I Can Give You Anything But Love

indiana-garyGary Indiana had an unusual career, as a writer, filmmaker, visual artist, actor and playwright. He briefly studied at UC Berkeley but dropped out to help a friend make pornographic films. After soaking up the sunshine noir and punk scene of 1970s Los Angeles, he moved to New York City and settled into a cheap East Village apartment — the same one he lives in today. Since 1987, Indiana has published novels, nonfiction, plays, short stories — all with an unmistakable, sardonic voice embedded in the text, and all experimenting with the traditions of form.

The title of his latest memoir, I Can Give You Anything but Love is “really about disconnection between sexual desire and love, in my life,” Indiana says. A graphic and funny memoir, it finds the author reinventing yet another genre — this time using his own personal narrative. He becomes the connective tissue that binds together a diaspora of subcultures: the beatnik-era experimental writing and happenings of downtown New York, the 1960s co-opted counterculture gone awry, the punk movement that followed, and the art and intellectual circles of the Reagan ’80s, when the AIDs crisis was wiping out a generation of young gay men like him.

(revised from the introduction to an interview with Indiana by J.C. Gabel in the L. A. Times.)

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Sunset Park

Sunset Park

This novel, Sunset Park by Paul Auster, has it all: Cuban immigrants in Florida, Broadway actresses in Manhattan, students struggling to write their graduate theses, guilt over a brother’s death, a lonely female artist who exchanges oral favors to get men to pose naked for her, a hint of homosexuality, squatters living in an abandoned house, movies, plays, typewriter repair, “Lolita” love, and a less than idyllic neighborhood known as Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Although not as complex as an Irving Wallace novel, Auster does do a credible job of developing his themes and characters, tosses in enough background knowledge to cause literary wonks a tingle or two, and generally provides a realistic narrative without too much sordidness or unnecessary cuteness. However, the novel only provides a low-intensity assault on the reader’s comfort level and would probably scores fairly low on the Kafka scale.

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Is This the End of Gutenberg?

DublinesqueIn the vernacular of the age, Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas is a bit of a hot-mess. At times it is great and at times it flounders. I suppose one might take the analogy of a day meandering around Dublin to excuse some of the meandering in Dublinesque, but I think the author could have tightened things up a bit.

Dublinesque revolves around the changeover from the “Gutenberg Galaxy” to the digital age in publishing and uses James Joyce’s Ulysses as the last truly great novel of the ink and paper variety and symbolically focuses on the celebration of Bloomsday in Dublin for its “center.” The plot follows the downward spiral of a literary publisher, whose battles with alcohol and hikikomori glued to his computer screen experiencing life filtered through Google. The destruction of this publisher is, if you will, the objective correlative of the passing of the age of Gutenberg.

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Call It Sleep

Call It Sleep by Henry Roth is a big book but fairly easy reading. It is about an immigrant family in New York around the turn of the last century. It focuses on the young son but the mother, father, and extended family are also important in reflecting the period and the Jewish heritage. I enjoyed reading Call It Sleep so much I searched around the State Library System and found a copy of Roth’s much later work, Mercy of a Rude Stream.

My pleasant experience reading this novel was strange for two reasons:  first, the dialogue was just what you’d expect from immigrant persons with little education tossed into the strange melting pot of America, and New York in particular, and second, this was a direct narrative without many of the rudimentary nuances of modernism. My usual fare is more involved with multi-layered narratives, time-skipping, bodily fluids, lack of punctuation, and willing dispensation of belief … but Roth made the traditional novel work for me. (There were small elements of stream-of-consciousness and similar narrative techniques but I saw them as inherent in the narrative and not chosen for their literariness).

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