Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Just finished the Pulitzer Prize winner. So glad a colleague bought it for me as a gift.

What a stylist Greer is. Some bon mots:

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.. at nearly fifty he is like those bronze statues in public parks that, despite one lucky knee rubbed raw by schoolchildren, discolor beautifully until they match the trees.

In a world where most people read one book a year, there is a lot of money hoping that this is the book…

Texting and email saved him from phones forever.

…. an author too old to be fresh and too young to be rediscovered, one who never sits next to anyone on a plane who has heard of his books.

Some kid who couldn’t even name the Beatles?

…. the lines on his face like origami that has been unfolded and smoothed down with your hand….

…. pink to his middle, gray to his scalp, like those old double erasers for pencil and ink.

No one could rival Arthur Less for his ability to exit a room while remaining inside it.

… scrambled from the sixties onto the mountaintop of the seventies, that era of quick love and quaaludes (is there any more perfect spelling than with that lazy superfluous vowel?)

… while the five finalists were chosen by en elderly committee, the final jury is made up of twelve high school students.

‘When I was young, all I wanted to read were pretentious little books. Camus and Tournier and Calvino. If it had a plot, I hated it.’

Less is not known as a teacher, in the same way Melville was not known as a customs inspector.

The city of youth, the country of age.

Less kisses her on each cheek, but she leans in for a third. Two in Italy. Four in Northern France. Three in Germany? He will never get this right.

… we each got to make one rule about the road trip. Mine was that we could only sleep in places with a neon sign. His was that wherever we went, we had to eat the special. If they didn’t have a special, we had to find another place.

Where is his editor when he needs her? His editrix, as he used to call her.

… he is who she has.

He looks up at a closed-circuit television to follow the fleeting romances between flights and gates…

Boredom is the only real tragedy for a writer; everything else is material.

For a fifty-year-old man, the boredom of lying convalescent in bed is rivaled only by sitting in church.

For a seven-year-old boy, the boredom of sitting in church is rivaled only by sitting in an airport lounge.

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Bon Mots from David Cale

A sampling from David Cale, monologist, from his collected Shows (2016):

When I die they’ll find intuition at the wheel.

Care and all its relatives seemed to fall out of me.

We were married in a registrar’s office by a man whose accent was so thick that to this day I’m not completely clear what I was agreeing to.

It was so quiet in the open. You could almost hear your moods change.

I felt like someone who’s used to swimming in pools in people’s back gardens, who’s suddenly been dropped in the ocean.

I don’t want to play a game I have no interest in winning.

It’s funny how things that are said at pivotal points in your life are forever imprinted.

Sexually speaking I’d say Keith was like a really good waiter at a pretty good restaurant. Very good service, but ultimately disappointing food.

Sometimes the pleasure was so intense she felt like hailing a taxi.

Sometimes the sex was so intense that the only words to say to him that matched the intensity were the words. ‘ I love you’. But she couldn’t tell him that.

“Oy, it’s brutal out there in the sexual jungle. Not that I’ve been to the sexual jungle, but I’ve flown over it a couple of times, on my way to somewhere else.”

“Oh, longing,” I says, “I used to spend about six months of the year there. I spent so much time there that I ran for office. I became the Mayor of Longing.”

The Turn of the Screw

Decided to spend October rereading Henry James’s masterful novella. Its sense of dread, suspense and just plain scariness is singular. I’m not surprised it’s been adapted as an opera (not seen) and the movie The Innocents (I own a copy- Criterion, of course.)

I’m reading with the perspective that the demonic possession is in the governess, not the children. Both perspectives work.

I should be done by Hallowe’en.

Testing The Current

I read William Macpherson’s Testing The Current when it came out in the eighties. A believable sustained coming-of-age novel from the point of view of a small boy.

A couple of well-observed gems, thus far:

“One day his mother came home with straws that were pleated like an accordion so they bent easily. Tommy liked those straws, but his mother saved them for when he was sick; he couldn’t use them at other times.”

“[His father’s dress shirt] was as stiff as a board there was so much starch in it, and the front was pique. That’s what they called it. It looked uncomfortable but very fancy.”

“Though [his mother’s] dress was black, it seemed to pick up the light from the lamps in the room and give off a soft shine of its own. His mother said it didn’t shine; it had a sheen, and there is a difference.”

Edward Albee liked it

Two years ago I performed a monologue from my script “The Good-bye Play” at the hub 14 in Toronto (pictured). The performance was filmed but needed an introduction. Here it is. Thanks to the people and events that inspired it; to videographers Anthony Da Souza (for the performance video) and to Jason Sauernheimer (for the introduction); and thank you to Andrew Gaboury and the Field of Crowns. And of course, Edward Albee.
hub 14

Clock Dance

Thanks to e-reading everywhere I went, I finished Anne Tyler’s latest novel, Clock Dance. (As of this week, it begins to emerge on the NY Times Bestseller list.)
No doubt I’ll review it. For now, a selection of quotes. No one observes quite like Tyler.
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She yanked the closet door open and her reflection vanished.

“Hello?” he asked, in that reluctant, dread-filled voice he always used when he answered the phone, his second syllable trailing away as if he were already preparing to hang up.

Now she settled into the dailiness of grief- … the steady, persistent ache of it, the absence that feels like a presence.

She was the only woman she knew whose prime objective was to be taken for granted.

She had forgotten those whooshing pauses that happened during phone conversations with smokers.

She just loved saguaros, was all. …It felt like a cucumber, cool and smooth and sturdy. It seemed aware of her. She could almost believe it was steadying itself to receive the pressure of her hand.

(She had refused to ask her own seatmate. She didn’t like to discommode people.)

The dark was that half-hearted kind that happens on summer evenings…

It was, in fact, a bare-bones kind of house, its small rooms furnished sparsely, with pieces that seemed to have lead full lives in other houses long before this one.

… she’d felt like a watchful, wary adult housed in a little girl’s body.
And yet nowadays, paradoxically, it often seemed to her that from behind her adult face a child about eleven years old was still gazing out at the world.

Marriage was often a matter of dexterity…

Oh, already she was feeling the limitations of living out of a suitcase.

Now Willa remembered what a boon these young women could be; offering privileged glimpses into her sons’ private lives.

“If you don’t have grandchildren, you won’t have to worry about them going through the death of the planet.”

Home! Even the word was a comfort.

“….he thought it was impolite to pick up a telephone in mid-ring…”

Wit without the Vitriol, Please

I got to see the revival (and Broadway premiere) of Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band, the benchmark play with the all-gay cast from 50 years ago.
I saw the play in revival in a Toronto production in the 1980’s. I recalled a play of great wit and pain.
The night I went to the Broadway production, the main character (portrayed effectively by Jim Parsons), Michael, descending into his drunken tirade against his party guests, hurling racial and homophobic insults, got empathy for his neediness but not for his drunken slurs. Were they meant to be funny in 1968? Did they amuse in the 1980’s Toronto version? I can hardly print them here- the “N” word; “Coon”, and more. In 2018, they seemed to wound the audience, as well as the characters.
Times are changing. The sarcasm of plays like Boys and its influence- Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – might be out of reach for today’s sensitized audience.
The wit is still appreciated. Maybe not the vitriol?

Brilliant, Solid Colors

Months later, I finally finished Christina Stead’s 500 page tome “The Man Who Loved Children” (1940)- and the title really does refer to love, without any unsettling irony worthy of today’s salacious headlines.

Herewith, some gems*:

“Sam heard nothing but the crepitations of the arboreal night.”

“The tempests of July and the swamped earth and flooded rivers had come to wash away the sorrows of Henny: headstones sank in the graveyard, and the new earth piled over her fell in. Towards the end of July, it was as if Henny too had stormed, but in another room in the universe, which was now under lock and key.”

“Everyone had an outline, and brilliant, solid colors.”

(*Besides, I had to read it. It’s among my favourite author’s (Anne Tyler) favourites.)