In the Dutch writer Herman Koch's latest novel in translation, Dear Mr. M, there is a character named Herman; a charismatic but troubled youth, budding filmmaker, Svengali. Is he meant to represent the author himself? Maybe we'll never know, perhaps it's not even relevant, but it adds another layer of mystery to the reader's understanding of Koch's story. Mr M of the title is an aging novelist who, we learn, has a few secrets. He was the highly regarded author of the major best-seller, Payback, but that was forty years ago. Now he's got a new book out and a new fan as well.
Koch stratifies his tale in time and point of view. The young Herman chronicles his schooldays as an influential, almost cult-like figure. revealing an obsession with his alluring classmate, Laura. Their young and fatally hip teacher, Jan Landzaat plots his own destiny among the teenagers, a famous destiny that the budding writer M exploits in his true crime best-seller. And forty years later we hear from the elderly author as well as from his unnamed new-found stalker. But let's not forget there is also the author, K, who necessarily lurks somewhere outside the dimensions of this novel; whose weight imprints the work.
By presenting his subject matter this way, Herman Koch seems to be saying more about the craft of storytelling; the manipulation of plot and character, style and language. Is it what we say or what we do not say in the writing process which is more revealing to the reader? What's real? What's true? And are they the same?, Mr K seems to ask. Is perception our only reality?, asks Mr. M. Truth may never be enough to to tell a good story or to sell books. So to be successful one must embellish, change a detail here and there, explore an alternative point of view, what does it matter so long as it is an entertaining tale.
Billionaire Trump pointing to his most volatile asset
Anyone else get the feeling that Donald Trump subconsciously does not really want to be POTUS? He will avow that he is the best choice (at anything; he's the king of superlatives. He is the best, the biggest, he is a winner and everyone who disagrees with him is a loser, the worst, a complete disaster) but deep deep down, I don't think he really wants the job. This is "Bad" as Trump would say. Bad for Trump, bad for Republicans, bad for America and Americans.
If elected, would he abdicate his executive power, delegate to unsavory actors; or maybe he would strive to screw up so badly the congress would have no choice but to impeach him? At the very least he will likely incite a 'constitutional crisis', a phrase I've heard bandied about recently by varied pundits, because he will either ignore the Articles of the Constitution or simply interpret them to his benefit. And speaking of his benefit, what's to stop him from brokering deals in office which would advance his own business interests? This is my greatest fear.
I submit he is extremely dangerous for this very reason: self sabotage. He entered the race to prove to himself he could do well, but when he found himself on top, with a base of 40% (racists. misogynists, underemployed angry white middle class), the train just would not derail; no matter what he said or did. So he continues to spout outrageous beliefs, lies, insults, taunts, even thinly veiled threats in an unconscious effort to lose (and of course to pander to his base, whom he's terrified he will at some juncture disappoint). The result of Mr. Trump's little experiment may well be the extermination of the Republican party, or the birth of some other political organization consisting of a more moderate conservative establishment.
David Foster Wallace must have been one strange and wonderful cat. I don't know for sure since I did not know him or even follow his career and personal life till only recently, but my impression of him through his writing and interviews tell me I'm right. He was a writer who shared much of his personal life experience in essays yet he was an introvert (or perhaps rather, not an extrovert) at heart, literally sweating at times over how he would come across during speeches and interviews. As a professor of English at a number of colleges, he was a real taskmaster, a grammar/usage Nazi of sorts, a peculiarity perhaps passed on through his mom's genes (Sally Foster Wallace is also a professor of English and has written reference books on usage. His father is a the Professor Emeritus of Moral Philosophy at the University of Illinois. Those are some high quality genes, academically speaking).
Wallace was an admitted Depressive, had been since a young age. His first published piece The Planet Trillaphon As It Stands In Relation to The Bad Thing (Amherst Review, 1984), relates the autobiographical tale of a youth on antidepressants (Tofranil which the narrator fittingly renames Trillaphon because the name sounds more like the sonic vibe it induces) which he likens to living on another planet. Sadly those very antidepressants, their inevitable ineffectiveness after twenty years of use, led to Wallace's demise (suicide by hanging in 2008).
I've been listening to the anthology entitled The David Foster Wallace Reader on my iPod and have been illuminated by his high beam brilliance. I regret to say I've avoided his influence until now, for some reason putting off reading Infinite Jest (his best known fiction work) and as a result just not realizing that there was so much more material to consume. The anthology is not perfect in that it could never be, since devotees of Wallace will always recall an especially favorite essay, chapter, short story, or speech that has not been included in this volume. For interested novices, however, the DFW reader is essential. But, hold on, before you fanatics start heckling this semi-bold statement, consider the fact that one can always re-read, for example, Infinite Jest in its entirety.
I would also posit that the DFW reader exposes the novice to a wide variety of Wallace's material that one might miss otherwise, even if one was aware of most of his major stuff. For instance it includes the author's own teaching materials from various English courses he taught while at, I'm assuming, Pomona College in California. This affords a unique insight into Wallace's philosophy of discipline regarding all types of writing, usage, grammar, etc..., and though to some readers this level of ephemera may seem tedious, I believe it is if not essential, at least edifying if one presumes to really understand this guy.
Wallace is as comfortable writing about how ubiquitous television viewing influences modern fiction as he is espousing the delights of Garner's A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, just as adept at fictionalizing Alec Trebek and the machinations of a Jeopardy grand champion as he is chronicling a week-long Caribbean cruise on a ship he dubs the Nadir. He rallies from an essay diagnosing his own tennis prowess (and loss thereof) as a top-ranked player on the Midwestern junior circuit to the deconstruction of Roger Federer's gracefully 'beautiful' play at Wimbledon. DFW's best work is infused with rampant passion. We learn of his personal doctrine of social discourse, which he argues should come across as more sincere and salutary. Later in his career he eschewed the kind of irony and cynicism which seemed to purvey post millennial fiction.
When I was nine years old, my parents thought it might be fun to treat their boy to the pastoral spectacle that was the Danbury Fair; about an hour away from our New Jersey digs up in Connecticut. I have a vague memory of the Midway and all the rich and sugary food, the midget car races and the some-sort-of-plastic or papier-mâché giant-sized statue of Paul Bunyan and his blue Ox (Babe). What I recall very clearly though, is having what I considered the singular pleasure, and at the same time the ignominy of watching my father drive a caboose harnessed to a large bird in an event known as the Ostrich Races.
In his irascibly funny essay about the Illinois State Fair, Getting Away from Already Pretty Much Being Away from It All, Wallace brings the memories of county fair quirkiness all back home. By featuring his own brand of schismatic Midwesterner-turned-big-city-journalist sensibility, he self deprecates his way through cooking contests, vertiginous carnival rides, all sorts of stabled livestock displays. But Wallace digs much deeper into this annual bucolic splendor, revealing what he believes the underlying purpose for such portly pageantry and garish pomp. It turns out, rural types, isolated as they may be over the course of the year, yearn for that human connection, that fellowship, at least for one week out of fifty-two. By the same token, city dwellers have had their fill of other people invading personal space diurnally, so much so, they tend to get the urge to escape from it all for seven days or so per annum. Having lived in the land of David Foster Wallace for a few weeks, however, I can only hanker to remain there forever.
You don't need to be a sailing enthusiast to enjoy Jim Lynch's latest
novel, though it wouldn't hurt. Before the Wind tells the story of the
Johannssen family from Puget Sound in Washington, a sailing brood, all
three generations. The narrator is Josh, named for Joshua Slocum, the
acclaimed sailor who wrote Sailing Alone Around the World (which he
actually did; the first one to boot), who however turns out to be a
better boat mechanic than sailor.
The truly gifted wave runner is his
sister Ruby, a prodigy whom, by the age of seventeen, was the favorite in
the US Olympic trials. His brother Bernard is kind of a black sheep,
dabbling in the seamier side of boating. His mom is a physicist with an
Einstein complex, who works the wind shear geometry for her crew. And
Grumps is the elder of the clan. He designed the classic brand of
sailing vessel dubbed the Joho. By the opening of the novel the
Johannssens are all ascatter.
Out of the blue, Josh's old man
Bobo jr. shows up at Josh's marina with the plan of reuniting everyone
to compete in Swiftsure, an annual 112 mile sailboat race. Throughout we
learn of small failures, disasters, and victories, but ultimately,
Lynch steers his tale through both gale and doldrums to expertly guide
his readers to a satisfying finish.
~ 3.8 Stars
Title: Before the Wind
Author: Jim Lynch
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (April 19, 2016)