Open All Night:
Black Sparrow Press
struggle famously to fill a small shelf of books in the course
of a career; others seem to breathe content and lack the
space to get it all out. Charles Bukowski, it seems, falls into
the second category.
Open All Night is the latest volume in Black Sparrow
Press's ongoing series of Bukowski's previously unpublished poetry.
As in the previous volume, what matters most is how well you
walk through the fire (click here
for WAG's review of it),
the poems collected here were written between 1970 and 1990,
and Bukowski left them as part of an archive to be published
after his death. Even knowing how voluminous Bukowski's output
was, it's still surprising to see how many superb poems didn't
make it into the collections published during his lifetime.
Open All Night has plenty of space dedicated to Bukowski's
favorite subjects--the racetrack, women, alcohol and a self-referential
interest in the act of writing--along with his usual proud braggadocio
about his physical toughness and his hard path to critical recognition.
But it's also full of wonderful moments of candor, self-doubt,
vulnerability and even fear, and these, I think, are consistently
the most appealing in the collection. Take, for instance, the
stunningly beautiful "to Jane Cooney Baker, died 1-22-62,"
and so you have gone
leaving me here
in a room with a torn shade
and Siegfried's Idyll playing on a small red radio.
and ends thus:
it is not enough that there are many deaths
and that this is not the first;
it is not enough that I may live many more days,
even perhaps, many more years.
it is not enough.
the phone is like a dead animal that will
not speak. and when it speaks again it will
always be the wrong voice now.
I have waited before and you have always walked in through
the door. now you must wait for me.
There is always in Bukowski this feeling that the real danger
is an internal affair, a matter of letting yourself succumb to
a secret, terrible truth. In "somewhere it's 12:41 a.m.,"
you know, I might easily let the
monsters have my
but once you let them in, getting
them out is almost
And it's against this existential dread that Bukowski directs
his most powerful Camus-like edicts, as we see in this stanza
from "for some friends":
I believe in the strength of the bloody hand
I believe in eternal ice
I demand that we die
blue-lipped and grinning across the impossibility
stretched across ourselves.
No wonder the French love him, eh?
Open All Night has its fair share of near-misses. For
all its easy, rambling length, Bukowski's poetry has a pattern
that resembles haiku: no matter how long the poem might be, he
often tries to make its last lines turn in an unexpected direction,
to end on a surprising moment of revelation. The need for marked
closure is obvious and even understandable, but Bukowski's 'turned'
endings sometimes seem a little forced, as if they haven't evolved
naturally and smoothly from the preceding lines. Still, this
is a superb collection, and I look forward to the future Bukowski
volumes--an odd thought, really, when you consider Bukowski's
been dead nearly seven years now.
Back to Archived Short
With the Angel
Nick Hornby (editor)
is put in the service of charity in Speaking With the Angel,
a new short story collection edited by Nick Hornby: proceeds
from its sales will help autistic children. It is fitting that
these writers--ten Britons and two Americans--are contributing
their work to help children caught in the isolation and mysteries
of autism break out and engage the world because that is what
the characters in the best stories here do: they break out of
isolation in its various forms and engage the world. In this
respect, perhaps, artists and autistic children have common cause.
In many of these stories, a character's world enlarges just
a little bit. My favorite is Colin Firth's "The Department
of Nothing." A schoolboy is transfixed by the stories told
by his ailing, shut-in grandmother. She is simply using her powers
of invention to distract herself from the certainty that she's
dying, but to the boy, the world he finds in her room is the
real world, and what's outside it is "the department of
nothing." The balance between fantasy and reality is nicely
nuanced: the fantasy that his grandmother's false teeth are talking
to him leads him through a chain of real-life events to befriend
the neighborhood undertaker. What better way to come to terms
with death and the transformative power of storytelling?
Childhood transformations are themes in other stories in this
collection too. Patrick Marber's "Peter Shelley" describes
a boy's first sexual experience in his girlfriend's filthy apartment.
The details may be squalid, but the result is exhilarating: "I
spit my tea in her face and then she buries her face into mine
and it's hot and wet. Her mouth tastes of beer and cigarettes."
Afterward, going home, the boy tells us that "I go up in
the pissy lift feeling like I could eat the world."
Speaking of that pissy lift--that's a stinking elevator to
you, Yank--I got a lift of my own contemplating the expressive
wonders of this collection's idiomatic British. Some of it is
almost as puzzling as the futuristic language of the Beethoven-loving
thug Alex in Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange. Here,
for example, is a Scottish tough in Irvine Welsh's "Catholic
Guilt (You Know You Love It)": "All those fuckin' tossers
were standing in the street talking to themselves. The yuppies
were now emulating the jakeys; drinking outside in the street
and belthering shite to themselves; or rather, into those small,
nearly-invisible microphones connected to their mobiles."
What's a jakey? Beats the shite out of me. When the narrator
gets irritated, he gets chuffed, and when he sees something,
he clocks it--as in, "I clocked a twist of that diseased
mouth." In this collection, I've clocked a new world.
--Arthur Alexander Parker
Back to Archived Short
Stephen King's new horror novel, opens with all the creepy foreshadowing
and otherworldly references you'd expect from the genre's genius:
after a few pages of headlines referring to nationwide UFO sightings,
we meet four middle-aged men (well, late thirties, at least)
who, along with their common childhood in Derry, Maine, and their
burnt-out dreams, seem to share a strange, unspecified mental
Or, to be as precise as King is willing to be in these opening
pages, they're equally gifted, though in different ways.
Jonesy, the college professor, catches a cheating student with
his gift; Henry, the psychiatrist, gains stunningly clear insight
into one of his neurotic patients with his gift; Pete, the car
dealer, finds a lady's lost car keys with his gift; and Beaver,
the carpenter, spoils an acquaintance's story of a fabricated
sexual encounter with his gift.
But the gift can only go so far, it seems. As the opening
pages come to an end, King teases out just a sliver of pending
doom for Jonesy: despite Henry's phone call warning him to be
careful, Jonesy, King writes, has "no idea that he is going
to finish this [day] in a hospital room, smashed up and fighting
for his goddam life."
Readers don't have to wait long to find out what happens,
though: on the next page, King tells us that Jonesy, like King
himself, was hit by a distracted driver and was forced to undergo
months of painful physical therapy. But that's about all King
reveals for quite a few pages, and it's certainly among the more
straightforward events he relates in this novel that hinges,
deliciously, on cunning authorial teases and neat narrative tricks.
Once Jonesy's recovered sufficiently to walk, the four friends
make their annual trip to the Maine woods for a stint of deer
hunting. But-inevitably-things don't go according to plan. Before
it's over, the reader will meet strange, mind-controlling aliens
that spread a potentially lethal sort of fungus, along with an
equally lethal military man named Kurtz who's dead set on destroying
the aliens and all they stand for. Which side, precisely, is
worse is just one of the elements King masterfully manages to
This is King's first novel to be published since his well-documented
road accident (1999's Hearts in Atlantis was a story collection
and last year's On Writing was nonfiction), and it is
by far the most satisfying work he's done in years. Given its
heft and range, I suppose it's inevitable to compare Dreamcatcher
to what is arguably King's masterwork, The Stand, and
while I don't think King has topped his best early work here,
he comes pretty close. His writing has subtly changed, though.
His portrayal of the pain behind suffering seems more complicated
now, more fully embodied, and the sense of fate and the unknowability
of one's future is more poignantly drawn. Of course, King wrote
Dreamcatcher while recovering from the accident, and the
shift in tone might be somewhat obligatory. In the Author's Note,
he writes that
I was never so grateful to be writing as during my time of
work (November 16, 1999-May 29, 2000) on Dreamcatcher.
I was in a lot of physical discomfort during those six and a
half months, and the book took me away. The reader will see that
pieces of that physical discomfort followed me into the story,
but what I remember most is the sublime release we find in vivid
Finding sublime release through deadly plagues and military-driven
massacres would be an odd concept for most of us, but for King,
it seems comfortingly appropriate.
Back to Archived Short
Robert B. Parker
For a book reviewer,
getting a Robert B. Parker book--especially a new Spenser title--is
a pleasant holiday from the travails of literary strain. Spenser's
comically immodest narrative voice and Parker's knack for speed
and snappy dialogue guarantee an effortlessly entertaining divertissement.
So when I say that Potshot, the latest Spenser entry,
may not represent the absolute pinnacle in the series, just remember:
it's Robert Parker, so you won't hear any complaints from me.
Never one to waste time, Parker opens Potshot with
minimum fanfare: a possibly dishonest--and certainly attractive--woman
steps into Spenser's idle office and asks for his help. In a
noir film script, it might be abbreviated to this: Daylight.
Spenser's office. Enter femme fatale.
Or is she?
Mary Lou Buckman's husband has been killed in Potshot, Arizona,
she tells Spenser, and she wants him to find the killer. The
police suspect a local gang murdered him when he refused to pay
a bribe, but they lack the evidence--or courage--to make an arrest.
Spenser (never one to let evidence or danger get in his way)
readily takes the case, but once he travels to the desert town
and interviews a few hostile locals (including the gang's charismatic
leader, the Preacher), the case gets a little complicated, to
say the least. Who, precisely, are the good guys? Even after
the town elders hire Spenser to destroy the gang, he still isn't
sure about whose side he should be on. And being a resoundingly
honorable tough guy, he isn't going to shoot anybody before he's
sure they deserve it. Naturally, it doesn't keep him from rounding
up six tough guys (all of them comically colorful characters
from earlier Spenser books) and holing up in a rented house near
the gang's compound. And it goes without saying that Spenser's
own gang is armed to the teeth.
Potshot is an ironic twist on The Seven Samurai,
of course, with the town elders as crooked as they come (although,
artistic aspects aside, it might be more appropriate to compare
it to the inferior The Magnificent Seven, given the Western
setting). Kurosawa isn't Potshot's only film reference--the
central plot draws on another great film, Chinatown--but
while Parker's allusions are fun, the real reason to read
Potshot is to watch a master show how effortlessly entertaining
and fresh a time-honored genre can be.
Sure, Potshot is the literary equivalent of cotton
candy, but it's the best literary fun I've had in months, and
I only wish Parker could deliver Spenser titles by the armload.
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