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Tag: author

Harold Brodkey: endless kvetch

Saturday, 26 January, 2019

On this day in 1996, the short-story writer and novelist Harold Brodkey died. His greatest claim to fame was the 32 years he took to write his first novel, during which time a legend grew about the much-awaited book. When it was finally published in 1991 as The Runaway Soul, it was not well received and caused bewilderment as to whether it was really the same masterpiece he had been promising for decades.

Harold Brodkey’s career began auspiciously with the short-story collection First Love and Other Sorrows, which received widespread critical praise at the time of its 1958 publication. Six years later he signed a book contract with Random House for his first novel, provisionally titled “A Party of Animals” and sometimes referred to as “The Animal Corner”. The unfinished novel was subsequently resold to Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1970, then to Knopf in 1979. As the Paris Review interview linked to above noted, “The work became something of an object of desire for editors; it was moved among publishing houses for what were rumored to be ever-increasing advances, advertised as a forthcoming title (Party of Animals) in book catalogs, expanded and ceaselessly revised, until its publication seemed an event longer awaited than anything without theological implications.” In 1983, The Saturday Review referred to “A Party of Animals” as “now reportedly comprising 4,000 pages and announced as forthcoming ‘next year’ every year since 1973.”

In 1993, Brodkey announced that he was suffering from AIDS, and this prompted the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Richard Howard to write in The New Republic that the disclosure was “a matter of manipulative hucksterism, of mendacious self-propaganda and cruel assertion of artistic privilege, whereby death is made a matter of public relations.” In posthumously reviewing Brodkey’s essay collection Sea Battles on Dry Land for The New York Observer, Susie Linfield wrote, “When Brodkey is bad, he is very, very bad, and he is very, very bad quite often. Sea Battles is filled with whoppers: misstatements, overstatements, nonstatements and statements that are silly, false or incomprehensible.” This is classic Brodkey:

“I distrust summaries, any kind of gliding through time, any too great a claim that one is in control of what one recounts; I think someone who claims to understand but who is obviously calm, someone who claims to write with emotion recollected in tranquility, is a fool and a liar. To understand is to tremble. To recollect is to reenter and be riven. An acrobat after spinning through the air in a mockery of flight stands erect on his perch and mockingly takes his bow as if what he is being applauded for was easy for him and cost him nothing, although meanwhile he is covered with sweat and his smile is edged with a relief chilling to think about; he is indulging in a show-business style; he is pretending to be superhuman. I am bored with that and with where it has brought us. I admire the authority of being on one’s knees in front of the event.” — Harold Brodkey (1930 – 1996)


Jim Martin RIP

Wednesday, 16 May, 2018

On Saturday, in Munich, in the presence of those who loved him, Jim Martin died. He was an American, a pilot, an author, a bon vivant who loved the pleasures of France, a writer who was fascinated by Bavarian tradition and German history, a democrat in the broadest sense and a Democrat in the votary sense who enjoyed hosting a monthly salon where politics and wine were mixed with humour and hospitality. Our sincerest sympathy goes out to Winni and all the family.

Back in 2012, Jim was so dismayed by the decision of the Pulitzer Prize board to withhold its annual award for fiction — “Book lovers react bitterly to no fiction Pulitzer” — that he proposed setting up a fund for his choice, Denis Johnson, and he offered this guest post, titled “The Pulitzohr Prize”, to Rainy Day. Here goes:

Poet, playwright and author Denis Johnson was born in Munich, West Germany, in 1949 and was raised in Tokyo, Manila and Washington. He holds a masters’ degree from the University of Iowa and has received many awards for his work, including a Lannan Fellowship in Fiction (1993), a Whiting Writer’s Award (1986), the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction from the Paris Review for Train Dreams, and most recently, the National Book Award for Fiction (2007).

“English words are like prisms. Empty, nothing inside, and still they make rainbows.” — Denis Johnson

Not only does he get the prize money, but we buy him beer for a day in Munich (and he looks like he could put a dent in our wallet.)

I identify with the author. I’ve lived in Idaho — still have property in the panhandle. I’ve driven horse carts and flown biplanes there, just like Robert Grainier. I’d have been an orphan too, had it not been for my parents. I’m at least 42% crazy.

I cast my vote for Train Dreams. Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times Sunday Book Review by Anthony Doerr:

“The story concerns the life of Robert Grainier, a fictional orphan shipped by train in 1893 into the woods of the Idaho panhandle. He grows up, works on logging gangs, falls in love, and loses his wife and baby daughter to a particularly pernicious wildfire. What Johnson builds from the ashes of Grainier’s life is a tender, lonesome and riveting story, an American epic writ small, in which Grainier drives a horse cart, flies in a biplane, takes part in occasionally hilarious exchanges and goes maybe 42 percent crazy.

It’s a love story, a hermit’s story and a refashioning of age-old wolf-based folklore like ‘Little Red Cap.’ It’s also a small masterpiece. You look up from the thing dazed, slightly changed.”

Farewell, Jim, Your words and quotations and writers were always well chosen. In his novel, Night Flight (Vol de Nuit), the French pilot and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry expressed well what Jim Martin was and where he was going;

“The villages were lighting up, constellations that greeted each other across the dusk. And, at the touch of his finger, his flying-lights flashed back a greeting to them. The earth grew spangled with light signals as each house lit its star, searching the vastness of the night as a lighthouse sweeps the sea. Now every place that sheltered human life was sparkling. And it rejoiced him to enter into this night with a measured slowness, as into an anchorage.”

Jim Martin


Light in August

Sunday, 7 August, 2016 0 Comments

“In August in Mississippi there’s a few days somewhere about the middle of the month when suddenly there’s a foretaste of fall, it’s cool, there’s a lambence, a soft, a luminous quality to the light, as though it came not from just today but from back in the old classic times. It might have fauns and satyrs and the gods and — from Greece, from Olympus in it somewhere. It lasts just for a day or two, then it’s gone.” — Light in August, William Faulkner

Light in August


Gore Vidal: 1925 — 2012

Wednesday, 1 August, 2012

Among the celebrated works of the late Gore Vidal, wit, essayist, playwright, historian, author, provocateur, gay icon, conspiracy theorist, would-be-senator and former resident of Ravello on the Amalfi Coast, was Lincoln: A Novel. On the back of this, back in 2005, Vanity Fair asked him to assess C. A. Tripp’s much-discussed, hotly-disputed The Intimate World […]

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