Because there isn't much going on this week, because we need to fill up the calendar space, because we love books, this week The Stranger offers literary Seattle short reviews of great books. There is, however, a calendar for open mics, because we at The Stranger support the democratization of literature.
Ascending Peculiarity: Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey
Edited by Karen Wilkin
There is nothing quite so unintentionally amusing as the recalcitrant interview subject. Gorey, the architect of a visual world that is somehow all at once Edwardian, Victorian, and Jazz Age, would much rather talk about George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet, about cats, and about Dallas than his own life; what emerges is a series of glimpses of a well-managed persona. In a way, this collection proves the futility of the interview--what with Gorey recycling the same anecdotes over 25 years, such as the befuddlement about how much a certain child loves The Curious Sofa (a slyly pornographic work). But it's worth trawling through the conversations with this utter aesthete, who hobnobbed in his youth with Frank O'Hara, Alison Lurie, and V. R. (Bunny) Lang. You'll find yourself wishing that charm, erudition, and (true, not retro) eccentricity would make a comeback. EMILY HALL
Some of Us Have to Get up in the Morning
(Turtle Point Press) $15.95
Some of Us Have to Get up in the Morning begins in a hardened-in-the-arteries mode. A housewife lives near a busy highway. Neighbors throw a party for the departure of the local thug on his way into the Marines. An unemployed father fights for the right to have his children. Daniel Scott tells these stories in a standard-issue working-class shtick, using simple declarative sentences, the smug irony of none-too-bright narrators, and the catalog of dirty realistic detail found in doublewides. However, Scott rubs our noses in the made-up quality of these stories. Characters from one scene surface at opportune moments in another like Pip running into Magwitch on a London street corner.
In the fruitful coincidences of his stories, in the too-good-to-be-true plot symmetries, and in the distorted details, Scott has found a storytelling style that is artificial in the way a liar elaborates or leaves out things. At the same time, the stories veer from literal possibility, they suggest that these very things could really happen and in fact are happening somewhere in America right this minute. In this way, entire stories such as the long tease of a tale "Upside Down Hart"--about a gay man who falls in love and lust with his trashy and sexy criminal sister (who happens to be married to a petty thief who happens to have sex with men for money even though he says he is straight)--revel in an ecstatic falseness. It hardly matters if this story is plausible. In this context, everything in this book makes too much sense, more sense really than anything that is merely plausible.
In the very long story (also the last in the book) "The Host," the narrator Neal wanders around America living off the food he can scrounge out of the refrigerators of men who take him home. As his physical condition deteriorates, the quality of his clients drops and the bars he frequents go from moodily lit, to dimly lit, to unlit. Finally he ends up dependent on a physically scarred, sour-milk-smelling man named Meyersohn. Meyersohn lives in an orderly apartment and lives a life of self-inflicted embarrassment. He performs oddly degrading acts, like holding dinner parties and inviting people who hate each other. It becomes clear to Neal that Meyersohn picking up a sick, half-starved homeless person and moving him into his apartment just plays into this man's inexplicable urge to degrade himself. But as bad as it gets, everything continues to go on. The story, like the book, eases into a celebration of disgrace. MATT BRIGGS
by Iain Sinclair
(Granta Books) $24.95
Iain Sinclair is the linguistic equivalent of Frank Gehry. His lush, fevered writing moves in whatever ways it pleases, in directions you don't think will work. Books such as Lights out for the Territory and Lud Heat initially appear to be the sharp rambles of the lost, but actually have a subtle, highly deliberate organization. His new novel, Landor's Tower, is another brilliant example of this chaotic approach as it struggles, and succeeds, to achieve cohesion.
Landor is a road novel, documenting the travels of a writer named Norton into the Welsh countryside. Norton is doing research on Walter Savage Landor, the 19th-century poet who attempted to form a utopian community in the Ewyas Valley. The book tells the story of Norton's trip, quickly reducing any idea of plot to a mere thread, as it delves into a number of sub-stories regarding other utopian communities, the investigation of a sex scandal involving a member of the British government, and a rash of suicides that scandalize the British defense industry. And any time he likes, Norton happily jumps off the narrative train to muse about anything that strikes his fancy.
Sinclair's writing presents a serious challenge to the reader. He was a poet, philosopher, and critic before turning to fiction, and this diverse learning is woven into the involved text of his novels. Reading his work, there is a sense of being in a pub with an affable yet slightly screwy stranger. He starts to tell a story, but pretty soon you realize that conventions of narrative are not tethering him to any structured course, that he's determined to go wherever he wants to find some greater personal truth, some closure about his own mysteries. Mysteries that, if you don't get up from the table, gain a universal vision.
In Sinclair's lens, the past is a descent into the maelstrom, but at the center of the storm is calm. The reader might get a little battered along the way, but the payoff is worth the effort. MICHAEL SHILLING
* HYPOCRISY--Formerly known as East India Trading Co. Mon at 7:30 pm; sign-up at 7 pm, Coffee Messiah, 1554 E Olive Way, 208-1188, free.
POETRY ANDANTE--Thurs at 7:30 pm, Cafe Allegro, 4002 University Way NE, 634-2310, free.
SCRATCHING POST--Poetry open-mic, all ages. Thurs at 8 pm; sign-up at 7:30 pm. Mr. Spot's Chai House, 2213 NW Market St, 297-2424, free.
RE-BIRTH--Thurs at 7:30 pm. Zodiac Cafe, 605 E Broadway, 720-4502, free.
RED SKY POETRY THEATER--The granddaddy of poetry open mics. Sun at 7 pm, Globe Cafe, 1531 14th Ave, 324-8815, free.
STAGEFRIGHT--Youth open mic. Come express yourself to the masses, for aspiring writers and performers ages 14-24. Second and fourth Wednesday of every month, Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave, 322-7030, 7 pm, free.
SEATTLE POETRY SLAM--Wed at 9 pm. Sit & Spin, 2219 Fourth Ave, 441-9484, $4.