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12 Mar 2017 at 8:35 am #8908
Thanks for that, Rick.
This incarnation of this thread (and this incarnation of this forum) is coming up on its fifth anniversary. Frankly I’m amazed that I’m still here when so many others have gone. Amazed and grateful, I suppose, though the ivy twines around the fallen column and the place echoes lonely with voices lost.
TONY AND SUSAN: THE RIVETING NOVEL THAT INSPIRED THE NEW MOVIE by Austin Wright.
First, this novel was first published in 1993 and I’ve loved it since I first read it, probably in 1996 or thereabouts. I absolutely abhor the current subtitle and all such corporate subtitles that describe the book as “riveting” or otherwise, a modern trend that is a part of the dumbing down of America.
I had to read TONY AND SUSAN again after watching the movie DVD based upon it, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016). The book is much, much better than the movie, but the movie is well-cast, with Amy Adams as Susan, Jake Gyllenhaal as Tony/Edward and Michael Shannon as Andes. Writer-director Tom Ford’s interpretation of the book is different than my own.
I sometimes mention TONY AND SUSAN when discussing Cormac McCarthy’s OUTER DARK (1968), because of the dark triune that exists in both novels, parlayed back to Joseph Conrad’s VICTORY (1915) and a multitude of other literary renderings of the furies as a trinity.
TONY AND SUSAN is a novel within a novel, the inward novel being called NOCTURNAL ANIMALS. In Cormac McCarthy’s OUTER DARK, of course, the inner darkness of Cullen’s psyche is the outer darkness. And so with Joseph Conrad.
The outer novel in TONEY AND SUSAN is basically this: Susan is happily married to Joseph, even though he drops out of college to become a writer. She supports him while he struggles to get published. She reads and criticizes his work, ever trying to be helpful. Her job supports the two of them, while he is away a lot, seeking his muse. After putting up with this for years, she finally decides to dissolve her marriage and change her life.
Well, let me stop right her and say that I see the above as Cormac McCarthy’s story too. Cormac McCarthy and Annie Delisle. He was a writer’s writer, but years went by and his books sold very few copies. He would refuse money to speak at some college function and meanwhile they lived on beans.
Edward wrote this book, not expressly for Susan, but rather to expunge and explain his behavior in abandoning Susan for his muse. The parallel with McCarthy is the writing of OUTER DARK wherein the father abandons his son, the father given the real life son’s name, Cullen. The section in SUTTREE where the mother-in-law and Suttree get into it is likely in the same transfigured autobiographical mode, and Jay Ellis wrote about this in NO PLACE FOR HOME.
Back to TONY AND SUSAN, twenty-five years go by and Susan, now forty-nine with a family, receives NOTURNAL ANIMALS in the mail with a note from her former husband requesting that she read it and tell him what it is missing. He says he thinks it is good but missing something, and she was always his best critic.
We are given chapters of the novel with inserted sections of Susan’s reflections and her reevaluations and revisions of her history and current situation. The writing is gorgeous and the insights and asides show how we make our own narratives and alter them as we will. It is full of existentialism. Edward makes it a point to name Tony’s neighbor Husserl and near the end of the novel Susan points this out with a rhetorical question.
In the bonus section of the movie DVD, Tom Ford opines that Edward wanted to show Susan the value of holding on to love. That we must fight to hold on to those whom we love. Well, yes, that’s the movie, but the book is so much more than that.
26 Mar 2017 at 9:08 am #8928
Recently read, reading now, or about to read:
Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone (2016). I mentioned this earlier in this thread when discussing the book on Edward Hopper’s painting, NIGHTHAWKS, and David Foster Wallace’s remark that we read to be less lonely. Laing goes into considerable depth discussing the artist and his painting. It is surprisingly good here, and ofttimes later as well.
Stephen Dobyns is 76, so sometimes I fear that age or disease might have taken him and that we’ve seen the last of his books. So I was delighted to see that he now has a new funny novel out in the Charlie Bradshaw/Victor Plotz series, and what’s even better, a new collection of poetry which contains some of his best ever.
The Day’s Last Light Reddens the Leaves of the Copper Beech is the title and like BLOOD MERIDIAN or the Evening Redness In The West it concerns issues of life and death, and often with a wry and knowing smile.
…to be continued.
26 Mar 2017 at 12:53 pm #8930
From Stephen Dobyns’ wonderful new collection of poetry and poetic parables, as mentioned above: He can express grief, as in the sonnets about the recent death of his wife, but he can also be seriously light, as in the parable below:
It was hot. At night the penguin dreamt of the Antarctic.
That’s how it began. He bought a fan; he bought
ice cubes. He bought an old Ford convertible and let
the wind riffle his feathers. He rushed all over town.
It’s my duty to be happy, he told himself. His life
took on new meaning. He hung yellow rubber dice
from the mirror, tied a raccoon tail to the antenna.
He sang along to country on the radio. He waved
at pretty girls. But soon his car began to cough,
as when a bit of steak goes down the wrong tube.
It shook all over like a kitten in winter.
The vehicle prepared to die.
Luckily, a garage lay straight ahead.
The mechanic was busy, but said,
Return in an hour and I’ll know better.
So the penguin strolled to a diner
just next door where he ordered
apple pie a la mode.
By far his favorite.
Then he hurried back to the garage.
The mechanic was stretched out beneath the hood,
his face smeared with grease.
Engine parts lay scattered across the floor.
You got real problems,
said the mechanic. Your fuel pump’s busted,
your generator’s shot, your carburetor’s rusted
and it looks like you’ve blown a seal.
Nah, said the penguin, wiping a drop from his bill,
It’s ice cream.
Freeze this moment. The penguin wore a benign
and self-satisfied expression. The mechanic’s
expression showed confusion and rising distaste.
Then bit by bit the two swapped how they looked.
The penguin showed hesitation and the mechanic
had the critical demeanor of a man ready to correct
the other. Isn’t this how it is with poetry?
Both had examined a creation with multiple meanings
as mystery moved from perplexity to possibility
to discovery. The mechanic with neither patience
nor learning again showed disgust; the penguin
revealed revelation. Where would we be without
language? The perception of one and confusion
of the other could easily be expressed in a sonnet.
Sad to say the mechanic hated poetry.
As for the penguin, stuck to his brain
with the nail of surprise was a sense
of the human condition
which let him see himself afresh,
and only arose after he’d worked to attain
a modicum of meaning. Didn’t this explain his silly grin?
As for the mechanic, his brain was blank,
apart from intense revulsion: an emotion
that lessened his chance
for a humanistic vision. He didn’t get that poetry
offers the opportunity to see the world
through a pristine lens; and maybe, just maybe,
if he stared hard enough,
he might find himself staring back.
27 Mar 2017 at 8:50 am #8932
The news is that Cormac McCarthy has authored a non-fiction piece for an upcoming issue of Nautilus Magazine, published in association with MIT press. Not knowing what it is about leads me into wild speculation of what it could be about:
THE SUPER POSITIONING OF CHOICE IN THE COIN TOSSES OF NCFOM
EXISTENTIALISM IS SIMPLY A WAY OF LOOKING AT SUPERPOSITIONING
PLATO WAS RIGHT: MANKIND FACES ANNIHILATION AGAIN AND AGAIN?
I could go on and on.
Meanwhile, I’m reading:
KEEP IT FAKE: INVENTING AN AUTHENTIC LIFE by Eric G. Wilson (2016). The author approaches his subject with an extended use of Bill Murray, Cary Grant, and the philosophy of William James. Fun.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE COEN BROTHERS edited by Mark T. Conard (2009). There is a nice selection of essays in here, including a section on existentialism.
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