The epilogue, written very much in Notes from Underground mode, disappointed me. It was the one part of the book where I felt Ellison flailing about in search of a rhetorical moment that, to my ears, didn't quite arrive. Otherwise, what a wildly inventive, and just plain wild, book, oddly paced (dwelling for a long time on events in close sequence, then jumping ahead, like a film moving between set pieces), inconsistent in tone, and providing a character whose speechifying voice bore no resemblance to his narrative voice (nor even, in some cases, his ideas, as the narrator's speeches always seemed to get away from him). Wonderfully enjoyable.
A Bradbury story
I reread, after a gap of probably 30 years, Ray Bradbury's "Jack-in-the-Box," from the October Country collection. The story came to mind because I'll be teaching Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle which, though possessed of an utterly different plot, also relies on a tight, insular point of view that locks the reader into a naïve perspective on events. (A little boy has been raised to believe that his father, also sometimes called God, who built a huge, elaborate house, has contained the world in this house and that, as his mother tells him, nothing lies beyond the surrounding trees but the terrible beasts who murdered God.) I didn't recall that Bradbury lets you in on the secret so early, but the story is still a bold little devil, great fun, and solidly written.
I'm having a good time reading Beowulf (the Heaney translation), which I'll be teaching this year. Heaney's introduction has helped me think about poems to read (Heaney himself; Hopkins) to demonstrate how something of the Old English sound and poetic structure endured.
I'm also reading Moneyball, by Michael Lewis, the story of how using statistics to ask the right questions reshaped the drafting process for the Oakland A's. Lewis's writing is funny, sharp, and visual, giving us both images of and insights into the characters he presents. He also lets us read some of Bill James's writing. James, who instigated, even if he didn't found, the modern science of analyzing baseball statistics to discover truths (rather than support illusions), is an astoundingly good writer, so good that most writers would be wary of letting James eat up space in their own books, but Lewis humbly steps aside frequently so we hear James's oracular words.
I didn't intend to be reading three things at once, but Janet Malcolm's The Silent Woman, about Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, clutched at my collar from the first page. I read about Malcolm in . . . well, in something last week. Hm. Maybe an online article? Something about the problem of biography. This is what I get for not taking notes. In any case, I love the writing and I'm fascinated by the subject (both the human beings and the ethical issues involved in writing biography). Malcolm, too, is generous enough (and confident enough in her own strengths as a writer) to stand aside and let other smart writers speak in her book, notably Anne Stevenson, author of the controversial Plath biography Bitter Fame.
I did some writing yesterday. During a long drive today, I think I finally heard the narrator's voice. Once that's pinned down, the story will take off. (Wow, that line's a metaphorical mess.)