Category Archives: Literature

Along the white road

From The Tartar Steppe:

Drogo was suddenly overcome by sleep. Meantime, that very night (had he but known it he might perhaps not have been inclined to sleep) that very night time began to slip by him beyond recall.

Up to then he had gone forward through the heedless season of early youth – along a road which to children seems infinite, where the years slip past slowly and with quiet pace so that no one notices them go. We walk along calmly, looking curiously around us; there is not the least need to hurry, no one pushes us on from behind and no one is waiting for us; our comrades, too, walk on thoughtlessly and often stop to joke and play. From the houses, in the doorways, the grown-up people greet us kindly and point to the horizon with an understanding smile. And so the heart begins to beat with desires at once heroic and tender, we feel that we are on the threshold of the wonders awaiting us further on. As yet we do not see them, that is true – but it is certain, absolutely certain that one day we shall reach them.

Is it far? No, you have to cross that river down there, go over those green hills. Haven’t we perhaps arrived already? Aren’t these trees, these meadows, this white house perhaps what we were looking for? For a few seconds we feel that they are and we would like to halt there. Then someone says that it is better further on and we move off again unhurriedly.

So the journey continues; we wait trustfully and the days are long and peaceful. The sun shines high in the sky and it seems to have no wish to set.

But at a certain point we turn round, almost instinctively, and see that a gate has been bolted behind us, barring our way back. Then we feel that something has changed; the sun no longer seems to be motionless but moves quickly across the sky; there is barely time to find it when it is already falling headlong towards the far horizon. We notice that the clouds no longer lie motionless in the blue gulfs of the sky but flee, piled one above the other, such is their haste. Then we understand that time is passing and that one day or another the road must come to an end. …

Some days will pass before Drogo understands what has happened. Then it will be like an wakening. He will look around him incredulously; then he will hear a din of footsteps at his back, will see those who awoke before him running hard to pass him by, to get there first. He will feel the pulse of time greedily beat out the measure of life. There will be no more laughing faces at the windows but unmoved and indifferent ones. And if he asks how far there is still to go they will, it is true, still point to the horizon – but not good-naturedly, not joyfully. Meanwhile his companions will disappear from view. One gets left behind, exhausted; another has outstripped the rest and is no more than a tiny speck on the horizon.

Another ten miles – people will say – over that river and you will be there. Instead it never ends. The days grow shorter, the fellow-travellers fewer; at the windows apathetic figures stand and shake their heads.

At last Drogo will be all alone and there on the horizon stretches a measureless sea, motionless, leaden. Now he will be tired; nearly all the houses along the way will have their windows shut and the few persons he sees will answer him with a sad gesture. The good things lay further back – far, far back and he has passed them by without knowing it. But it is too late to turn back; behind him swells the hum of the following multitude urged on by the same illusion but still invisible on the white road.

– Dino Buzzati, The Tartar Steppe

Chapter 7 of Absalom, Absalom!, different each time

Last night I was re-reading Chapter 7 of Absalom, Absalom!, where the lynchpin of Sutpen’s motivation is finally revealed, a section I’ve always found somewhat unconvincing – really? The boy is disrespected by one house slave once in his life, and this is the reason for all that follows? – but last night, I think I finally grasped the grandeur and truth of what Faulkner was getting at. How a life sets itself upon a course, inexorably, and can in no wise stray from that course for all time after.

Not very American-dreamy of you, Mr. Faulkner! Small wonder the book is little read outside American lit classes these days. Even so, this section remains one of the finest in the English language, the sheer tidal force of the language beating your brain into joyful submission.

I’ve been reading this book every couple of years since I was 18. It gives the wondrous feeling of being  a different book each time.

Go read Knockemstiff

You think you had it hard?  You didn’t have it hard.  The folks in Knockemstiff have it hard.

A collection of short stories set in the hardest-ass landscape you’re going to see this side of doing hard time.  Get ready to get pounded in the face.  Go on.  Get in there and see if you can take it.

Not for the squeamish, and not for the easily entertained.  But you’re here, right?  That’s not what you’re looking for.

Donald Ray Pollock worked a paper mill for 32 years before deciding to try his hand as a writer.  I’d say he’s done pretty well for himself.

 

Go read Frank Bill right now

If I could issue commands from this post, my hand would be seizing you by the throat right now, demanding that you click upon the following links and go read a couple of the best damn stories I’ve ever come across online.  Broken sentences give form to broken lives, tense and tight and no bullshit.   Appearing in Beat To A Pulp.

Do it:

Tweakers

The Need

In a debauch of sun

We just got back from Thailand and the heat, my God, the heat.  Oppressive does not begin to describe it.  Continuous defeat of all reasonable attempts at ambition is more like it.  You get acclimated after a while, but we were there only a month, not nearly long enough.

Glaring white sunlight in the rice paddies, Phanat Nikhom, Thailand, obscuring all else.

Put me in mind of  my favorite description of tropical scorch, from George Orwell’s vastly underappreciated Burmese Days:

They went out into the glaring white sunlight. The heat rolled from the earth like the breath of an oven. The flowers, oppressive to the eyes, blazed with not a petal stirring, in a debauch of sun. The glare sent a weariness through one’s bones. There was something horrible in it–horrible to think of that blue, blinding
sky, stretching on and on over Burma and India, over Siam, Cambodia, China, cloudless and interminable. The plates of Mr Macgregor’s waiting car were too hot to touch. The evil time of day was beginning, the time, as the Burmese say, ‘when feet are silent’. Hardly a living creature stirred, except men, and the
black columns of ants, stimulated by the heat, which marched ribbon-like across the path, and the tail-less vultures which soared on the currents of the air.

Donigan Merritt goes e-bookin' – buy it

Noted author Donigan Merritt has made his 1982 debut, One Easy Piece, available as a Kindle book.

Here is what Donigan has to say about it:

One Easy Piece was my first published novel; it came out in late 1982, before I had finished work for the MFA degree from Iowa, which I received in December of that year. It has been out of print for just less than forever, although in its day it sold very well. It’s been a while, but one word sticks out as common among the newspaper reviews of its day: harrowing. Yes, I think it is harrowing reading.

One Easy Piece was originally titled “The Devil You Know,” which is the novel’s epigram — few of the original titles of my books have made it all the way to publication. The basic idea, or theme, of this novel came from a program aired on “60 Minutes” back then about wife abuse and a look into the lives of women hiding out in a “safe house.” What most intrigued me about the story was how many of the women were forgiving of their abusers, how many had returned to the man, or would return. My wondering about this eventually lead to the story of this novel. Conversations with three women who had been abused by husbands or boyfriends constituted the bits of pieces that created the characters here.

One Easy Piece costs less than a Starbucks latte and has traveled almost three decades to reach you.  Go pick it up.

Donigan also plans on releasing it in iPad and Nook format soon.

Donigan Merritt goes e-bookin’ – buy it

Noted author Donigan Merritt has made his 1982 debut, One Easy Piece, available as a Kindle book.

Here is what Donigan has to say about it:

One Easy Piece was my first published novel; it came out in late 1982, before I had finished work for the MFA degree from Iowa, which I received in December of that year. It has been out of print for just less than forever, although in its day it sold very well. It’s been a while, but one word sticks out as common among the newspaper reviews of its day: harrowing. Yes, I think it is harrowing reading.

One Easy Piece was originally titled “The Devil You Know,” which is the novel’s epigram — few of the original titles of my books have made it all the way to publication. The basic idea, or theme, of this novel came from a program aired on “60 Minutes” back then about wife abuse and a look into the lives of women hiding out in a “safe house.” What most intrigued me about the story was how many of the women were forgiving of their abusers, how many had returned to the man, or would return. My wondering about this eventually lead to the story of this novel. Conversations with three women who had been abused by husbands or boyfriends constituted the bits of pieces that created the characters here.

One Easy Piece costs less than a Starbucks latte and has traveled almost three decades to reach you.  Go pick it up.

Donigan also plans on releasing it in iPad and Nook format soon.

Pay with a post for a new short story collection

As experiments with publishing goes, this is an interesting one: you can download Australian writer Conor O’Brien’s new collection, Quiet City, for the price of a tweet and / or Facebook post.  Just go here and follow the clickys.  Alternatively, you can get the paper book for $12.

I’d never heard of Connor O’Brien until about 7 minutes ago.  Now I’ve got his book and am subscribed to his blog.  I guess that’s the point.

 

Anne Frank was neutered

All the world knows Anne Frank was murdered by Nazis, but apparently we didn’t need to know about her clitoris:

When the unabridged edition of the diaries were released in 1995, the 50th anniversary of her death, they included the previously deleted passages that contained some of Anne’s negative remarks about her housemates and parents as well as a lengthy entry from March 24, 1944 in which she describes her vulva, clitoris, and vagina from the perspective of her own fifteen year old gaze. …

In November 2009, the unabridged version was pulled from the library shelves and classroom bookcases at Culpepper Middle School in Culpepper, Virginia after a parent complained that the diary contained explicit sexual content inappropriate for an eighth grade readership. “While these pages could be the basis of a relevant discussion,” remarked school superintendent Bobbi Johnson, “they do not reflect the purpose of studying the book at the middle-school level and could foster a discussion in a classroom that many would find inappropriate.”

Asexual murder victim.

Yes, by all means, let’s ignore female anatomy with eighth graders.  While we’re at it, why don’t we just tell them the Nazis sent Anne Frank to a really really fun summer camp where she got to frolic at Lake Sunnyside for, you know, ever?

Here is the offending passage.  Avert your eyes, philistine moralists of all stripes:

“…Until I was eleven or twelve, I didn’t realize there was a second set of labia on the inside, since you couldn’t see them. What’s even funnier is that I thought urine came out of the clitoris…When you’re standing up, all you see from the front is hair. Between your legs there are two soft, cushiony things, also covered with hair, which press together when you’re standing, so you can’t see what’s inside. They separate when you sit down and they’re very red and quite fleshy on the inside. In the upper part, between the outer labia, there’s a fold of skin that, on second thought, looks like a kind of blister. That’s the clitoris…”

H/t Html Giant.

Huck Finn to be neutered

Some company is going to publish Huck Finn without the word “nigger.” Seriously.

This man does not approve. Also, he likes this kittycat.

Surely the reasons why this is a spectacularly bad idea need not be enumerated.

Fortunately, this is evidently blowing up on the internet and I’d bet the company in question will back down.  Here’s hoping.

But if not, take some cold comfort in the fact that no teacher who selects this neutered edition is going to teach much about Huck Finn anyway.