Frog City Updike by Arthur Graham

Frog City Updike never would’ve been without Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, the book that showed me just how loose I could get with form. — Arthur Graham, Big Al’s Books and Pals

One of the words I use too often in reviews is “interesting,” but I never really make it clear whether a particular word piques my interest or holds it. It’s the same with “nice,” which I also overuse; nice can have negative connotations; the last thing your wife wants to hear when she walks in wearing a new outfit is, “You look nice, Dear.” Even more confusing I would expect is when something gets referred to as “nice and interesting.” Frog City Updike–the place, not the book–sounds like a nice, interesting place. I’m not sure I’d want to live there but if I did I can see myself running across interesting things and saying, “Oh, that’s nice,” or vice versa. Continue reading

Editorial by Arthur Graham

The following is my editorial of Arthur Graham’s Editorial (Bizarro Press Edition,  149 pages).
The following (edited) definitions of editorial are from

noun — an article presenting the opinion of the editor.

Whoever the editor is–the unnamed narrator, a young orphan who remembers “days of reading and masturbating in my room” but doesn’t remember, at the time of telling, what his age was (17 or 28)–is dumped by auntie and uncle into the cruel sea of the outside world with his heavy burden, a suitcase filled with dirty magazines. The narrator assumes that the reader is surprised: Continue reading

Pulp by Charles Bukowski

For newcomers to the world of Charles Bukowski, be forewarned: Pulp (Ecco, 202 pages) is probably not the best place to start.

I say this, not because it doesn’t rank right up there with his other books, or because greener readers will fail to grasp the allusions to earlier work it contains, but rather because as his ultimate novel (completed months before his death) Pulp can easily be seen as Bukowski’s final farewell. In it, the aged author takes his readers on one last foray into familiar territories of sex, madness, and death, while at the same time expanding on those themes in brilliant and often unexpected ways. Drawing on science fiction and hardboiled noir elements as well, the end result is a bizarre send-up of genre fiction that is just as hilarious and insightful as anything else he wrote. Continue reading

The Suburban Swindle by Jackie Corley

With The Suburban Swindle (So New Books, 99 pages) Jackie Corley delivers a collection of memoir-like stories about drunk, pissed-off, reckless, late-teen and twenty-something Jersey suburbanites fucking up relationships and getting the shit beat out of them. The narrative voice, sensibly consistent throughout the collection and rising to a kind of tortured literariness, wedges a space between author-narrator (who is destined to get the hell out of there) and subjects (who aren’t going anywhere). The narrator is an outsider-in-the-making, not quite not-one-of-them yet, but well on her way. Throughout this collection, the language is kicking violently against the box it finds itself in, rebelling like a young suburbanite, trying to find its meaning. It’s angry and frustrated: Continue reading

Hollywood by Charles Bukowski

Although far from Bukowski’s best, Hollywood (Ecco, 248 pages) is a revealing send-up of what happens when brutal honesty (Buk) interacts with the California entertainment industry. A roman a clef about the making of the independent film Barfly based on Bukowski’s life and some of his earlier stories,the book shows Bukowski finally gaining some recognition and acceptance near the end of his career. The movie stars Faye Dunnaway and Hollywood badboy Mickey Rourke who does a good job slurring and walking about with hemorrhoids. Yet it appears from the text that Bukowski would have preferred Sean Penn, who was originally cast in the part, to play him in the film–Penn had more heart. As always Continue reading

Because They Wanted to: Stories by Mary Gaitskill

Because They Wanted to (Scribner, 256 pages).  Mary Gaitskill is the real thing, as Hem said about F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Coke says about itself. She is one of those writers you feel writes in black blood, and only tells lies to clarify the truth. Like Bukowski, she is attracted to the ugly truth far more than representation of the beautiful or the good. Her detailed descriptions of female pixies and the inexorable pivots on which their love lives slip into what would be despair if they were not so inured to pain from its constant presence, her often seamless use of flashbacks in narrators or protagonists chaotically attracted Continue reading

The Vanishing Moon by Joseph Coulson

Whereas we in the west speak of, and see, a “man” on the moon, the Chinese tell stories of and see a rabbit on the moon. Poet, playwright, and editor Joseph Coulson’s great first novel The Vanishing Moon (Archipelago Books, 330 pages) is hardly focused on the moon and yet it is, one might say, focused on the vanishing of beautiful things for which the elusive moon is a most, perhaps the most, romantic emblem: a unique book of pressed wildflowers; the innocence of children playing in the woods before they become conscious of a humiliating poverty; and the exceptional beauty of the unconsummated (preserving the sublime) over the requited (wallowing in the mire) Continue reading