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The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason—that book was awesome. It came out in 2007 from a tiny publisher (tinier even than the others) and was republished by FSG last year, at which point my esteemed friend Mansbach gave it a review in the Times. I think he was less enthusiastic than I have since become. The book is not just a game with the Odyssey, though it’s that too, but a genuine rewriting of it. For what was the thing about Odysseus? He was crafty; he was smarter than everyone else. But what did it mean to be smarter than a bunch of peasants; what did it mean to be a logician six hundred years before the birth of Pythagoras? Mason puts the ingeniousness, the cleverness, and the math back into Odysseus and back also into contemporary literature. It’s interesting that, according to the jacket copy, Mason in his day-to-day life works on artificial intelligence: Computers too are pre-logical, full of force but lacking reason. Working with computers all those years, Mason must himself have come to feel like Odysseus among the Agamemnon-era Greeks.

I’ve been going through Eudora Welty’s Collected Stories (1982). I read her first novel, Delta Wedding (1946), over the summer. I think what strikes me most about Welty’s writing is her pace. It’s fixed and unrelenting, guided by her gentle perspicacity. Delta Wedding’s complexly interwoven familial networks, steadily revealed and progressed, remind me of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. I think Welty and Woolf share a common heartbeat. And I’m happy to think of the genealogy of writers that connect Welty to that main arterial flow, reaching back from Welty to Woolf, and from Woolf to Jane Austen, and forward from Welty to Marilynne Robinson.

Marilynne Robinson’s own Pulitzer-prize winning work, Gilead (2004), holds striking similarities to George Bernanos’s Diary of a Country Priest (1936), another book I read last year. There are obvious structural parallels between these two works—the epistolic reflections of a country servant of God—as well as stylistic affinities—their slow pace, their perfect, fluid prose. I smile sadly through them both. But Bernanos’s sensitivity and subtle intimacy more acutely provokes my sympathy, leaves me gasping and wincing as though pricked by needles.

Cutter and Bone (1976), by Newton Thornburg, is a California novel, and like most California novels, it suggests the promise of American life has turned sour. A poor girl is murdered. Her body is wrapped in a carpet and thrown into a dumpster. On the case are Alex Cutter, crippled, deranged Vietnam veteran, and Richard Bone, gigolo. Together they make an odd crime-solving pair—less Watson and Holmes than Ishmael and Ahab. Two men cheated by America, they decide that, rather than settling down, they will exact revenge on the system. Their quest is to take down JJ Wolfe, millionare, industrialist, possible murderer. But this is misleading, because it’s hard to tell whether Wolfe is a murderer or a product of Cutter’s mind. Anyway, don’t get me wrong, it’s not all Didionesque apocalypticism—Cutter and Bone is a funny book. But more than anything else it’s ugly. Sometimes we forget: California is horrible.

He attacked Amis. He attacked Barnes. He attacked the prim insularity of Englishness as an existential category. His book has provoked the same kind of reckoning in the British literary press as Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom recently has on American shores.