Well, after a strong start in November, I'm falling way behind as I discover just how much my reading list skews toward the 'experimental'. Reading (or trying to read, starting, then abandoning...) several anti-novels
back to back has helped clarify just how shaky this whole premise of the experimental
is in the first place. Or maybe, more accurately, the idea of the traditional
novel. There is no traditional novel! To believe otherwise is madness, I'm convinced...
Anyway, I'm going to stop with 2/3 of the BS Johnson omnibus, a book that includes the novels Trawl
, Albert Angelo
, and House Mother Normal
, the one I'm abandoning, is pure Beckett -- or really, pure The Unnameable
-- typographically, syntactically the same. Probably philosophically the same. If it were a photograph, it would be Separated at Birth?
If it were a poem, it would be one of those ...after Samuel Beckett
-type affairs. You know what I'm talking about. So...that's a pass.Albert Angelo
is a little better. It's about a young architect who works as a substitute teacher to get by, told -- because it is an experimental
novel, of course -- in the first, second and third person, and sometimes in a script or play format. There is no plot to speak of, and the characterization, where it does exist, feels very thin, and probably lifted too whole-cloth from real life to be truly interesting. If it's got anything going for it, it's the kind of pure youthful joie de vivre
that seemed to suffuse the air in the 1960s. It's all skates by on the force of its own exuberance and can be pretty fun, at least for awhile. Then you begin to pine for something meatier, more substantial. All told, it's pretty light for all the author's heavy claims against Art
. If nothing else, it shows great promise....which in the end adds a degree of sadness, considering Johnson's suicide at age 40.
Surprisingly, I liked House Mother Normal
the best. I say surprising, because at first glance, this novel is the most 'experimental', the most cold. Told in a series of alternating (and synchronized) first person narratives, it's the story of a group of geriatric patients, each one beginning with a list of their ailments, medications, and also, their degrees of senility. There is a host of typographical weirdness at play, all resembling the absolute worst of experimental poetry, but flowing like a river underneath it all is a genuine current of warmth and humanity conspicuously absent from the rest of the collection. When coupled with a bunch of truly non-traditional protagonists -- the elderly -- it all adds up to something more than the sum of its parts. It also cements the feeling that what is alive and magic in fiction has less to do with simple point of view, typography, and the like, and more to do with the idea that these are merely tools, and it is how an author wields these tools, and to what end, that really matters, an aspect Johnson seemed to be mastering novel by novel.
Now if someone could just recommend a good pallet cleanser, something keenly traditional, however illusory that might be.
Edited by noob - 12/18/13 at 8:49pm