Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mood, Moody, And Reader Response

As our family prepared for a week of vacation in Maine, I deliberated over which novel to bring along. I had hoped to luck into used copies from Maine's literary habitu├ęs (particularly Richard Russo and Stephen King) but, alas, geography-specific fiction was not in my cards. Since the plan was to drive through northern New York, which I considered John Gardner Country (even if we would be missing Batavia by a wide sweep), I meditated on his titles for a few minutes before deciding against it. Eventually I settled on my old, previously attempted copy of Rick Moody's The Diviners.

I haven't a clue what made me think this go-round would be any more successful than my previous attempts. Twice before I had returned the book to its spot on the shelf, always for the usual reason: what Moody had hoped would be challenging, I read as self-indulgent and distracting. But then we all know story-tellers who beguile their listeners with those very traits — the uncle who laughs hardest at his own joke — so maybe now was the moment for me to share in the laughter.

Turns out it was. I thought the book was a hoot. I was in a satisfied state of mind when I finished, which stayed with me for the next few weeks.

Given my yin-yang experience of the novel, I doubt I could motivate others to read it. The least persuasive aspect of the novel is its central premise: a malleable story about generations of water-dowsers that inspires everyone who hears about it to put their previous lives on hold so they can to get it into production. So much ink and air was expelled to give this concept life, but since none of it struck me as either funny or moving, it instead came off as lame. Still, the characters that got whipped into a froth over it were lovable mutts. I was glad I'd kept the book around.

There are a few dozen other titles with similar potential, parked on dusty bookshelves in different corners of the house. I live in the hope I'll eventually experience a similar awakening unique to each. Odds are they already occupy space in Richard Brautigan's Bookstore (link).

Getting back to Stephen King for a moment (who, I suspect, had some admiration for Brautigan): Sam Sacks really takes the boots to King, not just for the prose, but for the pose. I don't have a dog in this fight (so far as I know) — I loved this book when I was a kid, and thought these two provided worthy moments for kids and adults — but I have been struck by King's surliness toward critics and prize awarders, and even his own publishers and readers. Dude: you're richer than God, everyone who reads English has read at least one of your books, you have a wife who loves you and children who show up at Thanksgiving — content yourself, o mortal!


Cowtown Pattie said...

King is not an old man yet, and perhaps he feels his best years are behind him? Maybe like any other "job" in this world, at some point it becomes a ball and chain. I think he has expressed that sentiment before.

More than just writer's block, I suspect King is going through some type of metamorphosis; we fans may or may not like the outccome.

(True, he has shed his exoskeleton several times in the past, but I sense another one is sure to be on the horizon. King seems to need to re-invent himself quite often.)

Still his stuff has always been a top seller, given all the ups and downs of the publishing world. And how long can you keep that "weird" edge thingy going?

We all know King is a freak. And we buy a ticket to the sideshow everytime it's in town.

Whisky Prajer said...

One of the things I truly love (and envy) about the man is his complete inability to suffer writer's block. The first half of Bag Of Bones remains one of the most poignant and evocative meditations on a writer in the throes of "block" I've read. (The scene where the geezer in the wheelchair keeps the narrator from swimming to shore is dynamite, too.)

Cowtown Pattie said...

Bag of Bones is my favorite King!

paul bowman said...

Never have read any King, for the record. (There is no record? Hmph.) Can't say that I feel anxious about it, either, despite praise. One of these days, maybe. But the list is long, so long.

Whisky Prajer said...

This is the record, buddy. And you needn't feel pressure so far as I'm concerned (although it does put a dent in my grand sweeping statement).

DarkoV said...

In the testosterone packed halls of my all boys high school the readers among us adored Keasey, Vonnegut, and Heller.
Richard Brautigan? Even we 130 lb. snot-nosed pimple-pocked dateless wonders thought we could kick this guy's ass.
Many years later....still feel the same way. How many harmless trees were cut down to publish his hirsute tales? And those pictures of the "author" on the back of each book!??! Spit ball targets! The longhairs in our class dissed each other by calling out, "You ain't nothing but a Brautigan."
Ah yes, New Jersey high school kids, a genteel brand of adolescent pap.

O.K......I'll be back on my medication shortly.

Whisky Prajer said...

Ah, but the East Coast/West Coast aesthetic feud runs deep in the blood. The work that Brautigan will be remembered for is very much the product of a sozzled romantic who lucked into the right time and place (60's Haight-Ashbury) for peddling his type-written chapbooks. Having said that, I can't think of anyone who better encapsulates and re-evokes the romance of that particular time and place -- certainly not Kesey, who was too deeply ensconced On The Bus to accurately convey what he was enjoying.

And besides, you've got to hand it to a fella who was able to lure, if only momentarily, one of Bukowski's girlfriends.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Wait....backup...reverse that...

King is mortal?

DarkoV said...

Hmmm, if I read your link correctly, the girlfriend in question first met Bukowski @ Brautigan's funeral so Brautigan never did the luring, Rather, Bukowski put a new spin on the phrase "grave robber".

Am I reading the story correctly?

Whisky Prajer said...

Yeah, you're right. Mind you, she never read any of Bukowski's books.

Joel said...

Somewhere I read the theory that one of the keys to literary genius is simply output. (In fact it might have been on this blog come to think of it. Or one of your links at least. Does this ring a bell?)

Anyways, the theory goes that writers like Mark Twain and Charles Dickens are famous because they wrote tons and tons of stuff. Most of it languishes in the library unread, but in the middle of all that vast amount of output they managed to produce one or two gems which were enough to secure their reputation.

Perhaps King is headed for the same legacy? Much of his stuff is probably forgettable, but perhaps the critics will come around to one or two of his works?

Whisky Prajer said...

The theory certainly works for Twain. When he was good, he was very good. But, hoo boy! he could be baaaaaaad! The worst you could say of Dickens, on the other hand, is that he was occasionally, but very memorably, over-the-top.

Guessing at future legacies, though, is a complete crap-shoot. With King I think it's fair to say that new readers still catch the bug when they read The Shining or Salem's Lot.