Some of my earliest childhood memories are of walking through the sliding doors of Good Samaritan Hospital in downtown Phoenix, feeling a whoosh as the hot outside air mixed with the icy air conditioning, ushering me inside a grown-up, important place. I loved the gift shop at Scottsdale Memorial Hospital, particularly the flower arrangements you could order that looked like a clown or a shaggy white dog. I didn't know how they did that, but I knew that if I was ever in the hospital (I never was, not till I had babies), that's what I wanted. Years later, as an adult, I was poking around that same gift shop and noticed something in the back of the refrigerator case. A clown flower arrangement! It didn't look as good as I remembered, just a carnation in a cheap vase, decorated with googly eyes and pipe cleaners. But that wave of nostalgia was a huge rush.
Here in the hospital, at the bedside of an elderly grandparent or great aunt, I'd see cousins, aunts, and uncles I hadn't seen in months (or longer), tape my homemade card on the wall, and head down with other visiting family members for what I considered to be an exotic meal in the cafeteria. Even my father, not the most sentimental of souls, often showed up for visiting hours, which tended to involve minor injuries and illnesses. Nothing too serious (I was not brought along on those visits, anyway), and as far as I know, no one in our family ever had a baby with any kind of significant health issue.
So we’ve got the unmoving words on the page. That’s the first black mark against us. Second: do we get to the point? How soon? Here’s the answer: no. We don’t get to the point, not for 200 pages at least. Sometimes 3,600, if we’re Knausgaard. At writing workshops they taught us to show not tell — well, showing takes time. We paint a slow picture. You can see the brushstrokes. We don’t get to the point, and sometimes when we do our readers don’t notice, in fact. It’s so couched in nuance it can fly right over a person’s head. What was that you said? I couldn’t quite make it out.All joking aside: Millet's new novel, Sweet Lamb of Heaven, continues to draw rave reviews. At Slate, Laura Miller writes:
Third, sound bites. We don’t have them. No pull quotes. No celebrity names. Few if any pictures. The list of what we don’t have is a long one. Our tools for captivation are few, and often ungainly.
Which is why I’ve settled on porn, come to a decision that my next book after this one will be devoted to relentless, often hardcore pornography. I can’t give you an exact preview here on the pages of Salon, of course: this is a decent website. Plus that would be a spoiler.
It’s not bragging if it’s fact: Few novels surprise me. This is not because I’m a genre writer, but because I’m a genre reader, sampling broadly — crime, horror, romance, speculative, dystopian and, more often than not, literary fiction. (Yes, honey, you’re a genre too.) When I teach creative writing, I ask my students to experiment with their television remote controls. Mute the sound and scan the channels, landing on a film or television show heretofore unknown to you. Normally, it takes only seconds to identify, by shot composition alone, whether we are watching a comedy or a drama, a soap opera or a police procedural. We have intuited each world’s rules even if we’ve never articulated them.Read the whole review here.
But Lydia Millet’s “Sweet Lamb of Heaven” confounded me, delightfully so. After serving as a judge for the 2015 National Book Awards’ fiction category, I have little patience with literary novels that claim to have the propulsive momentum of a thriller, yet Millet pulls it off. About 80 pages in, I scrawled on the title page: I don’t know where I’m going. Then, a few pages later: How do we leave ourselves behind when we read? The main character’s well-earned paranoia infected me; I felt as if Millet had mined my metadata: mom, concerned citizen, conspiracy skeptic, overwhelmed social media user. But I also sensed that Millet was asking me to transcend my own narrow interests, to open my mind to the possibility of a world I had not — possibly could not — imagine.
“I wull have satisfaction o’ thee,” answered the squire: “so doff thy clothes. At unt half a man, and I’ll lick thee as well as wast ever licked in thy life.”The fight doesn't take place, but the squire keeps yelling at Tom. Until I read this passage, I was sure the phrases, "I'm gonna kick your ass!" and "Kiss my ass!" were reasonably modern, along with the term, "Ass kisser." Apparently not. Listen to Fielding describing, rather delicately (this is 17th century England, after all, not Chaucer's 14th century England), the phrases he says one often hears "among the lower orders of the English gentry."
"[Squire Western] then bespattered the youth with abundance of that language which passes between country gentlemen who embrace opposite sides of the question; with frequent applications to him to salute that part which is generally introduced into all controversies that arise among the lower orders of the English gentry at horse-races, cock-matches, and other public places. Allusions to this part are likewise often made for the sake of the jest. And here, I believe, the wit is generally misunderstood. In reality, it lies in desiring another to kiss your a — for having just before threatened to kick his; for I have observed very accurately, that no one ever desires you to kick that which belongs to himself, nor offers to kiss this part in another."