Three were by authors I know: Gene Clements (café buddy) “Tillie & Elmer’s Carnal Calendar”; Elizabeth Pozen (cousin) “Salami”; and Ron Kemper (college friend) “Sink or Swim, Brooklyn.” In Liz’s poetry collection, I was more drawn to the poems of her childhood, about which I know quite a bit than of her adulthood, about which I know less. To Ron’s (presumably) autobiographical novel about a boy growing up in Brownsville, I had a contrary reaction. There, I was more drawn to the protagonist’s experiences before he was ten, years about which I recall little myself, than I was to those from ten to 13, where mine are more clearly in mind. Gene’s newest collection of “seniors erotica,” where (presumably) imagination was fully at play, kept me continually distanced – and amused.
A second “group” consisted of novels set in the Old West: Hernan Diaz “In the Distance”; Cormac McCarthy “Blood Meridian”; and Phillip Meyers “The Son.” That one I couldn’t finish, though the Comanche parts held my interest. The Diaz was okay, but the best thing to come out of it was the desire to pick up the McCarthy, which I’d read during an everything-he’s-written phase 30 years ago. That book is not for everyone, but, boy, is it something. Fierce, terrifying, original, and unrelentingly, edifyingly dark.
Then there were “Transit” and “Kudos,” the final two novels in Rachel Cusk’s trilogy. (See: “Last 10…V.”) I don’t remember much about them, except I liked the middle one best. It seemed like she had got her feet under her, in terms of what she was up to, since the first and before she went scurrying off sideways in the third. (Since less happens to the central character in the books than what happens before or between them, maybe readers the “not-remembering” is intended or, at least, understandable.) They certainly expanded my idea of what a “novel” may consists, influencing my own work-in-progress.
Standing by itself is Janet Malcom’s “Nobody’s Looking At You.” I believe I’d read all these essays, profiles, and reviews when they’d previously appeared in the NYRB and “New Yorker,” but she and Joan Didion are my two favorite writers. I admire their minds and styles, and I’ve read nearly everything both have written, sometimes multiple times. That said, in this collection, while finding all Malcolm’s longer pieces terrific, her shorter ones jazzed me less.
This leaves two great finds: Francis Paudras “Dance of the Infidels” and Dasa Drndic “EEG.” Paudras’s is a fascinating account of his years as friend/guardian of the bop pianist Bud Powell. Powell, who may have sustained brain damage as a young man in a beating by police, had also suffered abuse as a child and was later abused by his “wife.” He was an alcoholic and diagnosed schizophrenic, who’d been treated with electro-shock and anti-psychotic meds to the point he was often non-communicative. But when he sat down at the piano, genius came out.
Drndic was a Croatian writer, and her book is replete with names of places and persons unknown to me. (Often I needed Google to tell if they were real or fictional.) Her book, which is set in a present enveloped by the Nazi/Soviet/Yugoslav break-up past, reminded me of Beckett and Sebald (and back-cover quotes added Bolanos and Homer). It is dense and slow-going, but I’ve already started the novel which preceded it.