Thursday, August 14, 2014

FREEWAY



We return to Los Angeles today to spend a long weekend with my son and his family, arriving from London for a U.S. holiday...




SPEED



Topping the gas tank
at the service station
and rejoining the freeway
traffic at seventy-five
miles per hour, Coyote
speculates how long
it would take Tortoise
to cover the sixty miles
from here to Los Angeles
on four feet, striding
along at full tortoise
speed and stopping
once in a while to nibble
on a blade or two of grass
to restore his energy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

WORLD WAR III


WW III 

Coyote is sent off
to "fight World War
III" with "nothing
but his dick in his
hand."  He is "scared
shitless" under the
nonstop bombardment
of clich├ęs.  "This
is for real," he says.
He says, "I'm dead
serious." "Forget
this," he says, "this
is only a dream."
 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HARRY QUEBERT AFFAIR: Book Review


It's summer reading time for The Buddha Diaries.  I just finished this (mostly) entertaining mystery novel by Joel Dicker...

Imagine you’re doing a jig-saw puzzle. Do you do jig-saws?  I enjoy the challenge but they eat up so much time that I rarely allow myself the pleasure, except around Christmas.  This jig-saw, if you can imagine, is constructed in such a way that there are seemingly multiple possible solutions, but each time you get close to finishing one you find there are a few key pieces that don’t fit, so it’s the wrong solution, and you have to start again…

A bit frustrating, no?  So you can understand how I felt about this book.  Like the jig-saw I’ve described, it’s cleverly constructed to lead the reader to multiple possible solutions—but each time you get there, you’re told it’s the wrong one.  Okay, a normal strategy for the mystery-thriller writer, but Dicker carries it, more cleverly than most, to the extreme.  So for me this was a terrific read for most of the way through, but when I reached the end, when he showed me a whole new picture by putting all the pieces back together for me, I felt… not cheated, exactly.  But manipulated by his cleverness.

Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoyed the read.  It’s compelling, challenging, sometimes even funny.  The characters are finely drawn and for the most part believable.  The protagonist is a writer suffering from a bad case of writer’s block, whose master teacher, life coach and inspiration is the other major character--the illustrious Harry Quebert; the others are the denizens of the small New Hampshire town (think "Our Town") which is shocked by the disappearance and, we eventually discover, the murder of a fifteen-year-old high school girl: the owner of the diner where she worked, the local pastor and his family, the cops, the wealthy businessman from a nearby town and his facially-mutilated retainer (think Frankenstein!)  The story is a complex (and extremely cleverly!) interwoven mix of texts, interviews and memories that span a more-than thirty year period in time-warp fashion—and it keeps you, as they say of movies, “on the edge of your seat.”

All this was good—though I started to sense some credibility problems early on.  Was the love affair at the center of the story truly believable?  Would the lovers really have behaved like this?  And would a “great writer” be capable of such sloppy sentimentality in his prose?  Also, for this reader, the hyperbole that idolizes what purports to be the greatest literary figure of the past fifty years rings a little false.  But so what?  A little exaggeration is a part of the game.  But it was the accumulation of all these little problems along the way that somehow set me up for the big credibility problem at the end: after all the deception and all the false narratives and dead ends, are we willing to finally accept the way that every forgotten loose end now locks so neatly into place, with the impeccable logic of the completed jig-saw puzzle?  


So… a lot of ambivalence about this one.  I did very much enjoy it, and was hooked throughout by  the story and the characters.  It’s just that, well, looking back at this “international bestseller” when I was done, it seemed to me too clever for its own good.  Is that too picky a complaint?

Monday, August 11, 2014

WORDS



WRITING

He has a million of them,
words, tumbling about,
evanescent as snowflakes
in his head ; until, for no
reason he has been able
to determine, a small
cluster of them collides,
clotting into mysterious,
provisional assemblies,
reassembling, discarding
abruptly some of their
number, sending out
lightning messages
hither and yon through
dark and never before
explored passages
of the brain in search
of other words that fit
their needs.  Bumping
and jostling up against
each other, they form
patterns, first in phrases,
fragments of sentences,
then sometimes a whole
paragraph or poem.
That’s how it happens.
And if only to clear out
his head, which is now
starting to ache, Coyote
scribbles them down
obediently on paper.
He calls this “writing.”





MORE WORDS

What a pleasure
then, with a breath,
to let them go again,
these words, and make
room for more. 




Saturday, August 9, 2014

A SOMBER ONE, TODAY




A KIND OF BLISS


He says he fears not death
so much as the suffering
and pain that might
precede it.  And yet he fears
the profound humiliation
of impotence, the helpless
indignity of incontinence,
the exposure of the body’s
naked infirmity to incurious
eyes; he fears not death itself,
but the stench and shuffle
of approaching death, atrophy
of the limbs, confinement
to the sick bed.  And, yes,
in the end he must admit
he dreads that final, agonizing
glimpse of loved ones, the last
rasping labor of the lungs,
the solitary, swift passage
from life into that gaping
maw, the infinite black hole
of not-being, for eternity. 
All this, in quiet moments,
Coyote meditates, finding
in tranquil contemplation
of the dread some measure
of serenity, a kind of bliss.