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."
At bottom, Mr. Harrison was not so much like Hemingway as he was like something out of Hemingway. Or, more accurately, something out of Rabelais — a mustachioed, barrel-chested bear of a man whose unapologetic immoderation encompassed a dazzling repertory:
There was the eating. Mr. Harrison once faced down 144 oysters, just to see if he could finish them. (He could.)
There was the drinking. One fine summer, he personally tested 38 varieties of Côtes du Rhône. (“It was like a small wine festival. Just me, really,” he told The Washington Post afterward.)
There was the drugging, in his Hollywood period, when he wrote the screenplays for films including “Revenge” (1990), starring Kevin Costner and based on Mr. Harrison’s novella of that name.
There was the hobnobbing with his spate of famous friends, including Jack Nicholson, John Huston, Bill Murray and Jimmy Buffett.
All these ingredients were titanically encapsulated in a dinner Mr. Harrison once shared with Orson Welles, which involved, he wrote, “a half-pound of beluga with a bottle of Stolichnaya, a salmon in sorrel sauce, sweetbreads en croûte, a miniature leg of lamb (the whole thing) with five wines, desserts, cheeses, ports” and a chaser of cocaine.
But constructing Mr. Harrison merely as a rough-and-ready man of appetite — a perennial conceit of profile writers, and one he did relatively little to dispel — ignores the deep intellectualism of the writer and his work. In conversation, he could range easily and without affectation over Freud, Kierkegaard, Stravinsky, Zen Buddhism, Greek oral epic and ballet.
What differentiates the impulse to write poetry from the impulse to write prose? Can that seed go either way?The event will take place at Downtown Campus (1255 N. Stone Avenue, room AH 140) March 25-27.
These questions and other innovative ways of thinking about poetry, fiction, the essay and more will be explored during Pima Community College’s spring 2016 Creative Writing Weekend Workshop on poetry writing led by writer and editor Aisha Sabatini Sloan. We will look at literary models that hover – deliriously – between fiction, poetry and the essay.
The crazy antics of Willy Wonka creates anticipation as Charlie Bucket and the rest of the golden… More