William Kennedy Reading

Kim took last week to talk about attending the Stephen King reading in Omaha recently and I thought I should take this week to do something similar. Although, I don’t think I really have a comparable reading to talk about. I’ve been to more than I can count over the years, but though I’ve heard some great writers read (Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Ford, Sherman Alexie, Margaret Atwood, Tom Robbins, Etgar Keret, and so on), I don’t think I’ve ever had one that was as personally significant to me as Stephen King’s reading was to Kim, for whatever reason. So, I thought I’d reminisce about the first reading I ever went to: William Kennedy.

By now, I’ve read a few books by Kennedy (Legs, Roscoe, Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game, Very Old Bones, and Ironweed), but at the time I’d only read Ironweed. I still haven’t read everything by him. The reading was for Roscoe, in 2002 or so, which didn’t end up being one of my more favorite Kennedy books. I was actually there, and had read Ironweed, due to my obsession with Hunter Thompson at that time period. Thomson knew Kennedy, thought very highly of his prose, and had mentioned him in some pieces I’d read. So, I picked up Ironweed, and went to the Roscoe reading.

It was in the basement of the Elliot Bay Bookstore, back when they used to be in Pioneer Square. It was a good reading, I liked Kennedy even more after attending (though Ironweed had cemented that enough even if I wasn’t as big on Roscoe). Mainly I was struck by how mild and calm Kennedy seemed with respect to Thompson. I know writers don’t necessarily get into writers who are like them personally, but this was night and day compared to what I imagined of Thompson (who I never did get to see in person). That’s one of the big things I remember.

After all, this was fourteen years ago now.

The other thing I remember is some hipster-looking guy in a beret asking what was clearly a question meant to show off and give the guy a chance to talk rather than actually engage with the author. I hear these from time to time, and they irritate me. If it’s about trying to show off to the group and the importance of having a chance to talk rather than engaging the author/their work/literature/life in some way, as I saw this person’s question dealing with Aristotle and the better angels of our being and such, then my view is that it’s better you don’t ask it because you don’t really have a question, Kennedy seemed to feel similarly, because he didn’t seem sure what the hipster had asked and seemed to suddenly feel that the guy might be dangerous in some way, though he tried to answer. He seemed as put off by the guy’s grandstanding as I did, though maybe that was just me.

Anyway, this wasn’t an experience as significant as Kim’s with Stephen King, but I wanted to share a reading experience of my own. Though I may not have had one that was quite as important to me, I put big stock in these kind of events and go as often as possible. I simply view it as part of reading and writing.

 

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In which I interview Gay Degani, author of Rattle of Want

Today, we are doing something a little different than normal. But, not entirely out of the ordinary for us.

First, the backstory: anyone that knows me as a reader or reads this blog on a consistent basis knows of the special place short stories hold in my heart. A few weeks ago, Dave messaged and asked if I would like to interview a fellow author, Ms. Gay Degani. I loved both prior interviews I had with both Dave himself, and Jeremy Morong (*waves, hi Jeremy!*) so I immediately and without hesitation said yes, yes, I would.

I am so, so excited I did. I made contact with Gay, and we quickly bonded over a love for audio books and certain books in general. Then she provided me with a copy of Rattle of Want and I set to work reading. It really did not take long. And, I was blown away. I emailed her back and told her that even though I had rarely written creatively in years, the way her stories flowed and the way she told them made me want to pick up a pen and start writing again. All of them had a sense of expectation to them, a sense of loss, and a sense that the world is more poetry than we give it credit for being. This is a book that I feel anyone can relate to one or more of the stories, as they deal with a lot of what it means to be a human in this world, alive and full of wants and needs.

Anyway, the majority of my interview with Ms. Degani dealt with reading, since you know, that is what a lot of of this blog is about. But there are a few questions in there about her writing as well. If you want to know more about Gay, please go to her website gaydegani.com, in which you can see the full and complete literary life she leads, that I don’t touch much on in this interview.

 

1.  In the author bio for Rattle of Want, it says you left writing to the side for years. During this time did you keep reading for pleasure? Did you do any form of writing? Letters? Journals?

I’ve always read and always written, the reading constant, the writing, well, hit and miss.  Reading is what I love to do and all it requires of me is to show up.  Writing is more difficult, or rather, writing for publication is what is challenging.

My parents read to me, Heidi, Old Yeller, Hans Brinker until I was old enough to read myself.  I remember my dad took me to the library and had me pick out books. I had no idea what to choose and when we got home, the whole enterprise felt to hard.  I pretended to read. The next time we went, my dad asked the librarian to find me books. She gave me Squanto and I loved it. I’ve read voraciously ever since.

2. List YOUR top ten favorite books. If you can’t think of ten, list as many as you can. Explain any of them that you’d like. 

This is not an easy thing to do; there are so many.  Squanto, Little Women, Heidi, Call of the Wild, Tom Sawyer, Johnny Tremain, To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, Tess of the D’Urbevilles, Ethan Frome, Count of Monte Cristo, The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov, anything by Zane Gray, Nine Coaches Waiting, Rebecca, Tom Ripley, anything from Agatha Christie, Stone Diaries, Angle of Repose, Nat Turner, Affliction,1000 Acres, I, Claudius, Claudius The God,  We Were the Mulvaneys, Cat’s Eye, Accidental Tourist, House of Sand and Fog, Atonement, White Teeth….

Okay, I’m trying to remember them in some kind of timeline order, and I’ve left out lots of favorites, but this gives the range of what I like, fiction, non-fiction, biography, history, and of course,I’m a bit of an anglophile. I have a whole thing about the Wars of the Roses.

***(fyi, Gay, I didn’t notice originally, but it is nice to see someone else list We Were the Mulvaneys and Atonement in their list of favorites!! We shall have to talk those too at some point)*** (this is me deciding to leave a note to her on the blog versus sending an email. You are welcome for the interruption).

3. When actively in the middle of writing a story, do you have to avoid reading or listening to other stories?

I never avoid “reading” under any circumstance.  Mostly I listen  and have for years.  I walk around with a dorkie fanny pack and earbuds. Right now I’m listening to The Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory. I have Tami Hoag, Laura Lippman, Michael Connolly, and David McCullough checked out of the library. Reading paper books is reserved for books I read from my friends.

4. How did you decide the stories in Rattle of Want all belonged together in one volume? Or was it just a gathering of all of them out there?

It was an extended process.  First I went through to find all my stories that I considered the best.  I’d published some in a chapbook calledPomegranate and wanted to include the stories from there that had either won a prize or had not been published elsewhere. Then I took a class with Randall Brown where we tried to figure out what worked the best together.  I owe the title Rattle of Want to him. He gleaned it from one of my stories, and I am ever grateful.  Once the title was decided on, I went through to find stories that lent themselves to that idea. For me, most of them did. Part of that is that I believe it’s important to write stories about people who want something, strive for it, and either succeed or fail.

5.  Most of your stories seemed to me to deal with loss on some level, from big to the tiny little losses that life provides daily. Did you set out with that specific theme in mind?

I don’t know if I exactly set out to write about loss, but loss creates strong emotions in people and the response characters have to loss resonates with all of us.

6.  A lot of the stories take place in the past. Are there bits and pieces of your childhood scattered about?

I draw a lot on past experiences.  Some of what I write comes from a specific incident in my life, but usually with raised stakes. I’ve lived a very ordinary life and though I’ve experience a full range of emotional set-backs, they serve more as research than actual reportage. This is why I don’t write memoir.  I don’t want to bore people to death.

7. Favorite place to read? Why?

Mostly I read “on the go.” I listen to books on CD when I do dishes, mop the floor, water the pots on the patio, drive in car, take a daily walk, any possible place that has a repetitious element to it. I would love to have the luxury of curling up on the sofa and reading all day as I did as a child and teenager, but that just isn’t practical for me.

Pay attention to this following question, audiobook lovers, you may have just found your next listen! (And Davina Porter does narrate all of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series).

9. List 3 audiobooks you have loved partly due to the reader.

Davina Porter is outstanding.  She does Elizabeth George’s books.  I think she does all the Diana Gabaldon books.  If not, I like that reader also. I can’t remember who reads the John Sandford books but he’s excellent as is the one who does Jack Reacher. I like Ian Rankin’s reader too.


10. Do you feel listening to an audiobook still qualifies as reading? (This is pretty contested in some parts).

I have a friend who once told me audio books were “cheating?” Er, uh, no.  Stories were spoken before they were written down. And isn’t it just as good to listen as to read? Good writing is about putting pictures in your head, involving you in an experience that you might have or not have yourself, and making your think about your life, the lives of others, and the human condition.  What does it matter what the vehicle is?

11. In your opinion, deeper than entertainment value, why do you think people are drawn towards literature? (Even popular fiction) what do you believe they’re looking for?

When any one asks if I practice a religion, I tell them I belong to the church of literature.  Most of what I know, feel, and care about came to me through books.

12. Favorite snack while reading or writing. 

I like to have ice tea when I’m writing.  But when I’m hungry, I usually stop and eat lunch (grilled cheese, hot dog,  or apple cut up in cottage cheese). Since most of my reading isn’t sitting down, I might make an english muffin or eat a piece of fruit.

13. What’s next on your horizon? What (in broad outline not specifics!) are you working on next?

I’d like to finish my prequel to my suspense novel, What Came Before. I’d like to write another stand alone mystery.  Don’t think I can commit to write a series.  Home life is too, too busy. Continue to write flash and short stories. In my head, I have a trilogy about my family who came from France in the 1700s first in Quebec and then Louisiana, and I have two longer short stories I’ve been waiting to get good enough to write.

14. What book(s) do you find yourself re reading multiple times? Why?

There are a couple of books I’ve read a few times, but not many.  I don’t really do multiples.  I’m sure I’ve read Little Women maybe three times, Jane Eyre, Tale of Two Cities, probably twice at least. Ethan Frome because I taught it five or six. There’s too much to read out there.  I want to read all the good ones at least once and then I’ll start over.

And this is all for today. I want to give Gay a huge thank you for allowing Dave and myself to interview her for 11 And A Half Years of Books, and for her taking the time amidst a very busy schedule to answer my various emails and then finally my questions. Please, do check out her website at gaydegani.com and also check out Rattle of Want, I promise you will not regret it.

Not Quite So Stories by…..

DAVID S. ATKINSON.

Today, I am talking about Dave’s new book, just out. The title is “Not Quite So Stories”. This is Dave’s third book to be released. You can see me talk about the previous two, here and here. I loved Bones Buried in Dirt and The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes, as you can see in those blog posts I linked to.

Like I texted Dave on Thursday, while I did love both of those books, I LOVE Not Quite So Stories. I think it is one of the best contemporary short story collections I’ve read in a very long time.

Here are my reasons for loving these stories. Loving with a capital L of course:

  1. These stories often are about “normal” life (a housewife displaying some classic OCD symptoms getting through her highly regimented day) with something “surreal” mixed into it (the prisons in the area are overpopulated so by lottery, certain citizens have been chosen to board prisoners in their homes for a month) and the result of the blending (a square is drawn with a grease pencil on an immaculate kitchen floor and a prisoner is deposited into the square to stand there while the woman goes about her day). The stories are both important for the characters in them (who is this housewife? How does she cope with changes in her day?) and for the blend of surreal (how does she deal with a prisoner left without guard in her kitchen?). Dave has stitched together stories where you can’t even tell where the surreal has been attached into the ordinary. Dave makes it easy to climb right into the tapestry of the story that he’s woven. There is no reason to suspend any disbelief. You have none while reading one of these stories.
  2. Who wouldn’t love a story about a hotel in Europe that had to figure out a way in today’s world to set themselves apart, so did so by creating a rate in which they intentionally disrupt and disturb their patrons? You just have to read it. Anyone that has travelled to Europe, or anyone that has really just traveled anywhere that involved staying in a smaller hotel or b&b will recognize and get a kick out of the story.
  3. These stories cover my requirement for a good story. But they also leave you thinking about a certain convention or more (more as in cultural standard/law, not as in the adjective) in a way you previously didn’t. Like a spouse battle over toilet paper and the correct way to place it on the holder. Or a person picking out a plot and paying for its maintenance past their death.
  4. These stories are tight. You can tell the amount of work that went into polishing them. The care and love that went into these stories shines through.
  5. For me, some short story collections are best read cover to cover. Others are best parceling out bit by bit. Dave has hit my happy medium in which either method works great for reading them. This is why I was late in posting because I started to read and realized I wanted to experience them both ways, reading a few in a turn, then just one, then a few, then just one. These would be great for any reader you know that doesn’t have a lot of time in their day to read but wants to have something good for when they do get a few free minutes. But it’d also be good for that reader you know that devours everything that comes their way.

I am directing you now to where you can purchase Not Quite So Stories so that you can go and buy it. Now. You can buy at B&N or Amazon.

Have a great rest of your weekend!!

 

Native Son by Richard Wright

For today, I read Native Son by Richard Wright. I think this is one that is part of some high school curriculums and possibly college, but I never ran into it as more than just knowing it was a book, that it was about a black man in the 1930s and that it was by Richard Wright. So, when I saw a deal for it for Kindle (1.99) I knew it would be my next book for the blog (contingent upon Dave not insisting he wanted to read it and us having to come to blows over the whole thing.)

Bebe Moore Campbell (which I’ve never noticed before has the same names as me, just reversed. No, I didn’t hyphenate, Campbell is now a middle name with the SSA office. Everyone asks) listed this in her top ten. Ken Kalfus did as well.

So, the main character of Native Son is Bigger Thomas. He’s a 20 year old man who is always seething in some way. He says at the beginning of the book that he feels something horrible is just waiting to happen to him. He runs around drinking, sleeping with a woman named Bessie and participating in petty thievery with her and a few of his friends. He lives in a tiny one room apartment with his brother, sister and mother. And for some reason, wordpress is putting a red underline now under everything I am typing as if I have done something wrong. It’s driving me nuts. Just a FYI.

His family has been receiving the “dole” (welfare in common terms) and have been told that Bigger must take a job that they find for him or they will remove the family from receiving it. Bigger doesn’t want a job. He doesn’t really know what he wants, he wants freedom, he wants a chance to explore the world, be a part of it. Not just be a part of a system designed to keep him down. But his mother convinces him to take a job offered to him.

A philanthropist millionaire needs a driver. His previous one has retired after ten years with the family. They paid for him to go to night school and encouraged him to get an education. Now, he wants to give another black kid the chance to do the same.

Bigger is intimidated by the way the family, which includes the millionaire, his wife and their 21 year old daughter treat him. The first time Mary, the daughter, meets him she gets in his face and wants to know if he’s in a labor union. That night, he is required as chauffeur to drive her to an event she is attending. However, the event doesn’t exist or if it did, Mary had no intention on going. She met up with Jan, a Communist and her boyfriend. She tells Bigger she wants to know what a Negro experiences, she wants to find out all about them, to see into their homes. Jan and Mary make Bigger take them to an all black restaurant on his side of town. They sit in the front with him, they make him eat at the same table as him. He is intensely uncomfortable with this. He resents them for it.

Later that night, while helping Mary into her room and into bed, he finds himself groping her. He later explains that he felt like white people expect all black men to want white women desperately. Then, her mother, who is blind comes into the room. In a panic, Bigger attempts to keep Mary quiet from her drunken mutterings, terrified her mother will find him. He kills her by accident.

The rest of the story is about what happens next.

I thought Native Son was compelling and beautiful in many places. I couldn’t tell how I felt about Bigger half the time. Some of the thoughts he has and some of his lack of feelings of guilt and remorse, and his feeling of freedom from having murdered makes me not like him. At other times though, my empathy for the struggle he was going through prior to the murder and then in the what happens next, made me like him a bit.

In a way, I don’t feel qualified to be writing an in depth analysis of Native Son. I feel like that’s akin to Mary sticking her face in Bigger’s and wanting to know all about the “Negro experience”.

I do think that the whites of this country delude ourselves into thinking racism doesn’t exist. I think it’s ridiculous how we do it. Yes, we no longer think black men can’t keep their hands off white women, we no longer lynch black men, we no longer refer to black people as “apes”, we no longer make them stop schooling at young ages. But, through my 30s I saw more and more evidence that racism is still alive and thriving in the United States. It’s in our general attitudes about welfare recipients, even in the face of statistics that show that just as many white people use benefits. Yet, politicians and people continue to bring up “welfare queens”. Which Reagan coined. Reagan also referred to “young bucks using welfare to buy themselves steaks”. On slave auction posters, young men were referred to as “young bucks”.Current politicians like to harp on single black mothers raising kids, and how they should really be coming from two parent households. It’s in white women drawing their purses closer to their bodies upon seeing a black man (this actually happened to fellow students of mine in Seward, NE). It’s in so many people refusing to believe that a black man could be President, he just has to be illegally so (no one said anything about Ted Cruz until Donald Trump challenged him, and he was not born in the United States, as Obama was. Bernie Sanders came from Polish immigrants to this country and no one has questioned his citizenship). It’s in the media calling a demonstration that is mostly peaceful, with just a few unruly members in Baltimore a riot. It’s in white people whining about reverse racism. A character in the book who is of the Communist party pegs it as fear. Which is true. I can speak to that as a white person and my observations, deep down whites exist in a state of guilt, shame and fear about what happens in this country. They react with anger. And I know some people will tell me “Nuh uh! I don’t. I just think Obama is a shit President, I believe that police have been in the right in every shooting they do. I think that as a white person I am always discriminated against.” You can feel that if you want, I won’t try to argue you out of it (so please, no need to comment on it, all inflammatory comments about the subject will be deleted and/or ignored). I can only speak from my own experiences and my own observations.

Richard Wright did a beautiful job drawing a reader into Bigger’s mind, into his soul. It brought me a little closer to understanding some things. But again, I feel in a way like Mary demanding to know more.

My one problem with the book is it is stated more than once in the book that Bigger had to stop school at the eighth grade. There’s no indication that he is an avid reader (though at the beginning of the book he is hungering to buy a magazine). Yet, he reads newspaper accounts of the murder and subsequent events with no problem at all. While it’s not completely out of the ordinary that he could read that well after 8th grade, it is a little odd for the most part.

Read this book. Stuff said in it still resonates and rings true today. And, it’s also important I think to really get a sense of what it was like in the 1920s and 1930s. It’s our history as a nation. Wright does an amazing job of bringing it to life.

Have a great weekend!

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown

I will preface this with the statement that I don’t have much to say about Flat Stanley.

I don’t have much to say about Flat Stanley.

A. M. Homes listed this book as #8 in his Top Ten list.

Now that I’ve cleared that up, Flat Stanley is a children’s tale written in 1964. I found out when searching it on amazon that it’s since spawned a whole collection of Flat Stanley tales. Some were written by the original creator, but since his death was somewhere around 2003 (Wikipedia isn’t always the treasure trove of information you’d wish it would be and you have to obtain facts by contextual clues), this Flat Stanley book published in 2014, obviously is not written by Jeff Brown. Click on that link. Seriously. Do it. It confuses me that there would be 12 Flat Stanley books that are in addition to the original ones written by Jeff Brown and yet I’ve seriously never heard of anything beyond Flat Stanley. I feel that I need to turn in my “books of all genres nerd” badge and go home.

Flat Stanley is a book that if you have a child whether boy or girl, and if you can get said child to want to hear about something that isn’t Disney princesses or Bat Man, this would be a good selection to read. It’s a funny story. Basically Stanley is squished flat by a bulletin board that his father hung on the wall for Stanley and his brother to use to pin up papers and all sorts of stuff on (I envision a treasure map with a picture of Selena Gomez underneath).

Now, because this was the 60s and not the 2010s, no authorities were called when Stanley was squished to an inch wide by his father’s inexpert hanging of large bulletin boards next to little boys’ beds and the doctor in fact just marveled at it and said that there were some things even doctors didn’t know.

Stanley has a variety of adventures as a flat boy until

SPOILER ALERT

SERIOUSLY, I AM ABOUT TO SPOIL THE ENDING.

His brother blows him back up to normal size using a bicycle pump. Thereby ending Stanley’s adventures and heartache of being a flat boy.

If you read the author bio, you find out that Jeff wrote these after making them up as nighttime stories for his sons. You can tell sometimes, since there’s just the right touch of Cleaver morality thrown in (Cleaver, as in Leave it To Beaver, not cleaver as in the meat cleaver at Just Good Meats here in Omaha). Stanley’s mother tells off policemen for calling her crazy while Stanley is in the sewer finding her wedding ring and she is holding him by a piece of string (seriously!? these parents could get away with -anything-!!!!) and tells them that if they can’t say something nice they shouldn’t say anything. They tell her they’ll remember that going forward. There’s a couple of other instances like this.

It is cute. You should read it to your sons and your daughters. I do like that it could be for a boy. I feel like there aren’t a whole lot of books that are straight fiction written for young boys. It’s changing, but I know if you go look at children’s books, there’s usually way more for girls really. But, I also like that it’s funny enough and interesting enough that any kid, girl or boy would get into it.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita was listed by the following authors in their top ten lists:

Melissa Bank, John Banville, Michael Cunningham, Jonathan Franzen, Mary Gaitskill, Arthur Golden, Michael Griffith, Donald Harington, A.M. Homes, Walter Kirn, Margot Livesey, Valerie Martin, Bobbie Ann Mason, Susan Minot, Ann Patchett, Jim Shepard and Scott Spencer.

I came to Lolita, already knowing -about- Lolita. I’ve heard about Lolita all my life (or so it feels). I’ve heard that it’s smut. I’ve heard that it’s amazing. I’ve heard that it’s disturbing. I’ve heard that it’s about old men f**king young girls. I’ve heard that it’s actually a love story, not about pedophilia.

Nabokov tells a tale, one prefaced by a fictional character as the “memoir” or confession of the narrator of the story. The narrator is one “Humbert Humbert”, a made up name he created for himself. He does this, as well as change the names of many of the characters to protect Lolita. Though, he has stipulated that the memoir not be published until after she dies, so though he never states it, it might be to protect her memory and also to protect his self-image as her “protector” and to clean a spot or two off of his love for her.

That’s the thing about Lolita. The narrator is complex. He’s a middle European man in his 30s who has come to the United States to live. All of his life, starting with a peer at 13, he has been attracted to what he calls “nymphets”, which he defines as girls who are between the ages of 9 and 14(I think those are the right ages, I didn’t mark the page where he defined it). But not just -any- girls, some of them are just, well normal girls. But some of them, Humbert tells the readers, have that extra “sauce”, a sexuality that is out of character but yet so in character for their age. Humbert has a hard time with sexual attractions to actual women, or even girls beyond the magic boundary age of 14. He finds them too fleshy. (And, I was right about the ages, I found the page. Here’s Humbert’s definition of “nymphet” which is better than mine.

“Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain betwitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as “nymphets”.”

“Between those age limits are all girl-children nymphets? Of course not. Otherwise, we who are in the know, we lone voyagers, we nympholepts would have long gone insane. Neither are good looks any criterion; and vulgarity, or at least what a given community terms so, does not necessarily impair certain mysterious characteristics, the fey grace, the elusive, shifty, soul-shattering insidious charm that separates the nymphet from such coevals of hers as are incomparably more dependent on the spatial world of synchronous phenomena than on that intangible island of entranced time where Lolita plays with her likes.”

H.H. talks about himself in the first half of the book, alternating between third person narration about himself and first person narration. He falls in love with the 12 year old daughter of the woman whose house he rents a room from. He then marries that woman, who then dies in a freak accident, leaving H.H. in sole custody of the “nymphet” Lolita. In keeping with his defining of “nymphet” above and my statements about him finding adult women, or women above 14 kind of gross, here he is talking about Lolita.

“I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita. She would be thirteen on January 1. In two years or so she would cease being a nymphet and would turn into a “young girl” and then, into a “college girl”–that horror of horrors. The word “forever” referred only to my own passion, to the eternal Lolita as reflected in my blood. The Lolita whose iliac crests had not yet flared, the Lolita that today I could touch and smell and hear and see, the Lolita of the strident voice and the rich brown hair-of the bangs and the swirls at the sides and the curls at the back, and the sticky hot neck, and the vulgar vocabulary—“revolting,” “super,” “luscious” “goon” “drip”–that Lolita, my Lolita, poor Catullus would lose forever.”

While Lolita is away at summer camp, her mother dies. H.H. takes care of affairs, in a growing state of excitement to get Lolita, then drives to the camp after requesting they not tell Lolita that her mother has died. He originally tells Lolita she is very ill and they are driving to see her mother. Then begins the “great American road trip”, but unlike stories like On The Road or the goofy Road Trip movie, this is a road trip of pedophilia. H.H. spends pages upon pages talking about historical and societal constructs and how he’s not -really- doing wrong. The first night they are on the road, he plans for them to stay at a hotel. He has planned a whole thing out about giving some sleeping pills to Lolita so he can fondle her safely. Yes. It’s disturbing. The more disturbing thing is how he had originally worked out the plan with mother and daughter both in mind, knocking out the mother so he could enjoy the daughter. He constantly says he was never planning to do more than fondle and caress. However, considering that when the sleeping pills didn’t work and Lolita makes a confession to him and they end up having sex, I think H.H. was lying just a wee bit to himself.

“Frigid gentlewomen of the jury! I had thought that months, perhaps years, would elapse before I dared to reveal myself to Dolores Haze; but by six she was wide awake, and by six fifteen we were technically lovers. I am going to tell you something very strange: it was she who seduced me”.

The cross country trip has begun. The trip starts with H.H. controlling Lolita through threats. When she wouldn’t seem conducive to his trysts and romantic gropings, he would threaten her with a farm she had hated to be at, he would threaten her with lurid tales of what happened to girls who went into foster care if she was to tell what was happening to her. Later it becomes money that is bartered.

“she proved to be a cruel negotiator whenever it was in her power to deny me certain life-wrecking, strange, slow paradisal philters without which I could not live more than a few days in a row, and which, because of the very nature of love’s languor, I could not obtain by force. Knowing the magic and might of her own soft mouth, she managed–during one school year!–to raise the bonus price of a fancy embrace to three, and even four bucks, O Reader! Laugh not, as you imagine me, on the very rack of joy noisily emitting dimes and quarters, and great big silver dollars like some sonorous, jingly and wholly demented machine vomiting riches; and in the margin of that leaping epilepsy she would firmly clutch a handful of coins in her little fist, which, anyway, I used to pry open afterwards unless she gave me the slip”.

I just realized, you might be thinking that Lolita is the instigator in these things with the quotes I gave, about how she seduced him and the whole money exchange. But there are plenty of instances where H.H. talks about times she is crying or yelling at him or just ways he describes her that you can see the pain she carries because of it. When she’s not trying to be tough and doing what anyone might do in a situation in which you feel out of control, which would be to gain any type of control you can.

The relationship H.H. describes between himself and Lolita will sometimes make you (or it did me at least, maybe you have a stronger stomach ha!) feel ill. You will also hate and revile H.H. during parts of the book (or at least I did). You will find Lolita charming and fun. You will also find her pitiful. You will find her irritating you. You will ache for her.

Nabokov takes you into the heart and soul of a pedophile. He creates a character who is a bad guy, but unlike most novels, the bad guy is the main character and for much of the book does not believe himself to be that bad. He has a little bit of moral absolution at the end, in regards to his molesting Lolita, but still calls what he felt for her, “love”, even though he said the following about her at one point;

“Mentally, I found her to be a disgustingly conventional little girl. sweet hot jazz, square dancing, gooey fudge sundaes, musicals, movie magazines and so forth–these were the obvious items in her list of beloved things”.

I was having a hard time articulating what I felt about Lolita, even what to say, and asked Dave. He compared it to American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (the movie with Christian Bale came after) and how a book can put you in the head of someone that you would never want to be in. Reading Lolita was like the psychological concept of cognitive dissonance (or at least how I like to think cognitive dissonance is), my brain would struggle with the disgust I felt about H.H. and his urges and his actions, at the same time that Nabokov’s writing was making me feel sympathetic at times towards him. It was the same experience reading American Psycho.

Dave also suggested another book that is similar for the above reason. Tampa, by Alissa Nutting.

Rabbit Redux by John Updike

So, I finally decided to spend more time with my most reprehensible literary character ever (the only one I feel more passionate about is Emma on The Following, but that’s t.v. not books). I started reading the Rabbit books, which are listed as a whole in the Top Ten. You can see my entry on the first Rabbit book, Rabbit Runs, here. It will list for you what authors listed the Rabbit quartet as well as what I thought of Rabbit as a character to deserve the first line of this blog.

Ok, now that you all have hopefully read the original post, let me update everything after reading the second in the quartet, Rabbit Redux.

First, the basic plot: Rabbit is 10 years older than in Rabbit Run. He has been working at the print shop his dad does for the last ten years. He and Janice and their son Nelson now live in a house in the suburbs. Then he suspects Janice is cheating on him. The story begins. Updike mixes in a lot of the politics of the time, and events occurring (it’s the thick of the Vietnam War), the hippy movement et cetera. Updike’s writing ability is even better in this novel. In fact, I actually found myself _enjoying_ the story sometimes.

Rabbit is still…Rabbit. But oddly, he’s more likeable now that he’s become a tad more pathetic. He’s in his upper 30s, he knows that some of the dreams he once had are never going to happen now. Yet, his choices still are sometimes reprehensible. And the fact that he often makes choices but then whines at the results how it wasn’t really his fault, hasn’t changed.

Some of the stuff that struck me as almost humorous though is how, hm, how certain politic parties viewing the other side hasn’t changed at all.

Rabbit (or Harry, as he is now called)’s dad talking to him about his mother with Parkinson’s disease:
“Harry, God in his way hasn’t been all bad to your mother and me. Believe it or not there’s some advantages to living so long in this day and age. This Sunday she’s going to be sixty-five and come under Medicare. I’ve been paying in since ’66, it’s like a ton of anxiety rolled off my chest. There’s no medical expense can break us now. They called LBJ every name in the book but believe me he did a lot of good for the little man. Whereever he went wrong, it was in his big heart betrayed him. These pretty boys in the sky right now, Nixon’ll hog the credit but it was the Democrats put ’em there, it’s been the same story ever since I can remember, ever since Wilson–the Republicans don’t do a thing for the little man.” (the moon landing had recently happened, so that’s the pretty boys in the sky reference).

There’s others but apparently the places I had marked showing the Republican’s view of the Democrat/liberal got unmarked somehow.

In case you’re still wondering about how much Rabbit has changed, the answer is not very. Here’s something that a girl he becomes involved with says to him.

“It’s too late,” Jill tells him. “It’s too late for you to try to love me.”
He wants to answer, but there is a puzzling heavy truth in this that carries him under, his hand caressing the inward dip of her waist, a warm bird dipping towards its nest.”

Between him and his sister Mim:
“Why don’t you tend your own garden instead of hopping around nibbling at other people’s?” Mim asks. When she turns, her body becomes a gate, of horizontal stripes, her ass barred in orange.
“I have no garden,” he says.
“Because you didn’t tend it at all. Everybody else has a life they try to fence in with some rules. You just do what you feel like and then when it blows up or runs down you sit there and pout.”

Another thing about Updike that I’ve noticed. Sex between two characters is always real. That’s very different from most authors, even non romance ones. Sex tends to be a little idealized or is a rape, but not just normal awkward sex. Updike, even when writing about great sex tends to leave those awkward parts in there. Our perceptions of our bodies, the weird things we do when we’re propositioning sex, even what we think about when we masturbate and how it’s not quite normal sometimes. That’s part of the appeal of him I think, and what makes people rave about the Rabbit novels.

I’m still not ready to move the Rabbit novels by Updike onto my personal bests list, but Rabbit Redux definitely got me a little more interested and a little less likely to destroy the book out of disgust at the main character. I might even, *gasp*, read the 3rd and 4th a lot sooner than 4 months from now. We’ll see.