Wednesday, April 17, 2024

the last book I ever read (Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics)) by Elliot Chaze, excerpt ten)

from Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics) by Elliot Chaze:

Nona. I’d given Nona my gold football. I’d held her in the swing down the block, on her front porch, back in the days when holding hands was a lovely explosion, when home-made pimiento cheese sandwiches and lemonade were manna from heaven. How many years ago? How many years since those pimiento-flavored kisses? And: I can’t marry you, Nona, you or anybody. We don’t want that. We don’t want the listless, automatic desire of marriage. This is what we want, baby. Some day I’ll come back. Some day. You’ll see.



Tuesday, April 16, 2024

the last book I ever read (Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics)) by Elliot Chaze, excerpt nine)

from Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics) by Elliot Chaze:

I’m no authority on New Orleans wrought iron, but I can say the French or Spanish or whoever had themselves something when they thought of installing it along the edges of balconies. I found that around the mezzanine of the St. Charles Hotel there were so many differently shaped openings in the railing that you could see almost anyone you wished to watch below in the lobby, without moving from your chair near the rim of the balcony. All you had to do was move your head slightly. And that appealed to me, especially after the evening I’d spotted Clell Dooley down in the lobby. Clell was my good FBI friend who had packed me off to Parchman in the dim days of poverty, packed me off with a sincere little lecture on borrowing other people’s automobiles. But he had been checking out at the desk of the hotel when I spied him, so I stayed on, happy in the knowledge his headquarters was in Jackson, not New Orleans. Now that I was rich I worried a lot more than I had on the Atchafayala or in Denver or Cripple Creek about someone recognizing me as a fellow wanted at Parchman. I’d grown an Englishy polo-playing mustache and now wore spectacles with more shell rim than glass in them, but I worried. Or let’s say I didn’t worry more, but that I worried harder, because all my life I’d wanted to live lazily and glossily, and now I had it and didn’t want it taken away from me. Before I became rich it was only a matter of hanging onto life, a good, rugged, animalistic, instinctive thing that kept me hard and on my toes. This was different, this petulant, craven business of sweating over my wealth, and over what it was doing to Virginia. Since we had come to New Orleans and begun spending on a fairly fat scale, she wasn’t the same girl. She spent much time in bed, and bathing and primping, and every morning there was a gold-toothed woman up in the room messing with Virginia’s hair and patting lotion into her chin and such general foolishness. And we’d got in with a nighttime crowd of wealthy youngsters and this crowd was quarterbacked by a brother-sister team whose father owned a salad-dressing factory or something like that. The brother, Eddie Arceneaux, announced at intervals that he was going to seduce Virginia and travel the world with her. And the sister, Loralee, announced after about the same number of cocktails, that she was going to seduce me and make a salad-oil king of me. If you don’t find this humorous, I can say only that I didn’t either, but in the crowd we’d adopted this was a rousing good joke and everyone laughed about it. They all had money to burn, or, if they didn’t, managed to give that impression, and they laughed about everything. I remember they made jokes about such things as incest and sodomy, and their idea of a big night was to taxi down in the French Quarter and giggle at the queers who put on a floor show down there. I’d never thought being rich was anything like that, and still didn’t believe it had to be, or else there wouldn’t have been the steadfast desire to hang onto my own pile. They worked so hard at being individuals. Eddie wore a green canvas rainhat everywhere he went, even with formal clothes, and he looked like an exhausted cat peering out from under a collard leaf. Loralee did it with bracelets, pounds of them, which dangled and jangled, and with dresses that left her suntanned breasts very much on display. Both she and Eddie were married to somebody or other but, despite the strings of parties, I never saw her husband with her but once and I never saw Eddie’s wife at all. The married couples swapped around and played grabby in dark corners and all in all it was enough to make you want to stick your finger down your throat. If you’re going to be married, really married under the law, you have no business rolling around that way with all comers. Coming from me that must be hard to swallow, but it’s the way I felt. I’d rather kill a man I don’t know and who never did anything to me than have my own children know I slept all over town just for the exercise of it. Virginia, of course, took to it like a duck takes to water. In New York she’d had a sustained taste of five-hundred-dollar nights, wealthy men, and top restaurants before she was hounded into flight. And on top of that, according to Mamie, the Unique Massager, Virginia came from quality stock, whatever that is nowadays. Now, when we were down at the yacht basin with the others, she and Eddie had a way of disappearing. At first I didn’t think much of it. I was too busy being amazed by myself, at the fact that I could write large checks and hand them to someone and point at what I wanted and get it. My shoes got better and better until they were bench-made ones at sixty dollars a crack, and the bench-made ones never felt as easy as the cheaper ones. I got into cameras, not because I especially liked to take pictures, but because the stainless steel and pebbled leather and gleaming glass looked pretty to me. I started off with an Eastman Medalist, tired of it and bought me a Rolleiflex because I’d heard Life photographers go for it; then I discarded it and paid over four hundred dollars for a thirty-five millimeter Exakta with a 1.2 lens. And so with suits and shirts and ties until I had so much stuff I couldn’t concentrate on any of it long enough to enjoy it, so I became sick of all of it. These were the things I thought of as I sat on the mezzanine of the St. Charles and looked down at the lobby through the ironwork, waiting for night. It seems that when you’re rich you do a lot of waiting for night, since daylight is neither sophisticated nor secretive and is more or less devoted to perspiring and recovering.

Now Virginia was upstairs with the hairdresser and I sat on the rim of the mezzanine, legs crossed, polishing the heel of my shoe with my thumb and peeking through the decoration below the railing.



Monday, April 15, 2024

the last book I ever read (Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics)) by Elliot Chaze, excerpt eight)

from Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics) by Elliot Chaze:

Now let’s dilute the morning we dropped the trailer and Car No. 12 and the custodian into the shaft of the Katie Lewellyn. It can stand some diluting. Because I keep thinking of the custodian down there in the blackness, floating forever, his face bobbing against the slits in the steel wall, waiting for the driver to come out of the building on Essex. And I think of his companion down there. God knows I think of his companion.



Sunday, April 14, 2024

the last book I ever read (Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics)) by Elliot Chaze, excerpt seven)

from Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics) by Elliot Chaze:

I started to pick it up and place it on the stack with the others and it was then I saw the three glove fingers lying on the new-cut metal. They were made of yellow cotton with red stripes, and of cheap green suedey leather. I don’t remember whether Brannigan began screaming the instant the cut was made, but I remember the screaming getting louder and louder as I came around front and that there were three jets of blood coming out of what was left of his right hand. He was bent over, the hand down between his knees, squirting against the greasy floor. Spano leaned back against the work table, his tailbone on the edge of it, smoking. He was watching Brannigan with the faint frown of someone who’s just heard a corny joke.

And that’s how I became what Brannigan called a full-fledged power-shear operator.



Saturday, April 13, 2024

the last book I ever read (Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics)) by Elliot Chaze, excerpt six)

from Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics) by Elliot Chaze:

When I got home Virginia was drunk as a lord.

What was worse, she was out on the front lawn watering the trees. That’s right, the trees. She stood in the middle of the yard, wobbling around on those lovely legs, and squirting water up into the leaves of the three old elm trees.

I rolled up the windows of the Packard. The water was coming down on the roof of it from the leaves. I got out fast and moved around the back of the car to her. Out of the side of my eye I saw Damon across the street and he had his own hose going over there. The Massengales were on their front porch, clucking softly the way old people do at dusk. Diagonally across the street the tall girl with the sunburned brown hair was doing something with a lawn mower. I knew all of them were watching Virginia and me.

Virginia said, “The leaves, nobody ever thinks of the poor damned leaves.”



Friday, April 12, 2024

the last book I ever read (Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics)) by Elliot Chaze, excerpt five)

from Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics) by Elliot Chaze:

I couldn’t help thinking of Benson, the cockeyed driller down on the Atchafayala, who said some day I’d work my way up to derrick man. He and Brannigan came out of the same pod. Both had the terrible conceit of little men who through fortune or persistence had landed in positions where there were even littler men for them to boss around. I’m sure it never occurred to either of them that they were stupid.



Thursday, April 11, 2024

the last book I ever read (Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics)) by Elliot Chaze, excerpt four)

from Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics) by Elliot Chaze:

I paid the real estate man a month in advance and he said he hoped we liked Milligan Street and that he used to live there himself. He gave the impression I could work my way up to a better street, too, if I stayed on the ball and went to bed early and watered my grass plenty. He gave me his card. This was the second one and I guess he’d forgotten giving me the first one. Real estate men and insurance salesmen generally seem to be loaded with the things, with an unlimited supply of cards, and there’s something about the way they hand them to you that makes you take them whether you want them or not. When he was gone I went inside with Virginia and threw the cards in the fireplace.



Wednesday, April 10, 2024

the last book I ever read (Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics)) by Elliot Chaze, excerpt three)

from Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics) by Elliot Chaze:

Virginia did something with her glass, rattling the ice. “Once at Krotz Springs I told Tim he looked a great deal like a great big John Garfield, and I don’t think he ever will get over it. Now he even gets into his undershirts like John Garfield. He even sweats like John Garfield, with a nice photogenic shine.” She giggled.

“Garfield’s dead,” Nick said.



Tuesday, April 9, 2024

the last book I ever read (Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics)) by Elliot Chaze, excerpt two)

from Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics) by Elliot Chaze:

That night we stopped at a barbecue stand where some kind of engine turned the beef ribs over and over, like a bloody Ferris wheel, over the charcoal fire. We ate slowly, washing down the greasy roasted meat with stingingly cold beer, and then we smoked and were quiet. I wanted some more potato salad and when we got it we decided to split it and get some more beer. The beer lasted longer than the salad. While we were finishing it, she moved over against me and I kissed her a long time, her lips cold and fresh and soft. She kissed the way an expert dancer follows the lead, giving and taking at exquisitely the right moment, and getting across the idea that she had a lot in reserve and this was only a sample. I’m not lying when I say I think that kiss lasted a quarter hour. But I still planned to leave her in the ladies john of some filling station. Because you can’t kiss your way out of prison and I knew that for sure. For dead sure. And even as I kissed her I remembered ’way back in the dim part of my brain how it had been in solitary at Mississippi’s Parchman. In solitary they shove your food to you through a hinged slit in the bottom of the door, and you don’t get to see anybody, not anybody at all. I used to kick the tray back out through the slit and curse them, hoping they’d come in and beat me. Anything to break the monotony. But they didn’t come. I’d shadow-box to kill time. There was no window, only the yellow light bulb with the juices of bugs on it, and I never knew if it was day or night or rain or shine or Sunday or what. You can’t kiss your way out of a place like that, and there’s no barbecue, no cold beer in there.



Monday, April 8, 2024

the last book I ever read (Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics)) by Elliot Chaze, excerpt one)

from Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics) by Elliot Chaze:

“But, darling, you’ve got to have drifts of it, lumps of it, and little piles of it only make you sick and petty.”

It was the first time she’d called me darling and it was the first time she’d made anything approaching a speech on this my favorite subject. I eyed her with new interest. You can say what you want, but really money-hungry people, ravenously money-hungry ones, are a society all to themselves. My plan had been to get enough of her and to leave her in some filling-station rest room between Dallas and Denver. I’d told her I was a salesman, that I sold novelties and notions to drugstores, and that the winter months were slack ones in the trade and I’d taken the roughnecking job on the river to tide me over. It’s a funny thing, but I’ve found that if you tell someone you sell novelties and notions, they think it’s impolite to ask what novelties and notions are. They don’t ask you any more about it. Anyway, until she said there was no such thing as bad money, I was all for dumping her along the way in a day or so. Now I didn’t know for sure, but I still thought I would, because a woman had no place in my plans. Most of them are big mouthed and easily identified. I don’t know why, but you can pick any woman and she doesn’t look as much like other women as a man looks like other men. Maybe it’s the thousand different ways they can do their hair and lips. I don’t know. But this one with the cocoa-covered bosom and the absolutely perfect legs, a blind man could find her on a Friday noon in Rockefeller Plaza.



Sunday, April 7, 2024

the last book I ever read (Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates, excerpt thirteen)

from Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates:

“I don’t know,” she said. “You find out you just don’t know anything.”

The rest I remember only in patches. The point is, we got to St. Vincent’s okay and our son, Daniel, was born at about eleven-thirty that night. In the waiting room—that was how long ago this was—I tried to concentrate on making sense of “The Comedian as the Letter C,” figuring I might as well use the time intelligently. That was how young I was. I kept staring at this one line—“The ruses that were shattered by the large”—and wondering how personally I should take it.



Saturday, April 6, 2024

the last book I ever read (Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates, excerpt twelve)

from Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates:

“He’s just crazy,” said Danny. “It’s not that big of a deal.” Up ahead, a branch crested with snow hung low over the sidewalk. Danny made a run at it—I took the opportunity to get the bottle out quick and have a good big gulp that made me cough and gag—and leaped, right arm high, as if going in for a lay-up. Snow showered his bare head. He waited for me to catch up, hand moving backward and forward across his hair, stirring up snowflakes that sparkled in the streetlight. Judith and I had made this beautiful boy.



Friday, April 5, 2024

the last book I ever read (Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates, excerpt eleven)

from Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates:

The stove grumbled: something inside shifting and settling. Me in the Morris chair; Martha, feet tucked under her, in the corner of the couch farthest from me. Each of us sitting still, yet voyaging through deep space, as if aboard the Starship Enterprise, where there was no north or south or even up or down, really. On the one hand, I wanted to see this whole deal blow into a million pieces right now, as in the Big Bang theory, and to get in the car and head for New Hampshire. But on the other hand, I hoped this would be just one more dustup, and over by the time Star Trek came on. Maybe tonight, in tribute to Christmas, they’d have the one about the space people Captain Kirk thinks are sun-worshippers but actually turn out to be space Christians who worshop the capital-S Son (i.e., of God). Though probably, if they were going to run it, they would have run it last night. Martha and I were really out there, boy. This whole thing was making me remember when Judith and I got married. Most of our friends were there (no family except Rick: she had vetoed her mother, forcing me to veto my father as compensation) and the minister had charged them to “support and defend” our marriage. Defend, yet: a minister in touch with his times. What he meant, I imagine, was that when one of us wanted to bag it, once of them was supposed to talk us out of it. Or that Uncle Fred wasn’t supposed to introduce me to women he worked with anymore. But with me and Martha: even the kids had cut us loose as soon as they’d managed to get us together. And of course we didn’t even know each other. I looked out the window. Snow really coming down now, boy.



Thursday, April 4, 2024

the last book I ever read (Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates, excerpt ten)

from Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates:

The clock said like twenty-five of one. Wasn’t she afraid of interrupting Tim and the girlfriend as they lolled? Though I was forgetting the girlfriend had a child to get back to, there’s something I remembered, so no lolling probably for old Tim this Christmas morning. Wasn’t there a pitcher named Tim Lollar?



Wednesday, April 3, 2024

the last book I ever read (Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates, excerpt nine)

from Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates:

Danny managed to get the tree down, then I took over the rest of it. Cutting off the top six feet was tricky, with the tree on its side and the trunk way up off the ground and springing back every time you hit it. I got it done, finally. The bottom half of the tree looked sickening lying there, like the body of a deer you’d killed to take the head and feet for a coat rack. We dragged the shapely treetop down the hill and left the rest behind. Not wholly without compunction, at least on my part. Just without compunction that did any good.



Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Monday, April 1, 2024

the last book I ever read (Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates, excerpt seven)

from Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates:

Against that cobalt-blue sky, the leaves looked morbidly colorful: the hectic yellow, orange and red stages of a wasting disease. You were supposed to think they were beautiful. I hadn’t even noticed them this morning while walking to the car, or driving under the arching trees all the way out to Hamilton Avenue. Oh, completely my own fault: simply having a job needn’t numb you. Obvious example: Wallace Stevens. Any deadass drudge can feel worse about himself by thinking about Wallace Stevens.



Saturday, March 30, 2024

the last book I ever read (Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates, excerpt six)

from Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates:

She looked at me. “I just think you could have a more satisfying life for yourself, Peter,” she said. “You were talking the other night about how you used to want to write poetry. You know, you could do it.”

“Madre de dios,” I said. (The other night we’d gotten popped on that moonshine again and I’d been telling high school stories.) “I was talking about when I was fourteen years old, for Christ’s sake. Every kid in my little clique wanted to be a poet. Like with a beard, you know? Because we thought Allen Ginsberg was this great romantic figure. I mean, this was just after I wanted to be Roger Maris, okay?”



Friday, March 29, 2024

the last book I ever read (Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates, excerpt five)

from Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates:

When we came up out of the tunnel and into New Jersey, night had fallen, and all the salmon-pink highway lights were on. I glanced around the compartment. All the men looked like me. Human basset hounds in wrinkled suits. Except they were drunk, lucky bastards, from their after-work stop-off at Charley O’s or something. Ties loosened, breathing through their mouths.

Once I was off the train and safe in my own car, I put the seat all the way back and just lay there, as if in a dentist’s chair, in the station parking lot. Only a few other cars left, in all that expanse. I closed my eyes and pictured the empty house, eggshell walls. Put the seat back up straight, finally, got the car going and went left on Hamilton Avenue. Instead of taking the right, which was how you got to Heritage Circle. Heading for Martha, however crazy she was.



Thursday, March 28, 2024

the last book I ever read (Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates, excerpt four)

from Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates:

Martha Peretsky was asleep, or pretending to be asleep, face down. Shoulders swelling and subsiding. I got out of bed, found the jockey shorts where they’d ended up—I remembered now her taking them down and my not caring what became of them—and crept to the door. Then I remembered the girl, Clarissa, and went back and put on trousers. Glanced at stomach. Put on shirt.



Wednesday, March 27, 2024

the last book I ever read (Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates, excerpt three)

from Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates:

I ran into the house but Rick was already in there shouting into the telephone, and back outside a crowd had gathered around the car and the van. But nobody was getting too close. It looked like a scene out of an old Twilight Zone, neighbors on some little suburban street looking at the flying saucer whose arrival would soon reveal what fascists they all were. Pretty inappropriate thing to be thinking, but. The whole thing, in fact, looked as if it were in black and white. I should have gone and pushed through the crowd and done something. Later they told me it had been over instantly: no blame. Right. But at any rate, I walked around the end of the garage instead and back to the pool, now deserted. I climbed the steps up onto the deck, felt like I was going to black out, quick sat down on something, and when the shiny flecks stopped swimming in front of my eyes I looked down and saw her wet footprints fading.



Tuesday, March 26, 2024

the last book I ever read (Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates, excerpt two)

from Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates:

It had become clear over the years that Judith shouldn’t drink. But one glass of wine had never been a problem, and it didn’t lead in every case to another glass and another. We were drinking Gallo that day because the only entrepreneurial beer we could think of was Coors and Judith refused to have Coors in the house. And because Ernest and Julio Gallo embodied the immigrant spirit. And because drinking white wine, even Gallo, on the Fourth of July was another fuck-you touch. We were all sitting around the pool in bathing suits—it was an aboveground pool with this redwood deck going around it on three sides—and I suppose I wasn’t watching Judith as closely as I might have because I was talking with this Sandy and thinking about how much better I liked the shape of her breasts than the shape of Judith’s, an awful thing to remember now. Judith also made several trips back and forth to the house: to fetch food, to carry back dirty dishes and leftovers. I should have helped. Not just out of simple decency, but because she was probably sneaking gin in the kitchen every time she went in. The alcohol level they found in her blood argued that she’d had much more than the few glasses of wine we’d seen her drink.



Monday, March 25, 2024

the last book I ever read (Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates, excerpt one)

from Jernigan: A Novel by David Gates:

At the bottom of the slope the trees ended and I looked out across a field of snow. I don’t know about acres, but say the size of two football fields. Once this was somebody’s cornfield. Up in this part of the world they used to graze cows on the hillsides and plant corn in the bottom land, still do, there’s some folkways for you. In case you’re thinking, Well, Jernigan, fuck him, he just lives inside his own head. All around, hills forested in now-bare hardwoods and ever-dark evergreens. I remembered the shape of every hill. At the far end of the field, near the edge of the woods, sat Uncle Fred’s trailer, a faded blue, with snow halfway up to the doorknob and a white hump of snow on top, a stovepipe elbow poking out of a window. It semed to be floating like an ocean liner. What do you know, white sea, blue ocean liner. Huh.



Sunday, March 24, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis, excerpt seven)

from Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis:

I arrived in Ludwig’s neighborhood early and walked around the streets of the West Village for a long time. It seemed as if Ludwig were gone already. I remembered then—and I remember now, as I’m writing this, though I haven’t thought about it in a long time—how in the months after I first met him, I sometimes used to wander around after classes and find myself in the maze of narrow streets around his building, Bedford and Barrow and Commerce, where the little old house leaned into each other, cracking and covered with vines. I would try to imagine what it felt like for Ludwig to live there. I thought about how that part of the city, like no other, had corned and ancient shrubs for ghosts to hide in, places where the residue of the past hadn’t been swept away by thousands of moving bodies and buildings going up and down. The past had always seemed to be Ludwig’s element, and every forgotten thing in those corners vibrated somehow in harmony with his spirit.

On that morning in February I walked out near the river, where it was empty, and I could hear the wind moving in deserted garages and past the long, doorless walls of warehouses. Over the water a helicopter chopped its way through the ice-brown sky, pulsing light, sending indecipherable signals out into the empty air. It occurred to me that I loved Ludwig, and I had never said it to him. I wondered whether it would have been something worth saying or whether he knew.



Saturday, March 23, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis, excerpt six)

from Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis:

One evening in mid-April, Klaue and I went for a walk in the East River Park, near where I lived, at dusk. It was exactly that time of year when all the blossoms have come out on the leafless branches, white and pink on the cherry trees and yellow on the forsythia. The twilights had just recently changed from winter grays to those eerie, humming colors that you get only in the polluted air of big cities, especially in the spring: impossible pinks and oranges reflected in the sky over Brooklyn, and some other mysterious thing in the light that made everything glow and the colors grate against one another the way they do in an old tinted photograph. The river with its choppy waves was all metallic blues and blacks, and the white blossoms stood out eerily against the sky.



Friday, March 22, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis, excerpt five)

from Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis:

Rupert himself did not live long. He had had a strange patten of growth, having matured as a dog and then been thrown backward by his alteration, which gave him the mind of a human child. He became subject to violent changes in temper as a teenager, a decade after his perfection, when he had already physically matured. He began to disobey Dr. Hacker in strange infantile ways: chewing on the legs of chairs, for instance, and eating shoes. It was as if he was compelled to do it, because he felt great remorse immediately afterward, and yet he became progressively less able to control himself. Sometimes he would leave the house at night and get into the garbage heaps in the back streets, or chase sheep. Since his canine urges were combined with a human intelligence, he was able to do a great deal of mischief. The greatest crime he committed, although his master could not have realized its magnitude at the time, was to begin a love affair with a Giant Schnauzer who lived in a neighboring house.



Thursday, March 21, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis, excerpt four)

from Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis:

I nodded, trying to read his face behind the impossible prettiness of his features. The perfect muscles and curves seemed to have a personality of their own, which he had to fight to form an expression.

“Thanks for telling me. What’s your name, by the way?”

“It’s Rob.”



Wednesday, March 20, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis, excerpt three)

from Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis:

When I emerged from this state at one o’clock and saw what I had done, I sat down and howled. I howled like the dog that I am, and I couldn’t stop myself. I don’t know how I can live now—a dog can’t live by himself in his own apartment. What will I do, hire someone to walk and feed me when I relapse? Of course, hiring someone is a ridiculous idea now; they would only put me out on the street and take my money—what could I do about it? A dog has no money. A dog has no rights. A dog has no way to communicate his grievances. I am a dog. God help me.



Tuesday, March 19, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis, excerpt two)

from Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis:

I was walking along Maiden Lane toward the Louise Nevelson Plaza, admiring how the turrets on top of the Federal Reserve Bank looked against the high, ragged clouds and thinking about that building, which had recently become one of my favorites because I’d written a paper on it the month before for an architecture class I was taking. I felt glad that the fog had lifted and that winter had come, and that I lived in a city where someone would think to build something like that giant fortress, out of blocks of stone that must each have weighed several tons, and to give it a forty-foot-tall doorway, and flank the doorway with wrought-iron lamps the size of small cars, and then decorate those lamps with so many little flourishes and curls that they had just ended up looking sort of silly and hairy instead of elegant and imposing as they were supposed to. Right before the stock market crashed, too, I thought, as I cam up along the side of the plaza. All those huge, beautiful, ambitious banks down here that were built just before 1929.



Monday, March 18, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis, excerpt one)

from Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis:

Over the next few weeks, we waited for an explanation, but none was ever offered that was more plausible than the one they had given themselves. And they did give it themselves; some of them sat for radio and TV interviews and repeated what the farmer and pilot had said about them on the first day. Most of them could speak only German, but a few, most notably Klaue Lutz, had a good command of English. They spoke quietly and carefully, as if to deemphasize their accents and the faint mechanical whir made by their voice boxes. Of course, people had theories about kings and billionaires and secret organizations that might have the resources and inclination to play such a huge, strange trick on the world, but these were nearly as unlikely as the dogs’ own story and usually not as interesting. And so for practical purposes we all began to talk about the dogs as if they were exactly what they claimed to be.



Sunday, March 17, 2024

the last book I ever read (My Death by Lisa Tuttle, excerpt seven)

from My Death by Lisa Tuttle:

The two women glared at each other, driven past endurance by the unfair role-reversal that aging forces upon parents and children. I felt sympathy for them both but gladly removed from it all. This was not a situation I would ever confront: I had two sisters, better qualified by geography and temperament to look after our parents (both still in good health) if the need arose, and I had no children. When I was as old and frail as Helen Ralston, assuming I made it that long, there would be no one left to care if I looked after myself properly or not. And unless I had the money to pay for it, there would certainly be no expedition for the elderly me like today’s.



Saturday, March 16, 2024

the last book I ever read (My Death by Lisa Tuttle, excerpt six)

from My Death by Lisa Tuttle:

Over fresh coffee—decaffeinated for Helen—and slices of apple tart, talk about Helen’s life weren’t on, leap-frogging a couple of decades to London during the Blitz and the brief war-time love affair with Robbie, a much younger fighter pilot. He was Clarissa’s father, although he’d not lived to see his only child. I was surprised to learn that Clarissa was sixty—I told her honestly that she looked much younger—but she’d been born during the war, to a grieving single mother.

“I named her after Mrs Dalloway,” Helen informed me. “I was reading that book during my confinement—in fact, I read it three times. It was the only escape I had, a window into the world before the War, London before the bombs fell, before … “ she trailed off, blinking rapidly, and her daughter stroked her hand.



Friday, March 15, 2024

the last book I ever read (My Death by Lisa Tuttle, excerpt five)

from My Death by Lisa Tuttle:

The Second Wife, Helen Ralston’s fifth novel, was a revelation: understated, subtle, psychologically complex, ambiguous, and faintly sinister … it was just the sort of novel I aspired to write myself, and reading it now, at this fallow period of my life, stirred a creative envy in me. For the first time in ages I wished I was at work on a novel and, although I knew I wasn’t anywhere near ready to start one, I could believe that one day I would be, that the roads of fiction weren’t forever closed to me. Maybe, after I’d finished with Helen Ralston, I’d be inspired by her example to write fiction again.



Thursday, March 14, 2024

the last book I ever read (My Death by Lisa Tuttle, excerpt four)

from My Death by Lisa Tuttle:

I was unprepared for this interview in more ways than one.

Yesterday I had discovered that my cassette recorder, which had seen me through more than ten years of occasional interviewing, was no longer working. I’d driven off to Oban immediately to buy one, only to find that the electronics shop I’d remembered had closed down—driven out of business, I guessed, by the stacks of cut-price VCRs, DVD players, printers, personal stereos, and telephones on sale in the aisles of Tesco. Alas for me, Tesco did not sell cassette recorders—players, yes, but nothing with a recording function. The closest equivalent I’d been able to find after searching every store in town was a toy for young children. It was the size of a school lunch-box and made of bright red and yellow plastic; with a bright blue microphone attached to it by a curly yellow cord. But it worked, and so I’d bought it.

Now, though, I knew I couldn’t possibly arrive for my first meeting with Helen Elizabeth Ralston clutching this children’s toy. In any case, she hadn’t agreed to an interview; I hadn’t even spoken to her yet. I couldn’t remember if I’d told her daughter that I was planning to write a biography, but I was pretty sure I’d said only that I admired her mother’s work and wanted to talk to her about it. Best if this first meeting should be informal, relaxed, a friendly conversation. Questions “for the record” could come later.



Wednesday, March 13, 2024

the last book I ever read (My Death by Lisa Tuttle, excerpt three)

from My Death by Lisa Tuttle:

Helen Ralston lived with her daughter in an ordinary two-storey, semi-detached house in a quiet neighborhood on the northwestern edge of the city. The drive through Argyll, along the narrow, loch-hugging road, switching back upon itself again and again as it cross a land divided and defined by water, up into the mountains and then down again, went more swiftly than I’d dared to hope, without any of the delays that could be caused by log-lorries, farm vehicles, and road works, and I was parking on the street in front of the house at five minutes after nine o’clock the following morning. I got out of the car stiffly, feeling numb and a little dazed by the speed of it all. That so soon after deciding I wanted to write about Helen Ralston I should be meeting her seemed little short of miraculous.



Tuesday, March 12, 2024

the last book I ever read (My Death by Lisa Tuttle, excerpt two)

from My Death by Lisa Tuttle:

In the jumbled, fragmented memories I carry from my childhood there are probably nearly as many dreams as images from waking life. I thought of one that might have been my earliest remembered nightmare. I was probably about four years old—I don’t think I’d started school yet—when I woke up screaming. The image I retained of the dream, the thing that had frightened me so, was an ugly, clown-like doll made of soft red- and cream-colored rubber. When you squeezed it, bulbous eyes popped out on stalks and the mouth opened in a gaping scream. As I recall it now, it was disturbingly ugly, not really an appropriate toy for a very young child, but it had been mine when I was younger, at least until I’d bitten its nose off, at which point it had been taken away from me. At the time when I had the dream I hadn’t seen it for a year or more—I don’t think I consciously remembered it until its sudden looming appearance in a dream had frightened me awake.



Monday, March 11, 2024

the last book I ever read (My Death by Lisa Tuttle, excerpt one)

from My Death by Lisa Tuttle:

I had a genuine, Proustian rush then, the undeniable certainty that time could be conquered. All at once, sitting at a table in an Edinburgh restaurant, the taste of wine sharp and fresh on my tongue, I felt myself still curled in the basket chair in that long-ago dorm room in upstate New York, the smell of a joss-stick from my room-mate’s side of the room competing with the clove, orange, and cinnamon scent of the cup of Constant Comment tea I sipped while I read, the sound of Joni Mitchell on the stereo as Helen Ralston’s words blazed up at me, changing me and my world forever with the universe-destroying, universe-creating revelation that time is an illusion.



Sunday, March 10, 2024

the last book I ever read (Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, excerpt seven)

from Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan:

He thought of Mrs Wilson, of her daily kindnesses, of how she had corrected and encouraged him, of the small things she had said and done and had refused to do and say and what she must have known, the things, which, when added up, amounted to a life. Had it not been for her, his mother might very well have wound up in that place. In an earlier time, it could have been his own mother he was saving – if saving was what this could be called. And only God knew what would have happened to him, where he might have ended up.



Saturday, March 9, 2024

the last book I ever read (Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, excerpt six)

from Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan:

The girl, unashamed, handed Furlong a Christmas card.

‘We knew you’d come,’ she said, ‘and save us having to post it. Mammy always said you were a gentleman.’

People could be good, Furlong reminded himself, as he drove back to town; it was a matter of learning how to manage and balance the give-and-take in a way that let you get on with others as well as your own. But as soon as the thought came to him, he knew the thought itself was privileged and wondered why he hadn’t given the sweets and other things he’d been gifted at some of the other houses to the less well-off he had met in other. Always, Christmas brought out the best and the worst in people.



Friday, March 8, 2024

the last book I ever read (Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, excerpt five)

from Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan:

When he let down the tail board and went to open the coal house door, the bolt was stiff with frost, and he had to ask himself if he had not turned into a man consigned to doorways, for did he not spend the best part of his life standing outside of one or another, waiting for them to be opened. As soon as he forced this bolt, he sensed something within but many a dog he’d found in a coal shed with no decent place to lie. He couldn’t properly see and was obliged to go back to the lorry, for the torch. When he shone it one what was there, he judged, by what was on the floor, that the girl within had been there for longer than the night.

‘Christ,’ he said.



Thursday, March 7, 2024

the last book I ever read (Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, excerpt four)

from Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan:

It was a December of crows. People had never seen the likes of them, gathering in black batches on the outskirts of town then coming in, walking the streets, cocking their heads and perching, impudently, on whatever lookout post that took their fancy, scavenging for what was dead, or diving in mischief for anything that looked edible along the roads before roosting at night in the huge old trees around the convent.



Wednesday, March 6, 2024

the last book I ever read (Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, excerpt three)

from Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan:

‘Why don’t ye write your letters to Santa now?’

Always it was the same, Furlong thought; always they carried mechanically on without pause, to the next job at hand. What would life be like, he wondered, if they were given time to think and reflect over things? Might their lives be different or much the same – or would they just lose the run of themselves? Even while he’d been creaming the butter and sugar, his mind was not so much upon the here and now and on this Sunday nearing Christmas with his wife and daughters so much as on tomorrow and who owed what, and how and when he’d deliver what was ordered and what man he’d leave to which task, and how and where he’d collect what was owed – and before tomorrow was coming to an end, he knew his mind would already be working in much the same way, yet again, over the day that was to follow.



Tuesday, March 5, 2024

the last book I ever read (Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, excerpt two)

from Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan:

Christmas was coming. Already, a handsome Norway spruce was put standing in the Square beside the manger whose nativity figures that year had been freshly painted. If some complained over Joseph looking overly colourful in his red and purple robes, the Virgin Mary was met with general approval, kneeling passively in her usual blue and white. The brown donkey, too, looked much the same, standing guard over two sleeping ewes and the crib where, on Christmas Eve, the figure of the infant Jesus would be placed.



Monday, March 4, 2024

the last book I ever read (Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, excerpt one)

from Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan:

Now, he lived in the town with his wife, Eileen, and their five daughters. He’d met Eileen while she was working in the office of Graves & Co. and had courted her in the usual ways, taking her to the cinema and for long walks along the towpath in the evenings. He was attracted to her shiny black hair and slate eyes, her practical, agile mind. When they engaged to marry, Mrs Wilson gave Furlong a few thousand pounds, to start up. Some said she had given him money because it was one of her own that fathered him – sure hadn’t he been christened William, after the kings.

But Furlong never found out who his father was. His mother had died suddenly, keeled over on the cobblestones one day, wheeling a barrow of crab-apples up to the house, to make jelly. A bleeding to the brain, was what the doctors had called it afterwards. Furlong was twelve at the time. Years later, when he’d gone into the registry office for a copy of his birth certificate, Unknown was all that was written in the space where his father’s name might have been. The clerk’s mouth had bent into an ugly smile handing it out to him, over the counter.



Thursday, February 29, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones, excerpt eleven)

from Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones:

The congregation applauded generously when the Gospelteers came on. Vivian stepped forward and told the congregation that the group would be singing some of the favorites of Mahalia Jackson, and the congregation broke into applause again. Anita would be singing the first songs solo, and the young woman took Vivian’s place in front of the group. She looked briefly at Counsel and he nodded once and began to play. Anita closed her eyes for a few seconds and began to sing as she always did—for God and for her father. Once, as she was singing at the Virgin Mother Baptist Church on Kentucky Avenue, Jesus had come down the aisle and sat down in a pew near the front. He told her that her voice pleased him. He had said no more than that, but she had taken his words to mean that he forgave her for living with John without marriage. And each time she saw her father, who would not forgive her, she wanted to tell him what Jesus had done and said. But she could not create the words. Perhaps the words were in the music, but it did no good, because her father did not come anymore to hear her sing.



Wednesday, February 28, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones, excerpt ten)

from Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones:

They had lived, this woman and the father of Mildred’s four children, in a small house on Maple View in Anacostia, where Mildred had forced her son to take her. “I live in Northeast, Mama. I don’t know one thing about Anacostia.” “Buy a map. Get a map. I want to see where they live, where him and her live together.” “You just actin crazy.” “Do what I say.”



Tuesday, February 27, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones, excerpt nine)

from Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones:

She took the long way back home, lest she bring bad feelings back to her house. She walked downtown along F Street and looked in the store windows. At a shop at 12th Street, she bought a doughnut and several large cookies with the hundred-dollar bill and ate them unselfconsciously as she walked along, the way a child would. At a shoe store near 13th Street, she abandoned once and for all any hope she ever had that her mother would come to live with her and spend the rest of her life in the room on the second floor. And at Garfinkel’s she wondered if that doctor could go back inside her and pull one end of that pretty bow so that it would come untied and she might make Rickey, with all his whininess, happy.



Monday, February 26, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones, excerpt eight)

from Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones:

Madeleine said nothing more to Arnisa, and she and Samuel drove silently back to Washington. At her apartment, she got out without a word and did not hear Samuel say he was sorry. She opened the building’s front door and made sure it locked behind her. When she was back in her apartment, she looked out the window and found that the car had died on him once again. The car was parked in a space near the entrance to the parking lot with its hood up and Samuel was leaning into the car, a man being swallowed up. She lived on the second floor, facing the parking lot, and she could hear him and what he was doing. White people passed and paid no attention to him.

He worked late into the afternoon, now and again stopping to try to start the car or to step back and stare at it as if some solution might rise up from the roof and announce itself. The day was completely ruined for Madeleine, and throughout the afternoon as her father worked she sat angry in the chair with its back to the window. That morning she had looked forward to going to the deli down the street where she and Curtis sometimes bought sandwiches and pastries. But she knew she could not go out with Samuel blocking the path to the deli and the deli would soon be closed. There were few cars or people passing, and most of the world was quiet. The loudest sounds were those of her father’s muttering and of his tools against the car’s metal, all of it reminding her, first before anything else, that the day was forever wearing itself away.



Sunday, February 25, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones, excerpt seven)

from Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones:

He took the pitcher from her. “Your trouble’s that you live up there among all them white people. With the ghost people. They believe in that all forgivin shit, in all that stuff that cripples the soul. You should move out to Anacostia to be with real people, the people who know what day and night is like and never get the two confused.” Then he put his hands at the corners of her mouth and tried to fashion a smile. She hugged him, clung to him, and for those moments they were no more or less than a boy and girl without a mother and father.



Saturday, February 24, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones, excerpt six)

from Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones:

On the other side of Avis stood Marcus, her second son. Marvella noted out of the corner of her eye that he was yapping away, as usual, and at first Marvella thought he was talking to Avis or having another conversation with himself. “Everybody else is borin,” he said to her the first time she asked why he talked to himself. He was now seven. Long before the train came into view, it sent ahead a roar, which always made Marvella look left and right to make certain her children were safe and close. And when she turned away from the coming train, she saw that Marcus had been talking to the man with the dreadlocks.