Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Get Your Nails Done Or Something, You'll Feel Better

It is not yet solstice, but the trim
Along the awning of the Best Buy is sagging.
I turn on the television, Law and Order,
Because this is the only kind of magic I can afford
To allow into my home. You know how this ends.
My gods have betrayed me, yet every day
I pray to them. Walking home from the bus
I pick up a few of the prettiest little
Dead leaves to put on my altar.


David said...

OK Sylvia
Tell them
At the nail salon
To leave the blinds

Eli said...

I like twigs for my altar. I haven't found a good place in the new abode though.

Slothrop said...

The expertise with which you choose details reminds me of James Wright, though your spell of melancholy is less ambiguous. I feel as though these are the "leaves" you mentioned.

I do the same thing with leaves - keeping an eye out for ones my daughter might like. My only god, and still loyal.

Makes me think of an R. Crumb cover from '75 - an urban type sees a leaf falling against a desolate cityscape & he says "This, to me, is beauty."

I'm constantly wondering what a novel by you would be like. "The Centaur," maybe? Something more wonderfully witchy? Lots of alchemy, I trust. I can dream.

Maria Padhila said...

You always show up when I'm low! I do have a novel, but I'm afraid it would be disappointingly unwitchy--it's a simple mystery. I might do more, though--I'm so disappointed myself I'll either give it up or not give a fuq. Heads or tails? Anyway, link:

Slothrop said...

Okay, I read the novel. Two things. First, thanks for your generosity in posting the book & giving me the link. I definitely would've paid full book price. It was far more convincing than a friend's novel which mysteriously made People Magazine's top ten. (Now I am totally going to f**king hell, because I helped edit the thing & cheered her on...I'm a dick.) I've only read "House of Beef" once, which is a total disservice to you, but life is seriously hard right now. Trust me to read it again when I can, & refresh my opinions.

Second thing: I have a lot of feedback, but I'm going to try not to write a book myself. It'll be hard. There were some things I wanted to blue-pencil, but nothing serious. Sentences that would've fit perfectly into a W. G. Sebald book but which stuck out in the midst of your economical prose.

Frankly, I'm astonished by what you've accomplished. Still dizzy from how much you know, how much you can imagine, & your ability to give it all such distinctive voices. It makes me so embarrassed by my lame, pretentious comments about your poems. You just seem to think on several levels beyond my ability to appreciate.

So funny that you characterized this as a "chicklit mystery." Your approach to the genre is so fascinating. My only exposure to chicklit is skimming my wife's library when bored, but I feel like I have a handle on how it works. 90% of the narrative is immersion in the quotidian - a textural barrage of (usually young professional) routines, touchstones, brands. All meant as ingratiation: "See, I am of your world! I share your habits, tastes, comforts, problems! I'm YOU!" A bid for acceptance, and acceptance is really what it's all about. Close friends, peers you can trust & share with in this gray tunnel.

"House of Beef" is not about being accepted or accepting. Most chicklit uses a sour, sarky voice as a cover for the flow of warmth to follow; an emotional arc so finely honed at this point it's practically a stencil. In your book the sour jadedness is what's real. Malone has no illusions about the shell game she's pulling on everyone but her baby. Almost as hard-boiled as Chandler. It's weird to see the apparatus of this genre highjacked in service of psychological realism.

I hate the title. I get it in the context of Malone's vegetarianism, & I guess it functions like Beth Nugent's "City of Boys" (the title story of which amazed me in college). But I put off reading it b/c of the title alone. Maybe meat eaters would feel differently; to me it was non-evocative & a little ugly.

Slothrop said...

The central conflicts & the mystery kept me going, & made me eager to see how it would all dovetail. The scene where Malone connects Seth w/ the missing boy was electrifying; it all came truly alive to me then. But, finally, I was more interested in Malone & her friction w/ the life she'd picked than this Chandra Levy stuff. Why not more about the (ferocious) conflict w/ her husband & the plastic mold he's forced her into? The dualism she feels? I understand the symbolism (another great breaking of a genre rule), the water / current imagery, etc. I just felt you were writing literature in service of pulp conventions & weren't quite subverting them. And that you are fully capable of writing literature w/out a pulp hook. Instead of terse, functional prose, some of the raw beauty of your poems. If that's what you want to do.

I asked my wife, the chicklit expert, what she thought of all this. She said, "It would be so interesting if Malone were in the first person, & you were seduced by her, felt welcoming to her - then realized she didn't like you. Didn't like your world, your type, your tastes, any of it. She's an underground denizen who's mingling w/ you under duress. Because the bourgeois husband. Big fuck you smile. Male protagonists get away with this, but female ones never have. Maybe it's time."

I don't know if you'd be sympathetic, & it doesn't necessarily matter. Long ago I realized that I read mostly for insights. Great themes, memorable characters & graceful arcs are secondary to the isolated moments when you recognize truth. Something you didn't know you knew. Like:

"The expression of his face was perfect - friendly but knowing. A face that told you that you were going to like what happened next, whether you would or not. Seductive. It had gone a little slack with the drugs and the years, but it still worked. It was tempting, the prospect of not having to think. Of just letting it happen, getting swept along."

That happened to me, oh yeah, and it kills me to see it put so perfectly. To see that what I thought was just a personal fail is actually a thing. Just, fuck. This is totally why I would read another novel by you, or another anything by you.

Slothrop said...

I feel like I have a good fix on Lee; maybe Bebe also. (Malone, Lee, Bebe...photographer, singer, rock critic...are they like the "no-evil" monkeys Malone mentions?) I need to know Jackson a lot better for this whole thing to resonate properly, & Seth to a lesser extent. Furnish those rooms a bit more. I really liked Malone, of course, & her entrance was perfect. The pills-in-the-bra said so much.

The thing is, I felt like I should love Malone. Not that she should be lovable; I loved Becky Sharp. Maybe it's because Malone has this Offred-like passivity, even in her thoughts. A resignation. I wanted more tension w/ her surroundings, more of the electricity that comes from hate hate hating your compromises.

Really, the book is too complex & well thought-out for me to seriously tackle after one reading.

You can stop here if you like. I wonder if I'm ambivalent toward Malone b/c I feel like I knew her: self-described "killer banshee" on the '80s DC hardcore scene I met at the Hung Jury. Pure Irish sark, pure speed. I thought, people like this exist outside of books? She dragged me everywhere, her own personal Sal Paradise maybe. (I was clueless.) She had an art space in the Le Droit Bldg on F St. (now the International Spy Museum), so if you're the Marlowe I suspect you are, that narrows it down a lot. If you were even marginally into that scene you would've been aware of her; she wasn't shy. Not a photographer like Malone but a "taboo" performance artist. In her defense this was before Finley got profiled in Spin.

By '87 she'd stopped going to places like the 9:30 b/c the new wave of skins had a big problem w/ lesbians (ironic, given who their leader was). So she went to art school in Chicago, & I lost her. Last word, she was unraveling, passing out drunk in the street, waking up from blackouts in strange beds. Friends pleaded ignorance, but I always felt they were protecting me. Because I was the guy you "protected."

She has no internet trail, which doesn't bode well. Sometimes I imagine she's like Malone, settled into something safe, even if she hates it. Her trog nature carefully veiled.

Hidden selves...the only problem w/ being Slothrop is, you must wonder if this is all just a bunch of fabulist ranting. I could be some 12 year-old in Scranton. Sorry about that, I just feel that anonymity removes the ulterior element. It's pure opinion, w/ no subtext that I want to grift you into hanging out w/ me or reading my own shit. Your writing genuinely helped me through a very rough time. I appreciate that you give all this away for free, & (basically) want to encourage you to get something back for it.