that have accumulated over the course of the book make themselves eminently tangible.
I picked up Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet after encountering Carrington’s name beside the names of many writers whose work I admired in Ben Marcus’s introduction to David Ohle’s Motorman. I was far less familiar with Carrington, and sought to rectify this. What begins as a quirky story of a conspiracy uncovered by a group of elderly women eventually takes a turn into the cosmic and surreal; it’d play well on a double bill with Chris Adrian’s The Children’s Hospital, I’d say.
Dennis Cooper’s The Sluts just about floored me. It’s genuinely shocking in places, and one of the few novels I’ve read that’s billed as “transgressive” that actually fit the bill. And yet it also uses an unconventional structure, composed primarily of comments and ratings on the internet, to a stunning effect.
Also read this week: Padgett Powell’s Edisto and Joy Williams’s State of Grace. In the case of the former, I’d been meaning to read something from the author in question for a while; in the case of the latter, I hadn’t read any work from the author in far too long. The two novels had little in common save a setting in the Southeast; both, however, represented time well-spent.
When I try and make the argument that personally I’d rather not read fiction or watch films about the Holocaust, it’s because I grew up around people who actually lived through it, and it can feel exploitative when somebody tries to make a story out of such a horrible episode in human history — especially one that left evidence under my own roof and in the houses around the one I grew up in.
On the flip side I also understand that it’s a powerful vehicle for somebody to use, and there have been a few books and movies that have done so in good taste (there have been dozens of stinkers as well, but I won’t touch upon that here). Normally though, I don’t touch the stuff. One of the only exceptions in recent times was Steve Sem-Sandberg’s The Emperor of Lies, and I’m glad I did. The Swedish novel (translated by Sarah Death) is done with a careful hand, and yields some great results. Look for a review in the future.
Every single time I read anything by Ann Beattie, I want to go out and silkscreen a t-shirt that reads, “Love you, Ann Beattie.” This week it was her story in The New Yorker, “Starlight,” which is forthcoming book on the life of Pat Nixon’s, but told in her very Ann Beattie sort of way. She talked to The New Yorker about her subject.