Sunday, December 19, 2010

Beauty & Sadness by André Alexis, with extra sadness

My review of André Alexis's Beauty & Sadness gets the full-page + cartoon treatment in the Toronto Star.

A wee taste:

It’s hard not to think, while reading André Alexis’s Beauty and Sadness, that its author got the title back to front. What moments of beauty there are in this intriguing, odd and occasionally perplexing mix of short fiction, literary essays and personal memoir are thoroughly drenched in sadness. In the book’s introduction, Alexis, who is in his early 50s, writes that “I have come to a time in my life when leave-taking, death, and change have begun to seriously impinge on my imagination.”

Read the whole thing here.

ADDED: Just as night follows day and drunk-dialing leads to grief, Mr Alexis has offered his own lower-case thoughts on my thoughts on his thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Are you feelin' it?

The parts of my mind not currently occupied with visions of dancing sugarplums have been taken hostage by this new novel, which I am determined to have done-ish* by very early 2011 - as in end of January, if things go swimmingly. So allow me a brief digression on the subject of the supposed war between feelings and craft in the making of fiction....

From the Dept of False Dichotomies:

"I spent my entire youth writing slowly with revisions and endless rehashing, speculation and deleting and got so I was writing one sentence a day and the sentence had no FEELING. Goddamn it, FEELING is what I like in art, not CRAFTINESS and the hiding of feelings." - Jack Kerouac

To which I say: exactly... exactly the opposite of all that.

Or, less glibly, I say: I like feelings in fiction, too! (Whatever "feelings" means, but let it stand for now.) However, I have discovered that, for myself at least, the feelings that come across in fiction that has not been put through a process of "revisions and endless rehashing, speculation and deleting" are the most obvious ones, the most superficial, the least interesting. The people I am interested in writing about do not spend their days endlessly emoting, which may mean I need to find more interesting subjects, but if it doesn't, then those people's feelings need to be teased out through much careful work, not violently harvested with a rusty spork. We'd all like the people around us to be emotionally honest and authentic and in touch with their feelings, etc, but in the real world, and especially in this country and this culture, feelings often get hid. So it's down to detective work, not the kicking down of random doors.

There's more life and pleasure in unholy mess to inert precision, but I'd rather not have to choose between the two, preferring to abide by the old Led Zeppelin ideal of "tight but loose."

Now, back to it.

* that is: done, but for the fretting, re-revising, re-working, and the slaughter of all darlings who ignored previous evacuation orders.


Also, if you really prefer raw, unrehearsed FEELING, there's always Nicolas Cage:

Constant commentary by the wayside

Van Dyke Parks' Song Cycle, despite being one of the my absolute favourite rekkids, is one I am usually hesitant to proselytize on behalf of, because it's an either/or, hate/love kind of rekkid, and even I hate the idea of an avant-whimsical take on Americana. But as with most great art, what doesn't work in theory, can utterly astound in practice. Or just grate on your nerves. This one does the former for me. That it does the latter for most people is absolutely not a sign of poor taste or philistinism or anything like that - a lot of very wise music-minded people can't stand the thing. It just does what it does, regardless, mincing around in its own little world where Charles Ives writes ballet for B'rer Rabbit.

Here is the man in a NYC radio studio just this year, showing again why Song Cycle can only be loved or hated:

    A very subtle and funny writer - one I've become obsessed with over the past year - in a decidedly Muriel Spark mood. Imagine The Pr...