Sunday, February 26, 2006


Mercury and Minotaur

This weekend I managed to finish Brad Watson's Heaven of Mercury. Brad's a great writer, and has been swell to work with in workshop. His novel I liked very much, and comes alive when Parnell comes on the scene--there's a few sections about necrophilia that are amazing, complex, and yeah, endearing.

I also read Benjamin Tammuz's Minotaur, by the suggestion of Brad. A great book. Told in four sections, mixing letters and narration, the lives intersect and twine through the main narrative of Alexander, the secret agent. There's some unbelievable stuff packed in about Palestine and Israel, love, murder. His writing style is wonderful, composed and reserved and explodes on the pages at the important moments. I've copied a few of my favorite passages. . .

The first is a scene where the farmer's wife comes into Alexander's room. He is fourteen, and a virgin:

Alexander knew at that moment that he was betraying almost all the values that he had decided must guide him though life. Her face was not beautiful, her hair was not clean, bristles of black hair covered an alarmingly large area, five times what seemed fit to him; every one of her shameful movements made a lump of fat quiver on her enormous thighs, and her body exuded the smell of sweat at the end of a days work on the farm, the smell of a body long unwashed. Nevertheless he was drawn toward her as a sheaf of corn is borne in a tremendous storm, and as he penetrated her, he struck her flesh and bit the damp, greasy, slippery skin.

And then, only a few pages later, after his first sex, he has his first murder, where he avenges his childhood loves' father's death by a Palestine by killing another Palestine adolescent.

Alexander bent over the Bedouins face in order to increase the pressure of his hands, and he felt how his fingers and nails were stuck between the neck muscles, touching the artery and tearing the skin. His hands continued to press down, and he heard a faint choking sound and suddenly noticed a smell that he had not noticed all that time.
It was a smell from the mans clothes, his body and hair. The smell of the smoke of an Arab stove that burned dung, the smell that used to fill the courtyard of their house at sunset in the days of his childhood, when the Arab workers left their work to go and bake bread and sit down to their meal. Unbeknown to his mother, he would be given pieces of warm pita by the workers, and as he ate it hungrily, he felt grains of sand being ground between his teeth.
Alexander saw before him bulging eyes, a swarthy face, and a final redness draining away from beneath the graying skin. Now the body twitched under him, as if wanting to be embraced and surrender. Between his knees the Bedouins ribs sank to the earth and Alexander knew that what had been done could not be undone. Now only the smell remained, and all around there was a sudden stillness; and out of the stillness, from far off, there came the sound of dogs barking and some indistinct bleating, or perhaps the sound of a bird. Alexander let go of the mans neck. His fingers were seized by spasms and he shook them, straightening and bending them until they became flexible again. He was still sitting on the dead mans chest and he brushed the sand off his victims dace, closed his eyes, and considered the face, both strange and familiar at the same time, and got to his feet. Stumbling, almost crawling on all fours, he make his way to the tool shed of the plantation and came back with a shovel in his hands. He dragged the body between the trees, dug a pit, and buried the dead man in it, taking care to spread dry earth over the grave. In order to blur tracks Alexander waded a few hundred meters along an irrigation ditch full of water, got out onto the road, and from there he went back to the farmyard.

In the middle of that scene, Alexander thinks back to his childhood, as he was raised in Palestine, and how the love in his heart is for the Arabic people. That grain of sand in the pita! Yet he grows to be a secret agent working for Israel and British and kills Palestinians. The division of Alexander’s two sides echoes the division in Israel and it's astounding how Tammuz pulls this off in the book, and here in this scene.

Meanwhile, I went to see Match Point last night. It was good, not what I was expecting. The acting was mediocre but the story and camera work was great. It sparked a lot of thought in me about killing—and as soon as I got home I started a new story, which is based on my trips upstate to a friend of mine’s house on Lake Champlain. Someone, I think, will die—but I don’t know who. I’ve been working on it today too, and it may be my first submission for workshop next quarter, the first time I’ve departed from the novel I’ve been working on.

Friday, February 24, 2006


Book List

So I've been keeping a list of the books I've read recently, here goes:

Feb 2006:

The Whale Rider, Witi Ihimaera

so so. Short, quick prose style, but a little disney-esque. I can't say all that much about it, really.

Baby No-Eyes, Patricia Grace

Another Maori island narrative. Biotheft and ghosts and replacement children running themes, the prose style at first seems very intriguing and engaging, but ultimately seems affected and over-stylized. Also, when the political drama takes over, the novel loses its character and drags. Second rate Leslie Marmon Silko.

The Master Butcher’s Singing Club, Louise Erdich

Another entry from my "Transgenrational Trauma" seminar, which as a course, started so promising but has flattened out pretty badly. This book though, is beautiful. It's subtle and delicate, and works on you, as one of my classmates said, like a repressed memory. Maybe fifty pages too long? Yeah, but she earns it.

Jan 2006:

Disgrace, Coetzee

Everyone I spoke to about this book raved. I'm not sure why. It seemed over intellectualized and flat. Not much engagement with language. Seems very plotted and planned and all the dog stuff is over-wrought and kinda arch. I wouldn't say it was bad, but not all it's cracked up to be.

Beloved, Toni Morrison

A fucking brilliant book. Intense and constantly pushing the limit of realism, yet never stepping too far over the edge. You'll read a sentence that will blow your mind away, because it deals with some trauma the character has undergone but the reader doesn't know about yet, and that sentence will stick in your head and run around in circles and then fifteen or twenty pages you find out what it means and then it all hits you. Exquisite.

Recent History, Anthony Giardina

Amazing first half. The second half, not so much. The narrator when he's twelve tells about his father leaving his mom for another man, a drunk, no less, and then he has a short affair with a boy friend of his--maybe to draw attention to dad, maybe because he just likes it. The narrator doesn't know. The second half is the narrator older, having marriage problems and so e deals with his homosexuality to make his heterosexuality stronger. Formulaic. But he's a candidate here, and I'm excited anyway, because he's definitely seems to be on the other side of the typical "boy's club" or writers.

Ask the Dust, John Fante

Read this book seven times. No less. John Fante is my new favorite author, I only can't decide which of his two book that I've read- Dust, or Bandini, I like more. Probably Dust. I dare you to read this book and not become obsessed with the hero, Autoro bandini. Bandini!

Dec 2005:
The House by the Medlar Tree, Giovanni Verga
The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
Mysteries of Pittsburg, Michael Chabon
Wait Until Spring, Bandini, John Fante
½ of One Hundred Years of Solitude, Garcia Marquez
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

Sept-Nov 2005:
Even Now, Michelle Latiolais
Goodbye Columbus, Philip Roth

June-July 2005:
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolfe
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
Sabbath’s Theater, Phillip Roth
High Fidelity, Nick Hornby

Tuesday, February 21, 2006



Once again, it's been too long since I've written.

So the winter quarter has seen a lot of action out here. Our visiting writer for the quarter is Brad Watson. He's from Mississippi, and I've been reading his book, The Heaven of Mercury, and it's really good. Some great necrophilia in there. Brad's kind of a good ol' southern boy, real laid back. He lifts the gag rule during workshop, which is interesting--the writer gets to chip in at moments and he'll ask us to participate in the discussion from time to time, if we like. At this level, it doesn't hurt, because no one is up there defending their work, so it's fine.

Since Geoffrey Wolff is retiring, there's a serious job search going down out here. So there's been candidate writers. First was Jim Shepard. Shepard was really engaging and witty--charming. He read a story that will be in the fiction issue of the Atlantic this year, a great story about Chernobyl.

Ben Marcus, Stuart Dybek, and Charles Baxter where are on the periphery for a while, but they are all officially no longer available.

The next day we had Ron Carlson, from ASU. I had lunch with Latiolias and Carlson. It was nice of Michelle to invite me. With both writers all the MFAs got a two hour session to talk with the writers and ask them questions. Again, Shepard was funny, and had everyone laughing for two hours, while Ron was such a presence--like a fiction mountain. He really impressed me--he could rattle off scenarios and scenes and characters to give examples of stuff and I really felt like here was someone who could flat out teach.

There was a poetry reading tonight. Tomorrow after workshop, Geoffrey Wolff is reading, then next week Anthony Giardina will be here reading and doing the talk--he's a candidate as well. I read one of his books, Recent History the first half of which I adored.

All that! I'm interviewing Brad for Faultline, the lit journal based out of UCI. Plus I'm preparing for a composition conference in Chicago- CCCC- I don't know why I agreed to that. I was told it would look good on a CV, which I hate to say it, would be important being that most MFAs aren't worth a whole lot more than the ink on 'em. Good thing is I'm all done with workshop for the quarter--I submitted week one and week five. So I'm done for now.

And I'm having surgery on spring break, right after I get back from Chicago. And by the time I heal, the spring will begin. Geoffrey's last quarter.

So there!