Friday, March 7, 2008

The Combination Plate, por favor

1. The book sat there for some time, seemingly too much book to read in a week and, thus, impossible for this week's review--maybe next week and Spring break.

2. The lure of the book, its title, and a reminder that a great loss was forthcoming, set connection receptors to twitching.

3. The book is Lush Life, which in the right context could be a nod to Billy Strayhorn, the incredibly gifted collaborator of Edward Kennedy Ellington, The Duke.

4. The author is Richard Price of Clockers fame. More to the point, Price is a sometimes writer on The Wire.

5. The Wire,
as of tomorrow, is toast.

6. So okay, I'll have a look, then pick up a sensible, shorter book which can be read and commented on and filed by tomorrow night, which has become the default due time for the weekly review.

7. So I'm screwed because Lush Life is nothing less than magnetic, its title indeed an ironic riff on Billy Strayhorn's stunning lyric. You know:

I used to visit all the very gay places,
Those come-what-may places,
Where one relaxes
On the axis
Of the Wheel of Life,
To get the feel of life,
And jazz and cocktail.
The girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces,
With distingue traces,
That used to be there,
You could see where
They'd been washed away
By too many through the day
Twelve o'clock-tails.
The you came along
With your siren's song
To tempt me to madness.
I thought for a while
That your poignant smile
Was tinged with the sadness
Of a great love for me.
I guess I was wrong.
Again I was wrong....

Yeah, that one. I think Strayhorn was seventeen or eighteen when he wrote it.

8. Just before we turn on the dry cycle, throw in this enhancement: In addition to Richard Price, many episodes of The Wire were written by Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos.

9. Here's the spin cycle. Just as The Wire and indeed Lush Life are bursting at the seams with an ensemble cast of characters and are related in an intricate patchwork quilt of a format, so are the works of Lehane and Pelecanos, so indeed are the novels of Denise Mina, so are many other of the novels appearing after 2000. What we are seeing is a shift in the DNA of the novel from the single point of view to the ensemble point of view, with shorter scenes, a finger-popping tempo, an edge, and a growing method of authorial observation in which it is clear that although the author may have favorites, he or she does not produce political stereotypes with whom to take opposition. All the characters believe in their individual rightness. Take a look at The History of Live by Nicole Kraus if you don't agree with this vision I present here of the novel's trip ticket Take a look at Richard Powers; The Echo Maker.

Individuals will continue to read and to write the "old" novel, the more linear story arc, but for those of us who cannot plot or who will not plot, this ensemble melange is a lovely switch in the depth, texture, and reach of story.

11. Many such modern novels, such as The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Urrea or The Brief Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, not only fit this ensemble description, they are wedging in another important event, which is language. Each of these two is inserting Spanish without defensiveness or self-consciousness. Some countries try to keep illegal immigrants from sneaking in across the border; America is doing its best to keep Spanish from sneaking in, but forget it, Spanish is here. Get over it. Read it


Anonymous said...

I always want to leave a comment on your blog, but then feel nothing I say could match. Thanks for your insights and honesty.

R.L. Bourges said...

7. nice poem.

Unknown said...

Linear story-telling gets to be mundane, and following only one character monotonous. I want to know what the nemesis is plotting in the pub while our hero takes a much needed nap.