Sunday, October 1, 2017


I'll try Kate's Six Degrees of Separation game because Whispering Gums vouched for it. This month* she asks you to start with June Chang's Wild Swans, 1991, which I may or may not have read. If I did then I have forgotten everything. I am in the same position as everyone who has done nothing more than look at the cover – I know the author describes a number of interrelated Chinese women. Probably there are no swans. Chang submerged the bird in the human, delivering a coup de grace insult by naming her book after the animal she savagely dissolved. I realise I could run now into J.A. Baker's The Peregrine, 1967, a book in which a human wishes he could dissolve into a bird. Instead I want to mention Joseph McElroy's Women and Men, 1987, because I think I will forget it as completely as I may or may not have forgotten Wild Swans. As I was reading I wanted to finish so that I could start forgetting it. By the end I was only continuing so that it wouldn't stay with me. Women and Men proposes constant interconnections. The mysterious boy who hitched a ride with you in your smalltown American childhood is the same man who asks you for a lift when you are an adult living in New York. The unexpectedness of the connection is pleasing, confirming that life is strange. Magical Native Americans attach you to both the past and the future. No one is really alone and the stuff of life is not chronological but simultaneous or time-interflowing. The author's sentences often try to replicate that idea of overflow by running and bursting with a kind of gabble, spreading his interest onto details - telling you that Jim was on specifically a Bermuda beach when he saw "shadow-rays over the ocean" – or that the chocolate bar in someone's past had a name – (Stephen King does that too) -

Upon the sinking of Sarah's teeth into the outer-skinned chocolate of the Clark bar on into the honey-colored brown-sugar-crumble inside you would not build a broken marriage, or a self-destroy scenario either.

An opera-singer's father is tortured in Chile. We are not directly introduced to that figure of immediate pain, the ghost of everything the book does not want to look at, a person for whom interconnectedness is less important than his own isolated flesh, who cannot be reprieved even for a moment by identity of a chocolate. McElroy, unlike Dickens, doesn't see interconnectedness laying a holistic responsibility on people. There is no smallpox, death, guilt, disfigurement, or anything else like that, there is invention, progress, and stimulation. The brand of chocolate is interesting and so is the sprite-boy. Meanwhile the tortured man invents nothing.

There is one phrase in Women and Men - "it might be an exciting death coming his way" - that suggested the tone of a different author, maybe Beckett, though the impression didn't last longer than that sentence. The last Beckett I read was Mercier and Camier 1946/70, a story with two names in its title, like Flaubert's Bouvard et Pécuchet, 1881, a book mentioned by name in Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle, Book 5, 2016, the last thing I read by that author.

*Thanks to international time differences I posted this on September 30th, in spite of the date under the title.

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