Monday, September 14, 2020

Speedboat



SPEEDBOAT is a novel by Renata Adler. I came across it in my Goodreads feed. The cover caught my eye. Then I read some of the reviews and was intrigued enough to order a copy. Finished reading it recently.

The story is often described as a "plot-less" novel. Actually, it is a very cleverly designed and well-written collection of memories. Told by a fictional character about her fictional life. Arranged in short segments - some only a single paragraph. It reads like a conversation you've had with friends after dinner. One of those conversations that moves from topic to topic and back and forth and you hear something and wonder what happened next but before you can ask, the conversation moves on to another topic. Then it comes back again to the one you were interested in and you find out a little bit more, but before you can get the whole story the conversation veers in a new direction. Something like that.

The book was written in the 1970s and has the feel of the era. New York writer, movie critic, social critic. A bit of an edge to the voice. Adler was at times very much on the inside of the New York literary crowd, and very much on the outs. I like her work and was fascinated by the way she did this book.

Friday, August 28, 2020

A Moveable Feast



I recently finished reading A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway. Required reading for an art history course I'm taking this fall.

Early in his career, Hemingway lived in Paris with his wife and young child. They had a rather miserable existence but it was a heady time when other writers and artists of the era were there - Hemingway, Gertrude Stine, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, to name a few. This book provides a glimpse into what they and their era were like. The so-called "Lost Generation." A well-known moniker for the group that arose, as it turns out, from a throwaway comment made by an automobile mechanic and repeated by Stein. Hemingway did not like it. Great source for insights regarding the people and the time. I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Last Gentleman


The Last Gentleman, a novel by Walker Percy, was published in 1966. I finished reading it the other night.
This was Percy's second book and it doesn't appear to have gained the following of his first, The Moviegoer (see below). Also unlike Moviegoer, this book hasn't been critiqued as deeply for its philosophical assumptions and implications.
The Last Gentleman follows the life of Will Barrett, a young Southerner who relocates to New York in search of an authentic sense of himself and a life of purpose and meaning (common themes for Percy). Barrett, it seems, suffers from something identified only as a "nervous condition" marked by recurring fugues - episodes of disassociation from himself - and from periods of intense deja vu.
Through a series of circumstances, Barrett becomes acquainted with the Vaughts, a Southern family, apparently from Alabama, who have come to New York seeking medical treatment for their son, Jamie. The Vaughts like Barrett and in talking to him learn that they have many acquaintances in common.
When the time comes for the Vaughts to return home, they insist that Barrett return with them to help care for Jamie and serve as his companion. By then, Barrett is in love with Kitty, the Vaughts' daughter. He agrees to return with them to their home in the South where he looks after Jamie and romances Kitty.
That is the basic plot of the book, but in telling that story Percy also tells us the story of Barrett's life before he came to New York and his family's history and position in Southern society. And quite a lot about the Vaught family's story as well. Most of the book follows a continuous narrative, but not all of it and Percy slips seamlessly into discontinuous time - telling the reader things that happened earlier but without being as obvious about it as a reader today might expect from a popular novel of the current era.
This novel probably won't be my favorite Percy story. I enjoyed reading it and I thought Percy had a reason for writing it - something he wanted to tell us or something he wanted us to think about, he just never seemed to get to it. Obscurity, as someone pointed out about one of my own books, is a good thing, but too much of it makes a story unworkable. I would say something like that about this book.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Night Train to Lisbon



Everyone who writes or wants to write has suggestions about "keys" to great writing. Getting started is the most important. Never quitting is next. And then - - - reading well. I've tried to read well most of my adult life and with the pandemic quarantine I've redoubled that effort.
Last night, I finished reading Night Train to Lisbon, by Pascal Mercier. It's a philosophical novel about a language teacher, Raimund Gregorious, who is propelled by a combination of events on a quest to explore the life of Amadeu de Prado, a Portuguese physician and writer who was a member of the 1960s political resistance against the Salazar dictatorship.
The story is told through excerpts from Prado's writings, alternating between that and details about Gregorious' experiences, incidents from the life of Pardo, and from the lives of those who knew him. All of which provide the context for an exploration of ideas about purpose, meaning, the nature of memory, and the effect memory exerts on understanding.
For instance, Prado writes, "Of the thousands of experiences we have, we find language for one at most and even this one merely by chance and without the care it deserves. Buried under all the mute experiences are those unseen ones that give our life its form, its color, and its melody."
Suggesting, the things we remember are merely incidents that protrude like mountaintops from the sea of all that transpired in our lives, regarding most of which we have no conscious recollection. But the things we can't remember are still there, shaping our understanding of the present.
That's the flavor. I found it intriguing - six or seven story lines folding in on each other and the ideas that weave them together. And the quest to learn the details of someone else's story is something I readily identify with as a writer. I have several of those quests going right now, in fiction and non-fiction.

Friday, May 22, 2020

OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS - TRUMAN CAPOTE




I recently finished reading Other Voices, Other Rooms - the Truman Capote novel noted pictured above. This was Truman Capote's first novel. Prior to this book, Capote had written for a number of literary magazines which made him a notable figure in those circles. This novel brought him to the attention of a national audience. The book was well received, widely acclaimed, and launched his career as one of the best-known writers of the twentieth century.
Capote was born in New Orleans but his parents were from Alabama and he spent much of his childhood with relatives in Monroeville. Other Voices, Other Rooms draws on many of his experiences there.
The book was an interesting read but a little strange at places. And the ending lost me at first, then I went back and re-read the last two chapters and figured it out. One or two of the people in the book seem not to have existed except to those living at Skully's Landing. When asked about it, Capote said he thought so, too. Which is an interesting response from the person who wrote the book. And that's what reading it was like for me, also.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

THE MOVIEGOER - BY WALKER PERCY





Awakened this morning a little before five - couldn't get back to sleep - so, I went downstairs, made coffee, and finished reading The Moviegoer - a novel by Walker Percy.

The Moviegoer is usually described as a philosophical novel - sometimes as a stream of consciousness novel - I prefer the phrase “contemplative fiction.” It’s about the quest for purpose and meaning and the angst that goes with that search. Sort of a Southern fiction version of Waiting For Godot (Beckett). Compelling, quirky, and very engaging.

The book is set along the Gulf Coast and ranges from the Garden District of New Orleans to Ship Island near Biloxi. If you're from the region, ever been to the region, ever passed through the region, you'll recognize all of the places and references.

Released in 1961, it was the surprise winner of the National Book Award and established Walker Percy as one of the great Southern writers.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

OBSERVATION ON PRIME NUMBERS - 3

The logarithm of every prime number is an irrational number—a sequence that neither converges nor settles into a repeating series.