Thursday, January 29, 2009

Obit: Updike

John Updike died a few days ago. He was never a strong influence on my writing or my reading, but he was one of the pantheon of writers who seemed always to exist. Bellow, Roth, Sontag, Updike, Didion, Mailer -- & Miller & Tennessee Williams in theater -- were heavy hitters. For me, they reside in the same category as the baseball players of the post-war era: Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Willy Mays, Ted Williams. The're muscular titans whose reputations are foregone.

Updike was the one who drew that connection for me. I've read Rabbit, Run & a few late novels, & a lot of his reviews in "The New Yorker", which were invariably kindly & encouraging, like a grandfather's advice & unlike most critical voices. But the only piece that's truly moved me is his "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu".

The piece, published at the end of the 1960 season, is a look back at the career of Ted Williams, who was retiring from the Red Sox after 21 years (but fewer seasons, cuz of WW2). His longevity meant that Updike, aged 28, had literally grown up following Williams' career, & a child's sense of awe comes through in his essay. Listen to this description of Williams' final at-bat. He launches the pitch into the bullpen beyond the right-field wall; Updike says "It was in the books while it was still in the sky." Then:

Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs — hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn't tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted "We want Ted" for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters.

Look at how respectful Updike is of Williams' behavior here. Williams was a famously private ballplayer with an antagonistic relationship to the press. So Updike never tries to crack open Williams' mind, neither at the plate nor in his private life. Instead, he admires the man's ability from the cheering crowd. He celebrates Williams' craft by matching it with his own.

For me, Updike, Williams & those writers & ballplayers of the post-war era feel remote and a little eerie. They're semi-mythical beings, maybe because I heard their names before I ever knew who they were. To me, they were the archetypes of ballplayers & of writers. Who's left -- Roth, Didion? How strange it is when archetypes go extinct.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Shakespearean Awards

I've always been a pretty dorky dude. In my pimply adolescence, for instance, Shakespeare's plays replaced Doctor Who as my favorite stories. So the 15-year-old dork still in my psyche really wished he could see David Tennant play Hamlet in London last month.

But I'm even more surprised to read the news that he won an award from the London Critics Circle for "Best Shakespearean Perf" for his Hamlet yesterday. He shares it with Derek Jacobi (for Malvolio in the Donmar's Twelfth Night). Most of my surprise, though, is learning there's an annual award for Shakespearean performances. Londoners see so much Shakespeare, this is actually feasible!

That sound you hear is my teeth grinding in envy.

Monday, January 26, 2009

NY Times op-ed

Lunchtime, time to check the news. And what happy line do I read on today's NY Times op-ed page? Kristol's piece ends with "This is William Kristol's last column."

Hurray! No more paltry rationalization of executive criminal activity, no more fudging of data to support exploitative policies, no more half-baked predictions of doom which subsequent events fail to support (he's like an anti-Cassandra: I don't listen to his prophecies, & then they don't come true). So long, screwy, see you in St. Louie!

Of course, even in that last quote, Kristol can't help fudging the truth: it's only his last Times column. Presumably he'll keep writing elsewhere. (And stay on as Jon Stewart's punching bag.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Infinite Jest: 79-137, part 2

My last post mentioned that this 60-page chunk gives us a few longer arcs (albeit broken up into segments). But I was wrong: it starts two arcs, but first it ends another. The tale that began back on p. 33 comes to a close on p. 87. It's the bit about the film that arrived in the mailbox of a medical attache. Apparently, this flick is so addictive, you can't look away. By the end of the interlude, it's incapacitated eight viewers. In my mind's eye, I imagine the room looking a little like Groucho's cabin in A Night at the Opera. The way DFW pops back into this scene regularly over 50+ pages helps the novel cohere in its early stages. It's like he's laying down a beat.

Then, p. 87, one month later. The novel, movie-like, fades up on a desert landscape & a lone figure in a wheelchair. Soon he's joined by a transvestite to watch the sun set over Tucson AZ. They discuss bring up the addictive film (AKA the Entertainment, AKA the Samizdat) & its victims. Once again DFW fills out the world of the novel through dialogue, description, & wandering interior monologues.

But what a crazy world! Quebecois separatists, legless assassins, cross-dressing G-men, goofy acronyms, mata haris, moles & turncoats at the highest levels of US intelligence. DFW burlesques Cold War thrillers like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and The Ipcress File. (But unlike those, this thriller is all about homeland security. America's porous boundaries, terrorist attacks conducted via US Mail -- this stuff is more timely now than when I'd read it in 2000!)

This scene -- which DFW periodically breaks from, just as he'd done with the medical attache -- gives the novel stability, pace, rhythm. It's a sort of heartbeat, really. But it's an odd one: it's so ridiculous, beyond anything else in the novel (so far). I can't help imagining a young Alec Guinness or Peter Sellers playing Marathe, laconically speaking his mangled English in a terribly nasal Quebecois accent.

But the exchange between Marathe & his American handler, Hugh Steeply, is also deeply moving. They fall to discussing the motivations of Rodney Tine (the J. Edgar Hoover of IJ heart of the novel), who may've been co-opted by his counterpart in Montreal. And their convo becomes pretty philosophical & abstract. They discuss fanaticism (the Latin "fanatic" means "worshipper at the temple"), tragic love, & definitions of freedom. Their opinions put the novel's themes of addiction & obsession in particularly American terms. It's astonishing how easily DFW slips it into a mad scene of cloak & dagger.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Infinite Jest: 79-137, part 1

Ah, delinquency! I've been reading at a pretty good clip (honest!) but not posting. Time to start rectifying that. Fortunately, the next three 20-page sections are more unified than the earlier ones. In fact, it's a big structural shift from staccato bursts to longer narrative arcs. Two simultaneous narratives play out across these pages. But I'll defer those till tomorrow.

Tonight, I want to string together several of the
one-off sections. Previously, IJ had four to six of these per twenty pages; now the rate slows to that number in the whole 60-page chunk:
  • a philosophical conversation between Mario I. & Schtitt, ETA's Teutonic athletic director, on their way to an ice cream parlor
  • yet another addict, Tiny Ewell, hits bottom
  • a herd of feral hamsters (!!!) thunders across the plains of Vermont (!?)
  • Mario I. finds himself the object of lust by an ETA student who's so Amazonian she's nicknamed "the USS" Millicent Kent
  • ETA's own guru, Lyle, lives off the sweat of others. Literally.
  • A junkie nearly gets killed by Chinese drug lords before deciding to kick the habit
I feel like my incessant bullet-pointing has paid off by showing me the Big Picture. There are essentially four strands that DFW interweaves to create IJ: (1) Some sections (here, earlier, & later) simply introduce us to the ETA: its grounds, its founder, & its extremely eccentric staff. These overlap with (2) a focus on the three Incandenza brothers (as the eldest of three boys, I appreciate a good fraternity). (3) A distinctly separate strand sees Boston addicts dry out before moving on to a life of sobriety. (4) Finally, a satiric sci-fi espionage tale whose maguffin is a supremely addictive film.

But DFW doesn't make it easy for us to discern the Big Pic. I mentioned Lego blocks in a previous post. In more highfallutin terms, IJ has a montage structure (rather than personal or free indirect narration, stream-of-consciousness, or the esp. old-fashioned epistolary forms). Fellow Jester & namesake Aaron Riccio cites a DFW interview where the author (DFW, not Aaron) claims he's using a fractal pattern.

Okay, I'm not sure what DFW means by that (yet), so I'll stick with "montage." The fictionalized, satiric 21st century of IJ is built in snippets which connect, interweave, & play off each other based on their (presumably careful) order. Partly, the disjunctions from section to section keep us on our toes. But it also creates a mosaic that gives the world of the book a different sort of life than a linear narrative would. Forced to find (or create) connections between such disparate styles & stories, we're sucked into the artistic illusion. Think of it as a literary equivalent for the persistence of vision that turns a series of frames into a movie. I think it's grand & beautiful, how all these bits add up to something more than their sum.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration coverage

I've never experienced anything quite like Obama's Inauguration. As I walked to the Capitol from my pal Rodd's place, I was comforted that we were sharing the same path and the same intentions. I'd compare it to the feeling you get on the subway when you're going to a ballgame or a protest: a camaraderie that comes from shared sense of purpose. But that comparison's not quite right. Maybe it was the cold air of the early morning, but my anticipation lacked elation.

Outside the fenced areas was dizzying. A river of people streamed from Union Station, unending, like it was bigger inside than out. But once inside the Purple Zone (I love the name, it sounds like something from a comic book), people simply milled like cattle on a range, maybe a little surprised at how much space there still was. It didn't take much effort to worm my way to a good spot just left of center. Then I stood & waited.

The cold seeped through the layers of clothing. It sapped the crowd &, I think, muffled the energy, even once the ceremony started. At least, I'd expected a roar when Obama entered, like a crowd cheering the home team at a sports arena. There were cheers, but it didn't register on the Richter Scale. When each of the former presidents were announced, we alternated cheers'n'jeers: Carter ("yayyy!") Bush #1 ("grumble..."), Clinton ("YAYYYYYY!") Bush #2 ("Boooooo!"). The lustiness of the last surprised me, since till that point the crowd had played it cool. Then a chorus of "na na, nana na na, hey hey hey, goodbye!" started up. Still, the loudest response overall came not for the Obamas but for their daughters.

And from where I stood, that was the high point of the crowd's energy. The Inauguration seemed to have a weary but satisfied atmosphere. We'd taken terrible punches as a country over the last eight years, & were happy just to be standing as the final bell rang. We wouldn't pogo or hug, we'd just shake each other's hands, slap a few backs, & drift apart so we could get back to work.

That's why Obama's sober speech was appropriate. He wasn't at his best (off the top of my head, I can think of four speeches he's made that were better), but he recognized the moment. He didn't whitewash the dire state of the union, & he refused to offer pat comforts. He also didn't hesitate to criticize the outgoing administration (a friend compared it to Stephen Colbert's roasting of Bush in 2006) or his Democratic predecessor, for that matter.

I didn't walk away ecstatic like I'd expected to. Witnessing the inauguration wasn't quite cathartic for me -- it couldn't purge the last eight years of bile I'd been forced to swallow. So it was a canny choice for Obama to close by alluding to the eve before the Battle of Trenton. (It also allowed him to use cold as a metaphor in his closing: "in this winter of hardship... let us brave the icy currents." That really spoke to the crowd.) By citing that low moment in American history, Obama reminded us that we can soldier on, while simultaneously acknowledging that our struggles may last for years.

Still, I was lucky enough to get my catharsis afterwards. I happened to walk by the Capitol right as Bush's helicopter shuttled him off to his flight out. The sight of his chopper soaring off, & the knowledge that he was truly gone, warmed my heart more than anything Obama said. Na na, nana na na, hey hey hey, goodbye!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day, 7:30 am!

It's been a busy week, but that's no reason not to post. Sorry!

But my excuse for not posting these last few days is a pretty good one: I scored a ticket to the Inauguration! I'm down in DC right now at my old pal Rodd's place west of the Capitol. The foot traffic outside the window is astonishing, a busyness that I recognize from before a big ball game. But that's when you're outside the stadium; we're about a mile from the Mall!

So I've got a ticket in the Purple Zone, from the office of a Utah Republican, thanks to a college buddy who ended up in Salt Lake City (Nick O'Donnell, coming through!). I should be able to see pretty well, as long as I don't have a really tall person in front of me. I'd hoped to post once or twice from the event itself, but the radio's warning that cell phones may be jammed by signals. Oy, this is gonna be a mess!

So I'll post something later today once I've returned from the front line. In the meantime, sit back, enjoy the festivities in the warmth of your home, & I'll freeze my toes off!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Neurotic Mind of George W. Bush

I love espionage, surveillance, & skullduggery. So I enjoyed the NYTimes' book review of James Bamford's The Shadow Factory this weekend. For my money, the best piece of information is that the NSA is sub-contracting spy-ops out to private corporations (just like the US military subcontracts out to Blackwater). Also, if you need reminding:

"The administration's core argument... is that it's vital to prevent another 9/11. But in a ferocious, detailed attack... Bamford argues that the NSA in 2000 & 2001 had not only the means but also the actual information necessary to prevent the attacks on New York and Washington.
The agency had been monitoring communcations out of an Al Qaeda command center in Yemen, & those had pointed squarely to the presence of two key plotters in California. Yet [head of the NSA Michael] Hayden at that moment didn't want to risk any semblance of monitoring people in the United States, even though there was plenty of latitude to tap those two terrorists under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)."

So the NSA could legally have planted a wire, but they didn't want to seem like they were spying within the US. After 9/11, they not only illegally tapped telecommunications lines but they also demanded a new set of laws, arguing that FISA had failed.

Ironies like this make me see neurosis, not arrogance, in the Bush Administration's scofflaw attitude towards the Constitution. They do blame themselves for not stopping the 2001 attacks (though most of the country seems not to). So they over-compensate for the error, both clandestinely & brazenly. They have to prove to themselves how far they'll go & how much they'll sacrifice to prevent another terrorist attack. If the ramifications weren't so dire, the over-reaction would be pathetic.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Secretary of the Arts?

I've been thinking a lot about the petition for a cabinet-level position for the arts. Isaac fueled my motor w/ a great post. He argues that an Arts Czar would "[embed] the arts comprehensively throughout federal & state government agencies", comparing government support for the arts to its support for the sciences.

I've been thinking about how government should play a fundamental role in the arts. Like education & a free press, the arts are a necessary contribution to a healthy democracy because they broaden & educate minds. But also, as Mike Daisey's "How Theater Failed America" argues, American theater (like much of our culture) has adopted a corporate approach to the arts, & that structure is unsuitable for true creative production (except, debatably, on a massive scale, eg Hollywood). The state-structured & -sponsored approach is an alternative & potentially a democratic one.

Again, Isaac has a few suggestions -- co-ordinating w/ the Small Business Admin. & Community Devel. on new arts orgs, working w/ State on arts-based diplomacy. Though he argues that it wouldn't be a radical shift, I think it would be just that.

It's not just advocacy & co-ordination, it's not just embedding. I think a Sec-Arts (or a near-cabinet position, a la Head of the EPA) would demand new bureaus. It would rope in some surprising agencies (like the Smithsonian) & fund comprehensive projects (ethnography, archaeology). I'm envisioning a massive expansion -- what some would consider an intrusion, hence the radicalism -- of American arts in the government. In essence, it would turn part of the US Government into an artistic company.

But I'm all for this radical shift. And there is a precedent: FDR's Federal One, the largest of his New Deal agencies. Really, Isaac & I only disagree on semantics (in fact, he's a lot more pragmatic than I am).
The more I think about it, the more I think it ought to be an "Arts & Sciences Czar," encompassing work on arts, sciences, applied & theoretical math, even athletics. Sec-Arts/Sci would work with Hollywood, B'way producers, & museums but also universities, publishers, researchers & sports teams.

Ultimately, the only reason I'm not convinced that Arts-Czar ought to be a cabinet position is a cynical one: that the position would be a purely symbolic gesture. We don't need an arts advocate: Obama has a good, clear arts policy (that includes increasing the NEA grant). But maybe the 36K signatories want a radical change in the relationship between arts & government. Not just more funding, not just more recognition, but a government that makes art. That's what having a Secretary of the Arts would mean.

Friday, January 9, 2009


Ostensibly, this is a blog about theater and not David Foster Wallace. So here's a nod towards that lovely medium. Mike Daisey has been barnstorming the US with his great monologue, "How Theater Failed America". It's a phenomenal piece, covering not just theater but the corporate colonization of American life. Even if you disagree with it (& I've got friends & colleagues who do), you'll get a lot out of it.

But of course, not only am I coming late to this year-old discussion, I don't have time to do it justice right now. Instead, I'll shoot you over to Daisey's blog, where he posts a point-by-point
response to a DC reviewer's arguments.

In other news, many people are swapping a mass e-mail & petition lobbying a Quincy Jones nom for Secretary of the Arts, a proposed new cabinet position. Chocolate City is no dream!

With his illustrious record of political activism (it's not just producing "We are the World" -- the dude marched with MLK), he's a pretty good fit. But no one yet has asked whether it's a necessary or useful government position. I'm thinking about it...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Infinite Jest: 60-79

It's not just my bookmark that tells me I'm at the beginning of this novel: I can also sense that DFW is slowly building this strange, hyperactive world. It's like a Lego construction, built out of many small blocks rather than the traditional linear narrative. In this 19-page section alone we get:
  • a segment about a congested tennis student (echoing the illness of Gately's victim a few pages earlier)
  • Hal narrating a childhood nightmare (in the first person)
  • a dual history of the ETA &, in a footnote, James Incandenza's filmography
  • a segment about Orin's flamboyant football career
  • consecutive, wildly different pair of segments on adolescent drug usage at ETA
  • another addict, this one (Kate Gompert) hospitalized after a suicide attempt caused (?) by marijuana withdrawal

The breadth of the styles in IJ regularly astonishes me. The most substantial segments of this section -- the Gompert segment & the Incandenza footnote -- are on opposite ends of the style spectrum. On one hand, Gompert's interview w/ a medical resident is classic realism (that ol' "free indirect"), made deeply disturbing by its intimacy. (Incidentally, it's clever of DFW to keep focus on the MD, even tho' Gompert is the protagonist. It adds to her alienation & makes her voice more powerful.)

The Incandenza footnote, on the other hand, resembles a short story by Donald Barthalme. Though it describes the last years of Hal's father, it's presented not as a realistic narrative but in the form of a factual description of his experimental films oeuvre. It includes titles, film stock, running time, stars, & summaries. In it, you trace not only the auteur's aesthetic development but his emotional disintegration. It's my favorite bit of the entire book, & DFW sneaks it into a footnote! (Curious? Check it out online.)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Infinite Jest: 39-60

Break this section into 5 pieces:

1. Another Hal/Mario midnight convo, on their mother's seeming lack of grief at their father's death

2. Eldest brother Orin augers bad news from a bird dropping stone dead in his jacuzzi

3. Hal gets high in secret, for no reason he understands or even question

4. Addict Don Gately hits bottom when he's busted for the death of a Quebecois secret agent during a burglary

5. The medical attache re-watches the unlabeled cart late into the night, w/o concern for personal hygiene

Simple stuff, really. DWF feeds the pharma theme, esp. #3, which footnotes in great detail the drugs that the ETA (Enfield Tennis Academy) students take. It nicely feeds into the theme of obsession, since they're huffing & puffing to balance the extreme focus & regimens of adolescent professional sports. DFW also shows us the obsessive-compulsive habits of Hal, Orin & mother Avril Incandenza.

A few things about that. First, I'm imagining the brains of every character in IJ fizzing & popping with chemical reactions, like beakers in a science lab.

Second, DFW specifically mentions how teens generally (& Hal specifically) refuse to think about what drives them to abuse drugs. Similarly, Hal nor Orin actively avoid considering the psychological causes of their OCDs. I'll make an early stab at a humanist theme here: addiction & other psychological debilitations stem from such refusals to examine one's self.

I mentioned Ben Jonson in my previous post, but I'll back off from that comparison. Jonson mocked the imbalances & appetites of his characters; DFW seems to feel a lot more compassion. There's a nice bit on p. 47-8 that describes a paranoid-schizophrenic who believes that "radioactive fluids were invading his skull"; his doctors, to study him, inject his brain w/ radioactive dye. But where Jonson would've focused on the quack doctors, DFW describes the poor victim. The scene is funny, but compassion undercuts our laughter. IJ is full of these humane ironies.

Probably the biggest development of these 21 pages is the intro of Don Gately, the book's second protagonist. But I don't actually have much to say about him yet. He's an addict, & his brief brush w/ the Quebec subplot sends him to jail & withdrawal. Really, it's more revealing that the Canadian subplot functions as a catalyst than anything.

Well, I'm a day behind, but I'm hoping to catch up with three posts in the next two days...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Infinite Jest: 17-39

When my brother read IJ, he noticed all the allusions to masks. Something to keep an eye out for.

This second bite of IJ covers several segments. Isaac covered the first one -- Erdedy's anxiety-ridden wait for a drug connection -- with nice insight into addiction. I'll just note that I'm impressed at how DFW deftly sketches the addictive mindset while simultaneously depicting it as a Jonsonian sort of sickness: Erdedy's all hunger & displaced libido. His last moment, caught in brain-freeze between doorbell & phone, is hilarious.

Section two -- but first, section one had the first footnote. It's a quicky, on the subject of mind- & mood-altering substances. They won't all be so prosaic.

Section two -- but second, notice that gibbon moon that separates sections? Any thoughts on that? There's a lot of lunacy in this novel. I'm gonna keep an eye out for a lunar motif.

Okay, section two: flash back to Hal, aged 10 (so eight years before Hal's big opening interview, for those of you playing at home), at another interview. It's a pretty strange conversation, with a man who claims to be a professional conversationalist but soon gets revealed as Hal's father (AKA Himself, which sounds pretty Biblical) in a mask. He's ranting about a suspected connection between his wife (the Moms) & several Canadian agents.

Of all the strands that make up Hal's life, this is the most memorable: the Pynchon-like sci-fi setting. At this point, all we can say is that it involves Canadian espionage. And that his late father cybernetically augmented his own brain & body following a detox. And that Hal's a virtual battleground for his parents, who both schtupped him with steroid-like "mega-vitamins" from infancy. So, yeah, weird but thrilling to this overeducated comic-book-reading Infinite Jester.

After the quick section three (Hal's late-nite colloquies w/ hypercephalic brother Mario & estranged bro Orin), we get more on the Canadian front, via
a Canadian-Arab medical attache. Left to his own devices (his burka-wearing wife is playing tennis: a good image), this attache watches a strange "cart" that's arrived in the mail. I'd guess a cart's basically a DVD, but I imagine it resembling an old Atari game cartridge. Six pages & 43 minutes later, he's still watching...

Tonally, however, this segment is closer to Erdedy's realistic inner monologue than the day-glo surrealism of Hal's sections. There are a few touches of satire, like a catalogue of burka beach-wear. But DFW writes here with a light touch, not rancor, mainly because his target is American hyper-capitalism & not religious fundamentalism.

Incidentally, we're told that the US has not only started auctioning naming rights to years, but that the winning bidder gets its stock showcased by the Statue of Liberty (AKA "the Libertine Statue").

Our reading today ends with a seemingly out-of-place segment about ghetto child abuse, written in an African-American dialect. I'm not sure what to make of this bit. I don't remember how it plays out or fits in with the rest of the novel. So that's something for me to discover. Till tomorrow!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Infinite Jest: 1-17

I'm joining Parabasis & others in reading Infinite Jest. But unfortunately, I'm down with a cold, so no profundities yet. But I did enjoy Hal's sense of alienation, mirroring my own fever-skewed view of reality.

This is my second time through IJ, & I agree w/ Isaac: the second read's a lot easier. My first time around, I re-read the first 100 pages, partly for clarity but partly also out of sheer pleasure at the world DFW creates. I also kept notes, including a calculation of the subsidized Years. According to me c. 2000 (& not to spoil anything, but...), most of the book takes place in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, which corresponds to 2009. Happy new year!

I like that DFW chooses to open the novel in the first-person present-tense. IJ is preoccupied (obsessed?) with perceptions of time. The ways that hallucinogens & other drugs affect the psyche is thematically important here & a Big Idea in modern science & psychology these days.

Even for a novel that begins in medias res, these first 20 pages are pretty thick. Aside from the tongue-in-cheek info-dump at the bottom of p. 3 ("You are Hal Incandenza..."), DFW doesn't give us many signposts or landmarks to orient ourselves in his world. He makes us read actively by omitting a straightforward intro of time, place, & character. And yep, those mysteries: what's up with that apocalyptic vision of Hal & Gately at his father's grave (an allusion to Yorick)? What's wrong with Hal?

That's all I got - nothing profound. But I should have more & better thoughts as my health returns.


Addendum: Feeling a bit better & re-read the first section. It's a wonderful intro, despite the "thickness" I mention above. That last line is a kicker: "So yo then man what's your story?" It casts the section up a prologue, defines Hal as the protagonist (tho' more than a third of the novel focuses on Gately), poses several questions while quickly answering the most insistent one (why is Hal unable to communicate? A: something about a fungus ingested at age 5) & propels us into the novel.

Still, yeah, it's dense & confusing in that modernist fashion. Meanwhile the section functions partly as a gatekeeper. If the sheer volume of space that the book takes up didn't scare casual readers off, then the thought of 1162 more pages of
stream-of-conscious writing probably will. The foreboding style drops away almost immediately, but the puzzlement will remain.