Snowpocalypse 2015… and Beyond!

Snowpocalypse2015backdeck Is it spring yet? Not here, but that doesn’t matter. Snowpocalypse 2015 has (hopefully) ended, and those of us who survived can celebrate by stocking up on iron (more about that further down). Or diving into reading and writing projects. I’m doing both. Care to join me? Here is a list of writing and reading activities I’ve either done in years past, or plan to do this year:

  1. Read or write poetry. Join a progressive poetry group.
  2. Reread a favorite book from your childhood.
  3. If you have children or are a caretaker of children, read to them.
  4. Buy a book for a child.
  5. Watch a movie based on a favorite book.
  6. Get a writing or reading buddy.
  7. Create a book cover for your book-in-progress.
  8. Map out a publication timeline for your WIP.
  9. Watch youtube videos of your favorite authors reading excerpts of their work and giving lectures or talks. I highly recommend Stephen King and Harlan Ellison.
  10. Read chapters of some of your favorite books out loud, and make notes of how you would improve the writing.
  11. Get involved with a local library event during National Library Week, April 12 – 18, 2015 (USA).
  12. Support your local bookstore by shopping on Independent Bookstore Day, May 2, 2015 (USA).
  13. Donate books to a book charity. If you don’t have any books you want to donate, buy some new or used and donate those.
  14. Attend a local author reading.
  15. Take a free online class. It can be a creative writing class, a literature class, or any class.
  16. Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Commit to strengthening the strengths, and improving the weaknesses.
  17. Start or join a writing or reading group.
  18. Commit to writing a set number of words per week, or per month.
  19. Submit a story to a call for submissions for an anthology.
  20. Apply for a residency retreat.
  21. Write a book review and post it on your blog. If you don’t have a blog, make one.
  22. Attend a writers’ conference.
  23. Read an edited and polished excerpt of your writing out loud at an open mic night.
  24. Enter your writing into a contest.
  25. Join an association, like the Independent Book Publishers Association.
  26. Write or read a novel outside your usual genres. If you do that already, then check out my genre list.
  27. Go on a solitary writer’s retreat of your own making.
  28. Read banned or challenged books during Banned Book Week, September 27 – October 3 2015. Tell people.
  29. Go on a literary pilgrimage to visit a place where a favorite author lived or wrote about.
  30. Write the draft of a novel during NaNoWriMo.
  31. Donate books to a juvenile detention center, homeless shelter, prison, half-way house, rehab center, or place of worship. Call to make arrangements first.
  32. Get a Fisher Space Pen and keep it next to some paper on your nightstand!

*

And so I’m back! And at a less frenetic pace than last year. At the end of January I had to go to the ER for severe anemia… Then spent about a week at home just managing to crawl in and out of bed… After countless blood tests, and a month of recovery, my iron count is almost up to human level. Next month I have a hospital visit for even more tests. Maybe they’ll find another part of my internal parasitic twin (I’m assuming I have one. Where else is all my iron going? They already found my twin’s kidneys, so I assume I didn’t fully ingest her in the womb. Live and learn.)

*

In the meantime, I (rather, my hubby) dug myself out of Snowpocalypse: Snowpocalypse2015frontyard

(This is my front yard. The snow is still over my head.)

*

And I found (actually, I won) this: CMStewartBWP

Horror author J. Thorn gives away scary things at his Dark Realms website.

*

And HDWP Books was hacked, but our fearless leader Charles Barouch saved the day! Check it out, I have a short story in every Theme-Thology anthology so far…

Theme-Thologies

Authors

*

Speaking of my stories, my over-arching project this year is working on the novel I wrote during the last NaNoWriMo: MEATFUL THINGS. I feel like I have a solid draft, and I’ve been steadily improving it as my own health improves. I have some beta readers lined up, but could always use more. So if you’d like to provide feedback on a complete supernatural horror novel of approximately 52,000 words, shoot me an email (click on the “Who is CMStewart?” link), or leave a comment below. I’ll be sending the draft, along with a few book critique questions, to my beta readers at the end of March. Thanks!

NaNo-ing My Compost Pile

Participant-2014-Web-Banner

 

This NaNo will be my most autobiographical NaNo yet. I will write “Meatful Things”* next month, the story of me and my compost pile, and all the things that did could go wrong… So how many ways can a compost pile go wrong? After all, nature makes compost piles every day, all around the world. Business as usual…

 

Unless…

 

You add people.

 

I mean, unless you add the wills and whims of people into the making of a compost pile.

 

So what goes into the compost pile? Apple cores and onions skins?

 

Absolutely!

 

Coffee grounds and tea leaves?

 

Sure!

 

Bacon grease and chicken bones?

 

Well, that’s not recommended.

 

But pigs and chickens decompose in nature just fine.

 

Well… OK.

 

How about litter box crap and offal from the neighbor’s hunting trip?

 

No way! But I see you’ve already taken the liberty… I see the compost pile is steaming and teeming with flies…

 

Yep, back to nature. How about I add-

 

No! Don’t say anything more! The compost pile is out of control. I don’t wanna know what you’re gonna add next…

 

It’s my spookiest NaNo to date, and it’s in the spirit of the season. Speaking of compost piles and Halloween, these creations are gonna end up in my decomposition pile in a few days…

Kitty-o-lanterns!

Kitty-o-lanterns!

 *

Like this guy…

Fall sunflower.

Fall sunflower.

 *

In the meantime, wanna stalk me and my NaNo-ed compost pile? Click here!

 If you can’t wait until “Meatful Things” is fully decomposed finished and available, here are 11 spooky bedtime stories, just in time for Halloween…

And how about treating yourself for Halloween? Check out these short story anthologies (I have a story in each) – a different theme for each collection:

Theme-Thology: Invasion

Theme-Thology: Day I Died

Theme-Thology: New Myths

Theme-Thology: Real World Unreal

 HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

*Loosely based on true events.

 

11-30-14 UPDATE:

Winner-2014-Web-Banner

Winner, winner, compost dinner!

50117 words of compost!

I rule compost!

 

I’m Not Just Crazy, I’m Mad!

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10 days into the new year, and still reeling from last month’s Infinite Jest of December, I have decided to embark on another book reading marathon. Only this time, it’s a year-long marathon, and it requires I also review the books I read. The Mad Reviewer Reading (Sunburned Nose*) Challenge 2014 comes courtesy of The Mad Reviewer Carrie Slager of The Mad Reviewer blog. The challenge has 4 reviewer levels for the year:

1.  Mad – 104 books

2.  Crazy – 52 books

3.  Slightly Sane – 26 books

4.  Sane – 12 books

I signed up for Mad… grrr…

Once a week on this blog I’ll post the reviews of 2 books I’ve read. (I’ll wedge in a few extra readings / reviews by the end of the year to get up to 104.) For this challenge, a “book” is either a novel or novella, fiction or non-fiction, in any genre / non-genre. Printed or ebooks only, audiobooks are outside the scope of this challenge. Each double review will be a separate blog post. I won’t be addressing any editing or formatting issues in any of the books, I will focus soley on the story. How the heck am I gonna read 104 books AND review them this year?! I have a secret weapon – I’m a fast reader. As long as the book is interesting, I’m able to read and retain the storyline quickly. Disclaimer: I’m not a professional reviewer, and I tend to rate books highly.

Here’s how I will structure my reviews:

1. Book title / author.

2. Oh-so-brief, non-spoiler synopsis.

3. A paragraph of my reaction to the story.

4. My recommendation. (I guess some people would find this book worthwhile in some universe somewhere; You’re taking your chances with this hit and miss book; This book renewed my will to live).

5. Where to find a copy of the book.

Wanna be a Mad / Crazy / Slightly Sane / Sane Reviewer? There’s still time, sign up here!

*I’m opting out of the “Sunburned Nose” part.

Infinite Jest of December

INFINITE JEST

In the spirit of further exploring the mystery and intrigue of the literary novel as compared to the genre novel, every day this month (more or less) I will read a chunk (about 35 pages) of David Foster Wallace‘s Infinite Jest. By the end of this month I will have read the entity of this lengthy and complex novel, which includes 388 numbered endnotes, and the footnotes to those endnotes. Twice a week I will update this post with my progress through the book, my thoughts on literary merit and genre in the context of this novel, and excerpts from Infinite Jest.

*****

Click anywhere on this sentence and scroll down for an update on how I did with this year’s NaNoWriMo.

UPDATES IN ORDER OF READING:

Excerpt from 12-1:

The sole reason he does not throw the unlabelled cartridge in the wastecan or put it aside for his wife to preview for relevance is because there are such woefully slim entertainment-pickings on his wife’s irritating Americanized tennis-league evening away from her place at home. The attaché will pop the cartridge in and scan just enough of its contents to determine whether it is irritating or of an irrelevant nature and not entertaining or engaging in any way. He will heat the prepared halal lamb and spicy halal garnish in the microwave oven until piping-hot, arrange it attractively on his tray, preview the first few moments of the puzzling and/ or irritating or possibly mysteriously blank entertainment cartridge first, then unwind with the news summary, then perhaps have a quick unlibidinous look at Nass’s spring line of sexless black devout-women’s-wear, then will insert the recursive surf-and-rain cartridge and make a well-deserved early Wednesday evening of it, hoping only that his wife will not return from her tennis league in her perspiration-dampened black ankle-length tennis ensemble and remove his dinner tray from his sleeping neck in a clumsy or undeft fashion that will awaken him, potentially.

*

A mysterious cartridge. Also, the word “cartridge” is mysterious in the context of this story, in my opinion. At this point, I’m still getting a feel for this book. Seems like DFW had fun writing it, the style is casual and relaxed, yet there’s an unmistakable undercurrent of a zillion brain cogs whirring.

*****

Excerpt from 12-2:

It’s the mornings after the spider-and-heights dreams that are the most painful, that it takes sometimes three coffees and two showers and sometimes a run to loosen the grip on his soul’s throat; and these post-dream mornings are even worse if he wakes unalone, if the previous night’s Subject is still there, wanting to twitter, or to cuddle and, like, spoon, asking what exactly is the story with the foggy inverted tumblers on the bathroom floor, commenting on his night-sweats, clattering around in the kitchen, making kippers or bacon or something even more hideous and unhoneyed he’s supposed to eat with postcoital male gusto, the ones who have this thing about they call it Feeding My Man, wanting a man who can barely keep down A.M. honey-toast to eat with male gusto, elbows out and shovelling, making little noises. Even when alone, able to uncurl alone and sit slowly up and wring out the sheet and go to the bathroom, these darkest mornings start days that Orin can’t even bring himself for hours to think about how he’ll get through the day. These worst mornings with cold floors and hot windows and merciless light— the soul’s certainty that the day will have to be not traversed but sort of climbed, vertically, and then that going to sleep again at the end of it will be like falling, again, off something tall and sheer.

*

I wonder how much of this story is autobiographical. DFW was quite the tennis player, in addition to being quite the author and quite the scholar. Tennis is mentioned throughout the book. Perhaps “Orin” is a facet of DFW and Orin’s thoughts and actions are a reflection of DFW’s chronic depression.

*****

Excerpt from 12-3:

It’s a herd of feral hamsters, a major herd, thundering across the yellow plains of the southern reaches of the Great Concavity in what used to be Vermont, raising dust that forms a uremic-hued cloud with somatic shapes interpretable from as far away as Boston and Montreal. The herd is descended from two domestic hamsters set free by a Watertown NY boy at the beginning of the Experialist migration in the subsidized Year of the Whopper. The boy now attends college in Champaign IL and has forgotten that his hamsters were named Ward and June. The noise of the herd is tornadic, locomotival. The expression on the hamsters’ whiskered faces is businesslike and implacable— it’s that implacable-herd expression. They thunder eastward across pedalferrous terrain that today is fallow, denuded. To the east, dimmed by the fulvous cloud the hamsters send up, is the vivid verdant ragged outline of the annularly overfertilized forests of what used to be central Maine. All these territories are now property of Canada. With respect to a herd of this size, please exercise the sort of common sense that come to think of it would keep your thinking man out of the southwest Concavity anyway. Feral hamsters are not pets. They mean business. Wide berth advised. Carry nothing even remotely vegetablish if in the path of a feral herd. If in the path of such a herd, move quickly and calmly in a direction perpendicular to their own. If American, north not advisable. Move south, calmly and in all haste, toward some border metropolis— Rome NNY or Glens Falls NNY or Beverly MA, say, or those bordered points between them at which the giant protective ATHSCME fans atop the hugely convex protective walls of anodized Lucite hold off the drooling and piss-colored bank of teratogenic Concavity clouds and move the bank well back, north, away, jaggedly, over your protected head.

*

“It’s a herd of feral hamsters, a major herd, thundering across the yellow plains… ” and so on and so forth. I suspect DFW had a playful sense of humor in his day to-day life as well. He goes off on these detailed, whimsical tangents. It’s a bit dizzying for someone’s who’s used to reading novels which are more straightforward. But I’m enjoying IJ, for all its giddiness, it’s relaxing and hypnotic. You get into the convoluted flow.

*****

Excerpt from 12-4:

‘The vital thing here gentlemen being not the force or how often you rotate to particulate-free floss but the motion, see, a soft sawing motion, gently up and down both ancipitals of the enamel’— demonstrating down the side of a bicuspid big as the kids’ heads, the plasticene gum-stuff yielding with sick sucking sounds, Schacht’s five kids all either glazed-looking or glued to their watch’s second-hand—‘ and then here’s the key, here’s the thing so few people understand: down below the ostensible gumline into the basal recessions at either side of the gingival mound that obtrudes between the teeth, down below, where your most pernicious particulates hide and breed.’

*

I appreciated this foray into the crucial importance of flossing. I’m surprised so many people are so lackadaisical about this non-optional dental hygiene habit. DFW and I were of the same mind on this one. I admit I’m feeling rather proud at this point.

*****

Excerpt from 12-5:

ENORMOUS, ELECTROLYSIS-RASHED ‘JOURNALIST’ ‘HELEN’ STEEPLY’S ONLY PUTATIVE PUBLISHED ARTICLE BEFORE BEGINNING HER SOFT PROFILE ON PHOENIX CARDINALS PUNTER ORIN J. INCANDENZA, AND HER ONLY PUTATIVE PUBLISHED ARTICLE TO HAVE ANYTHING OVERTLY TO DO WITH GOOD OLD METROPOLITAN BOSTON, 10 AUGUST IN THE YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT, FOUR YEARS AFTER OPTICAL THEORIST, ENTREPRENEUR, TENNIS ACADEMICIAN, AND AVANT-GARDE FILMMAKER JAMES O. INCANDENZA TOOK HIS OWN LIFE BY PUTTING HIS HEAD IN A MICROWAVE OVEN

*

OK what’s with this “Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment” that keeps popping up every few pages? I haven’t googled this online yet, I’m wondering if this will be explained further on in the book. Or maybe DFW had a diaper fetish. Anyhow, my impression so far is one of smoking brain cogs. Many of the scenes – which, by the way, have no smooth transitions – have a frenetic dream-like feel. Tennis is an even bigger theme, the further I get into the book. Yes, a theme. Another theme – the disability of the gifted mind.

*****

Excerpt from 12-7a:

If, by the virtue of charity or the circumstance of desperation, you ever chance to spend a little time around a Substance-recovery halfway facility like Enfield MA’s state-funded Ennet House, you will acquire many exotic new facts. You will find out that once MA’s Department of Social Services has taken a mother’s children away for any period of time, they can always take them away again, D.S.S., like at will, empowered by nothing more than a certain signature-stamped form. I.e. once deemed Unfit— no matter why or when, or what’s transpired in the meantime— there’s nothing a mother can do.

… [these many exotic new facts go on for 5 pages] …

That a person— one with the Disease/-Ease— will do things under the influence of Substances that he simply would not ever do sober, and that some consequences of these things cannot ever be erased or amended. Felonies are an example of this.

*

I’m finding many passages in this book which I would consider to be “stream of consciousness.” I feel stream of consciousness writing fits well into a literary novel, as it offers a unique conduit into the mind of the characters(s), and as such, is able to focus of the human condition as opposed to focusing on a plot device. In this case, I feel the character(s) are literary manifestations of DFW.

*****

Excerpt from 12-7b:

She had hurtled on back home on the night’s final T and gone home and at least finally not turned her face away from the situation, the predicament that she didn’t love it anymore she hated it and wanted to stop and also couldn’t stop or imagine stopping or living without it. She had in a way done as they’d made Jim do near the end and admitted powerlessness over this cage, this unfree show, weeping, literally clutching her heart, smoking first the Chore Boy-scrap she’d used to trap the vapors and form a smokable resin, then bits of the carpet and the acetate panties she’d filtered the solution through hours earlier, weeping and veilless and yarn-haired, like some grotesque clown, in all four mirrors of her little room’s walls.

CHRONOLOGY OF ORGANIZATION OF NORTH AMERICAN NATIONS’ REVENUE-ENHANCING SUBSIDIZED TIME ™, BY YEAR

(1) Year of the Whopper

(2) Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad

(3) Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar

(4) Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken

(5) Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster

(6) Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade For Infernatron/ InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office, Or Mobile (sic)

(7) Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland

(8) Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment

(9) Year of Glad

Jim’s eldest, Orin— punter extraordinaire, dodger of flung acid extraordinaire— had once shown Joelle van Dyne his childhood collection of husks of the Lemon Pledge that the school’s players used to keep the sun off. Different-sized legs and portions of legs, well-muscled arms, a battery of five-holed masks hung on nails from an upright fiberboard sheet. Not all the husks had names below them.

*

Granted, this is an excerpt, and one may argue it is taken out of context. But even so, this section seems to be a riddle. I’m wondering if “Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad” is related to “Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment,” and the rest of the “Year of the’s” are included as camouflage. Any takers on this one?

*****

Excerpt from 12-8:

‘The grief-therapist encouraged me to go with my paroxysmic feelings, to name and honor my rage. He got more and more pleased and excited as I angrily told him I flat-out refused to feel iota-one of guilt of any kind. I said what, I was supposed to have lost even more quickly to Freer, so I could have come around HmH in time to stop Himself? It wasn’t my fault, I said. It was not my fault I found him, I shouted; I was down to black street-socks, I had legitimate emergency-grade laundry to do. By this time I was pounding myself on the breastbone with rage as I said that it just by-God was not my fault that—’ ‘That what?’ ‘That’s just what the grief-therapist said. The professional literature had a whole bold-font section on Abrupt Pauses in High-Affect Speech. The grief-therapist was now leaning way forward at the waist. His lips were wet. I was in The Zone, therapeutically speaking. I felt on top of things for the first time in a long time. I broke eye-contact with him. That I’d been hungry, I muttered.’ ‘Come again?’ ‘That’s just what he said, the grief-therapist. I muttered that it was nothing, just that it damn sure wasn’t my fault that I had the reaction I did when I came through the front door of HmH, before I came into the kitchen to get to the basement stairs and found Himself with his head in what was left of the microwave. When I first came in and was still in the foyer trying to get my shoes off without putting the dirty laundry-bag down on the white carpet and hopping around and couldn’t be expected to have any idea what had happened. I said nobody can choose or have any control over their first unconscious thoughts or reactions when they come into a house. I said it wasn’t my fault that my first unconscious thought turned out to be—’ ‘Jesus, kid, what?’ ‘ “That something smelled delicious!” I screamed. The force of my shriek almost sent the grief-therapist over backwards in his leather chair. A couple credentials fell off the wall. I bent over in my own nonleather chair as if for a crash-landing. I put a hand to each temple and rocked back and forth in the chair, weeping. It came out between sobs and screams. That it’d been four hours plus since lunchtime and I’d worked hard and played hard and I was starved. That the saliva had started the minute I came through the door. That golly something smells delicious was my first reaction!’

*

Now there’s some ace writing right there (note the “ace” tennis reference). Enough said (ironically so).

*****

Excerpt from 12-10:

His father knelt beside him on the ceiling in a well-rended sleeveless tee-, extolling the Red Sox of Rice and Lynn. Tony wore summer taffeta. His body flopped around without OK from HQ. He didn’t feel one bit like a puppet. He thought of gaffed fish. The gown had ‘a thousand flounces and a saucy bodice of lace crochet.’ Then he saw his father, green-gowned and rubber-gloved, leaning to read the headlines off the skin of a fish a newspaper had wrapped. That had never happened. The largest-print headline said PUSH. Poor Tony flopped and gasped and pushed down inside and the utter red of the blood that feeds sight bloomed behind his fluttering lids. Time wasn’t passing so much as kneeling beside him in a torn tee-shirt disclosing the rodent-nosed tits of a man who disdains the care of his once-comely bod. Poor Tony convulsed and drummed and gasped and fluttered, a fountain of light all around him. He felt a piece of nourishing and possibly even intoxicating meat in the back of his throat but elected not to swallow it but swallowed it anyway, and was immediately sorry he did; and when his father’s bloody-rubbered fingers folded his teeth back to retrieve the tongue he’d swallowed he refused absolutely to bite down ungratefully on the hand that was taking his food, then without authorization he pushed and bit down and took the gloved fingers clean off, so there was rubber-wrapped meat in his mouth again and his father’s head exploded into needled antennae of color like an exploding star between his gown’s raised green arms and a call for Zuckung while Tony’s heels drummed and struggled against the widening stirrups of light they were hoisted into while a curtain of red was drawn wetly up over the floor he stared down at, Tony, and he heard someone yelling for someone to Give In, Err, with a hand on his lace belly as he bore down to PUSH and he saw the legs in the stirrups they held would keep spreading until they cracked him open and all the way inside-out on the ceiling and his last worry was that red-handed Poppa could see up his dress, what was hidden.

*

I’d say that fits into the psychological horror genre, if one would want to categorize it. Psychological-fantasy horror, if one was picky, but who would get picky with IJ? DFW was quite good at writing intense drug overdose / withdrawal scenes.

*****

Excerpt from 12-11:

What often takes the longest to get a quorum on is each game’s Triggering Situation. Here Lord, like many stellar statistics-wonks, shows a bit of an Achilles’ heel imagination-wise, but he’s got a good five or six years of Eschaton precedents to draw on. A Russo-Chinese border dispute goes tactical over Sinkiang. An AMNAT computracker in the Aleutians misreads a flight of geese as three SOVWAR SS10s on reentry. Israel moves armored divisions north and east through Jordan after an El Al airbus is bombed in midflight by a cell linked to both H’sseins. Black Albertan wackos infiltrate an isolated silo at Ft. Chimo and get two MIRVs…

[and so on and so forth]

…and gets a flat tire. A single one-megaton SS10 evades antimissile missiles and detonates just over Provo UT, from which all communications abruptly cease. Eschaton’s game-master now posits— but does not go so far as to actually assert— that EndStat’s game-theoretic Decision Tree now dictates a SPASEX response from AMNAT.

*

DFW was also quite good at writing long, drawn-out game and sports scenes. Reading these, the title of this novel keeps popping into my mind. I prefer the long, drawn-out drug overdose / withdrawal scenes.

*****

Excerpt from 12-12a:

Its expression: in the vanity’s lights only Its eyes’ whites showed, and while Its utter catatonia and paralysis prevented the contraction of Its luridly rouged face’s circumoral muscles into any conventional human facial-type expression, nevertheless some hideously mobile and expressive layer in the moist regions below real people’s expressive facial layer, some slow-twitch layer unique to It, had blindly contracted, somehow, to gather the blank soft cheese of Its face into the sort of pinched gasping look of neurologic concentration that marks a carnal bliss beyond smiles or sighs. Its face looked post-coital sort of the way you’d imagine the vacuole and optica of a protozoan looking post-coital after it’s shuddered and shot its mono-cellular load into the cold waters of some really old sea. Its facial expression was, in a word, the speaker says, unspeakably, unforgettably ghastly and horrid and scarring.

*

Levels of Disturbing*:

5. A post-rape description.

4. A post-child rape description.

3. A post-incestuous child rape description.

2. A post-incestuous child rape description in which the child is profoundly mentally and physically disabled.

1. A post-incestuous child rape description in which the child is profoundly mentally and physically disabled, and enjoyed the rape.

*In reading, not in actuality, and in my opinion.

*****

Excerpt from 12-12b:

He just starts materializing, always alone, at increasingly high-level junior tournaments, appears on draw-sheets with ‘Ind.’ by his name, plays competitive tennis with a Glock at his left temple; and his opponents, unwilling to sacrifice Clipperton’s hostage (Clipperton même), barely even try, or else they go for impossible angles and spins, or else talk on mobile phones while they play or try to hit every ball between their legs or behind their backs; and the matches’ galleries tend to boo Clipperton just as much as they dare; and Clipperton sits and hefts his 17-shot clip and takes the brass-jacketed 9-mm. cartridges out sometimes and clicks a few together ruminatively in his hand in the sideline chair at all the odd-game breaks, and sometimes he tries little Western-gunslinger triggerguard-spins during the breaks; but when play resumes Clipperton’s deadly serious once more and has the Glock 17 at his temple, playing, and mows through the lackadaisical Clipperton Brigade round by round, and wins the whole tournament by what is essentially psychic default, and then right after collecting his trophy vanishes like the ground itself inhaled him.

*

Fantasy genre. OK, not “fairies and dragons” fantasy, but fantasy nonetheless. Who would tolerate a gun-toting tennis player IRL?

*****

Excerpt from 12-14a:

TINE [Rising, eyes now two glittery red points in his round face’s felt, the eyes two tiny smoke-detector bulbs run off a single AAA cell taped to the back of the puppet’s surgical gown]: Now, speaking in the very most general terms, if the president’s vision dictates the tough choice of cutting certain programs and services, our statistical people predict with reasonable inductive certainty that the American electorate will whinge. VEALS: Whinge? LURIA P———[ TO TINE]: This is a Canadian idiom, cheri. VEALS: And who is this chick? TINE [Looking momentarily blank]: Sorry Tom. Canadian idiom. Whinge. Complain. Petition for redress. Assemble. March in those five-abreast demonstrating lines. Shake upraised fists in unison. Whinge [indicating photos on easels behind him of various historical pressure- and advocacy groups whingeing]. SEC. TREAS.: And we already have an all-too-good idea of what will happen if we attempt any sort of conventional revenue enhancements. SEC. STATE: Tax revolt. SEC. H.E.W.: A whingeathon, Chief. SEC. DEF.: Tea-party.

*

Didn’t the Tea Party ooze up from the bowels of Whingedom in 2008 (at the earliest)? (No offense to my Tea Partying readers.) IJ was published in 1996. Was DFW a time traveler?

*****

Excerpt from 12-14b:

Words that are not and can never be words are sought by Lucien here through what he guesses to be the maxillofacial movements of speech, and there is a childlike pathos to the movements that perhaps the rigid-grinned A.F.R. leader can sense, perhaps that is why his sigh is sincere, his complaint sincere when he complains that what will follow will be inutile, Lucien’s failure to assist will be inutile, there will be no point serviced, there are several dozen highly trained and motivated wheelchaired personnel here who will find whatever they seek and more, anyhow, perhaps it is sincere, the Gallic shrug and fatigue of the voice through the leader’s mask-hole, as Lucien’s leonine head is tilted back by a hand in his hair and his mouth opened wide by callused fingers that appear overhead and around the sides of his head from behind and jack his writhing mouth open so wide that the tendons in his jaws tear audibly and Lucien’s first sounds are reduced from howls to a natal gargle as the pale wicked tip of the broom he loves is inserted, the wood piney-tasting then white tasteless pain as the broom is shoved in and abruptly down by the big and collared A.F.R., thrust farther in rhythmically in strokes that accompany each syllable in the wearily repeated ‘In-U-Tile’ of the technical interviewer, down into Lucien’s wide throat and lower, small natal cries escaping around the brown-glazed shaft, the strangled impeded sounds of absolute aphonia, the landed-fish gasps that accompany speechlessness in a dream, the cleric-collared A.F.R. driving the broom home now to half its length, up on his stumps to get downward leverage as the fibers that protect the esophagal terminus resist and then give with a crunching pop and splat of red that bathes Lucien’s teeth and tongue and makes of itself in the air a spout, and his gargled sounds now sound drowned; and behind fluttering lids the aphrasiac half-cellular insurgent who loves only to sweep and dance in a clean pane sees snow on the round hills of his native Gaspé, pretty curls of smoke from chimneys, his mother’s linen apron, her kind red face above his crib, homemade skates and cider-steam, Chic-Choc lakes seen stretching away from the Cap-Chat hillside they skied down to Mass, the red face’s noises he knows from the tone are tender, beyond crib and rimed window Gaspésie lake after lake after lake lit up by the near-Arctic sun and stretching out in the southeastern distance like chips of broken glass thrown to scatter across the white Chic-Choc country, gleaming, and the river Ste.-Anne a ribbon of light, unspeakably pure; and as the culcate handle navigates the inguinal canal and sigmoid with a queer deep full hot tickle and with a grunt and shove completes its passage and forms an obscene erectile bulge in the back of his red sopped johns, bursting then through the wool and puncturing tile and floor at a police-lock’s canted angle to hold him upright on his knees, completely skewered, and as the attentions of the A.F.R.s in the little room are turned from him to the shelves and trunks of the Antitois’ sad insurgents’ lives, and Lucien finally dies, rather a while after he’s quit shuddering like a clubbed muskie and seemed to them to die, as he finally sheds his body’s suit, Lucien finds his gut and throat again and newly whole, clean and unimpeded, and is free, catapulted home over fans and the Convexity’s glass palisades at desperate speeds, soaring north, sounding a bell-clear and nearly maternal alarmed call-to-arms in all the world’s well-known tongues.

*

That’s one sentence. Go ahead, check it.

*****

Excerpt from 12-15:

The lamp teetered violently and began to fall over sideways, away from the bed. It fell with a kind of majestic slowness, resembling a felled tree. As the lamp fell, its heavy iron pole struck the brass knob on the door to my closet, shearing the knob off completely. The round knob and half its interior hex bolt fell off and hit my room’s wooden floor with a loud noise and began then to roll around in a remarkable way, the sheared end of the hex bolt stationary and the round knob, rolling on its circumference, circling it in a spherical orbit, describing two perfectly circular motions on two distinct axes, a non-Euclidian figure on a planar surface, i.e., a cycloid on a sphere: The closest conventional analogue I could derive for this figure was a cycloid, L’Hôpital’s solution to Bernoulli’s famous Brachistochrone Problem, the curve traced by a fixed point on the circumference of a circle rolling along a continuous plane. But since here, on the bedroom’s floor, a circle was rolling around what was itself the circumference of a circle, the cycloid’s standard parametric equations were no longer apposite, those equations’ trigonometric expressions here becoming themselves first-order differential equations. Because of the lack of resistance or friction against the bare floor, the knob rolled this way for a long time as I watched over the edge of the comforter and mattress, holding my glasses in place, completely distracted from the minor-D shriek of the vacuum below. It occurred to me that the movement of the amputated knob perfectly schematized what it would look like for someone to try to turn somersaults with one hand nailed to the floor. This was how I first became interested in the possibilities of annulation.

*

ASD, DFW? Or NPD? Or is this the case of TPCTKB?

*****

Excerpt from 12-17:

At lunchtime, Hal Incandenza was lying on his bunk in bright sunlight through the window with his hands laced over his chest, and Jim Troeltsch poked his head in and asked Hal what he was doing, and Hal told him photosynthesizing and then didn’t say anything else until Troeltsch went away. Then, 41 breaths later, Michael Pemulis stuck his head in where Troeltsch’s had been. ‘Did you eat yet?’ Hal made his stomach bulge up and patted it, still looking at the ceiling. ‘The beast has killed and gorged and now lies in the shade of the Baobob tree.’ ‘Gotcha.’ ‘Surveying his loyal pride.’ ‘I gotcha.’ Over 200 breaths later, John (‘ N.R.’) Wayne opened up the ajar door a little more and put his whole head in and stayed like that, with just his head in. He didn’t say anything and Hal didn’t say anything, and they stayed like that for a while, and then Wayne’s head smoothly withdrew.

*

In my opinion, the above is the most poetic passage in the book (so far). From exacting sports descriptions to graphic violent to psychological horror to made-up words to copious, tedious footnotes, this book has it all. Even poetry.

*****

Excerpt from 12-18:

He gets a serious burn on his pelvis leaning against a hot steel stove talking to Mrs. Clarke. His hip is swaddled in bandages under Orin’s old corduroys, and there’s a sucking sound of salve when he walks, late at night, unable to sleep. The birth-related disability that wasn’t even definitively diagnosed until Mario was six and had let Orin tattoo his shoulder with the red coil of an immersion heater is called Familial Dysautonomia, a neurological deficit whereby he can’t feel physical pain very well. A lot of the E.T.A.s kid him about they should have such problems, and even Hal’s sometimes felt a twinge of envy about it, but the defect is a serious hassle and actually very dangerous, see for instance the burnt pelvis, which wasn’t even discovered until Mrs. Clarke thought she smelled her eggplant overcooking.

*

Anybody have a good vegan recipe for eggplant? I’ve already made baba ghanoush and breaded eggplant with marinara and lemon juice.

*****

Excerpt from 12-19a:

Two private planes fly in lazy ellipses just under the cloud-cover overhead, banners strung out behind them advertising four different levels of comfort and protection from Depend. The wind keeps blowing the banners sideways, möbiusizing them and then straightening them back out with the loud pop of flags unfurling. From the ground the engines and banners’ pops are too faint to hear above the crowd-noise and ducks and wind’s mean whistle. The swirling groundwind’s so bad that U.S. Chief of Unspecified Services Rodney Tine, standing with his hands at the small of his back at a window on the eighth floor of the State House Annex on Beacon and Joy Sts., looking southwest and down at the concentric rings of pond and crowd and trucks, can see wind-driven leaves and street-grit swirling right outside and pecking at this very window he stands before, massaging his coccyx.

*

Two specific points of interest in the above section. “Depends” (obviously), and “coccyx.” For the first one, yes, it’s a theme throughout IJ, a theme I have yet to decipher, if, indeed, it is meant to be (deciphered). For the second one, I immediately thought of the movie “Napoleon Dynamite,” (a stunningly stunning cinematic achievement), though I am almost positive IJ and ND have very little to do with each other.

*****

Excerpt from 12-19b:

‘When I was a little boy—’ Gompert chuffs air again. ‘— just a boy with a violin and a dream and special roundabout routes to school to avoid the boys who took my violin case and played keep-away over my head with it, one summer afternoon I was upstairs in the bedroom I shared with my younger brother, alone, practicing my violin. It was very hot, and there was an electric fan in the window, blowing out, acting as an exhaust fan.’ ‘I know from exhaust fans, believe you me.’ ‘The direction of flow is beside the point. It was on, and its position in the window made the glass of the upraised pane vibrate somehow. It produced an odd high-pitched vibration, invariant and constant. By itself it was strange but benign. But on this one afternoon, the fan’s vibration combined with some certain set of notes I was practicing on the violin, and the two vibrations set up a resonance that made something happen in my head. It is impossible really to explain it, but it was a certain quality of this resonance that produced it.’ ‘A thing.’ ‘As the two vibrations combined, it was as if a large dark billowing shape came billowing out of some corner in my mind. I can be no more precise than to say large, dark, shape, and billowing, what came flapping out of some backwater of my psyche I had not had the slightest inkling was there.’ ‘But it was inside you, though.’ ‘Katherine, Kate, it was total horror. It was all horror everywhere, distilled and given form. It rose in me, out of me, summoned somehow by the odd confluence of the fan and those notes. It rose and grew larger and became engulfing and more horrible than I shall ever have the power to convey. I dropped my violin and ran from the room.’ ‘Was it triangular? The shape? When you say billowing, do you mean like a triangle?’ ‘Shapeless. Shapelessness was one of the horrible things about it. I can say and mean only shape, dark, and either billowing or flapping. But because the horror receded the moment I left the room, within minutes it had become unreal. The shape and horror. It seemed to have been my imagination, some random bit of psychic flatulence, an anomaly.’

*

Two specific points of interest in the above section. “Chuffs” – one of my most favorite words ever (along with chuff, chuffed, chuffer, chuffing, chuffable, chuffier, chuffiest, etc, and the countless compound words one can make by adding “chuff-“ to the beginning of a word), and “The shape and horror.” For the first one, I’m chuffed, obviously. For the second one, the description seems extremely vague, in my opinion.

*****

Excerpts from 12-21a:

1. Hal, who’s empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human (at least as he conceptualizes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite-right-looking infant dragging itself anaclitically around the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull, gooey drool. One of the really American things about Hal, probably, is the way he despises what it is he’s really lonely for: this hideous internal self, incontinent of sentiment and need, that pules and writhes just under the hip empty mask, anhedonia.

*

2. It is a level of psychic pain wholly incompatible with human life as we know it. It is a sense of radical and thoroughgoing evil not just as a feature but as the essence of conscious existence. It is a sense of poisoning that pervades the self at the self’s most elementary levels. It is a nausea of the cells and soul. It is an unnumb intuition in which the world is fully rich and animate and un-map-like and also thoroughly painful and malignant and antagonistic to the self, which depressed self It billows on and coagulates around and wraps in Its black folds and absorbs into Itself, so that an almost mystical unity is achieved with a world every constituent of which means painful harm to the self. Its emotional character, the feeling Gompert describes It as, is probably mostly indescribable except as a sort of double bind in which any/ all of the alternatives we associate with human agency— sitting or standing, doing or resting, speaking or keeping silent, living or dying— are not just unpleasant but literally horrible. It is also lonely on a level that cannot be conveyed. There is no way Kate Gompert could ever even begin to make someone else understand what clinical depression feels like, not even another person who is herself clinically depressed, because a person in such a state is incapable of empathy with any other living thing. This anhedonic Inability To Identify is also an integral part of It. If a person in physical pain has a hard time attending to anything except that pain, a clinically depressed person cannot even perceive any other person or thing as independent of the universal pain that is digesting her cell by cell. Everything is part of the problem, and there is no solution. It is a hell for one. The authoritative term psychotic depression makes Kate Gompert feel especially lonely. Specifically the psychotic part. Think of it this way. Two people are screaming in pain. One of them is being tortured with electric current. The other is not. The screamer who’s being tortured with electric current is not psychotic: her screams are circumstantially appropriate. The screaming person who’s not being tortured, however, is psychotic, since the outside parties making the diagnoses can see no electrodes or measurable amperage. One of the least pleasant things about being psychotically depressed on a ward full of psychotically depressed patients is coming to see that none of them is really psychotic, that their screams are entirely appropriate to certain circumstances part of whose special charm is that they are undetectable by any outside party. Thus the loneliness: it’s a closed circuit: the current is both applied and received from within. The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

*

1. DFW nails ‘Merica, before ‘Merica was ‘Merica.

*

2. Painful and sad to read DFW’s self-description. I understand depression-precipitated suicide a little more now. Or maybe just DFW’s depression-precipitated suicide.

*****

Excerpt from 12-21b:

Blood Sister: One Tough Nun, one of Himself’s few commercial successes, wouldn’t have made near the money it made if it hadn’t come out just as InterLace was starting to purchase first-run features for its rental menus and hyping the cartridges with one-time Spontaneous Disseminations. It was the sort of sleazy-looking shocksploitation film that would have had a two-week run in multiplex theaters 8 and above and then gone right to the featureless brown boxes of magnetic-video limbo. Hal’s critical take on the film is that Himself, at certain dark points when abstract theory-issues seemed to provide an escape from the far more wrenching creative work of making humanly true or entertaining cartridges, had made films in certain commercial-type genre modes that so grotesquely exaggerated the formulaic schticks of the genres that they became ironic metacinematic parodies on the genres: ‘sub/ inversions of the genres,’ cognoscenti taken in were wont to call them. The metacinematic-parody idea itself was aloof and over-clever, to Hal’s way of thinking, and he’s not comfortable with the way Himself always seemed to get seduced by the very commercial formulae he was trying to invert, especially the seductive formulae of violent payback, i.e. the cathartic bloodbath, i.e. the hero trying with every will-fiber to eschew the generic world of the stick and fist and but driven by unjust circumstance back to the violence again, to the cathartic final bloodbath the audience is brought to applaud instead of mourn. Himself’s best in this vein was The Night Wears a Sombrero, a Langesque metaWestern but also a really good Western, with chintzy homemade interior sets but breathtaking exteriors shot outside Tucson AZ, an ambivalent-but-finally-avenging-son story played out against dust-colored skies and big angles of flesh-colored mountain, plus with minimal splatter, shot men clutching their chests and falling deliciously sideways, all hats staying on at all times. Blood Sister: One Tough Nun was a supposedly ironic lampoon of the avenging-cleric splatter-films of the late B.S. ’90s. Nor did Himself make any friends on either side of the Concavity, trying to shoot the thing in Canada. Hal tries to imagine the tall slumped tremulous stork-shape of Himself inclined at an osteoporotic angle over digital editing equipment for hours on end, deleting and inserting code, arranging Blood Sister: One Tough Nun into subversive/ inversion, and can’t summon one shadowy idea of what Himself might have been feeling as he patiently labored. Maybe that was the point of the thing’s metasilliness, to have nothing really felt going on. 289

289. In point of a fact wholly unknown to Hal, BS:OTN was in fact a very sad self-hate-festival on Himself’s part, a veiled allegory of sponsorship and Himself’s own miserable distaste for the vacant grins and reductive platitudes of the Boston AA that M.D.s and counselors kept referring him to.

*

I’ll never watch B movies the same way again.

*****

Excerpt from 12-22:

‘Well, don’t go,’ the woman of authority ejaculated from coming out of her reverie of sadness, giving her seat the rotation to face him.

*

Ah-ha! My suspicion is now so obviously confirmed. IJ is an (infinite) jest. Fellow writers know what I’m talking about.

*****

Excerpt from 12-24:

‘Hey Hal? What are you going to do?’ ‘…’ ‘Hal?’ ‘Booboo, I’m up on my elbow again. Tell me what you think I should do.’ ‘Me tell you?’ ‘I’m just two big aprick ears right here, Boo. Listening. Because I do not know what to do.’ ‘Hal, if I tell you the truth, will you get mad and tell me be a fucking?’ ‘I trust you. You’re smart, Boo.’ ‘Then Hal?’ ‘Tell me what I should do.’ ‘I think you just did it. What you should do. I think you just did.’ ‘…’ ‘Do you see what I mean?’

*

DFW gets dialogue right. Or maybe IJ has done something to my brain.

*****

Excerpt from 12-26:

So Hal’s most vivid full-color memory of the non-anti-Substance Meeting he drove fifty oversalivated clicks to by mistake will become that of his older brother’s doubles partner’s older brother down on all fours on a Dacronyl rug, crawling, hampered because one arm was holding his bear to his chest, so he sort of dipped and rose as he crawled on three limbs toward Hal and the needs-meeter behind him, Bain’s knees leaving twin pale tracks in the carpet and his head up on a wobbly neck and looking up and past Hal, his face unspeakable.

*

One of many well-written-yet-painful-to-read recovery episodes. This one isn’t overtly drug-related.

*****

Excerpt from 11-27:

‘You’re going to be fine,’ I said. I got right behind Stice and bent slightly and got an arm around his chest. His wooden chair creaked as I braced my knee against it. Stice began breathing fast and hard. His parotitic jowls flapped a little as he breathed. Our cheeks were almost pressed together. I told him I was going to pull on the count of Three. I actually pulled on Two, so he couldn’t brace himself. I pulled back as hard as I could, and after a stutter of resistance Stice pulled back with me. There was a horrible sound. The skin of his forehead distended as we yanked his head back. It stretched and distended until a sort of shelf of stretched forehead-flesh half a meter long extended from his head to the window. The sound was like some sort of elastic from hell. The dermis of Stice’s forehead was still stuck fast, but the abundant loose flesh of Stice’s bulldog face had risen and gathered to stretch and connect his head to the window. And for a second I saw what might be considered Stice’s real face, his features as they would be if not encased in loose jowly prairie flesh: as every mm. of spare flesh was pulled up to his forehead and stretched, I got a glimpse of Stice as he would appear after a radical face-lift: a narrow, fine-featured, and slightly rodential face, aflame with some sort of revelation, looked out at the window from beneath the pink visor of stretched spare skin. All this took place in less than a second. For just an instant we both stayed there, straining backward, listening to the little Rice-Krispie sound of his skin’s collagen-bundles stretching and popping. His chair was leaning way back on its two rear legs. Then Stice shrieked in pain: ‘Jesus God put it back!’ The little second face’s blue eyes protruded like cartoon eyes. The fine little thin-lipped second mouth was a round coin of pain and fear. ‘Put it back put it back put it back!’ Stice yelled. I couldn’t just let go, though, for fear that the elastic stretch would snap Stice forward into the window and send his face through the glass. I eased him forward, watching the chair’s front legs descend slowly to the floor; and the tension of the forehead’s skin decreased, and Stice’s full fleshy round face reappeared over the small second face, and covered it, and we eased him forward until nothing but a few centimeters of decollagenated forehead-skin hanging and sagging at about eyelash-level remained as evidence of the horrific stretch. ‘Jesus God,’ Stice panted. ‘You are really and truly stuck, Orth.’

*

Included as (late) comedic interlude.

*****

Excerpt from 12-31a:

It now lately sometimes seemed like a kind of black miracle to me that people could actually care deeply about a subject or pursuit, and could go on caring this way for years on end. Could dedicate their entire lives to it. It seemed admirable and at the same time pathetic. We are all dying to give our lives away to something, maybe. God or Satan, politics or grammar, topology or philately— the object seemed incidental to this will to give oneself away, utterly. To games or needles, to some other person. Something pathetic about it. A flight-from in the form of a plunging-into. Flight from exactly what? These rooms blandly filled with excrement and meat? To what purpose? This was why they started us here so young: to give ourselves away before the age when the questions why and to what grow real beaks and claws. It was kind, in a way.

*

This paragraph is an example of a paragraph taken out of context.

*****

Excerpt from 12-31b:

The CD playing was one C’d played all the fucking time in the car when Gately had been with him in a car: somebody had taken an old disk of McCartney and the Wings— as in the historical Beatles’s McCartney— taken and run it through a Kurtzweil remixer and removed every track on the songs except the tracks of poor old Mrs. Linda McCartney singing backup and playing tambourine.

*

I end this Infinite Jest of December blog post with an except including the word “Kurtzweil.”

*****

Day 31 of BookDayMay

Guess the implausible ending of these short stories:

Pumpkin (1986) by Bill Pronzini. Harley has a pumpkin patch – a big one. Manuel works for Harley, picking pumpkins. Except for one – he won’t touch it. It’s evil. Amanda, Harley’s wife, agrees. They can feel the depravity radiating from its orange rind. Harley cannot. He’s too practical for such nonsense. But they talk Harley into covering the wicked thing with a tarp, and leaving it the patch to rot. Come Halloween night, Harley is miffed because he didn’t win the “Biggest Pumpkin” award at the Pumpkin Festival. So he goes back to his patch and drinks. Now it’s getting late. Amanda wonders where Harley is. It’s almost midnight. Then Harley bursts through the back door and:

  1. He’s gorged himself on the evil pumpkin. And he has some wicked orange flesh for her as well, whether she’s hungry or not. The bad seeds are now planted.
  2. He’s carved the evil pumpkin into an evil jack-o-lantern, complete with a lit demonic candle. Amanda screams, Harvey drops the wicked thing, and the farmhouse burns down. Manuel watches from a distance, grinning.
  3. Right behind him is Manuel, carrying the evil pumpkin. Manuel says he was just kidding about it being evil, and they all have a good laugh. But then the pumpkin explodes and demons fly out of the flesh.
  4. Amanda chastises him for scaring her. But it’s not Harley – it’s Manuel wearing Harley’s face as a mask. Now he just needs Amanda’s face for the pumpkin, and they can live happily ever after as husband and pumpkin.

The correct answer is one. Harley will sweep the awards at next year’s festival.

* * * * *

Lover in the Wildwood (1986) by Frank Belknap Long. Katherine is age-worn, frail, and faded. She’s also an emotional, needy thing. She rants and raves until Helen, her nurse, relents and pushes Katherine’s wheelchair into the woods so she and her imaginary lover can do the wild thing on Halloween night. She claims he comes for her at the same time and place every Halloween. In the forest clearing, in a blaze of glory, Katherine’s ghostly beau actually shows up. Helen spies on them from the edge of the clearing. He lifts her from her wheelchair, they embrace, and Katherine becomes youthful, strong, and vibrant again. But only for a minute. In another blaze of glory, he flames out, and Katherine is her old self again, collapsed in the wheelchair. And now she’s dead. The next Halloween, Helen:

  1. Wheels another old biddy out to the forest clearing for some supernatural mojo. She likes watching, it’s a fetish.
  2. Disguises herself as Katherine and wheels herself out to the forest clearing. She has a death wish.
  3. Sets up a dummy in a wheelchair in the forest clearing. Then she hides behind a tree with a video camera.
  4. Waits for the ghostly lover in the forest clearing. With Katherine out of the way, he’s sure to give her some of that spooky hanky panky.

The correct answer is four. She’s got a thing for the love ‘em and leave ‘em type.

Day 29 of BookDayMay

Guess the implausible endings of these short stories:

Miss Mack (1986) by Michael McDowell. Mr. Hill, the town’s elementary school principal, wants to ask the petite Miss Faulk, a 3rd grade teacher, to marry him.  But Miss Faulk is more interested in the huge Miss Mack, another 3rd grade teacher. Miss Faulk and Miss Mack are best buddies, and spend every weekend together in Miss Mack’s cabin in the forest by the lake. They play rummy, go fishing, and talk into the night. Mr. Hill is jealous of the odd couple. So on Halloween weekend, he orders Miss Faulk to host the school Halloween party. Miss Mack must drive to her cabin alone for the last warm weekend of the season. But that’s OK, Miss Faulk will join her at the cabin the next day. But Mr. Hill has other plans. That evening he drives to the forest road leading to the cabin and casts some magic spells. Miss Mack goes to bed in her cabin, and after a night’s sleep, wakes up. But something is definitely amiss in the forest, and amiss in Miss Mack. Turns out the spells Mr. Hill cast were:

  1. An “anti-girl-girl” spell and a “pro-girl-boy” spell.
  2. A “Mack truck” spell and a “buried in a hill” spell.
  3. An “isolation” spell and a “stop time” spell.
  4. A “disappearing fish” spell and an “appearing bears” spell.

The correct answer is three. Miss Mack will be forever alone in the forest on Halloween night. At least she can play Solitaire with the cards, once her eyes get accustomed to the perpetual darkness.

* * * * *

Hollow Eyes (1986) by Guy N. Smith. Julie loves her slovenly, lazy, free-loading boyfriend Hutch. He’s nothing like her proper, hard-working, responsible father Lester. And Lester hates the lecherous Jabba the Hut who screws Julie every chance he gets. His hate is a raging bonfire. When Lester catches Hutch screwing Julie in her bed on Halloween evening, he snaps, and Hutch and Julie run out of the house. Now Lester must find and kill Hutch. He doesn’t want any Hutchite grandheathens. So Lester pockets his gun and ventures into town, through the Halloween throng of costumed partiers. That’s odd – a jack-o-lantern suspended from a tree. Only it’s not a jack-o-lantern. It’s Julie’s severed head. His hate stocked to inferno-level, he makes his way toward the towering Halloween bonfire. He sees a bloated body at the top of the tower. It’s Hutch, his fat melting and dripping and sizzling in the flames. Hutch rolls down to the base of the bonfire and says:

  1.  “The spell is complete. I win and you lose. Now Julie and I will be together forever, Mr. Miles!”
  2. “I didn’t kill her, Mr. Miles. God’s truth, I didn’t. It was them! They’ll kill you just as they killed me.”
  3.  “Now nobody else can ever screw your daughter, Mr. Miles. You can thank me in Hell!
  4. “What can I say, Mr. Miles? Your daughter likes it rough. She’s a wild one!”

The correct answer is two. Maybe the troll wasn’t so bad after all.

* * * * *

The Halloween House (1986) by Alan Ryan. On Halloween, Dale has a schoolboy crush on Colleen, and Colleen has a schoolgirl crush on Dale. To mark the occasion, they decide to visit an abandoned, supposedly haunted house in the neighborhood. The door to the creepy house is unlocked, and they venture inside. It’s damp and musty, and too dark already to see much of anything, so they leave. That night, at the town bonfire party, they pick up a couple of friends and decide to go back to the haunted house – a double date. The boys set up a giant candle ahead of time to light the interior of the house. The four explorers gather inside and look around. But this time, it’s different. Moister. Smellier. And by the light of the giant candle, they see:

  1. The rotting bodies of the state’s missing children of the last year.
  2. A huge human-mushroom hybrid farm in the kitchen, spilling into the dining room.
  3. They have wandered into the cellar, and are face-to-face with “Pumpkinhead,” the town’s Halloween legend.
  4. They are trapped in a huge jack-o-lantern.

The correct answer is four. Sounds kinda nice, actually.

* * * * *

The Three Faces of the Night (1986) by Craig Shaw Gardner. Colin hates his so-called friends. They’re always trying to get him into trouble. And on Halloween night, they plan to snare Colin in a game of trouble and blame. But Creep Crawford, the neighborhood’s grumpy geezer, has taken a liking to Colin. Crawford gives Colin an apple and puts his hand on his shoulder. A chill runs through him. Later that night, Colin goes trick-or-treating as a vampire. Passing Creep Crawford’s house, a hand emerges from the hedge and pulls him through to the other side. It’s one of his faux friends. Then a scream from the house – a trickster accidentally stabbed himself trying to trick Crawford. Colin hears Crawford call his name. So he enters the house and finds Crawford naked in a tub of blood and water. He emerges from the tub and offers his slit, bleeding wrists to Colin. Many Halloweens later, Colin has a new love interest – Priestess Lenore. She seduces him, and he becomes her:

  1. King of the Wood. Colin commands the trees to do his bidding.
  2. Creep Crawford replacement. Lenore has a thing for grumpy geezers.
  3. Blood-letting slave. Priestesses get thirsty too.
  4. House caretaker and hedge-trimmer at Creep Crawford’s old place. And the lineage continues.

The correct answer is one. At least he has better friends now.

Day 26 of BookDayMay

Choose the implausible endings of these short stories:

He’ll Come Knocking at Your Door (1986) by Robert R. McCammon. The cash-poor Burgess family moves to Essex, whereupon their luck changes for the better. On their first Halloween night in Essex, Mr. Burgess is called to a town meeting in the man cave of the town’s real estate agent, Mr. Hathaway. All the menfolk are there, and Hathaway is reading from a list of “objects.” Turns out the list of “objects” is what the Devil wants from the menfolk in exchange for all the good luck they’ve been having. Objects like a kitten, a doll, and the first knuckle of the little finger of Burgess’ kid. Left hand. Burgess freaks out and high-tails it outta there. He tries to pack up the wife and kid and skip town, but his truck won’t start. So they hole up in the house until midnight. Meantime, the Devil swoops up on their house and tries all kinds of rackety devilish ways to get in. After midnight, the racket stops, and Hathaway and company have a good laugh on the front porch. Burgess flings open the door. Turns out Hathaway and company are the Devil. The Burgess clan jumps into the truck, which starts this time, and:

  1. Escape, only to discover the kid’s knuckle is missing when they get to the next town.
  2. Are immediately incinerated in a Hellish fireball.
  3. Escape, running the Devil over, and leaving skid marks on his rented Devil costume.
  4. The truck turns into a monster and eats them.

_____

The correct answer is four. Gives a whole new meaning to the term “monster truck.”

* * * * *

Eyes (1986) by Charles L. Grant. Ron takes Paulie, his cognitively-challenged kid, out on Halloween night for trick-or-treating. A bunch of teen punks make fun of Paulie, and Ron beats on one of them. Paulie admonishes his dad. The next Halloween, Ron carves a jack-o-lantern for Paulie. But Paulie wants to carve too, so he grabs the knife and stabs away at the jack-o-lantern. In the melee, the jack-o-lantern falls and smashes on the floor. Paulie grabs the carved-out eyes, holds them over his own eyes, and starts marching through the house. In an effort to stop his son, Ron accidentally pushes him, and Paulie trips and impales his eye on a table corner. He’s dead. In the subsequent Halloweens the ghost of Paulie haunts Ron by admonishing – and convincing – him to:

  1. Beat up on the neighborhood punks.
  2. Carve jack-o-lanterns, then stab them to pieces like Paulie would.
  3. Make himself trip and slam his eye into the table corner.
  4. Participate in a “punkin’ chunkin’ ” contest.

_____

The correct answer is three. Sharing is caring, and what a special father-son memory to share, eh?

* * * * *

The Nixon Mask (1986) by Whitley Strieber. President Nixon and the First Lady, Pat, host Halloween trick-or-treating for the White House staff kids. Nixon fumbles his sentences and obsesses about the treats – unwrapped Baby Ruths. Pat tries to hold the photo op-in-the-making together by barking orders. She opens the door to reveal the masked kids, who one-by-one recite their lines. Nixon obsesses over the first mask – a Nixon mask. He flubs his lines and asks for the mask. Pat tries to hold the op together by digging her nails into his shoulder. The kid gives him the mask anyway. Nixon continues to flub his lines. One of the kids tells him to put on the mask, and during the course of the night, he does. He becomes his alter ego, and no longer fumbles and flubs. Pat freaks out and:

  1. Rips off her own mask, leaving her face stripped of skin.
  2. The mask painfully fuses to Nixon’s face.
  3. Stabs the mask-giving kid in the face with her nails.
  4. Forces Nixon to “ride her bare-back” on the Presidential bed.

_____

The correct answer is two. So I guess a real mask is better than a fake mask. Or is that vice-versa?

* * * * *

The Samhain Feis (1986) by Peter Tremayne. Katy decides to leave Mario, her philandering husband, and leaves the USA with their kid, Mike. They stay at a remote cottage in Ireland over the Samhain Feis / Halloween holiday. Mike makes an “imaginary friend” named Seán Rua. On Halloween day, Kathy catches a glimpse of this playmate with Mike, and Mike asks if he can play outside with Rua that night. Katy says no. That night, she falls asleep and “dreams” Rua comes to collect Mike while she is paralyzed. The next morning, Mike is found safe in his bed, and they return to the USA. Mario shows up, and:

  1. Mike transforms into Rua, and rips out Mario’s throat with his sharp, pointy teeth.
  2. He confesses he has a son named Seán Rua, and it turns out to be Mike’s “imaginary friend.”
  3. Confesses to following them to Ireland, and staging the imaginary friend out of spite.
  4. Transforms into Rua and shreds Katy and Mike, cartoon Tasmanian Devil-style.

_____

The correct answer is one. At least the kid didn’t turn out like his father.

* * * * *

Trickster (1986) by Steve Rasnic Tem. Alex’s brother Greg is a practical joker. Ever since childhood, his jokes have been getting more gruesome and more violent. Finally, Greg pranks the wrong people, and is beaten to death. Or maybe this is just another one of Greg’s psychopathic pranks. Years after the alleged death, Alex sees Greg at the city’s outdoor Halloween costume party. Or does he? The chase begins. Alex pursues Greg, then Greg pursues Alex, back and forth until they meet in an abandoned room off a dark alley. Greg sits on the bed, and:

  1. Suddenly Alex finds himself on the bed, having traded bodies with Greg.
  2. Apologizes to Alex before committing suicide.
  3. Turns into a snake and slithers away.
  4. Alex attacks and kills him in a fit of rage.

_____

The correct answer is one. Don’t ever underestimate a psychopath.

Day 22 of BookDayMay

Medusa’s Ankles (1993) by A.S. Byatt. A salon patron has a violent breakdown at a salon. Susannah is unable to cope with the combination of her mature appearance and a salon’s youth-oriented décor. The reaction to her tantrum at the salon is unexpected. (But now that I’ve told you that, you might just as well expect it.) Susannah’s tantrum seems overdone, but it was an enjoyable read, nonetheless. The conclusion was particularly good.

___

Excerpt:

He worked above her head. He lifted her wet hair with his fingers and let the air run through it, as though there was twice as much as there was. He pulled a twist this way, and put his head on one side and another, contemplating her uninspiring bust. When her head involuntarily followed his he said quite nastily, ‘Keep still, can you, I can’t work if you keep bending from side to side like a swan.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘No harm done, just keep still.’

She kept still as a mouse, her head bowed under his repressing palm. She turned up her eyes and saw him look at his watch, then, with a kind of balletic movement of wrists, scissors and finger-points above her brow, drive the sharp steel into the ball of his thumb, so that blood spurted, so that some of the blood even fell on to her scalp.

‘Oh dear. Will you excuse me? I’ve cut myself. Look.’

He waved the bloody member before her nose.

‘I saw.’ She said. ‘I saw you cut yourself.’

He smiled at her in the mirror, a glittery smile, not meeting her eyes.

‘It’s a little trick we hairdressers have. When we’ve been driving ourselves and haven’t had time for a bite or a breather, we get cut, and off we go, to the toilet, to take a bite of Mars Bar or a cheese roll if the receptionist’s been considerate. Will you excuse me? I am faint for lack of food.’

___

Byatt quote: “People who write books are destroyers.”

MA is in a collection called “The Matisse Stories.”

. . . . .

Art Work (1993) by A.S. Byatt. A married couple, obsessed with colors, clash over their domestic servant, who is also obsessed with colors. Debbie, an art magazine mamager, and Robin, a painter, employ Ms. Brown as a housekeeper. Debbie relies heavily on Brown, while Robin is enraged by her presence. *SPOILER* Brown learns – or steals – enough art notions to become a greater success than both Debbie and Robin. *END SPOILER* I did not enjoy this color-soaked story. I found it pretentious and exhaustive with color descriptions. Byatt tried too hard to write a color theme, in my opinion.

___

Excerpt:

In the front room, chanting to itself, for no one is watching it, the television is full on in mid-morning. Not loudly, there are rules about noise. The noise it is making is the willfully upbeat cheery squitter of female presenters of children’s TV, accented with regular, repetitive amazement, mixed in with the grunts and cackles and high-pitched squeaks of a flock of furry puppets, a cross-eyed magenta haystack with a snout, a kingfisher blue gerbil with a whirling tail, a torpid emerald green coiled serpent, with a pillar-box red dangling tongue and movable fringed eyelids. At regular intervals, between the bouts of presenter-squitter and puppet snorts and squawks, comes, analogous to the spin-cycle, the musical outbursts, a drumroll, a squeal on a woodwind, a percussion battery, a ta-ta ta TA, for punctuation, for a roseate full-frame with a line-coloured logo T-NE-TV.

___

Byatt quote: “I don’t believe that human beings are basically good, so I think all utopian movements are doomed to fail, but I am interested in them.”

AW is in a collection called “The Matisse Stories.”

 . . . . .

The Chinese Lobster (1993) by A.S. Byatt. A student accuses a professor of sexual assault. Peggi Nollett, a student painter, accuses Perry Diss, an art professor, of sexually assaulting her in a formal complaint to Dr, Himmelbleau, the Dean of Women Students. Diss and Himmelbleau meet for lunch and discuss the charge. The story is framed with descriptions of captive, dying crustaceans. The symbolism escaped me; otherwise, an amusing read.

___

Excerpt:

‘I am very anxious to know what you have to say in answer to her specific charge. And yes, I have seen Peggi Nollett. Frequently. And her work, on one occasion.’

‘Well then. If you have seen her you will know that I can have made no such – no such advances as she describes. Her skin is like a potato and her body is like a decaying potato, in all that great bundle of smocks and vests and knitwear and penitential hangings. Have you seen her legs and arms, Dr Himmelblau? They are bandages like mummies, they are all swollen with strappings and strings and then they are contained in nasty black greaves and gauntlets of plastic with buckles. You expect some awful yellow ooze to seep out between the layers, ready to be smeared on La Joie de vivre. And her hair, I do not think her hair can have been washed for some years. It is like a carefully preserved old frying pan, grease undisturbed by water. You cannot believe I could have brought myself to touch her, Dr Himmelblau?’

‘It is difficult, certainly.’

___

Byatt quote: “I think of writing simply in terms of pleasure. It’s the most important thing in my life, making things. Much as I love my husband and my children, I love them only because I am the person who makes these things. I, who I am, is the person that has the project of making a thing. Well, that’s putting it pompously – but constructing. I do see it in sort of three-dimensional structures. And because that person does that all the time, that person is able to love all these people.”

CL is in a collection called “The Matisse Stories.”

Day 19 of BookDayMay

The Bookshop (1978) by Penelope Fitzgerald. A soft-spoken entrepreneur opens a bookshop in a small, busy-body town. Florence decides to open a bookshop to enrich her hometown and her own life. At first a success, Florence eventually draws the wrath of the townsfolk, including the influential and well-connected Mrs. Gamart. Green asserts herself and her business, and petty but profound vindictiveness follows. I was a bit puzzled by the wrath of the townsfolk, but I did find this book to be enjoyable.

___

Excerpt:

The desire to exhibit somewhere more ambitious than the parish hall accompanied this crisis, and Florence related it to the letters which she also received from ‘local authors.’ The paintings were called ‘Sunset Across the Laze,’ the books were called ‘On Foot Across the Marches’ or ‘Awheel Across East Anglia,’ for what else can be done with flatlands than to cross them? She had no idea, none at all, where she would put the local authors if they came, as they suggested, to sign copies of their books for eager purchasers. Perhaps a table underneath the staircase, if some of the stock could be moved. She vividly imagined their disillusionment, wedged behind the table with books and a pen in front of them, while the hours emptied away and no one came.

___

Vulgar language. Fitzgerald started her literary career at age fifty-eight. She has experience working in a bookshop.

. . . . .

Blockade Billy (2010) by Stephen King. An “out-of-nowhere” baseball player displays phenomenal skill and luck. “Blockade Billy,” an emergency last-minute baseball player substitution plucked from Americana, briefly plays with the New Jersey Titans. But “Blockade Billy” isn’t what he seems… The story is framed as the recollections of a retired NJT player as told to King. The story reads very much like a baseball game announcer transcript.

___

Excerpt:

But when he looked at me, there was no panic in his eyes. No Fear. Not even nervousness, which I would have said every player feels on Opening Day. No, he looked perfectly cool standing there behind the plate in his Levi’s and light poplin jacket.

“Yuh,” he says, like a man confirming something he was pretty sure of in the first place. “Billy can hit here.’

“Good for him,” I tells him. It’s all I can think of to say.

“Good,” he says back. Then—I swear—he says, “Do you think those guys need help with them hoses?”

___

Vulgar language. King wrote of BB: “I love old-school baseball, and I also love the way people who’ve spent a lifetime in the game talk about the game. I tried to combine those things in a story of suspense. People have asked me for years when I was going to write a baseball story. Ask no more; this is it.”

. . . . .

Morality (2009) magazine, and (2010) book by Stephen King. A poor, married couple commit a heinous – yet seemingly surmountable – crime for money. Chad, a struggling writer, and Nora, a frustrated nurse, agree to Rev. George Winston’s offer to commit and videotape a sin in a park for $200,000. The consequences of sin follow. This story was riveting. What on Earth was the $200,000 sin? Read to find out!

___

Excerpt:

Nora was sitting on a park bench. When she saw him, she brushed her hair back from the left side of her face. That was the signal: It was on.

Behind her was a playground—swings, a push merry-go-round, teeter-totters, bouncy horses on springs, that sort of thing. At this hour, there were only a few kids playing. The moms were in a group on the far side, talking and laughing, not really paying much attention to the kids.

Nora got up from the bench.

Two hundred thousand dollars, he thought, and raised the camera to his eye.

___

Vulgar language. King is a democratic political activist.

. . . . .

Glaciers (2012) by Alexis M. Smith. An unobtrusive library employee recollects her childhood highlights and relates it to her present day-to-day life. Isabel, a book restorer, reminisces about the trials of her childhood. Through tangible symbols rescued from the past, she constructs a sense of meaning in her disjointed adult life. Glaciers is a symbolic story with a dream-like quality. I usually don’t care for those types of books, but this one drew me in. I felt like I knew Isabel, and recognized some of her own life experiences as my own. I read this book during two of the most emotionally wrenching days of my life, and was still transfixed by the story. I attribute this to the skill of the author. Highly recommended!

___

Excerpt:

Michael appears. He holds out his hand.

Oh no, she says. My feet are a little sore. Actually, they’re wreaked. I’ve walked the city and back today.

Isabel, it would be a disgrace to that dress, he says, grabbing her hand.

The music is loud and percussion-heavy. She cannot demur. She lets tall Michael lead her around the room, practically carrying her, lifting her off her feet in an improvised waltz. She loses a shoe. Faces turn toward them as Michael ferries her through conversations, interrupts drunken courting. They are sanguine, dreamy, cocktail-soaked faces. More dancers join, anachronistic dance moves erupt. She loses her other shoe. She laughs until her eyes are wet and Michael releases her to the wood planks, barefoot, telling her to watch for splinters, and then turns to a startled young man in a baby blue button-down shirt and sweeps him off his feet. He has dropped Isabel at the green velvet sofa where Leo has settled with a red-headed young man. His red-headed young man, she thinks. She runs her hands along her dress and falls next to Leo with a poof of her skirt.

Catch your breath, he says.

___

Vulgar language.

Day 15 of BookDayMay

This post contains blasphemy and vulgar language.

. . . . .

The Actual (1997) by Saul Bellow. Interconnected Chicagoans interconnect. Harry, an emotionally challenged would-be lover of long-time friend Amy, has a meeting with billionaire Sigmund. Long, drawn-out rendezvouses, recollections and ruminations precede and follow. Like a Woody Allen movie, except in Chicago, and minus (most of) the fun and action.

___

Excerpt:

Beside the bath was a toilet with a cushioned cover on the lid, and Amy pulled down her underclothes and had seated herself, when Madge came in. She entered from the master bedroom. The toilet was in a recess between the whirlpool bath and a shower stall. Amy had failed to notice how long the tiled room actually was. Beyond, there were washbasins and mirror walls, and there was a dressing room as well.

“I don’t think I was especially well brought up,” said Amy, “but I was taught that this is one place where privacy is respected.”

“Well, I gave you time enough to examine the burned spot. The tea was lukewarm, not boiling. The Mexicans do good coffee, but they don’t understand how to brew tea. I realized when I poured the old lady her cup that it was tepid. I wanted a private talk, to have you to myself for awhile. That was the whole idea. Wasn’t it sweet of Bodo to bring the aloe vera? It’s one of his special remedies. But I can see for myself that the red scald isn’t too bad. You got wet, I’m sorry to say, and I’ll pay the cleaner’s bill too, but tea won’t stain—we used to rub spots out with tea when I was young.”

“Well, let me pull my clothes into place.”

“Yes, adjust a little, honey, and don’t mind me.”

“You did behave like a wild bitch,” said Amy. “Do you always do every goddamn thing that rushes into your head?”

“Well, at least I didn’t set you up for a hit.”

___

Vulgar language.

. . . . .

Dangling Man (1944) by Saul Bellow. The diary of Joseph, an unemployed Chicagoan with violent tendencies waiting for his draft papers to be authorized. His aimlessness and dissatisfaction in life is caused by the red-tape delay of his absorption into the army. Pro-military.

___

Excerpt:

“You’re crazy, Uncle,” she said.

“All right, that’s said and over, there won’t be any more of it,” I said, and I believed that I was succeeding in checking myself. “You can listen to the conga, or whatever it is, when I leave. Now, will you go or sit down and let me play this to the end?”

“Why should I? You can listen to this. Beggars can’t be choosers!” She uttered this with such triumph that I could see she had prepared it long in advance.

“You’re a little animal,” I said. “As rotten and spoiled as they come. What you need is a whipping.”

“Oh!” she gasped. “You dirty . . . dirty no-account. You crook!” I caught her wrist and wrenched her toward me.

“Damn you, Joseph, let go! Let me go!” The album went crashing. With the fingers of her free hand she tried to reach my face. Seizing her by the hair fiercely, I snapped her head back; her outcry never left her throat; her nails missed me narrowly. Her eyes shut tightly, in horror.

“Here’s something from a beggar you won’t forget in a hurry,” I muttered. I dragged her to the piano bench, still gripping her hair.

“Don’t!” she screamed, recovering her voice. “Joseph! You bastard!”

I pulled her over my knee, trapping both her legs in mine. I could hear the others running upstairs as the first blows descended and I hurried my task, determined that she should be punished in spite of everything, in spite of the consequences; no, more severely because of the consequences. “Don’t you struggle,” I cried, pressing down her neck. “Or curse me. It won’t help you.”

Amos pounded up the last flight of stairs and burst in. Behind, breathless, came Dolly and Iva.

“Joseph,” Amos panted, “let her go. Let the girl go!”

I did not release her at once. She no longer fought against me but, with her long hair reaching nearly to the floor and her round, nubile thighs bare, lay in my lap.

___

Bellow joined the United States Merchant Marine during WWII.

. . . . .

Seize the Day (1956) by Saul Bellow. New Yorker Wilhelm is a failed actor, unemployed, poor, and estranged from his wife, children, and father. During the course of a single day, a series of unfortunate events leads to a psychological crisis. *SPOILER* He gives his last $700 dollars to a con man, and in an effort to chase him down, gets swept into a funeral, where he has a dramatic public breakdown. *END SPOILER* This story had a satisfying finish, in my opinion. Well-crafted.

___

Excerpt:

“You have some purpose of your own,” said the doctor, “in acting so unreasonable. What do you want from me? What do you expect?”

“What do I expect?” said Wilhelm. He felt as though he were unable to recover something. Like a ball in the surf, washed beyond reach, his self-control was going out. “I expect help!” The words escaped him in a loud, wild, frantic cry and startled the old man, and two or three breakfasters within hearing glanced their way. Wilhelm’s hair, the color of whitened honey, rose dense and tall with the expansion of his face, and he said, “When I suffer—you aren’t even sorry. That’s because you have no affection for me, and you don’t want any part of me.”

“Why must I like the way you behave? No, I don’t like it,” said Dr. Adler.

“All right. You want me to change myself. But suppose I could do it—what would I become? What could I? Let’s suppose that all my life I have had the wrong ideas about myself and wasn’t what I thought I was. And wasn’t even careful to take a few precautions, as most people do—like a woodchuck has a few extra exits in his tunnel. But what shall I do now? More than half my life is over. More than half. And now you tell me I’m not even normal.”

The old man had lost his calm. “You cry about being helped,” he said. “When you thought you had to go into the service I sent a check to Margaret every month. As a family man you could have had an exemption. But no! The war couldn’t be fought without you and you had to get yourself drafted and be an office-boy in the Pacific theater. Any clerk could have done what you did. You could find nothing better than to become a GI.”

Wilhelm was going to reply, and half raised his bearish figure from the chair, his fingers spread and whitened by their grip on the table, but the old man would not let him begin. He said, “I see other elderly people here with children who aren’t much good, and they keep backing them and holding them up at a great sacrifice. But I’m not going to make that mistake. It doesn’t enter your mind that when I die—a year, two years from now—you’ll still be here. I do think of it.”

___

“Bellow lived in New York City for a number of years, but he returned to Chicago in 1962 as a professor at the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago… There were also other reasons for Bellow’s return to Chicago… Bellow found Chicago to be vulgar but vital, and more representative of America than New York. He was able to stay in contact with old high school friends and a broad cross-section of society. In a 1982 profile, Bellow’s neighborhood was described as a high-crime area in the city’s center, and Bellow maintained he had to live in such a place as a writer and ‘stick to his guns.’ ” -Wiki