When I was living in D.C. during my junior year of college, I found, somewhere, a recording of Dylan Thomas reading A Child’s Christmas in Whales and listened to it over and over again. I had this internship at the DSCC, and would spend some spare time working on these “lyrical” or “poetic” pieces in prose. There’s a certain voice I can do sometimes, (although I seemed to be able to do it a lot easier when I was younger), that I really appreciate. I was trying to figure out how it could be sustained over an entire novel, and had developed a construct, but I just don’t think I could do it. So it’s broken up in The Pilot (which I have been working on, off and on, without much progress, since about 1996) as something authored by Timothy Stone.

In any event, there was a passage from The Crying of Lot 49 which reminded me of this type of prose:

Cammed each night out of that safe furrow the bulk of this city’s waking each sunrise again set virtuously to plowing, what rich soils had he turned, what concentric planets uncovered? What voices overheard, finders of luminescent gods glimpsed among the wallpaper’s stained foliage, candlestubs lit to rotate in the air above him, prefiguring a cigarette he or a friend must fall asleep someday smoking, thus to end among the flaming, secret salts held all those years by the insatiable stuffing of a mattress that could keep vestiges of every nightmare sweat, helpless overflowing bladder, viciously, tearfully consummated wet dream, like a memory bank to the computer of the lost?

I love that.

You can hear the notes. The meter. Like a song.

The rest of the book I didn’t care for that much. Not that I didn’t like it. I certainly liked parts of it. But I didn’t really care about what was happening.

Maybe I’m just too much of a prude. Could never get past Oedipa’s adultery.

But it’s the same thing I’ve sensed (or not sensed) in Infinite Jestor JR or The Age of Wire and String and some of the other “post-modern” or “experimental” or “meta-fiction” pieces, (including perhaps even my own Day in the Life of Timothy Stone), where the ideas or thoughts or events or observations, while interesting enough, seem to loose a lot of force where untethered to strong, or real, or genuine characters, about whom, or at least whose struggles, you care.

Apparently, I am not the only one who feels this way. Just this week, in the New York Times Book Review, there is a review of Jennifer Egan’s The Keep, in which author Madison Smartt Bell comments that Egan achieves “emotional authenticity” – something which DFW and other writers of the genre have never delivered.

In any event, The Crying of Lot 49 is an interesting read. Can’t say too much more about it than that.


[See Madison Smartt Bell, “Into the Labyrinth” New York Times Book Review, July 30, 2006.]