One highlight of this week’s reading came from two wildly different novels, each charged by an ambiguous relationship with their narrators. Alina Bronsky’s The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine (recommended by multiple smart folks with fine taste) has a memorable antihero in Rosa, who recounts the story of her family in the waning years of the Soviet Union. There are massive amounts of self-justification on display, all (mostly) tapping into a particularly bleak strain of comedy. Charles Willeford’s Cockfighter is set among the world of (this is not a shock) cockfighting; its narrator, Frank Mansfield moves silently through the southern US in the mid-twentieth century. It’s the sort of novel wherein the narrator lives by a very particular code; admittedly, Willeford is ambiguous as to whether Mansfield’s code is something to admire or a sign of self-destructive alienation.
Elsewhere this week, I read Bruce Chatwin’s short novel Utz, the story of a reclusive collector of porcelain figured in post-war Prague. It’s especially interesting when considered as the last work published during Chatwin’s short lifetime; the tone alternately celebratory and outraged. (And he pulls off the trick of filtering a Czech setting through a British narrator, and making that distancing an essential part of the story.)
It was a good week for reading, all told. John Brandon’s Citrus County kicked my ass. Partway through, I described it to a friend as Brighton Rock by way of Barry Hannah, and having finished it, I’d say that that description still stands. Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty is both an incredibly moving account of a friendship and a fantastic account of the writing life. And Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier is a concise, wrenching account of psychological unrest, delusion, and the fault lines of a marriage.
As of now, I’m about a third of the way through Vanessa Veselka’s Zazen, about which I’ll have much to say next week.
Finished up Someday This Will Be Funny by Lynne Tillman, and almost sad that somebody else picked to review this for us. The experience has taught me that I haven’t read nearly enough Lynne Tillman. I feel a combination of silly and sad saying that. Moving on, I’ve got Go Fish (Akashic) by Mr. Fish sitting next to me. I’m wondering to myself, “Do I read this? Richard Lewis blurbed it. How many books has blurbed?” Thankfully, it’s mostly comics, so maybe I just spend my Saturday leafing through it?
This week was hectic, but I found time to watch Whit Stillman’s film Barcelona. Now I just need Netflix to deliver The Last Days of Disco, and I will have completed his “Doomed-Bourgeois-in-Love series.”
Also, I must mention that the other night I was at Greenlight Books, and I’m gonna be honest, I have not been there enough. They might have the finest selection of lit journals and magazines in the entire city of New York, and there were so many I wanted to buy.