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.