Monday, June 22, 2009

Death with Interruptions, José Saramago

More enjoyable than his Seeing, with a lighter tone. The intrusive narrator is more knowingly, self-deprecatingly intrusive, rather than taking the tone of someone making profound philosophical comments. There was serious commentary, but, despite the subject matter--“death” withholding her services in one country for a while, then changing tactics by giving people one week’s notice, via mail--the tone was less dark. Most striking was how the book shifted from broad strokes to increasingly human and humane interests, till it narrowed down to the relationship between death and a cellist who--for reasons that remained unclear--simply declined to die. Slow early on, with its broad approach, but increasingly of interest once it allows characters to emerge. Quite a bit about the book is “meta,” as death’s stylistic choices--lowercasing her name, idiosyncratic use of punctuation, loose sentence structure--are actually Saramago’s choices, and the movement of the book’s plot is meant, I suppose, to mirror Saramago’s shift in interest from the largely philosophical questions posed by his initial conceit to the more finite issues posed once he’s introduced a more novelistic plot. A fair bit of that early idea seems half-cocked, so it’s as if Saramago only stumbles upon a better story once he’s halfway along.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Following the lead of Livejournal's wendigomountain and selfavowedgeek, I'm listing 15 books that have had a huge impact. Tough to whittle it down, and some major influences have been left off. The more interesting part, I'd say, is explaining each of these (not that I'll be doing that just now). In general, it strikes me that each book does something that, until I read that book, I didn't realize you could do.

In no order:

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
The Endurance, Caroline Alexander (non-fiction)
Middlemarcha, George Eliot
Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquz
The Hamlet, William Faulkner
Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O'Connor (stories)
Dr. Fischer of Geneva; or, The Bomb Party, Graham Greene
Nickel Mountain, John Gardner
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard (non-fiction)
Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Plague, Albert Camus
Fun House, Alison Bechdel (graphic novel)
The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury
The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler

. . . rather absurdly leaving out any Shakespeare (Hamlet) or a book of the Bible (Gospel of Luke) or a book of poetry (maybe Louise Glück's Wild Iris).

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"Helping Them Take the Old Man Down" came back from F&SF in less than a week. After some changes it went out to Asimov's, where, in truth, I'd imagined it being published the whole time I wrote it. Waiting to hear back.

Today I finished Norwood, Charles Portis's first novel (1966). Previously, I've read True Grit and Masters of Atlantis, both very funny and odd books. Norwood is unpretentious and skillful, one character's jaunt from Ralph, Texas, to New York City and back again to Ralph. Much fun is had. Perhaps my favorite line described a woman wearing open-toed shoes that "exploded with toes."