To me, if you call someone post-modern as a writer I have two competing notions of this — minimalism, which generally excepts the limitations of representation and instead looks at cross-sections, slices, intersections, and impasse in stories and human relationship and language. I think of the plays of Beckett or various Don Delillo novels. The other thing I think about with postmodernism is maximalism, an attempt to tell everything about a thing and then often failing as well because whether we attempt to shown them or not, the limitations still exist.
Mantissa 2/5 Stars
This novel is kind of the opposite of the novel that I review right after it, and all of them have some various similarities. We begin with a man waking into consciousness, and even gender, identity, and other features we clearly map onto consciousness are not there yet. Instead, it’s pure presence. As he comes to, he recalls many things about existence and reality, but not features of his own mind or history.
He realizes he’s in some kind of medical facility and being attended to by a doctor who comes to her identify herself as Dr. A Delphie (get it?). As he’s awakened he’s presented with his situation and eventually told that sex will be the only true way to account for and treat his situation and the doctor sexual assaults and rapes him. It’s treated mostly as a comedy here.
The novel continues in this one scene but more and more is added to the moment and the plot gets crazier. This is like a zany sex romp and it’s kind of awful. It reminds most of those “LOVER” sketches of Will Ferrell from early 2000s SNL, and while it’s a camp version of 1960s and 1970s explorations of sex and sexual identity (and language, and literary scholarship) it’s not funny or maybe not funny anymore. It’s kind of shockingly (schlockingly) bad.
Death, Sleep and the Traveller 3/5
I don’t have a lot of experience reading John Hawkes, and you should know right now, of course this is not John Hawkes the actor (aka Saul Starr from Deadwood). Instead, we are looking at an experimental (postmodern?) American writer.
This is a book of minimalist representation. We follow a Dutchman coming to terms with the dissolution of his marriage. He starts the novel off believing that his nationality is the cause of his divorce, and as he learns more, changes his mind, and talks to and about his wife, he begins to amend his memory and understanding. We are treated to reversions and circling back of his initial conceptions. It’s an interesting, but relatively anemic version of marriage in which the mythological sense of sexuality in cast onto his wife. I feel this like is a very early version of a kind of novel we’ve seen in novel and tv and movies as sexuality has been not…understood better, but considered more so through the years and through different ways of looking at our impulses and passions.
Too Late 4/5
This, however, is a very good novel. It’s from 1978 and it really really feels it, in a good way. We begin with our narrator (hilariously being described in the dust jacket as “our hero”) being told by a female voice that she doesn’t want to watch the movie any more and is gonna go home he stays behind and finishes the movie and agrees it’s too violent. As he walks home, the movie, the violence, and his imagination get to him and he worries that he’s being pursued or that something might have happened to his female companion. When he returns home, she’s not there. He’s worried, but this kind of thing happens from time to time so he doesn’t worry too much. Next day, she’s still not there. And the fear and anxiety grows. He’s calls around, he talks to friends, still nothing. Eventually he talks to the police, files a report, they investigate. We slowly through all this come to realize that this is a kind of girlfriend, kind of ex girlfriend. She sleeps with other men, they get into loud fights periodically, and her life has more going on than he realized initially. It all goes from there.
But the point for a lot of this to notice is how tightly focused and latched onto our narrator and his relatively simplistic modes of thought this book is. It’s hyper-focused, and while we’re reading it never strays much beyond his consciousness. Now the other thing that starts to occur to you is: did something happen to her? Or has she run away? Or maybe he’s exaggerating their relationship and they’re just not close? So the mystery of her disappearance is tightly controlled and tightly interwoven with the mystery of the mystery itself, as in, what is the actual shape of all of this. It’s a brilliantly executed novel that refuses to saddle itself with a thriller label or a drama label and instead keeps you focused on the moment.
Molloy – 4/5 Stars
Part of the famous “Trilogy” Trilogy and in a lot of ways this is as much two novels as one. It’s broken into two long sections of more or less equal length — the Molloy section and the Moran section. Molloy is told in two long paragraphs. So the focus is on Molloy, a kind of floating consciousness of a character. He awakes or comes to in a kind of haze, things slightly start falling back into place. He’s got a leg injury, he rides a bike, he feeds his mother, someone visits him, he farts numerous times a day, he’s counted. We delve deeply into his mind as he’s rounding out his consciousness and life. It’s intense. Then we switch to Moran, a detective in charge of finding Molloy, but who spends most of his time thinking about dinner, about his wife that he doesn’t like very much, but mostly about his son, who he’s super focused on throughout.
It’s an intense novel and it’s easy to say nothing really happens. But it’s also a very amazingly executed novel. It owes a lot to Flann O’Brien it seems, and Joyce of course, but was written in French and translated into English.