Today I will be writing about: THE SELLOUT, by Paul Beatty (library), I CAN GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, by Gary Indiana (purchased), WAYS TO DISAPPEAR, by Idra Novey (advance copy sent by literati-industry pal), YOU ARE NOT A STRANGER HERE, by Adam Haslett (library), MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON, by Elizabeth Strout (library – but after reading, bought a copy), and, as always, talking about myself. This is, after all, my blog.
Those of you who have come here for a discussion of books, I’ve got five today, some of which are fantastic, but pardon me for a moment while I speak to another part of my audience, those who — for the briefest of ecstatic, orgasmic moments yesterday — led me to believe some lit-type had linked me, praising my blog as a don’t miss, must read, savant-ish polyglot’s potpourri of belletristic babble and the off-color, onanistic emotional offal of a train-wreck in progress. But, hell no . . . instead . . .
IF YOU’RE HERE LOOKING FOR NAKED CHARLIE CARVER, SORRY.
In the past 48 hours this blog has gotten a ridiculous number of hits. “Huzzah!” said I, all a-tingle and a-glow with that endorphin rush only impact play can bring, “Hit me some more, sir!”
Now, were I a different kind of person, say, perhaps, NOT one who’d first been BDSM-ed by the School Sisters of Notre Dame and Roman Catholic-brainwashed into the mindset in which every pleasure requires requisite punishment, I might have enjoyed this spanking of popularity without regard to its residual bruising and scarring; alas, I am bottom-trained to the bondage of guilt and suspicion, a man accustomed to taking it while on his knees, and so, I assumed the position and investigated.
Charlie Carver came out yesterday on Instagram [click here]. Good for him and it means nothing to me other than this: In March of 2014 I posted pics of Charlie and his twin brother, shirtless, in a piece about my objectification of men. The picture above is from that post on my blog and it comes up first when one types “Charlie Carver Naked” into a search engine. While I am sore disappointed that the hits to my blog are not driven by people hungry for my prose-stylings, I can imagine just how disappointed are those confronted with my prose-stylings when they’d hoped for Charlie Carver’s dick, so, apologies, and please, when taking it out on me, try not to leave a scar. My safe word is “READ!”
NOW, TO THE BOOKS . . .
During January of 2015 I read ten books. So far, in January of 2016, I have read six, mostly good books, one so fantastic I hesitate to write about it because doing so seems sacrilegious. But, this blog is about more than the good pain/bad pain humiliations I suffer along the way as I worship at the altar of attractive and unattainable young men, it is also a platform for sharing how I feel about the things I read, and for promoting those books I love, this my humble effort to spread the joy and love and light books bring to me. Well, here goes.
THE SELLOUT, by Paul Beatty, hardcover, 304 pages, March 2015, Farrar, Straus & Giroux This is another of those very buzzy books, about which much has been written, superlatives bandied about, mad-love admirations by the erudite literati gushed in the usual-suspect-we-all-ride-the-same-morning-train-and-talk publications. For the first hundred pages or so I was ready to hobo-hop my way onto that train as I often do; it was a salient satire about race and class and cynicism, one after another funny – sometimes hysterical – riff on stereotypes and ignorance and self-delusion, but then, it bogged down in what was for me a plotless plod of too much plot. I know, that makes little sense, but, it took too long for too little to happen and the variations on the social commentary that had been riveting the first one hundred pages were just repetitive in the next two hundred.
Here’s the thing about being the literati equivalent of a freight-hopping hobo: I’m not paying for the tickets to get on the trains, I’m wandering and wondering, a flaneur, going where I want, when I want, dawdling, dallying, and yes, diddling, at a pace all my own on a journey of my catch-as-catch-can design, and, my dears, doing it this way has proven to be a little dangerous, true, sometimes I’m hungry, almost always I am a little (or, in truth, quite a lot) lonely, but having already lost everything more than once, the only voyages remaining for me are those junkets in which I’ve got nothing to lose — as in, job, reputation, followers. I mean, hell, the most traffic my little book-exploration-sometimes naked guys blog has gotten in the past year has been driven by Charlie Carver’s dick, so, you know, here I am, going (on and on and on and on), not likely to be intimidated by the threat of further dissipation.
Thus and so, here is another of the things about me, like I said, literati-freight-hopping-flaneur with a catholic (and Catholic, I guess) penchant for being abused: As foul-mouthed as I am, as rabid an advocate for freedom of speech as I am, as far-left as I am, the use of certain words makes me uncomfortable. I never use the N-word. Mr. Beatty uses it — and other equally triggering words — throughout The Sellout, which I understand is part of his point. I get it. And, Mr. Beatty, being African-American and writing from that perspective and using the word as ironic commentary, all gotten. But, back to that thing about me, see, I think words are incredibly powerful, able to cast spells, takers and givers of energy with lives that continue after we’ve said or written or thought them, words have the power to make things happen just by being said, written,
From Michael Ranta’s “Shot from Trains” series. Click photo to visit his site. Gorgeous work.
thought. Words create energy waves in our minds, in our hearts, in our world and so, I am one of those gay men who doesn’t think gay men (or anyone else) ought say the Fa-word nor should lesbians (or anyone else) say the Dy-word. I also don’t care for the use of the Bi- and Ba- words and I despise the Cu- word. I get the whole “We are reclaiming them and making them harmless and powerless” thing but I think that is a specious defense for using words born of hate. I think the world is still too full of ignorant people who upon hearing we minorities using words once (and, often, still) pejorative in nature to refer to ourselves will take that as liberty to continue to use them in ugly, distasteful, violent, abusive and damaging ways. We should be very careful about filling our mouths, hearts, and environments with those words, because, we need to protect our hearts and the hearts of others. So . . .
I CAN GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, by Gary Indiana, hardcover, 240 pages, September, 2015, Rizzoli Ex Libris . . . Gary Indiana’s use of sometimes pejorative terms for gay men in his memoir also gave me pause. I don’t know, perhaps I am the duddiest of fuddies, but the phrase “buxom giddy queen” is the sort of thing meant to cut and harm and I just would rather not live in that or read about it. That said, otherwise, I loved LOVED LOVED this book. Perhaps it is because Mr. Indiana and I are long-distance contemporaries belonging to a cohort of shared experience if not geography, and at this crepuscular state in my life, finding resonance and kind — even at the remove of hardcover pages — is a comfort. Mr. Indiana’s writing is compelling, evocative, and eviscerating in its honesty; he spares no one, including himself. My (bought) copy is festooned with sticky-notes and scribbled marginalia. Here, just a few lines I marked:
Time is glacially slow in this country, but my face races on, across all the mirrors, en route to the eternity of nothingness behind the finish line. [page 12]
I’m told I think too much, and have too many emotions. For some reason this terrifies people. In my own estimation, I’m emotionally blocked, stupid in practical matters, and cursed with an isolating intelligence that’s worthless, . . . I can be whatever somebody wants temporarily, if I glean a clear intuition of what it might be. I’m so solitary that roles I try playing for other people seem contrived and arbitrary. I’m uncertain enough of my existence to absorb nearby tastes and opinions, as if claiming them as my own will bring me into clearer focus. . . . I don’t fit with anyone I meet, except in a lubricious, sweaty, transient junction of organs and holes, a fusion of raw desires that discharge themselves with two spurts of jism. The guys I pick up are impervious to emotional complications, . . . What I look for is an abridged version of what I want: a no-fault fuck in the parking lot of time between last call and the morning reality principle, and a modicum of cordiality. [page 81-82]
I had the sense of always standing a little apart from the narrative, of missing the point, of nothing ever being quite enough or never adding up. Life was a choppy sequence of images unfolding in several worlds whose only connection was the fact that I slipped into one after another like an actor performing several plays in the same twenty-four-hour span. [page 170]
And this, story of my life:
It sounds ridiculous now, but his sexual indifference embarrassed me for years after this whole period was finished, as a high point of humiliation. It was a purely willful, physical attraction, but I had fastened on Don as the person I wanted to love me back, imagining my desire could make this person I didn’t really know into the person I wanted him to be. [page 172]
And one-offs aplenty, like, “At least with an ex-convict, there’s a little damaged tenderness.” [page 228] and, “…the inbred assurance of an upper-middle-class Eagle Scout, a wide-eyed, impervious optimism that only needed a dusting of freckles and a few amphetamines to turn him into Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz.” [page 199] and, “. . . Ferd sighed, with an oracular exhaustion I can still hear after thirty-five years.” [page 205]
I share an exhaustion with Mr. Indiana, if not quite as oracular, at least as weary, and brought on more than a little by having come of age in an age where a coming out like Mr. Carver’s would have meant the end of many possibilities and opportunities, and so we internalized our self-hatred and fear, the disgust with ourselves into which we’d been brainwashed and acculturated, seeking lovers and tricks and John Rechy-esque numbers for partners, those men who were but were not what we were and were afraid of being, reflections of our own rejections of self.
Damn it’s been a freaking long road. And Bowie has died. On the day Charlie Carver came out. And there are echoes and connections there. And I am feeling ancient. And Mr. Indiana’s book echoes and ruminates on all of the angst and agita that brought him to this same place, from where we were, who we were, what we have been, to here, where we are, going.
WAYS TO DISAPPEAR, by Idra Novey, Hardcover, 272 pages, February, 2016, Little, Brown and Company I read with far more hope than I trick, perhaps because I have far better luck with hook-ups in my literati-hobo-flaneur-ing than I have ever had with men, and one such connection brought me an advance copy of this beguiling, enchanting debut novel by poet and translator, Idra Novey. Ways to Disappear defies categorization and genre. It is like nothing else I’ve read, an un-doing of form, a translation of emotion and relationship into a unique shape that is at whiplash inducing, breakneck pace funny, frightening, instructive, and heartbreaking with dollops of magic realism and heapings of lyrical prose, imagery run carefully amok — I know, carefully amok, but there’s the incongruous truth and beauty of it. Ms. Novey manages a mordant burlesque of character and circumstance into a fast-paced, page turning meme-noir of great beauty and wit with fascinating finesse. First paragraph, listen:
In a crumbling park in the crumbling back end of Copacabana, a woman stopped under an almond tree with a suitcase and a cigar. She was a round woman with a knob of gray hair pinned at the nape of her neck. After staring a minute up into the tree, she bit into her cigar, lifted her suitcase onto the lowest branch, and climbed up after it.
Read that out loud. Sit with it a moment. Is it prose? A poem? Hilarious? Tragic? All of the above? Whatever else it might be, it is gorgeous and courageous writing. Ms. Novey takes all sorts of terrifying and satisfying chances, all the while making music of syntax and rhythms that roll luxuriously off the tongue – read it out loud, I dare you. There is so much on which to meditate in this short novel, I read it twice in one day and have read the ending a few more times since. It is a meditation on how we translate emotion into reality and relationship, on the way we shape our lives through such translations, and the search for those who hear things in the same syntax as do we, who share our vocabulary of the heart. Yes, there is romance as well, romance that scars. Truly, my efforts to further describe might do the disservice of dissuading you from picking this up, and you really ought to read it. So go, get a copy now. I’ll wait.
YOU ARE NOT A STRANGER HERE, by Adam Haslett, Hardcover, 256 pages, August, 2002, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday Why did I order this book from the library? I wish I could recall where first I heard about it, who recently wrote about it, which website or Twitter-Literati recommended it, but, I didn’t share decades with Gary Indiana and David Bowie and not suffer some brain-cell loss in the process.
However it came to me, I am grateful. A collection of nine short stories dealing with disturbing degrees of alienation from the world, from others, from the self, this is a well-written though hardly easy read. I devoured all the stories in a two-day binge and that was not, I think, the ideal way to appreciate this work. One should space these stories out, as having them all too quickly follow one another is akin to spending too much time with that friend whose life is one after another tragedy and trauma and who, one suspects, enjoys the agony just a little more than they ought. Too much.
Still, nice work, the opening story, Notes to My Biographer, about a schizophrenic father on a manic high was especially compelling and wrenching. The Beginnings of Grief was a horrifying study in where the numbing effects of loss and despair can strand a person. Devotion, about a brother and sister and the man they both loved and the secrets and lies between them is beautifully wrought, its construction my favorite in the collection and it contained my favorite passage, this;
He won their games of hide-and-go-seek because he never closed his eyes completely, and could see which way she ran. He could still remember the peculiar anger and frustration he used to feel after he followed her to her hiding place and tapped her on the head.
That’s a perfect evocation of what goes on between a brother and sister, the summing up of a relationship in which one’s own misdeeds being allowed are a source of anger. He cheats. He is angry because she has accepted and forgiven it. There is every indication she knows, early hinting of which is finally revealed to be true. He needs not to lose more than she needs to win, a flaw in him to which she acquiesces, which infuriates him. That’s some glorious imagery there.
But, the story by which I was most moved was Reunion. A fellow has contracted AIDS, is dying, and the emotional and physical peregrinations through which he chooses to contort as he moves toward his end, the letters through which he shares this with his father, a devastating telling.
And now, I must somehow find a way to write about a book I loved so much I fear sullying its near-perfection by speaking of it. But, I have put it off long enough, here goes:
MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON, by Elizabeth Strout, hardcover, 208 pages, January, 2016, Random House I first cried reading pages 41 and 42 of this book. I almost never cry when reading. I said this on Twitter; “No words of mine in any combination seem worthy of speaking of this book — that is how much I love it. Ms. Strout’s limning of the failure of love that meant well and knew no better, her exploration of the ways in which we disappoint while doing all we can — it is glorious. There is not one single word, space, mark of punctuation, presence, absence, breath, that is not absolutely essential to the telling, each a necessary part of a transcendent whole. Rarely have I been this moved. People, if you’ve ever trusted my lit-taste for a moment — even if you haven’t — I beg you, stop everything. Read My Name Is Lucy Barton now.”
I don’t know if I’ve the skills to say it better. I can tell you this, every time I start trying to describe this book to anyone, I begin weeping anew. Here is what the Penguin Random House site says about the novel:
A new book by Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout is cause for celebration. Her bestselling novels, including Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys, have illuminated our most tender relationships. Now, in My Name Is Lucy Barton, this extraordinary writer shows how a simple hospital visit becomes a portal to the most tender relationship of all—the one between mother and daughter.
Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.
Yes. And maybe it is the Mother and child angle that gets to me in particular, the ways in which they find and lose and fail and comfort and disappoint and love — oh how they love — one another. Maybe. Or, perhaps it is that Ms. Strout is a writer of such proficiency and profound gifts, a talent so rare, I was transported by that alone. Oh people, I don’t know. I only know this book took me to a world so vividly made, so real, so powerful, I could not stop once I started.
I would begin quoting from the book, Ms. Strout’s beautiful lines, but they belong so ineluctably to the wholeness of it — as I said, every letter of it contributes to its completeness, is essential, and so to pull-quote without context diminishes. Still, I will try, just briefly, this:
But I think I know so well the pain we children clutch to our chests, how it lasts our whole lifetime, with longings so large you can’t even weep. We hold it tight, we do, with each seizure of the beating heart: This is mine, this is mine, this is mine.
Have you ever? And, okay, this, oh holy mother of all that is holy, this, from page 41-42 where began my weeping:
One more thing about Jeremy: The AIDS epidemic was new. Men walked the streets, bony and gaunt, and you could tell they were sick with this sudden, almost biblical-seeming plague. And one day, sitting on the stoop with Jeremy, I said something that surprised me. I said, after two such men had just walked slowly by, “I know it’s terrible of me, but I’m almost jealous of them. Because they have each other, they’re tied together in a real community.” And he looked at me then, and with real kindness on his face, and I see now that he recognized what I did not: that in spite of my plenitude, I was lonely. Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me. He saw this that day, I think. And he was kind. “Yes” is all he said. He could easily have said, “Are you crazy, they’re dying!” But he did not say that, because he understood that loneliness about me. That is what I want to think. That is what I think.
To have achieved that paragraph in this lifetime would be enough for me. Had I written it, I could happily say, “Well, now I have done all I ever need do.” Such beauty. So many stories in so few words. Spare. Perfect.
I cannot imagine there will be many books this year (or, ever) that move me in the way My Name Is Lucy Barton did and continues to do. So beautiful. Such artistry. So much truth. Please, please, PLEASE read it.
AND SO WE REACH THE END . . .
Here I am, nearly gone, 3500 words and eighteen hours (and the death of David Bowie and the coming out of Charlie Carver and an afternoon of my own Mother’s stories and a few secrets I dragged out of her) later, my blog hits are double what they were yesterday –entirely attributable to the search of Charlie Carver’s dick – and if you’ve made it here, to this end, my end, today, well, darling, bless you. Love and Light and thank you for joining me here, where I am going.