Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bill Clegg

If you're going to be a gay crack addict, just be sure to start out with $70,000 in the bank and lots of toney New York friends and lovers who will find you posh apartments to crash in (One Fifth Avenue) and boutique rehab centers (Silver Hill) for your reluctant detours into detox. Good looks will help you, too. That's the lesson of Bill Clegg's Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, this season's memoir du jour. That said, Clegg's description of his paranoid break-down at Newark airport is the best deterrent to drug abuse I've ever read, and I've read a lot. Just wish it had been written by someone the reader could feel more sympathy for, like maybe someone who didn't row for Harvard.

Paula Fox

Suzanne Jill Levine, noted translator of Borges, gave me a copy of Paul Fox's 1970 novel, Desperate Characters. The story of a woman whose hand is bitten by a stray, possibly rabid, cat, DC is a beautiful short work about (in a larger sense) a troubled (but ultimately successful) marriage in Brooklyn against the backdrop of a decaying New York. Fox is wonderful-- there's something both Iris Murdoch-ish and Noel Coward-ish about this famous writer of children's literature. Which DC decidedly is not: its characters say quite adult and delicious things to each other. This reissued edition features a preface by Jonathan Franzen, which is filled with precious, pompous things (What does it mean to say a novel "rises up in revolt against its own perfection"?) and which I advise you to skip unless you want to learn that Franzen's own marriage had its troubles, too.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Adam Mars-Jones

Continuing my habit of reading novels only years after they're published (and available in second-hand bookstores), I've just finished Adam Mars-Jones magnum opus, Pilcrow. It's the story of young, then not so young, John Cromer, a severely handicapped English boy who is institutionalized in first a Red Cross hospital, then a castle-like school for the disabled. John is bright, funny, and usually astutely aware of what's happening around him though he can hardly affect any of it.

What complicates matters further is that John understands, from very early on, that he is attracted to men. He manages to act on his desire, depsite his and his partners' compromised physical abilities. No one before Mars-Jones has described homosexuality and incapacity is quite this way-- without sentimentality, or pathos. The book is a bit long, and better at the beginning, but it confirms my view of the author as one of our best.