What is "Metaliterature"? It is literature about literature, in this case, views, reviews, and thoughts provoked by stuff I've read. I'm hoping this might be a chronicle of the brain of a life-long reader as guided by intertextual coincidence. If you like what you read, read what I like.
Currently domiciled in the Vale of Glamorgan.
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Closing Time by Joseph Heller
Nuclear War Halts Society Wedding of the Century!
I wonder if my new-found bachelordom is the reason that I have seemingly embarked upon a morbid trend in my reading. I have long avoided reading this novel, billed as the sequel to Catch 22 and, from the publisher blurb on the back, dealing with the tying up of ends in the lives of the characters from the first novel as they move towards their own deaths - not an uplifting prospect, Heller's acute and acerbic wit notwithstanding. What did I read after this? Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut. And next? Mendelssohn Is On The Roof by Jiří Weil. I suspect you'll see a trend. In my defence, I would posit that there is a deep, atavistic humour to be found in all three novels, something that everyone can access and recognise, the hangman's joke, the infantryman's bluster. That all three deal on one level or another with the atrocities of the second World War might raise a tired sigh from my estranged wife, who has long been disturbed by such trends in my literary taste (or lack, she would argue thereof). Again, in defence of my taste, I would argue that such atrocity is scored deeply into the consciousness of anyone born during or after it, and the World still resonates with the agonised cries of those whose destinies are still twisted around the hate and violence that thrust through the soil across Europe and the Middle East creating the forests of thorns that divide many cultures and even families.
I should stop listening to Arvo Pärt.
In truth, Vonnegut lead to Heller (I had Mother Night on DVD sat looking at me on my coffee table, but more on that later), and Heller lead back to Vonnegut; Weil was hanging around anyway, smoking a cigarette on the corner and chatting with a lady of questionable circumstance. Vonnegut features in Yossarian's recollections, or maybe it was Sammy Singer's memories; Joey Heller sneaks into Vonnegut's Dresden. Did they actually meet in the war, during or after the Battle of the Bulge? Only Google can tell us, but they are luminaries, their light casting shadows on the same areas of humanity.
In Closing Time, we meet Yossarian as a near septuagenarian, still mostly virile, still febrile with the paradoxes of life. His life's trajectory has soared higher than the parabola of a rocket, and he finds himself rich, socially well-connected and in business with Milo Minderbender at M&M Enterprises, an organisation which has diversified and is attempting to find a niche in the second-response military market with a plane that could end the world but doesn't exist (or does it?). Yossarian is still attempting to be immortal (or to die trying) although as he ages, his desire to keep living is on the wane. Former comrades appear in Sammy Singer, tailgunner, in Chaplain Captain Albert Taylor Tappman, now retired but mysteriously passing heavy water and therefore kept under close supervision by the Government's plausibly deniable secret research team in the off-chance that he could be militarised (by them or by their enemies), and a new (or at least poorly remembered) character from a shared military past, Lew Rabinowitz. Sammy and Lew's stories are intertwined with those of Yossarian as they each face their eventual fate. Yossarian is more Yossarian than I can possibly explain - more Alan Arkin* than I thought possible too - and the dissonance between thought and action throughout displays perfectly judged humour. Sammy and Lew are more sober characters and narrators, one reflecting on his life as second fiddle, the other refusing to concede defeat to anything he didn't want to be beaten by.
The story is pretty straightforward and a little obvious, if it were to be told straightforwardly, but as with Catch 22, Heller chooses to muddy the waters with his inventive use of an omniscient third person narrator, mixing with the direct testimony of Singer and Rabinowitz, and Yossarian intrudes throughout in his inimitable fashion. To attempt a synopsis as a result, as the evidence above perhaps proves, is tricky and ultimately futile, but as always, the journey is more important than the destination, and perhaps that's one of the many wise aphorisms that could be used to sum up this novel. There are morals everywhere if you want to look for them. There are truisms a-plenty. There's even some thinly-veiled autobiography - Heller did in fact marry one of the nurses that looked after him during his hospitalisation with Guillain-Barré syndrome. It might not have garnered the praise lavished on the first novel, and there are inconsistencies (for example Yossarian is only 68, whereas he should be 78 if the timeline from the first book were to be accurate), but it does for old age, and dying, what Catch 22 did for fighting wars, and dying. It's hard to contain the scope of the book in 1000 words on a reader's blog, so I will stop trying. Suffice to say I love it. You probably will too.
*More intertextual coincidence - Arkin, the Yossarian in the 1970 Mike Nicholls film of the novel, appears in the movie of Mother Night as Howard W Campbell Jnr's 'friend' George Kraft. I had completely forgotten about this, but in retrospect it all makes perfect sense.
Many (many) years ago, when I first read War With The Newts, after scouring the Waterstones' internal database (whimsically named Ibid, and from which one could print the details of books onto the till roll in light- and so it seems, time-sensitive purple ink which, on the inches thick ream of leaves I printed for future perusal, faded within a few months rendering my catalogued wish list so much locker mulch) for authors with a suitably Czech-sounding name, having put away an entrée of my first slim Hrabal, a palate-cleansing Kundera and in need of a meaty Moravian main course, I think I might have completely and totally missed just how funny it was, bloated as I was by the doughy and Victorian-sounding translation and the rather unlikely ideation of the future political terroir of mankind and their unusual amphibian slaves and, latterly, sappers, the newts.
How's that for a sentence David Foster Wallace? INTERROBANG.
Well, there's no chance that Čapek's typically Czech…
Trav is back, still grieving the loss of some chickadee or other whose death almost knocked him off his game, but not too shook up to set himself up with a few more lucky lovelies whilst tripping his way through another overly complicated and rather sordidly underwhelming plot. This time, some bikers are making dirty movies with minors on the set of a future classic hot-air-balloon movie. Travis falls into the action because a rich old geyser carks it in unusual circumstances and it affects the trust fund of a former marina-mate. And hirsute intellectual Meyer wets his pants towards the end.
You may sense a fatigued, sardonic note in my precis. It's not that I don't still love John D., it's just that after embarking on the long game that is reading the entire Travis McGee oeuvre, I'm approaching the end and it feels long overdue. It's been fun, it's been enlightening, but it's also been a schlep. With the realisation I might now have fewer years left to me …
If there was a comfort-food version of a book for me, then this would be it. It's funny, touching, humanistic, and features so many quotable quotes that its trim 120 pages could be represented in its entirety on some such authors' quotations page.
We're introduced to Tiny on the occasion of his mother's death, lured into a treacherously fatal situation by, of all things, a duck, while her 4-year-old son sleeps in the car where he wakes to a terrifying solitude. Meanwhile, we're treated to a potted but entertaining history of Granddaddy Jake, Tiny's grandfather, into whose care by fair means or foul (no pun intended) he is finally placed. But the titular Fup duck comes along only once Tiny is fully grown (and how!). A lost and lonely duckling, much like Tiny, she's discovered shivering in a freshly dug post hole, which betrays the attention paid to it by Tiny's nemesis, a wild hog called Lockjaw, who enjoys tearing up Tiny's fences just as much as he …