fiction


818 Book reviewing

(More observations on Lord of a Visible World)

Just a quick note on some of the comments editors made when they passed on H.P. Lovecraft’s manuscripts. On page 330, he lists some of these responses in a 1934 letter: “Verbose—long-winded—slow—nothing happens—novelette length for short story idea—etc. etc. etc.”

I’ve heard them all levelled at my own works of fiction, and more. I’m still too gunshy to try to have my work published, but I know I have to take the plunge one of these days. At least I’m writing more than I used to. And I’m trying not to care what my critics might say. I try to remember, Led Zeppelin got their share of bad reviews, some of which they deserved, but it didn’t slow them down.

We saw Doubt tonight. As she exited the theater, one woman who had just seen it gave it a big thumbs down, but I thought there wasn’t a false note in it. It was so good it made me wish I had written it. Criticism really doesn’t seem to mean anything. It seems to depend completely upon the expectations of the reader, viewer or listener.

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Well, I finally finished Lord of a Visible World. The last couple of letters he wrote sound positively elegiac. He’s walking through woods he’s never seen before, even though he’s lived in Providence all his life. Somewhere on his journey, he meets two kittens who seem to act as spirit guides, helping ease his journey to the other side (of the road, in this case). He turns around, and they’re gone. He comes back to look for them the next day, but they’re nowhere to be found. Sounds like something straight out of Arthur Machen. Very moving. The whole book has been, despite, or maybe because of, Lovecraft’s many flaws. Joshi’s done a fantastic job.

I’m glad I rescued this book from oblivion; it was due to be removed from the stacks at the Maynard Public Library. If I hadn’t volunteered when I did, it would have ended up in the dumpster, while all those damn romance and mystery novels would have crowded up the shelves. I’ll say one thing for the MPL, though. It does have a good ratio of quality, high-brow literature for stuck-up folks like me to stuff like Marley and Me and The DaVinci Code.

(no code today; I mean, come on)

H.P.’s still in Providence, where I think he’ll stay put (I’ve almost finished the book). And he’s talking about what a bad writer he is.

I’m starting to feel some sympathy for him. Basically, he seems scared of everybody, so that might explain his earlier rants about the great unwashed. He says he’s a bad writer because he’s never done or seen anything interesting.

I don’t want to beat him up any more than he’s already done himself, but I think it’s kind of a tragedy that he didn’t recognize the lousy things that happened to him and his ex-wife in New York — all the dishonest employers who used them very, very badly. The equally tragic writers that he knew well, like Hart Crane.

He wrote all these self-flagellatory letters at a time when he was getting a lot of rejection letters. I guess what attracts me to Lovecraft’s story, which I think S.T. Joshi has crated quite well in epistolary form, is that he suffers a lot of setbacks, but he doesn’t bounce back right away like they do in bad books and movies. He agonizes, he lacerates himself, and then, like Samuel Beckett, he says, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

American fiction 1900-1945

So I started reading Lord of a Visible World again this week, and I have to say the old buzzard is really making me sick. He’s still at the point where everything is going wrong in NYC for him and wife Sonia. So he’s taking it out on immigrants and people of color. He’s laying the n-word on pretty thick. He also can’t stand Jews, Italians, Poles or Portuguese. If he had ever met any Inuit he probably wouldn’t like them either. So, to vent his misanthropy, he wrote a couple short stories reflecting his revulsion at these folks, “The Horror at Red Hook” and “He.” I haven’t read them, so I can’t say whether they’re any good or not. I can say that I wouldn’t enjoy them either way, as they’re reflections of his seemingly unlimited bigotry. On the other hand, Sinatra had a nasty temper, but I still like his music.

813.6 American fiction since 2000

The Associated Press reported today that novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace apparently hanged himself this past Friday. I had stupidly ignored him because I had an image of him as a hipsterish, archly clever and trendy young artist, the kind for whom good fortune seems to drop out of the sky. I say stupidly because I too easily bought into the image that reviewers had built up of a postmodern, ironic and inscrutable author whose ideas I could never hope to comprehend.

I heard an excerpt of an old interview with him today on NPR where he lamented that all these glowing reviews failed to mention the seriousness, the passion and the sadness that fueled his work. As I come to more fully understand the reasons people write, and the reasons I write, I see that no legitimate writer, or musician, or painter, etc., can really do much of anything worthwhile without such basic elements as truth and lies, love and hate, hope and despair, life and death and success and failure. I see now David Foster Wallace clearly had all these feelings, qualities and experiences in spades.

Lots of good news items yesterday:

Internet Archive wins Patriot Act law suit

Inside the Library of Congress

Despite proven return on investment, libraries still face budget cuts

Ban ‘Second Life,’ Congressman says

Same-sex penguin story leads ‘challenged’ book list

Clintons hold up release of more documents

Another book of crazy library stories

American fiction 1900-1945

Career woes continue to plague “weird fiction” author H.P. Lovecraft, in this latest installment of the notes for the screenplay that will, at some future date, lead to a motion picture, tentatively titled The Providence Detective Agency.

Lovecraft and his new bride, Sonia, continue to have professional and financial setbacks. In 1924, she leaves to look for work in the Midwest, and he pursues the life of a bachelor. At first, Lovecraft enjoys his new found freedom. One night, he stays up until dawn on an impromptu architectural tour of Manhattan with his literary buddies, the Kalem Club, so named because all its members’ last names begin with the letters K, L or M. But penury wears Lovecraft down, so much so that he loses weight, and the novelty of his all-nighters wears off as he finds it hard to maintain a stable creative output.

The following comments are based on notes I am taking as I read Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters, edited by S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz.

Page 138 — Sonia closes her hat shop. She goes to work at another millinery. Her new employer, the Bruck-Weiss Millinery, asks her to prepare a letter that will go out to all of her clients, letting them know that she has taken a position with another establishment. Next, she gets two weeks off. This makes Sonia think her boss is going to sack her, but not before this “woman with more ability than conscientiousness” tricks Sonia into giving Bruck-Weiss her client list. “Such is modern business, as practiced by the rising and exotic commercial oligarchy of bad manners and vacant background” that has taken over the rag trade, Lovecraft writes.

Pages 139-140 — HPL tries writing ad copy for new companies, though the companies haven’t asked for these ads and apparently don’t even know they’re being written. Salesmen will then take the brief pieces he writes and try to sell them to the companies in question. Lovecraft doesn’t express much enthusiasm for the venture: “Rapid hack work is demanded…. These business vistas turn swiftly to mirages….” He hasn’t given up hope, though that hope sounds vague and tenuous: “I can see myself…with an actual income and possible future….”

Page 141 — HPL gets a temporary job addressing envelopes in Samuel Loveman’s bookshop, March 1926.

Page 143 — Poverty forces HPL to go on an austere diet of bread, beans and cheese. Three days’ worth costs 30 cents. He drops nearly 50 pounds, going from a robust 193 pounds to a bony 146 pounds. He tries to make it sound like he’s doing it for his health. “[M]any vigorous Chinamen live on vastly less,” Lovecraft says.

Page 144 — In the evening of August 21 and the morning of August 22, 1924, Lovecraft goes on his predawn architectural tour of Manhattan. He notes the differences between lower Manhattan and the rest of the island: below 14th Street, remnants of its colonial past survive, and a few farmhouses remained on Mott and Mulberry Streets at the time Lovecraft wrote this letter to his aunt, in September 1924. He and his friends visit the Planters’ Hotel, the home of Edgar Allan Poe “in seedy old age,” and Tom’s Chop House, “which has been open continuously since 1797.” Lovecraft finally heads home at around 8 a.m.

Page 147-148 — Lovecraft visits Samuel Loveman’s apartment, where he meets Hart Crane, who lives in the same building. In the same September 1924 letter, Lovecraft describes looking out at the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. He remarks on the weird lights and sounds of the port: “Fog horns, ships’ bells, the creaking of windlasses….” It turns out Crane is working on a poem about the Brooklyn Bridge.

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