Friday, March 26, 2010

Good stuff

Alternating between The Iliad and In Cold Blood.

The Fagles translation of Homer surges with energy; there's a wonderful pulse to the writing, even when Homer's merely detailing the troops arrayed for battle. I haven't read the book before. It's been a gap in my learning.

About In Cold Blood, I perhaps know too much already, having seen the film Capote and read the Capote in Kansas graphic novel. Nevertheless, Capote's style—even though it's now a commonplace of novelistic journalism—feels like a revelation. You can sense him inventing the structure of this new form. He's done an outstanding job using details both lovely and disturbing to evoke dread in the reader.

In writing: "My Story of Us Looking for My Comic Strip, by Franklin James Nemeth" came back (after 10 months!) from StoryQuarterly. The rejection contained positive comments as well as a suggestion to cut "judiciously." Since they provided none of their own judiciousness in this comment, I'm having to make do with my own. I hadn't looked at the story in probably two years; it obviously needs some trimming. It'll be much stronger after this. I've already marked it up.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Giving up on le Clézio; moving on

I did try with Desert. I had stopped after the first chapter (I nearly stopped on the first page, in truth) because the style seemed so intentionally resistant to forward movement. The author appeared to be announcing with every phrase, "I am writing literature--not a story." It reads like an anthropological study rather than a tale of actual people. In any case, I tried another chapter, but found myself defeated by the book's insistence on inertia as a narrative principle.

Maybe Fagles's translation of The Iliad is next.

Also, I've made additional notes for expanding some scenes in "Clockworks" and jotted down a few starts for other stories. Don't know when I'll get to those.

I learned today that "Helping Them Take the Old Man Down" was praised in the latest Locus magazine.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

It's going to be a challenge, now that I've finished Conrad's The Secret Agent, to move on to a book that's less brilliant. With a (Henry) Jamesian attention to psychological detail--and an ability to simply stop a scene and analyze it from every angle--Conrad takes a tale of would-be terrorists and anarchists and makes it into something rich and strange. At no point did I have any clear idea where the story would go, and Conrad plays at misdirection so that the tale's true protagonist (and I think it does have one) is revealed until near the end. Conrad lets us be misled even as many of the characters are misled.

The tone differs from what I remember of other Conrad works: for every character except one (plus a minor character), the narrator demonstrates outright disdain. He makes a show of revealing the thought processes of every major character, but even as he defends them, he makes them absurd. The narrative is laced with sarcasm as Conrad sets about eviscerating both anarchist and "servant of the law" alike, and such is the specificity of psychological complexity, each person is awful in a different way.

You can see how this novel sets the stage for everything Graham Greene would do with the spy narrative.

I also read Capote in Kansas (subtitled "A Drawn Novel," by Ande Parks and Chris Samnee), a graphic novel that was well done but which didn't seem to need doing. Haven't we heard this story way too many times recently? I quite enjoyed it, but its only contribution to the tale is a layer of fiction, having Capote interact, awkwardly, with the ghost of the girl who was murdered. I do now want to read Parks's Union Station, also based on actual events.

I read the first few pages of Simak's classic Way Station, but it's a deep drop from Conrad. Maybe I'll try again on Le Clezio's Desert, which started slowly (and at too much a remove from its characters for my taste).