“Talk” is another book acquired some time ago but left initially unread, sitting in a stack on a table, even reshuffled, as if for a game of solitaire, or as if it needed to thaw or season before consuming, opened for a few bites but put back down for something else, but when picked up again finally found its taste delightful, finished, and thoroughly enjoyed. And nothing will do but I must talk about it. Did I pick “Talk” out of the free library book box down on the corner? I don’t recall, and it doesn’t really matter except that I’ve started these short short reviews here at The Toads I’m tagging “Lit Crit Shorts,” though they are not proper reviews, as was discussed off-line after my posting of an LCS of “The Ant.” By proper is meant the reviewer talks mainly about the book in hand, gives it a few stars, or fewer, to indicate degree to which it was liked or is being recommended: ***** or *** or *. Of course you can like something without it at all being good or good for you. In any case, I’m not interested in writing that kind of review. But neither are these so-called Lit Crit Shorts an original form. The New Yorker in a weekly feature publishes four “briefly noted” book reviews, single paragraphs, an art form in its own right. Clear and concise sentences too, unlike the ones you’ll likely stumble over here at The Toads, like miscreant directions in an unfamiliar part of town. Not that I can’t write a perfectly navigable sentence or a proper book review, one that will get a reader home safely. And there are templates for that sort of thing. Plates that match. And how do you cast something without a mold? Still, it’s the reflective, personal (as in personal essay) response to a reading I’m interested in, not a discussion of whether or not the thing holds true to a tradition or has lit out for some territory previously uncharted, though of course that’s important too and there’s no reason it can’t be included, in any form desired. Authors of course, their publishers and company, are interested in reviews that will cause their books to fly off shelves. Click here to order now! But if someone is not likely to read your book, why would they read a review of your book? And if they are going to read your book, why would they want to read a review of your book? Likewise, I won’t watch movie trailers, unless I’m not going to see the movie. And I’m not just talking about spoiler alert here. I love reading TNY “Briefly Noted” reviews, yet in some 50 years of reading The New Yorker, I’m not sure I’ve ever ran out and purchased a book as a result of seeing it “Briefly Noted.” I’m probably an exception here, but I’m not sure that readers of book reviews are the same readers as those of the books. I read book reviews for the book review, not for the book. And longer reviews demand, or should require, a degree of research the common writer is not likely qualified to conduct. And, yes, if there is such a thing as a common reader, why should there not also be someone called a common writer? We don’t all need or want to be specialists. The generalist can bring to a study a perspective the specialist is too close to envision. But the ease with which we are all able to opine these days calls for double checking of a speaker’s ethos, logos, and pathos – their means of persuasion, an ability to read into a speaker’s presuppositions, assumptions, and biases. And it does indeed appear, alas, the ability to check independently for reliability, credibility, authority – in short, to check sources – is startlingly uncommon. We don’t need to crave facts, or only facts, there’s no fun in just that; it’s good to able to deconstruct a statement to its constituent parts, to read the book in a bumper sticker. That is what mechanics do, and what readers ought to aspire to do. A prerequisite to talking about books is the ability to listen to a book, and it’s hard to talk and listen at the same time. You can follow that link, btw, to a New Yorker Page Turner book review from July 1, 2015, where the reviewer, Molly Fischer, finds the novel “Talk” “weirdly arduous.” It reminded her of Sartre’s play “No Exit,” where hell is described as “other people,” of which there are three, same as Rosenkrantz’s “Talk,” though Sartre included a valet. I also thought of “No Exit” while I was reading “Talk,” but I didn’t find reading “Talk” any more arduous than watching the TV sitcom “Friends,” which Stephen Koch suggests in his introduction to the 2015 copy might be a successor to “Talk.” I did think of tweets and today’s social media and the like, which Molly also tangents into, but only because of their notable absence from “Talk.” I liked “Talk” because it was written around and takes place in 1965, on the beach, with little to distract the characters but the distractions of their own making. They indeed come of age in an existential time and place, with the privilege of being able to make their own choices, and make them they do, with one another’s help through the knack (dare I say art) of talking and listening. And “Talk” is interesting for not only what is said but what the characters don’t talk about, or talk very little about. They no doubt would have very few followers on a social media platform like today’s Twitter. Their talk isn’t about nothing, in spite of its being existentially grounded. “Talk” reminded me also of Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” Waiting on the beach, “Talk” might have been subtitled. “Talk” I recommend especially for readers who today might be around the age of 30, as well as for readers who may have been somewhere in their formative years in the mid 1960’s. “Talk” is a modern classic.
To envision a V
perceive to verify
unfold in flight
and to survive
(without dropping out)
& other reifications
the keyboard caret
when shifting six
for turning things
& pointing out
to be inserted
at this point
D for dan buoy cork
with flag to mark
Two Stories by Osvaldo Lamborghini, translated by Jessica Sequeria, just out from Sublunary Editions (Seattle), measures a mere 80 pages (4 and ½” by 7” by ¼”) and contains the pieces “The Morning” and “Just Write Anything!” and also an introduction (by Cesar Aira, translated by Adrian Nathan West), an acknowledgements page, a 4 page translator’s note, and 62 endnotes (in a font size so small this reader’s used eyes required over-the-counter reading glasses of +3.50 strength), almost as long as either story – indeed, a third story – as well as a Parental Advisory warning label (suitable for bookmark use), modified to read:
P A R E N T A L
A D V I S O R Y
One is tempted to form a review as response in a supposed style of the stories:
In the beginning was the word. And the ice dam(n) broke, the word escaped, and all hell broke loose, as in a Blow-up. A devil’s drool (“Las Babas del Diablo,” Cortazar). It was all done on a typewriter. That tin bell kept us awake. Its tintinnabulations. And he had to send his only son, or daughter, as the case may arise, to supply some endnotes, but he didn’t explain to what end. And the notes musical, in a sense, pleasant. One confessed to eating the plums. Bless me Father, for I have eaten the plums. They were purple. And the season Lent. We had given up meaning for the season, without reason. And the church filled with words, every pew stuffed end to end. And every word related. In each word all the genetic material of the language, of all the languages, of the uttered universe. Prokaryotic flagellum. To allow word movement. The words stood, knelt, sat, stood, and filed out, one by one, pew after pew, line after line. Some disappeared. Through the blank pages of the cosmos, along the gaucho trails along the green rivers in the gorged valleys below the ghastly ghostly mountains, seeping through the pampas and the full drainage basins, out to sea. The sea, the sea! Wordomics. This is my body, a comics: “To ourselves … new paganism … omphalos” (Joyce, Ulysses).
Of the two stories, “The Morning” and “Just Write Anything!,” the latter is perhaps the more accessible, comprehendible if not understandable, than the former, but the first, “The Morning,” one might find more enjoyable. The two stories might have been written for two different audiences (although Aira’s introduction suggests Lamborghini didn’t write to any particular audience), but neither seems within the purview of the common reader. But what is within the purview of the common reader? Slogans? Well, slogans are comprehendible, but rarely understood. They become like magic words, spells. In the US today, MAGA might serve as an example; an argument of proposal in no need of backing, it is not an argument at all, but an order, a command. Authoritarian. Enter, sex, and why we need a parental advisory. Sex, like politics, manipulative, special interest, you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours. For the working class, sex is one thing, for the middle class, something else. The middle class wants relief from guilt, a guilt the working class does not feel. The middle class wants to enjoy, to experience pleasure, guilty it has benefits others don’t, but not enough that it can’t also enjoy envy of those who have more. Thus the middle class craves perfumes and brands, must have fantasy and escape, ritual that includes punishments and rewards. The working class has not time nor appetite for values which can’t readily be seen, measured, felt. As for Peronism and whether or not readers need a background in Argentine history to appreciate Lamborghini, Peronism might not be substantially different from any other ism around the world seeking to exploit one class by numbing another class for the enrichment of a third class, except that Peron started out wanting to make all of the people happy all of the time. But of course there are always those who don’t want to be happy, or don’t care to be made happy. Politics is sex without love.
In other words, for the working class, the word innuendo means exactly what it sounds like, while for the middle class, it can only suggest what cannot in what is sometimes called polite society (on the endangered species list) be directly talked about, and must be submersed in ambiguity, doubt, and mistrust. Enter Peron, that is to say, to wit, an imputation that what is valued most in each class can somehow be conjoined, but the ballroom can’t hold everyone.
Click here, on the belly button, where you were tied to your mother, treading water in the salt marsh. You were still nullifidian then. All gills and fins. Your mother’s voice coming muffled through the cloudy water. And then your cry, and then your sucking, and then your sleep, and then the tin bell, and the rhythm rolling. The next time you awake, you are swaddled in the bottom of a dory, your father at the oars, your mother tending a fishing line, all against a muddy current in coastal waters.
Lamborghini’s writing is probably not egalitarian, not as evidenced by these two stories or the three poems appearing in Firmament No. 1 (Sublunary Editions, Winter 2021), not that it needs to be, yet it contains all the characteristics readers generally value. Humor surrounded by horror. The sweets and sours and bitters and salts of life. It is a writing of associative addition, one image conjuring up or giving way to another, the narrative like a bus ride, the bus stopping at the end of every sentence to let someone off and to take on another rider. Though these riders are not necessarily characters – they may be ideas, or props. Repetition is therefore valued, and memory encouraged. So that at the end of “The Morning,” if asked what it is about, we can say it is about a character savaged. But the common reader wants her back scratched, not whipped.
The form (forms) of these two short stories appears very different in each, the one on the open sea, the other back and forth where the rivers spread in the tidal marsh. Jessica Sequeira’s “endnotes” are indispensable, and actually a pleasure. For one thing, it’s comforting as a reader to know you’re in the same boat as other readers, translators, critics. That is to say, the difficulty is not yours alone, not yours at all. You are now able to read. And while the endnotes clarify, elucidate, inform, they also project, surmise, guess.
Sublunary Editions is an independent press out of Seattle. You can find a copy of Two Stories by Osvaldo Lamborghini here.
The essentials get hoarded by the rich, the fluff, and the oofy, the pantry stuffed with truffles and beans and such, starch and flour, coffees and chocolates, the hall closet full with bamboo bathroom tissue, the library stacked with first edition hardbacks, clean copies dust covers intact, and a few handmade porcelain jars and a cast bronze abstract sculpture catching some sunlight through weeping glass, the boudoir walls dressed with formal wear and evening gowns made from wet fly wings, the garden roamed with roses, wisteria, and a cherry tree, and three peacocks playing near a pond. Others make do with equivalents, pink flamingos made from plastic, for example. The necessities of life change slowly, and vary from place to place, person to person, time to time. What profits youths to join jobs where like their mothers and fathers would have made happier children? Predicament is everything. And connotations take us away. White, blue, or pink collar? What’s behind door number four? The privileged get on the job training. Someone cleans the privy, the house of office, wash the washroom the washer person. The human path is littered with exuviae, as one’s growth outstrips one’s capacity for change, “a nine-hundreds-year-old name” not a gift but a curse. When any name or experience will suffice, a number, a meal, a drink, or its equivalent.
She’s the Wicked Witch of the West sleeping up in your attic. He’s the troll lives in the hollow under the stairs, in the crawl space. He’s the bugaboo in your damp basement. He’s the psychopomp comes ticket collecting as the train enters the long dark tunnel. Or it’s the grey slightly out of focus shark in the clear waters of a mellow blue bay on a yellow day in May. They don’t come quietus, to relieve us of our debt, of our terrestrial weight. At random do they come and go, to and fro, a sudden angry bee in one’s bonnet of fake flowers. They appear and disappear. She comes in blue calm or in the dark and stormy night, to the homeless and the castled, so democratic a figure is she, yet despotic, but at the same time permits you to go on self-governing, but in her presence. You are still free to go about your way, but she goes with you. They come for no reason, no cause. They don’t want anything, and when they say they will not hurt you, they’re telling the truth. You feel no pain, but neither do you feel joy. They are the secret sharers in your heart of darkness. What to do, when your butterflies turn into winged monkeys? You live an elastic life in an elastic city.
A place exists, not external to terrestrial time, and unconcerned with cosmic time, and not ignorant of clocks and calendars, but where one has no need to know precisely what day it is, day of the week or calendar date, or the current time: here, there, or anywhere. Call this place, notplace. It’s not a place one goes to, more, it’s a place one appears within, unannounced, unexpected, without predetermination, appointment, or predestination. And notplace is empty of assumptions and predispositions. This is not about bliss or heaven, some sort of painless state and such; it’s here, and it’s real. Also, it’s not about the Now of mindfulness. Even now is irrelevant in Notplace. All reference, research, redolent of time, disappear. It’s not seasonless. The sun still burns and the east wind still blows cold. The sun rises and sets, or appears to, and the moon shows and not shows, and the stars are there and not there. And, of course, there are no words spoken, no words heard, none written: it is a place of prayer.
History, a day game, his story, a looper machine, a rhythm continuously churning the same old fat. The past cannot cure this present precious moment as it is devoured by his own story. The ark sinks, the birds do not return, the sacrifice runs on and on and on. He was so Goddy Dodgy that he gave his only Son so that no one would need to sacrifice or be sacrificed again, to bring peace, yet every son and daughter is still sacrificed. Moloch. The Earth rolls forward, will not be stopped, leaves no tracks, nothing motionless as this tiny airplane 8 miles high begins its descent to a 9 inning game where I sit in the center field bleachers in the Tucson sun for an inning before retreating to Sylvie’s air conditioned suite next to the press box over home plate, with a glass of iced tea with a slice of lemon and a sprig of spearmint stick. Perado grounds to short, out at first. Alofme strikes out, looking hot and dehydrated, too exhausted to swing the bat. Carmone drives a hard ball to deep right center and already rounds first when Waltzer up against the fence leaps and pockets the shooting star. Sylvie mentions a few fine restaurants where we might later dine. She likes to eat out, under the blue skies, in the open air, and there’s a one story place she knows in South Tucson with a roof patio, with shade palms in huge buckets and fine water misters cooling the outside tables and a water fountain running against the traffic noise, bubbling and burbling, colorful umbrellas. The game was booked, we left the ballpark for the restaurant, and on the menu we found Berkshire Pig Tacos, Ossobuco with Gremolata, Peruvian Roasted Chicken. Sylvie ordered a bottle of cold dry white Merlot and another of dusty purple Sangiovese. The skies were blue, the sun setting solid gold, the heat lifting quickly in the cloudless desert evening. Your skies are never blue, Sylvie said. Always cloudy, or foggy, grey, cold. Why don’t you come live in the desert for some time away. There are ways to cool off. Swimming holes, sunhats, shorts and t shirts and sandals. The shade of the Tipu trees, Velvet Mesquite, the Blue Verde. Why do you gotta be so desperate all the time? Find some blue skies, enjoy the porch shade, relax. Stop worrying about the world. You’re the King of Anhedonia. Take off that crown of thorns. Feel some joy. Joie de vivre. Sit out with me and talk and dine and let the blue skies seep deep into your body. She reached across the table for my hand and I let her take it in hers and I tried to feel some pleasure in it.
“Blue Skies” is episode 58 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
Jim and Jack were interventionists, private eyes specializing in surveillance, tracking down missing persons, stakeouts. They accessed systems, great and small. They could hack into a kid’s video game, a city’s traffic grid, banks, email, purchases, sales, the International Space Station. They’d been following me using outside smart home and building security cameras as I walked north through Venice, hired by Sylvie, my faithful half goddess counselor and once part time partner, my Cassandra, whose love for me I could not believe, who called out my bad decisions, my financial planner who set me up on my hobo trek through time and place after I’d borrowed the $300 million from the Walter Group for a day to syphon off just enough to pay my own separate future way before returning the file to its rightful owners, with interest. Fate is the decisions you make, Sylvie repeated, but I’d not been greedy, and that too was a fateful decision. And somewhere along the way Sylvie had purchased a minor league baseball team, fell in love with the green fields under lights at night, with the game, with the travel, with the players. Jim and Jack informed me I was invited down as Sylvie’s guest to Tucson for a three game series with the Desert Wavers versus the Northwest Roadtrippers. I spent the afternoon supervised by Jim and Jack in a professional makeup artist’s studio in Culver City, where I got a real washing followed by haircut and shave and some new duds. They fixed me up with a new cell phone and ID. We would catch a flight out of LA for Tucson come morning. Meantime I was their guest in their suite at Hotel Olumposh overlooking the Marina del Rey, where we dined, in the hotel’s Lighthouse Lounge, on butter seared scallops with prosecco, filet mignon petite medallions with truffles in a tangy orange sauce, squid soup, crab and oyster shooters, rosemary garlic and olive bread, Palos Verdes Pinot Noir – a jazz trio playing, a vocalist appearing during dessert (custard raspberry tarts, tiramisu) singing a set of songs all with the word moon in the titles.
“The Interventionists” is episode 57 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
Somewhere between my time travel stay at Tin Can Beach and being abandoned by Tilde in the Venice canals, I’d lost my cell phone. I had not missed it because no one ever calls me, nor did I ever call them. Occasionally I got a text from Sylvie giving me the score of some obscure baseball game. And I also sometimes spaced out playing any number of chess puzzles in an app I’d downloaded. But my use of the cell phone was sporadic, and most of the time I didn’t bother leaving the phone on. Walking away from Tilde’s folks’ place on the canal I thought of calling Wormy, but I couldn’t find my phone. I figured he was probably off time travelling on the Vespa anyway, and wouldn’t pick up. I crossed Speedway, continued north on Ocean Front, and cut over to the Boardwalk at Muscle Beach. North of the Venice Breakwater, where the beach is wider, deeper, I walked down to the water. I dropped my kit just above the water line and stripped down to my swimming trunks and walked out into the surf, close enough to keep an eye on my stuff up on the beach, far enough out to get a good washing. I slipped off my trunks and scrubbed them in the sandy salty foam, keeping just my head and shoulders out of the water. The trunks nearly got away from me in the surf. The beach was not crowded. I got the trunks back on and dove under a few small waves and swam out just beyond the break, turning and treading water, looking back at the beach, up and down the coast, out to sea, thinking about my trophic level in the food chains, walking about, in the water, up on the beach, in the Walter Group, in the Army, in the Church, in the library, in schools, on the streets, walking through the Los Angeles Basin with the hobos tramps and bums, with the blue pink and white collar workers, rich and poor sick and skaters bikers surfers and hodads, police preachers thieves detectives buskers, moms dads and kids, dogs cats coyotes racoons rats mice pigeons and opossums, work shifts, job gigs, sleeping on the beach, hiking up through the canyons, onto the Santa Monica Mountain trails, hiking through downtown, sleeping under an overpass, the traffic sound ongoing like the surf, day and night, night and day.
“Now I Out Walking” is episode 55 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
Quiet finally filled Wormy’s place as an early morning fog rose over the dunes from the ocean beach. His plan to slough off Tilde awoke a sleeping shrew. They fought and argued and cried and wrestled and scratched, clawed and scolded each other all night long, Tilde’s wails crescendoing up and down scales like fiddles in flight. Why he couldn’t wait till morning to tell her I don’t know. Something about he wanted to give her time to pack and say goodbye. Late morning I got up and went inside and made coffee. On my way to the bathroom I passed their bedroom and saw them sleeping head to toe. The ’56 Chevy two-ten was gassed up and ready to go. I packed my bedroll kit and stashed it in the trunk with a small cooler of ice, a couple of beers, a chunk of cheese, and a loaf of bread. I waited outside with Brigid, sipping coffee, feeling the breeze begin to shift offshore to onshore. We were not getting the early start I had asked for. Wormy came out with his coffee. We heard the shower come on through the open bathroom window. Tilde came out, her hair still wet, her backpack fully rigged, and walked straight to the car without a word. She stowed her stuff in the trunk and climbed into the back and whistled for Brigid who jumped into the back seat, the two of them hugging and snuggling in a way that did not suggest goodbye. I gave Wormy a questioning look. Oh, yeah, he said, turns out Brigid is Tilde’s dog, not mine, and she wants to keep her. We were now three for the road as I pulled onto Grand Avenue and drove down to Vista del Mar where I turned north to San Francisco.
“Three for the Road” is episode 52 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.