Times were never simpler.
We like to think of the past as “simpler times,” something that is often used to make a joke and a slight wince in memory of how things used to be. But there has never been a time in human history where scandal, corruption, greed, and fury have not penetrated the mass existence. There have only been times when the envelope had not yet been pushed.
It can happen here, it is happening here, and because it will happen here, you best start packing heat; the overarching message of one of my latest reads, Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. This dystopian fantasy is so eerily relevant to our current political climate and the constant turmoil found in governments across our country that one can’t help but wonder if Lewis wrote this in preparation for the election of Trump.
Spy novels were never really my thing. Police dramas: definitely. Dark tales of Cold War espionage by John le Carré: not so much. Just never my style.
But I recently saw a copy of A Most Wanted Man on sale in a bookstore, and I was interested enough to purchase it for a bad reason- I wanted to see the movie. But like a neurotic reader, I always have to read the book first. The struggle.
This was not a good choice when it comes to a first le Carré read. However, it wasn’t the worst. I found the saga of Issa, Annabel, and Tommy Brue interesting enough to finish the text. Le Carré moves slowly, almost brutally. The deep introspection allows the reader to feel the heightened alert of the characters, the sneaking about, the carefulness and attention to hiding every move.
Determining Issa’s innocence is compelling enough to finish the book even though I, as a reader, knew this was far from my favorite tale. I was invested, however; I had to see it through.
I also think le Carré uses clever and precise dialogue effectively throughout the novel, something that, through my research, told me is not always as prevalent in his other work. Dialogue can be tricky; too much dialogue threatens the creative storytelling but not enough makes the reader’s eyes glaze over. Le Carré has an excellent balance of believable, credible dialogue that helps move the story along . . . which is excellent because this novel unfolds at a snail’s pace.
Listen. I promise Turgenev isn’t that bad. I know you don’t believe me, but if you ever find yourself with a gun to your temple and a command to pick a Russian author that won’t bore you to tears (wait, who wouldn’t cry? There’s a gun to your head), pray it is Turgenev.
Classic texts can be intimidating due to the immense amount of mental attention they require, and anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is totally bogus and not deserving of your trust. Russian texts are particularly challenging, and that’s coming from someone with a pretty hot and heavy Slavic background.
Like a text from any part of the globe, there are a lot of foreign elements at play that the reader must decode, and Ivan Turgenev’s second novel, 1859’s Home of the Gentry, is the perfect definition of this.
The universe works in very strange ways.
I should learn to trust it perhaps more so than I have permitted myself to in the past, especially when it always seems like people or things show up randomly, totally unannounced, but always when you need them the most.
Such was the case with the sudden appearance of Joan Didion’s 2005 memoir The Year of Magical Thinking within my life.
I come from a moderately superstitious family; realistically bordering on the lower end of the moderate spectrum.
Being of Eastern European descent, my siblings and I were instilled with the number one archetypal Slavic fear ingrained by all good Slavic grandparents: do not fuck with ghosts.
Do not try to contact them. Do not go looking for them. Do not go bringing Ouija boards into the house and certainly do not get pissed off when you have a supernatural nuisance on your hands because we told you so. Just listen to this one thing, and don’t fuck with the ghosts.
So I never did, and I probably never will because my Baba taught me real good. But I absolutely adore horror books and films, especially ones that take a ghostly approach, probably because it is as far as my supernatural flirtations will ever go.
Roberto Bolaño and I are one in the same in that the sifting through our second, third, and fourth drafts of scratched up manuscripts, mortally wounded by red ink, mismatched combinations of chicken-scratched and robotically processed words would be a quick descent into pure absurdity.
Naturally, I have some notebooks reserved exclusively for poems, for work scribbles, or for story ideas. But largely, I am a shockingly unorganized writer, and every few weeks, I’ll stumble across an orphaned piece of writing that I had entirely forgotten about, hidden in the dark crevices of a notebook shoved hastily under my bed.
The writing and I exchange words and tears; it mournfully wails that it has long been forgotten, and I get down on my knees to beg absolution. Like most things in life, organization is a game I am slowly learning to play.