Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saturday night now.  Read a review of Knausgaard in London review and a review of Tim Parks in NYRB.  Rupert sent the former and Phil sent the latter and I’ve written this to both.  
I hope Parks is deeply grateful for the long and very closely considered review.  I almost wonder if the review-essay is not better than the novel itself.  It is so detailed that I found myself having less and less interest in possibly ever looking at the novel itself.  And maybe it is an example of that old saw—damning with faint praise because while Walton does say (politely?) that Parks really does deserve a bigger reputation than he has had to date, he doesn’t rave about the current book in any convincing or persuasive way.  He finds it to be strange and after each detail he adds we say to ourselves, “even more strange than you had told us.”  And then there are the moments of comic relief, at Parks expense it seems, when we get the  details about the naked bodies and the place where I chuckled out loud: the paragraph about how the publishers don’t seem to know what to make of the book: “they quote a review optimistically describing it as a ‘fast-paced comic novel,’ a phrase in which only the word “novel” feels accurate.  More appropriate would have been the quotation from Schopenhauer that Parks used in his demolition job on Salman Rushdie: ‘The art [of the novel] lies in setting the inner life into the most violent motion with the smallest possible expenditure of outer life’—although you can understand why the sales department might have vetoed that.”

Finally, when I learned that Parks has lived in Italy since 1987 or something, I thought of your ex-pat friend who lives in France and I got off on an inner rant that goes like this:  sorry, any writer who lives the ex-pat life in some warm, picturesque or faux-toney place like Italy or Corsica or such, can no longer be considered a “serious” writer back in his native land and reviews of his work will be forbidden.  I thought too of Jonathan Carroll, American novelist who has lived in Vienna for years (after the peace corps maybe?).  Long string of novels published steadily over the years.  No one has heard of him but enough have heard of him somewhere (UK?) that he has a following, a core of readers, a publishing record.  

And my point now is?  A big journal like the NYRB should play some sort of game its own power and delusions and announce a policy of randomly publishing every so many years only manuscripts from the slush pile, review only books by self-published authors, find writers who have a miniscule reputation in a specific locale.  

Or some other such fantasy project.  Look up Ron Rash—for example.  North Carolina author—the voice of  Appalachia, winner of the Thomas Wolfe prize and of the biggest money prize for short stories.  

I guess Tim Parks does nail it.  What the heck do we want & wouldn’t it be better if we all took up Buddhist meditation.  

The review of vol 2 of Knausgaard is written by Sheila Heti.  She makes the mistake, in my mind, of building her review on a moment when she actually met Karl Ove K briefly and asked him briefly about a specific moment in the book and he replied Oh no, I made that up.  Why on earth would she believe him even if they were there in real life speaking to one another?  As a writer herself, wouldn’t she know that at any given moment, under any sort of momentary provocation an inquiry, a writer, a person, is liable to say anything for any zillion number of reasons.  Especially people in the arts, the performing arts, actors, writers, comics, poseurs, fakes, pretenders, interviewers, anchor people, spokespeople, shapers of public opinion and taste, journalists, etc.  And then for Heti to make a reviewer’s crisis-drama out of what is true, how can we trust Knausgaard in some other part of the work if he says he “made up” that poignant and telling detail about the orange peel and his father sweeping his hand through his hair.  We all really pick and choose by our own lights and moods when we want to be literalists and when we want to be mythologists and contextualizers.  And so do the writers we enjoy reading.  There is an item making the rounds on Facebook precisely about this, at least about the form of it, the form it takes, the basic trope.  A writer named Rachel Held Evans post an item on her site called “Everyone’s a Biblical Literalist Until You Bring Up Gluttony . . . ‘…Or divorce, or gossip, or slavery, or head coverings, or Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence, or the “abomination” of eating shellfish and the hell-worthy sin of calling other people idiots.  Then we need a little context.Then we need a little grace.  Then we need a little room to disagree.”

Same holds for the literary worlds, I think, and the ever on-going hand-wringing about fiction and non-fiction, truth in fiction and truth in life and truth in memoir or re-created narrative or on and on.  Tim Parks has found that taking up Buddhist meditative practice really won’t solve these questions any more than reading novels will do so.  Vonnegut told us that reading novels was the Western form of zen meditation.  
Rick Whitaker has taken a more extreme version of this anxiety to it’s logical and admirable point of perfection.  His new novel An Honest Ghost is a total mosaic of passages from other books, other writers.  I’m only about one-third of the way into it and I’ve begun to learn how to enjoy it more fully as I keep reading.  For one thing I’ve taken to, finally, almost restrain myself from constantly turning to the back of the book where we can find exactly who said that originally, what book each phrase comes from.  There is a loose and recognizable narrative that belongs to Whitaker as the originator of the book, the collector and arranger of the quotations.  But there are two books, or a bicameral set of experiences:  the narrative as poetic assemblage and the list of sources for each chapter.  The Chord and the Arpeggio.  Since the story is much about being gay, however, I find myself wondering if Whitaker has not re-invented a new/old kind of closet for himself, or for his characters.  With a perfect mosaic of other voices, we have no narrative voice telling the whole story.  Or at least not one that is much more available to us than the thin lines of grout between the tesserae will have be necessary.  I read Whitaker’s first book some years ago and I took a look at it again to refresh my memory.  It gives the reader the real pleasure of the narrator’s voice, a memorable voice, distinctive, complex, companionable, genuine.  I wonder now why Whitaker, so successfully public as a gay writer has decided to re-closet the narrative voice he is capable of creating, even if it is behind not quite a solid door but a curtain of shifting beads.  The “second” book listing the sources is fine as a variant of the old commonplace notebook:  Whitaker has read widely and deeply and you get to be surprised at times (I thought I was the only one to have read Kenneth Burke’s only novel, or 8 Gates of Zen by John Daido Loori).

But the “first” book, the story, is too percussive as tale.  Closer to music and poetry, prose poetry, poetic sequence.  That’s how I am now trying to keep reading the book.  Not sure I will or want to finish.  It has all the curiosity factor of a strange, found object, yes, and the appeal of an Oulipo sort of game, yes.  But as with a chocolate ice cream cone, after three or nine licks, the most intense excitement dies fast and one keeps eating just because.

Friday, December 13, 2013

My junior year at Maryland I started to think about grad school.  There was a youngish professor in the philosophy department who talked a little bit about it.  He wanted me to major in philosophy in grad school and I think he was from Northwestern.  He might have suggested that I look up departments and faculty members and such to shop around.  Again, I had no idea what it was all about or how to do it.  I finally decided I couldn’t possibly do philosophy.  I enjoyed his courses in people like Plato but other courses involved contemporary language analysis, lingusitics and epistemology and I could barely understand one third of any of it and wrote bullshit papers that managed to get Bs.  I guess I looked at Northwestern and then at Chicago because Dad had once taken the whole family on the train there when he went to a grocers' convention and I had faint and happy memories of that adventure in the Windy City.  Can’t recall where else I applied nor if I was accepted anywhere.  Some memory of asking a professor and having him say, well if you got accepted at Chicago that’s the place to go.  Might have been Duquesne in Pittsburgh, the other place.  I must have vaguely known that Peace Corps was an option after college but it was fairly new and I had no first-hand urging from anyone in that direction.  Plus in my mind it would have felt too much like joining a religious order again, missionary version.  

There was the clear mandate to keep a student deferment going somehow and a clear notion that I had no idea of what I wanted to do about anything.  I enjoyed the full year, four quarters, at Chicago tremendously even though I did feel like I had to run extra fast to catch up with all the bright shits from the ivies and other better colleges.  Funding ran out in some way after the year in Chicago for the masters so I looked for a teaching job and felt really lucky to get one at a small college downstate in Decatur, Illinois, Millikin University.  Miss Milner roomed next to me in a rooming house across the street from campus.  It was her second year at the college.  No clear memory of when we decided to get married, maybe late fall or early winter.  Colleagues at the college, we learned later, had a betting pool on us.  March of that year Virginia announced she had just gotten a full scholarship to go back to grad school at Chicago.  Her masters was from NYU in Spain.  I managed to complete one paper a year overdue and got my masters that spring.  But when she said she got this full fellowship I asked her why did she apply to Chicago.  I had been thinking about moving out to Berkeley—but had neglected to tell her that.  With her full funding it was Chicago we would go to.  I re-applied there for the doctoral program and managed to get a teaching job at the Calumet Campus of Purdue University, about an hour commute from south side Chicago.  First year back I taught there, then the year after I got into the doctoral program but with some partial funding so I must have borrowed some from my parents.  Two more years in Chicago and we both were at the end of university connected funding and it was Virginia’s “turn” to get a job.  New Hampshire and the rest is history.  There were zero jobs available in ’71-72.  I think she had an offer from a place in Kalamazoo or Kankakee, from a community college in the inner city of Chicago and from Plymouth State.  She had gone for the interview by herself, so I had never seen any of New England until we drove the VW bug and a U-Haul truck here.  I hated leaving Chicago because we had had a great time there.  And we really sort of told ourselves we would stay in Plymouth for two maybe three years max, have our degrees in hand and then most likely live out our days at Swarthmore or Skidmore, Oberlin or Antioch.  Some such toney liberal arts place even if we had never heard of it before then.  We didn’t want to go back to Millikin nor to any part of the midwest.  Harvard would call, surely.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I’ve long thought that what prepped me for lit theory were all the religion classes in high school and first three years of college.  Later at MD I switched from theology minor to philosophy minor.  But back in high school, maybe even late grade school, those religion classes we would try to stunp the teachers with questions that tried to trick out every contradiction we could find in religious teachings.  If God knows all, how can we have free will?  If you spend your life murdering people and on your death bed you have a conversion and receive the sacraments can you still get into heaven?  Stuff like that.  Then in college more reading in theology.  Lit crit and lit theory in grad school then seemed a slightly weaker version of such speculative big think.  In fact I nearly got into a little trouble for plagiarism in one course because I cited some stuff from Aquinas in a paper and the prof called me in to his office to ask where I had gotten the ideas and passages and wanted to be sure I really knew about such things first-hand.  

I never took a course with Wayne Booth.  A friend said to me one day, let’s take an independent study with Booth next term.  Why?  I asked. I had heard of Booth but knew nothing about him and never had heard one could take an independent study with anyone.  Well, it would be different and fun, said the friend.  He went to ask Booth and later he and I and Marjorie G-- met with Booth.  He said he would meet with us once a week and asked what we should study.  He said he was working on a book and wanted to have us study either R S Crane’s work or Kenneth Burke’s.  I said I’d never heard of Burke and asked him who he was.  He said he was a critic who disagreed with the Chicago School and attacked them a bit and was also a bit unusual and difficult.  I said, Let’s study him and so we did.  We read one of his books called The Philosophy of Literary Form.  

Booth had been a student of R S Crane, high admired prof at Chicago who had died probably five years before I got there.  Crane led a small band of literary critics in the late ‘50s in a revival of studying Aristotle with an eye to using him to attack and correct the New Critics who held forth at Yale.  They got to be called The Chicago School.  They agreed with the New Critics in being sworn to studying only literary form (close textual analysis) and keeping off the table questions about history and biography.  Burke was “outside” all of these warring factions, partly because he was never situated at one of the big universities.  His power base had been New York where he worked free-lance for mags like The New Republis, The Nation, and earlier the very influential Dial.  Crane’s work was very dry, he was trying to make criticism be as respectable as scientific discourse.  Burke was much livelier and brought in the social sciences.  He essentially advocated subsuming the social sciences under the dominance of literary thought—a position which lost the battle over the long run.  He was definitely a literary thinker so I found it disheartening that his work was pretty much ignored by the literary world, especially as he aged, but got adopted big-time by the burgeoning social science wing of English departments at the time—Communications, which quickly broke away and became much more successful and wealthy.  

Burke started college teaching in the Depression to make some money.  He had left New York to be a farmer-writer in northwest New Jersey right at the time of the crash.  He taught one term a year at Bennington.  That’s where Sontag was his student.  I’m sure he was a big influence on her but I doubt he was the most powerful shaper of her career.  She was probably enrolled in the New York Jewish intellectual elite from the time she was in denim overalls by the age of eight.  But it was unfortunate that she turned to attempting to write fiction.  I think she didn’t try it until relatively late in her career but I may be wrong.  I never read her very much but I had the impression her first and biggest success was with books on critical thought, one especially called “Against Interpretation.”  

It’s amazing how susceptible we are, I was, at 22 when all this started to take place.  I did one paper for Booth and Burke that one Quarter (ten weeks).  He wrote on it—"ready to be published.”  That bowled me over and I had no idea what to do next.  It totally scared me.  I never went to him and said Tell me how to publish this, where.  I had no idea what I was doing back then.  We moved here, took ten years until I finally wrote the dissertation the year Va was pregnant with David and there was a full-time opening in English here and I had to finish the degree or be booted out.  Nothing like pressure.  At the start of grad school it was the draft, twelve years or so later it was getting a job.  

Fifteen? years later Booth writes (we had been in touch off and on) and says Hey I just re-read your dissertation because I’m giving a paper at a conference on the same topic.  It is really good.  Did you ever publish it?  Gee, why didn’t you say that fifteen years ago?   In other words back in our day there was no such thing as “mentoring” —and if you were as clueless as I was, and as lacking in ambition or drive or whatever, you had no “career.”  Well, I oversimplify but that’s basically it.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Just yesterday Scott Esposito published his review of Personae in the Washington Post.
He really likes De La Pava and gives the book as glowing a review as possible.  He manages to describe more accurately than any other review I’ve seen exactly what all is in the book:  
Like its predecessor, “Personae” begins with the investigation of a crime: Detective Helen Tame arrives at a Manhattan apartment where Antonio Arce, over a century old, has died. She eventually acquires Arce’s notebook, and in due time we read the impressionistic memoir at its heart, but only after meandering through excerpts from Tame’s scholarly paper on Bach and Glenn Gould, a short story about swimming out to sea, a two-act Beckettian play, Tame’s explanation of Arce’s death and two obituaries. The book’s final 50 pages — Arce’s memoir — take us from a suicide mission in the jungles of Colombia to a love story in New York City and feature some of the finest writing of De La Pava’s burgeoning career.
Split unevenly among Tame’s section, Arce’s section and an 83-page absurdist play, “Personae,” is united more by its themes than by any one narrative. The play is the strangest and most difficult part of this book. It involves several mental patients engaged in furious conversation. A gun is introduced in Act I and fired in Act II. There’s also a spearing, a gender change, a severed head and an eerie drumbeat that may herald disaster. In spite of all that, what looms largest is the play’s obsessively recursive dialogue, which opens with several pages of argumentation about what everyone’s name is.
This challenging play is balanced by the portrayal of Tame’s and Arce’s extraordinary minds. Tame, who begins playing the piano at age 5 and gives world-class performances at 20 before quitting to become a detective, comes across as a methodical and quirky cop. Similarly, Arce, a commando of superhuman strength and an exquisite writer, is nonetheless tongue-tied at the sight of a beautiful woman.
De La Pava presents characters widely separated by time and space and then shows us how they become drawn into one another’s lives, despite the odds. Most of all, he inquires into why people fight to comprehend others they barely know.
But even a die-hard fan has to concede defeat sometimes and Esposito does:  “But “Personae” is not completely successful.”  He gives a few reasons why, but not enough.  
At the end Esposito still praises the author he helped “find:”  “De La Pava is proof that experimental literature can be devilishly entertaining.”
In a review for the November issue of The American Reader, Esposito gives a very negative review of Marías’s Infatuations.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tuesday late afternoon
What a struggle to continue reading Personae to the bitter end.  I will take M.A.Orthofer, inThe Complete Review, at his word and say, ok, give it a B+ but I haven’t had such difficulty forcing myself to finish a book since plowing on through Salvatore Scibona’s The End.  

Why did I just not finish it, then?  Personae.  I did manage to skim the last five or six pages.  But, you know, you get so far in and then you just want to keep looking at the train wreck or whatever it is you’ve got in your hands between the front and back cover.  Besides, every so often the writing flashes and clicks, just as writing.  I wondered whether I was just old enough to have never played video games.  Was that it?  They guy is not clueless or anything.  He is doing something here, but what it is interests me less and less and less as I move through the book and then, last twenty pages? not at all.  Not at all.  Please God the third book will be as super fine as the first book is--everyone must read A Naked Singularity because it is just brilliant and funny and superb and unbelievable in all the splendid ways.  

Monday, December 09, 2013

Phil had noted a contradiction in the book---this passage on page 135
“Once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with.”
And a second version on page 233  “ What happened is the least of it.  It’s a novel, and once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten.  What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events and to which we pay far more attention.”  
Maria Dolz is reporting this now as something she remembers Javier having told her when she had asked what happened to Chabert back on 135 of our novel.  But now Marías has Maria add “That isn’t true, or, rather, it’s sometimes true, but one doesn’t always forget what happened, not in a novel that almost everyone knew or knows, even those who have never read it, nor in reality when what happens is actually happening to us and is going to be our story, which could end one way or another with no novelist to decide and independent of anyone else . . . “  
But we know by now that Marías can allow his character Maria to disagree with what Javier told her about the nature of novels because by now we know that Javier’s claim is true, or rather his theory of why novels are important is by now firmly lodged in our consciousness as true and so now we can disagree with it a bit---enjoy hearing Maria disagree with it a bit as a way of emphasizing her reality to herself and her own meditations on her reality versus novelistic reality, all of which further underlines the great reality we have been giving to the novel we are still reading, whatever our own personal real lives are like.  
I looked up the idea of contradiction in The Infatuations and the first piece it found is a review in the Times by no less than Edward St Aubyn.  NYTimes August 8
He describes the novel so well and knows Marías’s work so well that I now despair saying much about it because if I do I will produce a very poor work of envy---the very motive and emotion that the novel depicts.  St Aubyn points this out so well:
quote  Few things attract evil’s indignation more than a Perfect Couple, whether it’s Adam and Eve or Miguel and Luisa. The particular form of evil that preoccupies Marías in “The Infatuations” (as it did in “Your Face Tomorrow”) is envy turning into betrayal. The definition of “envidia,” or “envy,” in Covarrubias’s dictionary of 1611 is quoted three times in “The Infatuations” (the reappearance of the same blocks of prose is another signature effect of Marías’s novels: prose aspiring to the condition of music, bringing back a theme, not in a vague or allusive sense, but in exactly its original form): “Unfortunately, this poison is often engendered in the breasts of those who are and who we believe to be our closest friends, in whom we trust; they are far more dangerous than our declared enemies.”  unquote
He notes too how Marías conveys great empathy toward the characters and great emotional generosity.  
Such a high level of reflection and digression (let’s not even get into the amount of literary allusion) might easily become too cerebral, but Marías’s powerful awareness of indecisiveness and delusion is born not only of a speculative frame of mind but of a penetrating empathy. At one point the narrator gives voice to Miguel’s bereaved possessions, the clothes hanging in his cupboard and the novel with the page turned down and the unfinished medication in the bathroom cabinet, to consider what they might make of his death. This feeling of emotional generosity tempers the literary thinking, as do the scenes of pure comedy, like the Oxford high-table dinner in Marías’s novel “All Souls,” with its Buñuel-like degeneration of absurd formality into violence and contempt. 
Marías’s line about the possibilities a novel infuses us with could be the epigraph for every novel.
The musical style of the work St Aubyn notes well too :  “the reappearance of the same blocks of prose is another signature effect of Marías’s novels: prose aspiring to the condition of music, bringing back a theme, not in a vague or allusive sense, but in exactly its original form”
It is so good an essay-review I could just copy all of it out--one more big quotation for how it describes his style---
Marías has pointed out that the Latin root of the verb “to invent,” invenire, means to discover or find out. His special gift is to bring these two processes, inquiry and narration, into a conjunction, making things up as he discovers them and discovering them as he makes them up. He never works to a plan, and so his prose stays close to the thought processes of a writer working out what to say next and responding to what he has, perhaps mistakenly, just said. “The Infatuations” goes on to explore the narrator’s relationship with the widow and with the best friend of the murdered Miguel. At first he appears to have been killed by a stray madman. The plot, several times changing our perspective on the murder, works very well as a thriller, but it is essentially a pretext for advancing the skeptical worldview embodied by the style.  
Skeptical worldview embodied by the style.  Seems a perfect characterization.  
Now we could privately debunk a bit just for the exercise.  If Marías is making fun of himself in the portrait of Garay Fontina, the obnoxious writer who is waiting to give his speech for the Nobel Prize, it could be further proof that he is, after all, one of those laureates whose whole trajectory is to win the laurels, in other words the star pupil driven to be the star-of-stars by-the-book, to win the A+ from the teacher, and not by genuine creative brilliance.  What he provides as high entertainment for this generation of readers may not be great literature at all but high-highness of entertainment---yet another variant of masterpiece theater---visible precisely in the supreme command he displays for doing the literary sort of thinking his father the philosopher would have both admired and thought not quite adequate for being not fully philosophical but a fallen literary form of philosophicalization.  Marías may have to suffer winning for literature and not philosophy because I guess there is no Nobel for philosophy.  
“Whatever else we may think is going on when we read, we are choosing to spend time in an author’s company. In Javier Marías’s case this is a good decision; his mind is insightful, witty, sometimes startling, sometimes hilarious, and always intelligent.”   StAubyn
I don’t know if St Aubyn knows that the Spanish consider envy to be their trademark deadly sin.  With that in mind, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what games Marías’s novel might be offering to his countrymen.  “Yes, I might get the Nobel, so I know you envy me or will envy me for this, even though you tend to think that I’m not really a Spanish writer but more of an English writer in Spanish costume.”  “If I don’t get the prize, you will envy me nevertheless simply because of the rumors that I might win.  So here is a set of tales of infatuations, or envies, to show how well I understand our national character and how much I count myself prone to the same dominant sin as the rest of you.”  No doubt there could be much more to it than this.  I need to consult with some Spanish friends who have read the book.  And who know the kinds of games Marías likes to play with his native readers.  

Also we must remember that Marías could have written the novel to the Swedes, to give them a game while everyone waits.  “Well, if you give me the prize, I just want you to know that I’m of good humor about it and not at all as conceited or obnoxious as that terrible writer of my own creation in the novel, Garay Fontina, would be.”  “If you don’t give it to me, rest assured I will not indulge the envy we Spaniards are so prone to, but will celebrate the winner with generous and intelligent goodwill.  After all in this novel I have shown how much fun we all have with even the rumors of Nobel prize-dom.”  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thursday late afternoon---just
posted this on Facebook --- might be dumb to have done so.  

I was 19, freshman in college, second year in the monastery. Sunny afternoon. Came back from a jog around the grounds, as I approached the mansion, Chuck S ran along the house, saw me and yelled "The President has been shot.”
Thinking much less about The Infatuations but enough still to imagine re-writes that would tinker with the telling much more drastically.  Take out all or most of the literary gameishness.  Take out even Macbeth or maybe especially Macbeth.  Marías makes fun of writers who fill their books with historical info or local detail but his mode of referencing other literary works is just as pretentious at least potentially so, and just as filler-like in some ways.  Think of how Knausgaard would “translate” Marías’s story into something that fits into his narrative or novel.  

Tuesday morning around 10:30

“I only mention it as proof that even the most transient and trivial of infatuations lack any real cause, and that’s even truer of feelings that go far deeper, infinitely deeper than that. ‘ “ d-v  265

“and all feelings are idiotic as soon as you describe or explain or simply give a voice to them,”  266 

by page 268 (of 346) I wonder if María will kill Diego--have him killed?  

“He knew exactly how I felt, the loved one always does, if he’s in his right mind and isn’t himself in love, because in that case he won’t be able to tell and will misinterpret the signs.”  269

“ ‘It’s a novel, and once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten.’  Perhaps he thought the same applied to real events, to events in our own lives.  That’s probably true for the person experiencing them, but not for other people.  Everything becomes a story and ends up drifting about in the same sphere, and then it’s hard to differentiate between what really happened and what is pure invention.  Everything becomes a narrative and sounds fictitious even if it’s true. And so he went on as if I had said nothing.”  (283)

“We do tend to believe things while we’re hearing or reading them.  Afterwards, it’s another matter, when the book is closed and the voice stops speaking.”  292

The novel finishes up in ways very different from what I thought.  So my imagination was way too American about the whole thing.

Brilliant, though.  As soon as I finished it I slipped it into the mailer, walked a block from the cafe to the post office and sent it off to Phil in Washington, DC.  

"Once you've finished a novel," says Díaz Varela to Dolz, "what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel's imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events and to which we pay far more attention.”  

Dropping the book into the mail felt like I was getting rid of a virus or an infection.  It was such a relief.  I was glad I had managed to finish reading it in the time I had today with time to get it into the mail.  I was glad I enjoyed it so much even though what I had expected to be the final turns of plot or revelation did not happen.  But then as I drove over to the town where I was to pick Virginia up from her appointment, I realized that indeed the story had possibilities I had not yet considered and the pleasure was all the greater.  Diaz-Varela may have set into motion the events that killed Miguel but are we not sure now, as Maria herself seems not at all to be, that it is Louisa who had delegated the task to Varela.  Maria has been blinded by her infatuation with Varela.  She does not see as clearly as she thinks she does.  Louisa matches the woman in the Three Musketeers story, the woman hanged by Athos, Anne de Breuil, later called Milady de Winter.  

Why would it not work with genders reversed?  Louisa > Louis is married to Miguel > Michelle.  Louis and Michelle have breakfast every morning at the same cafe on Newbury Street.  Mark Dolzet, who works in publishing, also goes there every morning.  

Why even speculate in this way?  Is it homage or envy or both?  The book is wonderful and powerful.  Reviewer for the Guardian or Observer says it is Marías’ best.  Hmm.  Maybe.  Always skeptical of that sort of claim by reviewers.  

 What happened is the least of it. It's a novel, and once you've finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel's imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events do and to which we pay far more attention.

el enamoramiento -- the state of falling or being in love, or perhaps infatuation. I'm referring to the noun, the concept; the adjective, the condition, are admittedly more familiar, at least in French, though not in English, but there are words that approximate that meaning ...

Wednesday 11:17 in Concord at the Subaru dealer for an oil change.  Diving in to the Createspace site to continue work on the book.  Still rehashing Marías and thinking about whether to really undertake a re-write.  Can always start the book at once and write the book about writing the book.  Vanity publishing thy name is Jubilation! 
Sunday night Nov 17  
Rain and very warm.  Last night we saw the Julia Louis Drefus and James Gandolfini movie, Enough Said.  Pleasant enough but afterwards lots of flaws turn up and really it is not important enough to even talk about.  On Rotten the difference between critics--95% and audiences 82% tells the story and you can tell here who is closer to the truth of the matter.  Sweet movie and all that.  

Much more intrigued by Infatuations.  Learned one new phrase---to be “on a hiding to nothing”  --to be getting a victory of sorts but of not much importance especially given how much it has cost you---if I understand the phrase.  From horseracing.  

Anyway--enjoying Marías again after a session of doubt last night (when I was tired).  Especially so because what he does is so very far from the sort of novel Phil writes which even though he never took a writing course still has the earmarks of the way fiction should be in the American late 20th C mode. Whereas Marías presents works that would not last one week in the creative writing classroom, nor in the magazine or newspaper cultural Inbox.  The other thing is JM gives me the sense of wanting to do that---to write a book like this one even to copy it and “translate” it somehow, to pull out the frame of the story and embellish “my own” variations on it in my own language.  That is an old fantasy and I have even started to try it a few times years ago.  Could I make it even slightly work somehow? even as my first worst attempt to write fiction?  Now Phil’s book didn’t make me think these things.  His is about Cumberland and characters he made up and his voice is so familiar to me I know I can’t imitate it and I know I don’t want to, nor do I want to write a detective crime novel like that one at all.  Marías’s book, however, excites me to think of trying some sort of imitation.  Is that the response of readerly appreciation or something else, some things else?  Imitation highest form of flattery; flattery the highest form of envy?  

The car dealer put a new calendar in the front seat after the routine oil change yesterday.  “Motivaltional Visions” for 2014.  Those hyper sharp colorful images framed in serious heavy black glossy borders that have been motivating office workers for twenty years now.  Part of what biz people used to call our pursuit of Excellence.  Sure enough, June of next year has a beautiful hummingbird over a pine bough and “Excellence” in Roman Cut Stone Font, all caps.  Under that the softcore sermon for the month:  “What really matters is what you do with what you have.”

I threw it into the trash when I got home.  But a few minutes later I gazed gratefully at it because it had solved a recent puzzle that had been troubling my noggin.  In the same small city for the oil change, our state capital, there are two handsome new five story office buildings side-by-side on south Main, sort of a new development area of town.  On my second or third walk-by and visit--a big new version of the local bookstore is now in one of the buildings---I noticed two amazing features of the buildings.  As you enter one (home to the biggest law firm in town) carved in the brick-rimmed sidewalk entrance rectangle/welcome mat are the words “Love Your Neighbor.”  As you pass by the next building, if you look up to the top floor where there used to be on the cornice a keystone there is a large stone tablet with the word “Smile ! “ exclamation point included.  

Motivational, soft-core sermonic architecture.  Wow, who knew?  “Architecture” is too lofty a name here---business office style brick structures is what they are, neat and trim but hardly architecture.  Nevertheless they have Messages.  The Smile ! building houses the new offices of the town’s Chamber of Commerce.  Of Course ! and a gallery for the State League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, a fine organization of long standing. 

At first I thought the whole thing seemed a bit Disneylandish.  But the motivational calendar has cleared things up.  Maybe I will used it after all and get with the program.  Maybe I will frame one of the months even.  For the Ishmael-ish month of November next year I will have golden leaves against white birch trees with “Change” in caps and the cutline “The best is yet to be.”  Ahh, boosterism, thy favors float down upon us like manna in the desert.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

“. . . what were shaving brushes made or hairpins made of, when was such and such a building put up or a certain film first shown, the kind of superfluous stuff that bores readers, but which writers think will impress.”  Infatuations (186 UK) 

Monday  November 18

Maria (Dolz) has overheard Díaz-Varela talking with Ruibérriz and knows now that he had Desverne killed in hopes that he could then get Louisa to love him.  But my guess is at this point that (given the Balzac tale about the dead colonel ghost) Diaz-Varela will have the shock of learning that Louisa engaged his services not to join with him but because she had another lover he had no knowledge of and hence he will end up being the ghost, no, the returned dead man, condemned to crime and guilt and having no chance of being in her life.  Our narrator will have to learn this too, first.  what will happen to her?  Maybe she will find love with ?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I had a professional editor give me some help on my Amazon review of the novel by J P Jones.  Here's the result--tighter, more clear, more effective.

In "A Sense of Loss," a moving and thoughtful novel by J P Jones, Detective Mike Cutler tells us about his search for a murderer but what stays long after we finish the story is the depth of his feeling for his hometown Bartonsburg, West Virginia. This once prosperous little city is one of the hundreds of local communities around the country that have experienced great loss over the past fifty years.  The murder victim is a doctor from India, relatively new to Bartonsburg.  Cutler’s search leads him through the back-reaches of the mountain town he knows so well and leads him down paths of reflection on what has happened to it he never expected to explore - racism, drugs, union busting, greed, poverty and ignorance, in-bred clannishness and hunger for urban sophistication and wealth. Bartonsburg comes to life with a disturbing yet satisfying intensity.  We meet a rich set of characters who deftly portray the whole town and region, from unemployed drug-taking youths to a steel mill owner, a wealthy lawyer, and a playboy banker dying of cancer.  The whole town comes to life in the telling and a cold case gets uncovered as well.  Behind the troubles of the dead doctor lies a long history of troubles in Bartonsburg.  

The pleasure of this superb novel, then, is how it gives us a detective story, a crime to be solved, but in terms that are far beyond the boxes we usually associate with that essential plot.  Essential in the sense not of formula fiction but the human story.   Murder cuts into every tie binding any town together.  We see not just how the murder has cut into the quick of their lives but how an unsolved cold case still holds open old wounds for everyone.  A whole age of promise, possibility and expectation has gone.

Review of J P Jones’ A Sense of Loss  CreateSpace 2013

“Buy local” came into fashion in the past few years.  It might apply to this moving and thoughtful novel by J P Jones, his third available here on Amazon.  Detective Mike Cutler tells us about his search for a murderer but what stays long after we finish the story is the depth of his feeling for his hometown of Bartonsburg, West Virginia.  Here is a region not really included in the trendy slogan of buying local.  Rather it is one of the hundreds of local communities around the country that have experienced great loss over the past fifty years.  The victim in the case is a doctor from India, relatively new to Bartonsburg.  Cutler’s search leads him through the back-reaches of the mountain town he knows so well and leads him down paths of reflection on what has happened to it he never expected to explore.  We meet lots of interesting and irritating people, from Peter Bremer whose wife Lisa worked for the murdered doctor, to Hiram Greer the crusty steel mill owner, to Riley Bruce the rich lawyer to Bill Atherton the rich playboy and Nelly Simpson living out her days in a home.  The whole town comes to life in the telling and a cold case gets uncovered as well.  Behind the troubles of the dead doctor lie a long history of troubles in Bartonsburg.  

The pleaure of this superb novel, then, is how it gives us a detective story, a crime to be solved, but in terms that are far beyond the boxes we usually associate with that essential plot.  Essential in the sense not of formula fiction but the human story.   Murder cuts into every tie binding any town together.  

*Haunting murder mystery which explores much more than the killing of a young Indian doctor new to the northern West Virginia town of Bartonsburg.   When experienced detective Mike Cutler sets out to find the killer, we meet a rich set of characters who deftly portray the whole town and region, and we see not just how the murder has cut into the quick of their lives but how an unsolved cold case still holds open old wounds for everyone.  

Racism, drugs, empty factories, union busting, greed, poverty and ignorance, in-bred clannishness and hunger for urban sophistication and wealth, Bartonsburg comes to life with a disturbing yet satisfying intensity.  

Mike Cutler takes us into every hollow and cranny of the town he loves, ever more deeply confronting the way the murders have sliced through the community, and tries to understand what all has happened to them far beyond the murders.  A whole age of promise, possibility and expectation has gone.  

Saturday, November 09, 2013

delicious meal in Manchester

Saturday night

We went to the Fox Run mall near Portsmouth.  Dreadful place.  We had forgotten, hadn’t been there for a good while. Walked first at BJs in Tilton, so we did get the 5000 steps after the mall walking at least.   Day redeemed itself after a wander-drive in the dark back to Manchester (I missed that darned exit again off 95 to 101) we had a great dinner at Republic.  Really great. Sole and Monkfish, two separate dishes.  I had a fine two-glass serving of a Côte du Rhone.  We had tried to get reservations at Cava or Moxy in Portsmouth since this is restaurant week state-wide, but they were overbooked.  Whether we try to go back this week remains to be seen.  Doubt it, but who knows.  Monday is the holiday so that may remind us to consider it.  The blueberry tart was perfect, barely sweet and then on the other side of the tray/plate was a compote of cold, sweeter blueberries.  Perfect pairing with the tart.  Plus a spread of heavy whipped cream with a mint leaf and a thinly sliced strawberry.  I should describe the monkfish treatment with the same zeal for detail but I won’t.  Va’s sole was crusted with pistachios.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Finished Knausgaard at 2:20 today.  

It is compelling and incredibly moving.  Incredibly?  well, yes, at the moment I do think so.  It weaves its web of power over you.  The death of the father and the birth of the son's vocation as a writer.  Simple as that and told with all the power inherent in the archetype---without however resorting to any of that kind of fancy lingo or large-type appeal. 

Let's assume it is a great work and let's imagine Joyce and Beckett and Bernhard, maybe Proust, Pessoa and Sebald, and others in the company, being here to enjoy the party.  Knausgaard creates the illusion of saying to them all----forget the schticks and tricks, forget your special style and angle, you should have just told the essence of the tale.  But isn't that what all the writers say in hindsight to their predecessors?  Students are already for sure writing dissertations on Knausgaard and analyzing the craft and skill and art with which he has invented his magical illusion of having just let the details unfold effortlessly from his keyboard. 

It caused furor in Norway for having written so honestly about the drinking and squalor of his father and his grandmother.  The worst sort of alcoholics living in their total filth.  His father died at fifty-four if my calculations are accurate, when Karl Ove was thirty. 

PAGE 329 in the FSG edition I began to mark passages using my own filiters of course.  That's when K begins to talk more directly about his desire to write, to be a writer.  Or if he did earlier in the book I took less notice.  He must have, slightly at least, because he has written one novel by now, the one he wrote when he was in the creative writing program at the Academy and which got turned down by a publisher.

He is now twenty-four. 

Lars Iyer likes to quote this Handke line--he tweeted it again recently and it works really well for Knausgaard: "Above all, it seems to me that the progress of literature consists of the gradual removal of all fictions. (Handke)"

When I was twenty-four I had a flash of insight: that this was in fact my life, this is exactly what it looked like and presumably always would.  That one's studies, this fabled and much-talked about period in a life, on which one always looked back with pleasure, were for me no more than a series of dismal, lonely, and imperfect days.  That I had not seen this before was due to the constant hope I carried around inside me, all the ridiculous dreams with which a twenty-four-year-old can be burdened, about women and love, about friends and happiness, about hidden talents and sudden breakthroughs.  But when I was twenty-four I saw life as it was.  And it was okay, I had my small pleasures too, it wasn't that, and I could endure any amount of loneliness and humiliation, I was a bottomless pit, just bring it on, there were days when I could think, I receive I am a well, I am the well of the failed, the wretched, the pitiful, the pathetic, the embarrassing, the cheerless, and the ignominious.  Come on! Piss on me!  Shit on me too if you want!  I receive!  I endure!  I am endurance itself!  I have never been in any doubt that this is what girls I have tried my luck with have seen in my eyes.  Too much desire, too little hope. 
Unquote  (329)

"I leafed through Adorno, read some pages of Benjamin, sat bowed over Blanchot for a few days, had a look at Derrida . . . and learned nothing, understood nothing, but just having contact with them, having their books in the bookcase, led to a shifting of consciousness, just knowing they existed was an enrichment, and if they didn't furnish me with insights I became all the richer for intuitions and feelings."  (330-331)

" . . . I, the king of approximation, . . .was after enrichment . . . .  the shadow of these sentences that could evoke in me a vague desire to use the language with this particular mood on something real, on something living.  Not on an argument, but on a lynx, for example, or on a blackbird or a cement mixer.  For it was not the case that language cloaked reality in its moods, but vice versa, reality arose from them."  (331)

". . . for thoughts, whatever good one can say about them, have a great weakness, namely, that they are dependent on a certain distance for effect.  Everything inside that distance is subject to emotions.  It was because of my emotions that I was starting to hold things back."  (332)

". . . the crux was that he musn't notice, he musn't find out that I harbored such emotions, and the evasive looks in such circumstances, emerged to conceal feelings rather than show them, . . . ."  (332)

"Now Espen was as dark and brooding as Hauge.  They were poets, I thought, that is how they are.  Compared to their heavy gloom I felt like a lightweight, a dilettante with no understanding of anything, just drifting across the surface, watching soccer, who recognized the names of a few philosophers and liked pop music of the simplest variety."  (335)

" . . . the difference between us, which I did not want to be visible, / would become obvious.  He would be the realistic, practical person; I would be the idealistic, emotion-driven one. . . . along with my tendency to cry all the time . . . ."  (345-346)

" . . . because I wasn't invited to that kind of gathering.  Why not, I had no idea.  I didn't care anymore anyway.  But there had been days when I had cared, days when I had been on the outside and had suffered.  Now I was only on the outside."  (377)

"One of the things Tonje liked best about me, I suspected, was that I was so fascinated by precisely that, by all the contexts and potential of various relationships, she wasn't used to that, she never speculated along those lines, so when I opened her eyes to what I saw she was always interested.  I had this from my mother, right from the time I went to school I used to carry on long conversations with her about people we had met or known, what they had said, why they might have said it, where they came from, who their parents were, what kind of house they lived in, all woven into questions to do with politics, ethics, morality, psychology, and philosophy, and this conversation, which continued to this day, had given my gaze a direction, I always saw what happened between people and tried to explain it, and for a long / time I also believed I was good at reading others, but I was not, wherever I turned I only saw myself, but perhaps that was not what our conversations were about primarily, there was something else, they were about Mom and me, that was how we became close to each other, in language and reflection, that was where we were connected, and that was also where I sought a connection with Tonje.  And it was good because she needed it in the same way that I needed her robust sensuousness."  (385-386)

"I knew it wasn't true, but that was how it felt, and it was feeling that was leading me, . . . ." (394)

"Furthermore, my wild state always became worse for that reason, as my drunkenness was not brought to a halt by sleep or problems of coordination, but simply continued into the beyond, the primitive, and the void.  I loved it, I loved the feeling, it was my favorite feeling, but it never led to anything good, and the day after, or days after, it was as closely associated with boundless excess as with stupidity, which I hated with a passion.  But when I was in that state, the future did not exist, nor the past, only the moment and that was why I wanted to be in it so much, for my world, in all its unbearable banality, was radiant."  (399)

"But that light, bantering tone of theirs, which Erling and Gunnar also shared had never been part of my nature, to put it mildly, . . . .  I was / unable to dissemble, unable to play a role, and the scholarly earnestness I brought into the house was impossible to keep at arm's length in the long run . . . ."  (419-420)

"I saw the rooftops in the residential area stretching down the road and remembered how I used to walk among them as a sixteen-year-old, bursting with emotions.  When everything I saw, even a rusty, crooked rotary dryer in a back garden, even rotten apples on the ground beneath a tree, even a boat wrapped in a tarpaulin, with the wet bow protruding and the yellow, flattened grass beneath, was ablaze with beauty."  (422)

"Death and gold.  I turned them over in my hand, one by one, and they filled me with disquiet.  I stood there and was frightened of death in the same way that I had been when I was a child.  Not of dying myself but of the dead."   (423)

"The day always came with more than mere light.  However frayed your emotions, it was impossible to be wholly unaffected by the day's new beginnings."  (437)

Knausgaard closes the book with a terrific passage that circles back to the opening meditation on death and gives us this great last line:  "And death, which I have always regarded as the greatest dimension of life, dark, compelling, was no more than a pipe that springs a leak, a branch that cracks in the wind, a jacket that slips off a clothes hanger and falls to the floor."  (441)

Friday, May 31, 2013

Santa Fe and Paris II

All the buildings in the center of Paris are alike too, more so than less.  Six stories, pale champagne colored sandstone facades, beaux arts and neo-classical decorations, variations on the basic templates.  Just like Santa Fe has its stylistic coherence, so does Paris.  Both are centers of culture and art.  And both date from the 1880s.  That is when Paris continued  to perfect itself as the informal center of the world of high culture, art, style, cuisine, taste and sophistication.  1889 the Eiffel Tower opens.  Paris spends the century perfecting itself and now is locked into its own beauty and splendor.  The informal capital of the world. 
1880 the railroad joined Santa Fe to the larger world.  It began to become the world capital of folk art and craft, of the hunger for the primitive, the original, hand-made, indigenous, native, the center of the new world's First People.  The world capital of First People and everyone who wants to honor them, imitate them, promote them, share their destiny so far as possible.  Santa Fe like Paris is a living museum of its own perfection. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Santa Fe and Paris

Santa Fe and Paris

Santa Fe has a unique architectural coherence in the core of the city.  There are four or five building types and all are variations on pueblo style: adobe walls, log post-and beam structure for the roofs, the walls all shades of brown, tan, sand, with hints of cream or pink.  Window frames can be blue, turquoise or reds.  A variation called New Mexico Territorial uses brick trim along the flat roof lines and all the wooden trim elements white. The stylistic coherence of buldings in New Mexico, and especially in Santa Fe, had developed over the past one hundred years.  At the turn of the 20th century Santa Fe became more and more conscious of the adobe style that had long been unique to the region.  Nearby towns such as Taos were also chosen by the many artists and writers who were drawn to the area.  By now, 2013, Santa Fe has been carefully preserved, restored,treasured and cultivated.  Any modernizations over the last fifty years have been carefully made to fit the parameters of the dominant style.  The McDonalds uses cut stone and painted stucco and may be one of the most subdued and tasteful in the country.  Sothebys International might be the commercial sign you see the most in the inner part of town.  Housing is pricey, only the mega rich can buy into the center of town these days.  Tourism, fine dining, retirement living and the arts dominate.  It is the second largest art market in the US.  Artists must prove genetic membership in the main groups---Native Americans, Hispanic, Mexican, Spanish, and Folk artists from other backgrounds. 

The center of town houses about 35,000 people; the metro region about 140,000 more.  More than five museums, hundreds of galleries and jewelry stores, plus the Opera and symphony, ballet (partnered with Aspen), wellness enterprises of every sort, sports, golf, outdoor activities, bike paths, walking paths, skiing close-by, and lengthy legal battles now and forever about water rights.  There's not enough but you can't quite see that in the casual visit.   

There's no other city in America with this sort of stylistic integrity and uniformity.  The analogy that comes to mind is Paris.  

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Sergio De La Pava's expanding universe

Tuesday April 2


Finishing Naked Singularity which is heartbreakingly good.  And fine.

5:45 pm  Finished the novel about twenty minutes ago, scanned some commentary on Conversational and then took a crap, unusual time of day for such and somehow related---in terms of the old thinking of the body approach.

Back to De La Pava's novel.  Real sense of Over-ness haunting me now.  hanging on.  Very powerful work.  Might be better than Infinite Jest.  Too soon to say but it comes to mind. 

Weds  April  3 
Paula came early this morning.  Final packing things.  Super bright and sunny but really cold and still high winds. 

Thinking about how thrilling De La Pava's book is.  Wonder if he took the use of swords from Marîas's Your Face Tomorrow?  Vol 2.  Even if not, he sure knows what he's doing.  If only Salvatore's first novel had been this wonderful, this splendid and spectacular.  Both took ten years to write. 

Contrast ANS with the little book of Walser's that I read a few weeks ago.  Walser's inimitable style and modes, yes, but still, early 20th C airy slightness, Peter Panism, until I read a few more of his works to get a better take on them.  Meanwhile, De La Pava's work is certainly "after David Foster Wallace"--half a generation? after it.  But perhaps greater than it.  Huge books by young men out to prove their moves.  Pava's is so much warmer and human.  Infinite Jest I read so long ago that my memory of it is not reliable, but what I do remember, and the remembered experience of it, is that exhausting sense of brilliance at high pitch, the exploding nebula of amazing brightness---and coldness.  The best scene is where the Quebec wheelchair terrorists put mirrors up across highway I-93 in the dark of night to bewitch drivers.  Of course that stuck with me because I live close to the very scene and enjoyed the whole local referentiality.  No need to go on trying to compare the works.  Better to just say that ANS does succeed in expanding itself outward and the whole "deconstruction," to use an really old-fashioned word, of what it started out to be---a legal thriller, a lawyer-esque detective work, the spiraling explosion of genres, once we've lived through the incredibly enjoyable and intense heist movements, keeps going upward into if not a sublime then a contemporary version of exaltation where love land fear embrace to erase victory and loss.  Or maybe to merge with all of those and all the other terms we can think of. 

I read one commentary yesterday that said that after the sword scenes the reader then felt let down by the remaining hundred pages or so of the novel.  But I didn't and I don't think so.  There is a natural denouement after climax, yes, De La Pava follows the conventions and he manages to break them open at the same time and the denouement moves themselves become almost a new novella/epilogue in which resolution issues morph into nearly new revelations of character and relationship and human connectedness.  We have family, children, sister and mother, love, and fear of retribution which itself becomes turned inside out into some indefinable cosmic embrace.  And it is none of it as hokey as this run-down surely makes it sound to someone who has not yet read the book. 

At key places you can say to yourself, oh boy, is Tarantino going to die to make this a movie and you also say, no, this is so much better than what mess he would make of it because I am reading it and De La Pava's implied narrator is pacing us through it in ways that only a supreme writer can do. 

Another lasting impression concerns the ways De La Pava takes the risk of describing madness and near-madness and pulls it off.  Various sorts of distortions of experience that we recognize and don't recognize, have felt ourselves or can tell others have felt, De La Pava portrays those, conveys what they are like, has his protagonist, Casi, live through them, live with them for a time, and we find them credible and moving, especially in hindsight.  As the story moves along we can look back and recognize what that was, perhaps in ways that Casi himself cannot, and yet, this might be a major achievement, our experience of these effects do not seem to involve irony.  At least not in the ways that have become standard as "dramatic irony" or "literary irony."  Nor are there the now standard "post-modern irony" or other such effects.  Instead the book hangs on a few ordinary armatures---legal procedure, the history of boxing in the 80s, crime, some violence, oh, and memorable characters, expansive, big, complex characters, like Toom and Dane. 

Casi's voice carries the rich brew.  De La Pava's incredible mastery of idiom, rhetoric, street talk, talk of every sort, rushes the book forward.  Language rich to a breaking point, never cute, never just clever, language handled so poetically it disappears, taking us into the naked singularity of poetry.  That title phrase is from physics and I assume the concept gets used and explained clearly and astonishingly---assume, because everything else I can judge gets handled that way.  The history of western philosophy, yep, in there, forgot to mention that.  Literary theory, even television theory, of sorts, without extraneous chat about pop this or that, and without superfluous big thoughts about politics or history, but they are there too. 

Melville hovers around the edges.  One character named Ballena and bigger than all get out.  Confidence men, ambiguities, uncertainties and shifting realities in which we wander enchanted isles.  

Philsophy, hence theology and spirituality.  Character named Aloyna.  Hmm, Dostoyevsky.  The list goes on.