Category Archives: Great books and writers

Many Persons Mirrored and Duplicated In One Person

Not nearly enough has been written about John Irving’s In One Person since its publication in 2012, so having read it just now I thought I should contribute notes of both a literary and a most spiritually didactic nature. For a synopsis one can visit any number of websites.

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In One Person’s world has a private language habit, a Shakespeare lens for everything, and a spiralling theme of crossdressers and otherwise non-gender-binary men. Irving’s trademark truly excellent characterization and cagily naive narration abound. What struck me most about Irving’s book, however, is how funny it is.  Even in the grim third quarter in which we watch most of protagonist Billy Abbott’s friends die of AIDS, we get about 500 words of tragedy and then an offhand remark that makes us laugh out loud. Maybe it’s just my sense of humor. Like when he comes after a long series of AIDS vigil sequences to his hometown for a relatively simple checkin with a dead faculty member of his school: it is discovered that the orderly has only brought the corpse out in the snow to smoke a cigarette, not to wait for the hearse. Anyway, In One Person has no gags; rather, the timing is incredible.

I would like to point out a marvellously-rendered literary surprise in the book out of fear that it may be too often missed. The arc of investigating people’s identity soars beautifully throughout the book, but the end holds a satisfying surprise. As much as the book’s title may allude to the folly of casting people into vulgar categories that support people’s gang mentality, and the phenomenon of these categories occurring “in one person,” the title is revealed in the final chapter to also represent a conceit about our lifespan, aging, and successive generations. When the son of the protagonist’s forbidden crush from the very beginning of the novel shows up, bearing the only reliable evidence of what’s become of the wrestler Kittredge (his own one person mirrored in the elder wrestler and love interest Miss Frost), Billy underscores the voice and look of the younger Kittredge, who is the spitting image of his father. As Kittredge helped Billy start off on a path, Billy is now providing perspective for Kittredge’s kid.

Here the story’s spirals finally converge: we have not only the sexual phenomena gathering in unexpected groups in one person, but also the mysteries of maturity and life experience. The son of Kittredge and his father are as one person, but also the fate of Kittredge, Miss Frost and now the young transgender student Gee fit into one person, shifting identity through time.

Irving has  been subtly warning us about this conceit throughout the book, particularly with the symbol of the yearbooks and with his complaints about terminology. As an artist who’s also struggled with the identity police over time, I really appreciate Billy’s annoyance not with the new terms, ie., transgender vs. transsexual, but with the rigidness with which successive generations of people insist on the correctness of these terms. Irving argues hereby for compassion and also curiosity: before you criticize someone older for not using the new hip term, be a fucking smart person and find out the nature of the old term.

Finally, I’m grateful on behalf of those old enough to remember that Irving has chosen now, in the age of complacent suburban gender-queerness that seems unable or rather unwilling to see itself from its socio-economic angle, to force AIDS back in our faces. People my age will always remember that AIDS was far scarier than nuclear war, and people Irving’s age get the satisfaction of having their 1980s set –properly, I would argue –in the frame of the AIDS epidemic. Think of the suburban Christian terrorism we’ve lived through since the late 80s-early 90s: the PMRC, enforced gangster rap, youth group, Faith Driven Consumer, the Bush administration, No Child Left Behind, Gay-Straight Alliance … what would Robert Mapplethorpe, Klaus Nomi, Essex Hemphill, Marlon Riggs, even Eazy-E and the local dancer, have taught us about these assholes and their judgmental phoniness if they’d made it longer??? Irving reminds us of the time not so long ago when we had to try to stick together, rather than run our campus GSA into the ground for not being suburban white gay or trans enough, because our fucking lives depended on it.

Thank you, a thousand times thank you, Mr Irving, for reminding us about all the possibilities and the cumulative richness of life that must be pursued In One Person.

Días de la selva por Mario Payeras

Acabo de leer este relato en peligro de olvido sobre los esfuerzos de Payeras y su diminuta guerrilla para enseñar letras, organizar y retribuir tierras en las aisladas regiones indígenas del noroeste de Guatemala comenzando en 1972. Me llamó la atención desde una pila de libros en la venta bibliotecaria, y supe de inmediato que el libro me iba a fascinar.

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Se trata de la guerrilla que tras años terminaría con nombre de Ejército general de los pobres (EGP) que espantó tanto al puñado de ricos de origen española y estadunidense que controlaban vastas tierras, enriqueciéndose con el labor de indígenas analfabetos, como usted el lector capitalista se engorda con las fresas pizcadas a espaldas rotas aquí en Santa María, Salinas y Guatsón.

Para mí la cumbre del relato fue cuando matan al dueño explotador de una finca sin tocar un centavo de la paga que interrumpieron. El libro incluye cuando posible a vocablos indígenas para cosas comunes de la selva. Me gustó mucho su medida distancia con la que dibuja los personajes y acontecimientos, que deja sitio para ironía, cariño, espanto y la todoimportante autocrítica marxista. Me asombraron también las descripciones de esos personajes ocultos en las aldeas de la selva, a cuyos tiques y característicos personales Payeras describió con tanta atención y humor.

Realmente nada más se necesita decir del libro en 2017 aparte de ésto: imagínense que ahora casi nada se ha mejorado en Guatemala pese a los esfuerzos relatados en el libro, y que hoy en día gringos pendejos de Berkeley de California hacen su eco- y café-turismito en esa misma región guatemalteca en busca del café perfecto para sus fair-trade non-profits de mierda…

Recomiendo el libro a todo quien tiene ganas de aprender más de la historia de resistencia indígena, o sea de revolución, y a quien luchara con la Mockingjay, con el ejército de Dumbledore, etc etc etc.

Sense Magazine 1971

So old man Tommy upstairs finally died a few months ago and, as he had no family left except an equally ancient and doubtlessly equally arthritic brother in Japan, my dick landlord hired a company to clean out his apartment. His whole life went into a dumpster. I could write a whole essay cycle on just that, but I won’t now. Anyhow I got to go in his thoroughly pre-internet, archival apartment and tried to get whatever I could that caught my eye.

He had a voluminous shelf of Chinese and Japanese cookbooks, tons of 1980s-1990s TIME-type jingoistic/uncritical photographic folios that we all pored over as kids looking for answers that weren’t there, ring binders full of local history and newspaper clippings (a post on that coming soon), city and county pamphlets on health and aging and disaster preparedness and shit, and sundry stuff such as what you see below.

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Above is the cover of Sense Magazine. This wasn’t the metrosexual men’s Cosmopolitan of the current decade, but “the portable marriage counselor,” a “sociological” publication by Academy Press of San Diego, volume 1 issue 2, from January 1971. I’m not sure how much WordPress cares about nudity and stuff so I might not scan in pages. In any case, it’s basically a hardcore full-penetration etc. skinmag BUT with clinical explanations for everything –you can practically hear the voice of Art Gilmore reading it –adjacent to the photos, and you had to really want it, because in 1971 it cost $5 when for that you could see Zeppelin and remain to learn firsthand about fellatio, cunnilingus, fetishes, orgasm, lesbianism and male homosexuality.

Without scanning photos, we can say that the fun part is not the repetition of sex photos but the weird Marin County tone of self-whatever and openness (the woman’s biting her nipple with a fucking fake skull and what’s more that NEVER gets explained) that pervades the magazine. It swings between matter-of-fact, which is good, and a certain uncomfortable distance; you know, that avuncular voice from the mid-20th century of a middle-aged guy hired to sound smart about this shit who privately wouldn’t have anything to do with it.

There is ample mention of totally hipster-level trends of the time such as “What is the ampallang?” and “Are these really adequate substitutes for the male penis?” It quotes experts as much as possible, such as obviously Kinsey as well as Sexual Actions and Reactions by Burch Robbins.

What’s more, a certain photo of two women using a vibrator shows a huge battery pack on the back of the thing obscuring the one woman’s privates, like you’d see today on an orbital sander, and the metal label is hard to read but I thought it said Sylvania or Swingline. What logo is that??? At least I found out in the research for this little blog post that there is a vintage vibrator museum on Polk in SF that I’ve shamefully never visited. I’ll get my life in order in 2017 yet!

The only really heavy part is the series of fuck photos dedicated to incest, which are of course staged, accompanying the straight-faced explanation of that phenomenon. However there are awesome payoffs, such as the headings “Isn’t the Bible full of incest?” and “And what about incest among the Borgias?” If this is a question that anyone on the street would’ve asked on the topic of incest in 1971, that is proof that our current education system is catastrophically off-track.

Oddly enough, we can’t find a dang thing about this magazine on the internet. It appears to have disappeared off the face of the earth, not that this is surprising. All we can hope is that couples looked at the pictures to get in the mood to do it, and that the shameless swingers who must’ve started this silly magazine helped prevent some people from getting divorced or whatever, though it’s more likely that they used it to attract people who were into throwing power-orgies of epic proportion.

If anyone wants this magazine, please comment and I’ll gladly mail it as I’ve already read it for its historical import and am over it. If you want it and you are Thomas Pynchon, you can count on my discretion.

Those Dark New Hampshire Woods

hampsire.jpgPropitiously, auspiciously, precipitously ran into Desmond Reed‘s work by chance on Tumblr, which for all the fat and noise is really one of the few places left one can sign on and see a ton of awesome art with relatively little digging.

A celebration of life’s will to grow, Those Dark New Hampshire Woods concerns a few weeks in the life of its denizens, rendered from all of whose perspective, looking inward and showing us how it is from over their shoulders, not unlike As I Lay Dying.
The book, like all great stories, like in Faulkner or Bolaño, distinguishes itself both through its place in a universe all its own as well as its exposition of the stories within that world in an elegant and silly spiral of nested and/or tangentially-related vignettes.
Amongst other instantly-relatable characters we meet the drifter, who drifts, the scumbag, the wild hairy uncles, the world’s smallest pervert, who seeks happiness despite being on the other side of existence.

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The obscene god of rebirth from Those Dark New Hampshire Woods

It is in the story of the Scumbag and the Troubled Teen that we encounter the persistent theme of nature’s regeneration, presented by means of the cloning by pore of the characters, reducing the proud, complex human down to the physiognomy of the plant kingdom. The joy with which their bodies relentlessly reproduce cycles through the setting and creates a second whirling narrative wheel.
My only gripe is what the hell is going on in the New Hampshire woods, and how does one end up there?
Those Dark New Hampshire Woods is a work of modest comic art blessed with satisfying textual depth, a work of literature not to be missed in the 2016 crop.

I also got the second one but honestly I haven’t even read it yet. I’m too blown away.
The books are published by Birdcage Bottom Books, and when you buy stuff from them you get a bunch of extra stuff!
https://www.birdcagebottombooks.com