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Poetry+Fiction

Reading List

Right now, I’m not reading the following things as much as rereading them. If I’ve read a book and really enjoy it, I always reread it several more times–but never again chronologically. Instead, I pick up the book and begin reading whatever sections I open to. I do this so much that I probably work through the whole book or story again at least once. Reading passages at random is like putting your hand in a moving stream–you get a totally different sense of the flow when you’re not swept along with it. Here’s what’s on the reread list now:

roth.jpgPhillip Roth Sabbath’s Theater

 The wonderful thing about the book is that it’s subject is loss, death, stagnation, old age, memories, depression, yet there’s a barely suppressed joy, a kind of bubbling-up hilarity in the prose. It’s as Hawthorne says in the “Christmas Banquet” : …”he made his own sorrow a theme of scornful merriment.” The real tension in the books is between Mickey Sabbath’s life (retired, unhappily married with a recently dead mistress, few human connections) and Mickey Sabbath’s personality (mirthful, perverse, mischievous). His sexual and ironic exuberance, lacking a steady object, becomes burdensome. Alienation, in literature, is often the result of a character too serious, artistic, or philosophical for the rest of the world. But too much zeal and playfulness is just as isolating. Sabbath spins faster than the world.  

martin.jpgValerie Martin The Unfinished Novel

“The Unfinished Novel” is the story of a writer, Malcolm, who meets up with an old flame, Rita, who is also a writer. He’s a success, and she’s deteriorated from a svelte bombshell with unlimited talent to an overweight and deluded basket-case. The story is told from Malcolm‘s perspective, and he makes sure we know that he’s the success and she’s the failure. The narrator is so positive we’re on his side so he’s comfortable showing us his worst–and that’s what makes the story so funny. He reminds me of Humbert Humbert–another character who becomes absurd in his perception that we, too, are ardent connoisseurs of prepubescent girls. Rita and Malcolm are both objectionable characters suffering from different vices–Malcolm is complacent and self-satisfied while Rita is manipulative and self-destructive. When these vices are in play together, there’s no way of knowing who is worse. The real magic of the story is how Martin imperceptibly shifts our loyalty from Rita to Malcolm and back line by line. Like a magician’s cup and ball trick, your sympathies never appear where you expect.

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