While writing along the hot highway of my own novel (pretend it's all at least that bad), I'm trying not to read fiction. Here's what I'm reading instead:
John D'Agata is the lyric essay editor for The Seneca Review, and this is his work. Off beat. How many of you know what happened to Napoleon's penis? Ranges from funny to loonily lost in the wilderness. I am a fan. Particularly liked the essay about the flat earth society.
The Flexible Lyric by Ellen Bryant Voigt has been on my list for some time. It's outstanding. Read it no matter what kind of a writer you think you are. Voigt tidbits:
[Voigt quoting Flannery O'Connor] "Art requires a delicate adjustment of the outer and inner worlds in such a way that, without changing their nature, they can be seen through each other. To know oneself is to know . . . the world, and it is also, paradoxically, a form of exile from that world. . . . And to know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility'" (Mystery and Manners)
[Voigt] "Bishop’s restraint and indirection seem a good deal like O’Connor’s self-knowledge, less a ruse or a withholding, less a way to CONCEAL feelings, than a way to release and honor them."
[Voigt quoting Louise Gluck]: "Poems are autobiography, but divested of the trappings of chronology and comment, the metronomic alternation of anecdote and response" (Proofs and Theories).
[Voigt] "Without chronology and comment, what is autobiography if not character? And on what other grounds should a hero, a model, make a claim on us?"
[Elizabeth Bishop] "Home-made, home-made! But aren’t we all?"
[Voigt] "If the narrative writer is instinctively curious about the individuating 'story,' is hard-wired for the distinct sequence of events preceding that table and that wineglass, the lyric poet may be as naturally drawn to the isolated human moment of frustration, distilled, indelible, the peak in the emotional chart."
As for the Jim Thompson novel, well, I'm weak. I read it to study his style. I believe I need more of the violent and improbable in my work. Thompson is brilliant, and dead. Thank you Robert Polito for introducing Thompson to me (see post below on The Savage Art by RP. A bit from early on in The Killer Inside Me:
. . . The street was dark. I was standing a few doors above the cafe, and the bum was standing and looking at me. He was a young fellow, about my age, and he was wearing what must have been a pretty good suit of clothes at one time.
"Well, how about it, bud?" he was saying. "How about it, huh? I've been on a hell of a binge, and by God if I don't get some food pretty soon--"
"Something to warm you up, eh?" I said.
"Yeah, anything at all you can help me with, I'll . . ."
I took the cigar out of my mouth with one hand and made like I was reaching into my pocket with the other. Then, I grabbed his wrist and ground the cigar butt into his palm."
"Jesus, bud!"--he cursed and jerked away from me. "What the hell you tryin' to do?"
I laughed and let him see my badge. "Beat it," I said.