Saturday, March 31, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt thirteen)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

Nothing is so murky as the issue of money except perhaps sex. When you throw Hollywood into the career it becomes even more problematic. Hemingway was inappropriately self-congratulatory about avoiding screenplay writing what with solid novel and short-story property payments, but most of all, he had his wife Pauline’s allowance. Faulkner, for all the mythological smoke screen he established, was making as much as ten thousand a week in modern terms in the middle of the Great Depression, but then he was supporting a dozen people who all seemed eager to put Billy back on the train from Mississippi to Hollywood. Ray Stark told me that as a young agent one of his jobs was to try to get Raymond Chandler off the floor of his apartment where he occasionally slept fully dressed in a drying pool of his own vomit. I’m not sure if this is true but it sounds right. John Steinbeck went to Hollywood and fell in love, reasonably enough, with a torch singer. It is interesting to read that when Scott Fitzgerald went to the gold mine in the west he purportedly quit drinking but on further reading you see that he was drinking a case of beer a day, the same as a bottle of whiskey. When I read that Dylan Thomas wrote nineteen screenplays for the English film industry, I couldn’t believe it, though half that number would tell a story. Closer at hand, my good friend Tom McGuane had done very well but his home life had dissipated. All of this is not to say that I identify with, or even mistake myself as belonging to, this grand tribe of writers, only that if I had cared to closely observe the readily available evidence I may have acted otherwise. Maybe, but probably not. Who doesn’t at times feel like an exception to all general rules?

Friday, March 30, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt twelve)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

My frequent trips to New York City would leave me exhausted but satisfied. It has dawned on me that my next thirty years spent as a home cook in the hinterlands were largely spent trying to recreate the food that is readily available to New Yorkers every single day, from French to Italian to Chinese to German to soul food and so on. The only item unavailable is first-rate BBQ, especially Texas-style beef brisket, a singular gift of that state that is currently haunting us with sword rattling and grotesque malfeasance.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt eleven)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

I continued to write slowly under the cautionary onus of having read fine poetry in great quantity. In the spring of our first year I had ten completed poems and wanted to get back in touch wih Galway Kinnell, who had been quite encouraging in a conversation we had had when he appeared at Michigan State. He had been subletting Denise Levertov’s New York City apartment and that was the only number I had. I spoke with Denise whose work I knew quite well and she suggested I send some of my poems to her. I did so with a great deal of nervousness because no one but my wife, Linda, still my first and most valued reader, had seen my poems, certainly not my fellow unpublished poets. By common unworded consent we took the private high road, mostly out of the fear of judgment. As any scam artist knows you maintain your credibility by keeping others in the dark, and there had always been a tiny nodule back in my brain telling me I was a fake. For survival a young artist boundlessly inflates his ego hoping very much that the evidence will naturally follow. This was frankly a period in my life when I spent as little time as possible in front of a mirror.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt ten)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

As a college senior I had finally heard my first poetry reading, with Galway Kinnell reading “The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World,” from his recently published book. I was overwhelmed but my own capabilities were so far from his astutely lyrical cityscape that there was nothing more to imitate. I heard the Mexican painter David Siquerios speak and regretted again that I had no talent as a painter. I talked a number of times in a smoke and coffee shop with Abe Rattner, an abstract expressionist, about his car trip with Henry Miller. After an hour Rattner asked, “Why do you stay here in Michigan? There’s nothing for you here.” I said I had a wife and child and he only nodded.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt nine)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

The birth of our daughter, Jamie, somewhat healed the rift with my in-laws. Few can resist the glory of a first grandchild. I immediately became less of a monster. I still regret that my pride kept me from accepting any money from them, which I now see as false pride, a meaningless arrogance, what we used to call simple “asshole” behavior. While much nonsense is made of America as a classless society my real difficulty with my in-laws was that they came from well up the ladder, above my own parents and relatives. Linda’s father, William Ludlow King, had gone to Dartmouth and briefly Harvard, and came from a family of Cornish copper-mine owners in the Upper Peninsula. It was in my father-in-law’s ancestral home that my wife found the nineteenth-century journals of William Ludlow, which gave me the base for Legends of the Fall. He was a kindly man, a nearly antique gentleman, and I had no experience dealing with someone like him. Linda’s mother, however, was clearly daffy, very intelligent but emotionally mercurial, partly from losing a baby who had gone nearly full term. It was from her that I heard on many late evenings some of the curious aspects of her husband’s family, including the tale of a cousin who had donated a chair at the University of Chicago but lived in Paris with her lesbian lover. This kind of information thrilled me as it was so exotic compared to anything in my own family’s past. My wife’s grandfather once came to dinner refusing to acknowledge me as Linda’s husband, sitting there drinking whiskey in an English tailored suit and wearing a seven-carat diamond Masonic ring, a problematical man who had squandered much of his wife’s money, some of which had come from Mexican silver mines in the nineteenth century.

Monday, March 26, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt eight)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

The poet Wallace Stevens made the statement “We were all Indians once” (current DNA studies say that further back we were all black). This seems technically true and led me to the uncomfortable conclusion that because of my familiarity with the natural world I identified strongly with those who until recently had depended on such familiarity for their existence. I had also long understood that my most intense pleasures came in activities such as hunting, fishing, and studying wild country that were the same for any Pleistocene biped. The essential difference between me and Native Americans was that my people never got the rawest of deals. My people were never reduced from a possible ten million down to approximately three hundred thousand between the years around 1500 to 1900.

I know men both white and Native who go into the mountains or forest, on horseback or on foot, to kill deer for their families. In impulse this is not unlike riding the subway to an office job. I have been told countless times that hunting is no longer a necessity for anyone in the United States, but that assumes you relish food stamps or the predominantly ghastly feedlot supermarket beef that oozes pinkish juice as if it has been injected with water. I’ve been to dozens of venisons “feeds” in my lifetime, which are celebratory occasions where whole groups of families sit down and eat as much deer meat as possible. With the Chippewa (Anishinabe) you eat venison and corn stew at a Ghost Supper and afterwards go outside and throw some tobacco in a bonfire to say good-bye to your beloved dead whom you might have been clinging to in a mentally unhealthy way. It is believed that the dead wish to be relieved from our sorrow so that they may freely enter the next world. We can be taught by these ancient and traditional aesthetics of grief. I am amazed how throughout the United States the rich, the mildly prosperous, and those in cushy government jobs are eager to tell our dirt-poor Natives how to live. After being massacred at Wounded Knee the Lakota were forbidden even to hunt or dance.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt seven)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

A year later you’re married and there’s not much freedom for two decades except the driving that’s related to the miserable road between the married housing apartments and the university, the holiday drives homeward to visit parents and in-laws, the pathetically short vacation fishing trips, and a few longer drives to Key West and Montana to fish. A poet technically is supposed to be a “thief of fire” but as easily as anyone else he becomes a working stiff who drinks too much on late Friday afternoons. You begin to overcherish the memories of the freedom of earlier trips. You settle for bar pool and spectator sports. You begin to remind yourself of all of the men you know who speak of their golden days in the armed services, the singular exciting time of their lives. Clinical depressions become more frequent. I made far less money than it took to support my family, which required about twelve grand a year. I did seemingly countless poetry readings in public schools at a hundred bucks a crack for the National Endowment for the Arts, an experience that made me permanently loathe public appearances. I tried journalism which got me to Russia, Africa, South America, and France but the assignments paid for only the time it took to write the articles, leaving me little freedom to write what I wished, and the most obvious economic lesson of all became obvious: survival work requires your entire life. I tried university teaching for two years but the closest metaphor was life in a zoo. I had two years of grants, a release from the zoo but a little problematic. When you first release wild animals from cages they are unwilling to leave a known environment for a speculative future outside the cage. A man quite easily suppresses his long for freedom until this supposed longing becomes a cliché without energy. It appears that man is the only creature capable of tying and lying himself into interminable knots. I had met Jack Kerouac a couple of times and it mystified me that his recent success with On the Road meant only that he had freedom to become hopelessly drunk. Of course I was just nineteen at the time and there’s no one as abrasively judgmental as a nineteen-year-old.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt six)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

To a young rural flatlander cities like New York, Boston, and San Francisco are impenetrably immense, incomprehensible. You don’t understand why they are there any more than why you’re there except they are exciting, especially contrasted to manual labor and the torpor of college. And in these cities invisible novelists and poets were writing books so it was logical to go there and invisibly write a book. I had a journal I had filled with gists, piths, quotes, apothegms, quotes of brutally inclusive wisdom. (Whitman said poets must “move wild laughter in the throat of death.” How?) There’s nothing quite like reading great literature on a daily basis to freeze the writing hand. You had convinced yourself, your parents, and a few friends that you were a poet and now all that remained to do was write some poems. You had pumped up your ego, your hubris, to an unconscionable degree simply to mentally survive but the evidence of any real talent was lacking. Every single day and into the evening you drew in what Ginsberg called “incredible music of the streets.” I even got Babe, the bartender at the Kettle of Fish, to read me Ungaretti and Gaspara Stampa aloud in Italian though he appeared to be somewhat embarrassed. Louis, a waiter from Positano, was very touched and I got a free serving of chicken cacciatore before closing. The discovery of garlic seemed an important aspect of my development as an artist, equal to that of figuring out that red wine was better for the imagination than beer. One afternoon Babe introduced me to the renowned politician Carmine DeSapio who asked me what I did and I said that I was a poet. He said, “Why not?” One night I was attacked by a burly guy in the toilet and managed to demolish him. I was utterly shocked when Babe told me that the guy liked to be beaten up. This was a subtlety of behavior I hadn’t encountered in the Midwest.

Friday, March 23, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt five)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

There is the Rilkean quandary of the exposed heart being richest in feeling and the point at which the exposed heart cannot recover. The idea that it is self-inflicted is neither here nor there. The half-dozen suicides I’ve known seemed to have nothing compensatory to balance the life of the mind. I mean writer suicides. With my good friend Richard Brautigan there was the chicken-and-the-egg question of whether he was a writer who became a suicide, or a suicide who became a writer. We actually discussed the matter while trout fishing in Montana and he said he would never commit suicide as long as he could still write and his lovely daughter Ianthe depended on him. The news was terrifying but somewhat expected.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt four)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

Through the passage of time you pull well away and look at the family almost anthropologically. The house becomes a den where seven primates happened to live. There was no television until well after I left home so the family played cards, games like Scrabble, or read, both good literature and bad. My father liked the historical novels of Hervey Allen and Walter Edmonds though I also remember him reading Hamlin Garland, Theodore Dreiser, and Sherwood Anderson. My mother loved Willa Cather but this did not prevent her from stooping to Edna Ferber and Taylor Caldwell, then rising again to John O’Hara. There’s a great deal of nonsense now about how our children can’t read but then how could they in terms of imitative behavior if their parents don’t read and there are no books in the house? If books aren’t treated as beloved objects like the sports page or the television why would a child wish to read? You wonder how disgustingly low-paid teachers must spend their lives trying to overcome parental stupidity, but then in our money culture everything is considered merry and bright if the parents show up for their often dismal jobs on time.

I suspect that nothing is idyllic except in retrospect. (The ugly phrase “nuclear family” shows the paucity of imagination among sociologists.) You are tardily thankful that you grew up in a close and loving family only when it becomes apparent that so many haven’t had the same luck. All of us kissed each parent good night. When I was sixteen and finally admitted to my father I intended to be a writer he promptly went out and bought me a twenty-buck used typewriter rather than giving the usual parental lecture on practicality and the doom and shame in the lives of artists. He wasn’t particularly upset when I quit college for a while after my freshman year because he told me that he knew my heroes Sherwood Anderson and William Faulkner had backed away from college. To tease me he added Hemingway, knowing I didn’t care for this author who seemed to me a kind of woodstove that didn’t give off much heat. He told me about trout fishing with a relative of Hemingway’s who was worried that cousin Ernest was off wasting his life in Europe. That statement made me more curious and sympathetic about Hemingway because I wanted to run off to Europe and waste my life, doubtless ending up in a garret with one of those long-necked Modigliani models as the thought of them tended to give me a hard-on even when I was out hoeing the garden or digging a new garbage pit. When I first lived in New York at nineteen I admit my eye brimmed when I finally saw an original Modigliani in a museum.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt three)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

Trauma is trauma but much of the time for a child it can be leavened because there are fewer neurotic reasons to hold on to it. Quite suddenly the left side of my world vanished but the worst was the nearly monthlong stay in the hospital, that long because someone came down with whooping cough or scarlet fever and we were quarantined. It naturally was a children’s ward and a girl with bad burns had died after three days. No one mentioned it to us but a kid with two fractured legs had overheard nurses talking in the night. I think my mother and father spent a lot of time with me but I recall the fear of having both eyes totally covered for a week or so. Even now I can bring back this haunted time by closing my good eye and looking at a big moon on a summer night with my bad, something I would try in the months after the injury. It is a concentrated but foggy light, quite beautiful in its way, and the practice immediately emphasizes the sounds one might hear, nighthawks, coyotes, a whippoorwill, in the spring the eerie call of the loon, the mating call of a woodcock, river sounds. This is an odd habit, looking at the moon with an essentially blind eye. You have the idea you can actually hear color, and between hearing and smell you construct a world that is further decorated by tasting and touching the night air. The odl Ch’an monk Yuan-Wu said a thousand years ago, “Throughout the body are hands and eyes.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt two)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

A poor farmer didn’t really want five daughters but that’s what John and Hulda got. It was sad for the daughters who felt his disappointment. They worked like men but that likely wasn’t enough in his autocratic mind. The only son died as an infant during the flu epidemic around World War I. This flu epidemic was unimaginable in that it killed millions, the majority of them children and the aged. On one of my frequent visits to Nebraska to research Dalva and The Road Home my friend Ted Kooser, a Nebraska poet, took me to a country graveyard that was beautifully overgrown with lilacs and roses and wildflowers in a grove of pines. One family lost six children within a month, all of the children they had. What was left for the parents? Not much, I’d guess. Forty years later I can still hear the voices of my father and sister, Judith, who died together in an auto accident when I was twenty-five. I’m sure the parents of the six at night while looking up at the moon and stars could hear the voices, or in the morning so many empty chairs must have driven them quite mad. Kooser told me that in the middle of this extended plague people took to burying their dead in the night. A night funeral does seem more appropriate when you are dealing with small caskets.

Monday, March 19, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt one)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

There is a specific melancholy to hardship that accrues later as a collection of gestures, glances, and dire events. I don’t remember anyone ever saying life is hard but it was hard to a child in other puzzling ways, say at Great-uncle Nelse’s shack when we joined him in eating possum, beaver, and raccoon, and I asked my dad why Nelse ate such strange things and he said, “He came up short on beef.” I do remember Nelse embracing the keg of herring we bought him for Christmas, the salt brine soaking through the slats enough so that the wood was grainy with crystals to the touch. Nelse had been unhappily in love, rejected in his twenties, and retreated to the woods forever.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

the last book I ever read (Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, excerpt twelve)

from Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders:

I am Willie I am Willie I am even yet

Am not


Not willie but somehow



All is Allowed now All is allowed me now All is allowed lightlightlight me now

Friday, March 16, 2018

the last book I ever read (Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, excerpt eleven)

from Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders:

As we fell enraged upon it, digging and clawing, I could feel the demonic beings within looking askance at us, repulsed by our ferocity, our revived human proclivity for hatred-inspired action. Mr. Bevins drove one arm in up to the elbow. From the other side, I was able to puncture the carapace with a long bough, and situating myself beneath that bough drove up with my knees, and the carapace split open, and Mr. Bevins was able to get his two arms fully inside. Letting out a short of exertion, he began to pull, and soon, like a foal newly born (as wet, as untidy), the lad tumbled out, and for a second we were able to clearly observe, inside the ruptured carapace, the imprint of the Reverend’s face, which had not, I am happy to say, in those final instants, reverted back to the face we had so long associated with him (badly frightened, eyebrows high, the mouth a perfect O of terror), but, rather, his countenance now conveyed a sense of tentative hopefulness—as if he were going into that unknown place content that he had, at any rate, while in this place, done all that he could.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

the last book I ever read (Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, excerpt ten)

from Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders:

Did I murder Elmer? the woman said.

You did, said the Brit.

I did, said the woman. Was I born with just those predispositions and desires that would lead me, after my whole preceding life (during which I had killed exactly no one), to do just that thing? I was. Was that my doing? Was that fair? Did I ask to be born licentious, greedy, slightly misanthropic, and to find Elmer so irritating? I did not. But there I was.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

the last book I ever read (Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, excerpt nine)

from Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders:

Tell them we are tired of being nothing, and doing nothing, and mattering not at all to anyone, and living in a state of constant fear, the Reverend said.

Not sure we can remember all that, said Mr. Kane.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

the last book I ever read (Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, excerpt eight)

from Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders:

Of course, there was always a moment, just as an order was given, when a small, resistant voice would make itself known in the back of my mind. Then the necessary job was to ignore that voice. It was not a defiant or angry voice, particularly, just that little human voice, saying, you know: I wish to do what I wish to do, and not what you are telling me to do.

And I must say, that voice was never quite silenced.

Although it did grow rather quiet over the years.

Monday, March 12, 2018

the last book I ever read (Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, excerpt seven)

from Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders:

One thing I dont like is I am dumb! Everyone treats me like I am dumb all my life. And I am! Dumb. Even sewing for me is a hard one. My aunt who raised me sat hours showing me sewing. Do it like this, hon, she would say. And I would. Once. Then next time I needed to do it that way I would just sit there, needle raised. And aunties would say lord child this is the nine-millionth time I am showing you this. Whatever it was. See, now I cant remember! What is was. What aunties showed me that I forgot. When a young man come a-courting he would say something such as about the guv/ment and I would say, oh, yes, the guv’ment, my aunts teaching me to sew. And his face’d go blank. Who would want to hold or love one so dull. Unless she is fair. Which I am not. Just plain. Soon I am too old for the young men to come and be bored and that is that. And my teeth go yellow and some fall out. But even when you are a solitary older lady it is no treat to be dumb. Always at a party or so on you are left to sit by the fire, smiling as if happy, knowing none desire to speak with you.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

the last book I ever read (Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, excerpt six)

from Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders:

Many times I have been tempted to blurt out the truth to Mr. Bevins and Mr. Vollman: A terrible judgment awaits you, I long to say. Staying here, you merely delay. You are dead, and shall never regain that previous place. At daybreak, when you must return to your bodies, have you not noticed their disgusting states? Do you really believe those hideous wrecks capable of bearing you anywhere ever again? And what is more (I would say if permitted): you shall not be allowed to linger here forever. None of us shall. We are in rebellion against the will of our Lord, and in time must be broken, and go.

But, as instructed, I have remained silent.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

the last book I ever read (Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, excerpt five)

from Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders:

Even there, at the end, in our guest room, with a view of the bricks of the Rednell house next door, upon which there hung a flowering vine (it was early June), the stable and grateful state of mind I had tried to cultivate all my life, via my ministry, left me in a state of acceptance and obedience, and I knew very well what I was.

I was dead.

Friday, March 9, 2018

the last book I ever read (Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, excerpt four)

from Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders:

The night of February 25, 1862, was cold but clear, a welcome respite from the terrible weather from the Capital city had been experiencing. Willie Lincoln was now interred, and all ceremonial activities associated with that activity concluded. The nation held its breath, hopeful the President could competently reassume the wheel of the ship of state in this, its hour of greatest need.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

the last book I ever read (Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, excerpt three)

from Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders:

I have one thousand three hundred dollars in the First Bank. In an upstairs room I will not specify I have four thousand in gold coin. I have two horses and fifteen goats and thirty-one chickens and seventeen dresses, worth, in total, some three thousand, eight hundred dollars. But am a widow. What seems like abundance is in fact scarcity. The tide runs out but never runs in. The stones roll downhill but do not roll back up. Therefore you will understand my reluctance to indulge in wastefulness. I have over four hundred twigs and nearly sixty pebbles of various sizes. I have two dead-bird parts, dirt motes too numerous to count. Before retiring I count my dead-bird parts, twigs, pebbles, and motes, rending each with my teeth to ensure all are still real. Upon waking I often find myself short several items. Proving the presence of thieves and justifying those tendencies for which many here (I know they do) judge me harshly. But they are not old women, menaced by frailty, surrounded by enemies, the tide going only out, out, out…

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

the last book I ever read (Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, excerpt two)

from Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders:

The terror and consternation of the Presidential couple may be imagined by anyone who has ever loved a child, and suffered that dread intimation common to all parents, that Fate may not hold that life in as high a regard, and may dispose of it at will.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

the last book I ever read (Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, excerpt one)

from Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders:

In any event, I returned to my sick-box, weeping in that way that we have—have you come to know this yet, young fellow? When we are newly arrived in this hospital-yard, young sir, and feel like weeping, what happens is, we tense up ever so slightly, and there is a mildly toxic feeling in the hoints, and little things inside us burst. Sometimes we might poop a bit if we are fresh. Which is just what I did, out on the cart, that day: I pooped a bit while fresh, in my sick-box, out of rage, and what was the result? I have kept that poop with me all this time, and as a matter of fact—I hope you do not find this rude, young sir, or off-putting, I hope it does not impair our nascent friendship—that poop is still down there, at this moment, in my sick-box, albeit much dryer!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

the last book I ever read (Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's The Angst-Ridden Executive, excerpt seven)

from The Angst-Ridden Executive (A Pepe Carvalho Investigation) by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán:

She was about to cry.

‘Listen, lady, do as I say. Get the papers, and a photograph of Dieter. My way of doing things is actually like a harp player. Very gentle. And I’ve never played castanets in my life.’

Saturday, March 3, 2018

the last book I ever read (Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's The Angst-Ridden Executive, excerpt six)

from The Angst-Ridden Executive (A Pepe Carvalho Investigation) by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán:

An affectionate letter which reflected the older generation’s fetish for formalities. The letter took on new meaning when Señora Alemany, twenty years younger than her octogenarian husband, spoke in a subdued voice to inform him that Alemany was ill, very ill. Alemany was all skin and bone, with a pale complexion and grey hair that was neatly combed. Breathing through his mouth and peering at Carvalho with eagle eyes, Alemany told the detective to come and sit by his bed. He gave his wife just one look and she hurried from the room. Then the old man looked at Carvalho and asked him to be brief. The detective explained the reason for his visit. Had Jauma been to see him recently about anything to do with Petnay? If so, what? Was it something important? The old man said nothing. Carvalho explained that he was there on behalf of Jauma’s widow, and the eagle eyes becamse more gentle. He shut his eyes as if to make them gentler still, swallowed his saliva by a motion of his Adam’s apple that was almost audible, and a slight trembling movement indicated that he was gearing himself up to speak, in the way that Spanish toilet cisterns give a slight quiver just before the water begins its descent down the pipe.

Friday, March 2, 2018

the last book I ever read (Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's The Angst-Ridden Executive, excerpt five)

from The Angst-Ridden Executive (A Pepe Carvalho Investigation) by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán:

‘You’ve hit rock-bottom,’ he thought to himself, and he pulled a box of Montecristos from the glove compartment and lit one of them with speed and the anticipation of great pleasure, with his lighter, as if he was drinking the gas flame through the Havana. When I die, the memory of those times will disappear with me. And also the memory of the people who, in bringing me into this world, gave me a first-class vantage point from which to view the spectacle of their own tragedy. Carvalho hadn’t just watched the spectacle. He’d made it his own, and had tried to transmit it to the younger generation. Up and down the Ramblas young and old people alike had expelled the fear that was left in them, on the day that the Dictator died. Happiness in their hearts—but silence on their lips. The shops ran out of bottles of cheap champagne that day; the streets and terraces were full of people enjoying the pleasure of being together without the great crushing shadow hanging over them. But still in silence, still with that cautiousness with words that they had learned in the years of the Terror as a guarantee of at least a mediocre survival. In some ways he understood that past. He knew its language. On the other hand the future opened by Franco’s death seemed foreign to him, like the water of a river that you shouldn’t drink, but that you wouldn’t want to drink either. Gausachs, Fontanillas . . . the crooks of the new situation.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

the last book I ever read (Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's The Angst-Ridden Executive, excerpt four)

from The Angst-Ridden Executive (A Pepe Carvalho Investigation) by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán:

The valve on the pressure cooker had stopped hissing. Biscuter’s execrations reached Carvalho at about the same time as the first shouts from the Ramblas. Within seconds the street outside became a nocturnal corral packed with stampeding humans. The riot squad swept down the street like so many lead soldiers, with their truncheons raised. All of a sudden, as if moved by a collective clockwork, they all paused, and the fleeing demonstrators slowly regrouped, their numbers reduced, but still sufficiently numerous for someone to start shouting, ‘Amnesty—free the prisoners!’ and for the crowd to advance defiantly towards the police again. Another charge. A Molotov cocktail exploded among the front ranks of the police, and the logical structure of their charge suddenly disintegrated. The controlled anger of the riot squad was now replaced by a destructive fury.

As the police passed by, innocent bystanders were felled by truncheons, and the riot cops with their tear gas and rubber bullets fired after the fleeing demonstrators. The noise of a gunshot set Carvalho’s nerves on edge as he watched from the window. The police stopped and turned round to look down alleys and up at people’s windows. One of them fired a rubber bullet at the front of a building, and people closed their shutters and balcony doors as if in expectation of a sudden downpour. Carvalho left his shutters slightly ajar, and witnessed a stylized charge and fragmented movements as the forces of order passed in front of the restricted viewpoint of the crack in his shutters.