A. M. Homes' autograph (Jack)

I love A. M. Homes.

I love her for her novels, yes.  Try reading The End of Alice someday (unless you're chickenshit) and you'll never be the same.  I do not condone, but can understand, why The End of Alice, a virtual hi-def cracked mirror of victimization and depravity — was occasionally banned.  It was banned because it was too damn honest, too damn real.  Positive traits that made it too damn dangerous for some book stores to sell.  The books of A. M. Homes are never safe, and that is another reason why I love her.  Her stories are like razor blades.  I remember having to explain to my clueless ex-shrink one session why my hands were bleeding:  "I've been reading The Safety of Objects by A. M. Homes!"

I love A. M. Homes for her autographs, too.  So far, I have acquired two.  The first A. M. Homes autograph I ever found was several years ago, at a thrift shop, in a first edition of her second short story collection, 2002's Things You Should Know, posted on here.

Note the winsome blurb from a then not widely known (or widely read) up-and-coming literary star himself, David Foster Wallace! Assuming A. M. Homes had anything to do with her debut novel being compared to The Catcher In The Rye on the back cover of the 1990 Vintage Con- temporaries edition (pictured at left), then I love her even more; love her for for her stealth and poetic justice!  The reader may recall that a humorless J. D. Salinger had threatened to sue Homes in 1981 when she was just a nineteen year old college student nobody — a gifted and driven nineteen year old college student nobody, I must amend — with a play about to premiere.  Her play Call-in Hours was set to feature two characters named Holden Caulfield and J. D. Salinger. Under threat of having the play's production stopped promptly by Salinger's legal henchmen, Homes had no choice but to rename the characters.  But, J.D. couldn't do jack about Jack declaring on its back cover that it was "the most convincing, funny, and insightful novel about  adolescence since THE CATCHER IN THE RYE," could he?

Because it was.

more autographs


I Left My Grandfather's House by Denton Welch

Over the weekend, I finished I Left My Grandfather's House by Denton Welch. I spent two weeks with this slender book's eighty-seven pages, reading from a handsome edition published by Enitharmon Press, which is about the same amount of time it took Welch to ramble from his grandfather's house in Henfield of western Sussex County, a village about thirty miles south of London, to the county of Devonshire, 200 meandering miles away.  (And, yes, in the 1940s, when Welch wrote this sensitive, exquisite remembrance of his 1933 summer trek afoot and afield over the southern countryside of England, in which he roughly paralleled a course a short distance from the coastline of the English Channel, he indeed referred to the distances he travelled as "miles").

Welch's walk would nearly be the mileage if not the pastoral equivalent of tramping from Boston to The Bronx.  En route, he crossed the River Adur on a ferry, into the village of Steyning.  He visited Jane Austen's house.  He explored numerous castle and cathedral ruins.  He loitered in a cemetery. He left hostels in haste, after sundown, due to one owner's baffling rudeness or because of the greed of another who insisted, without explicitly saying so, that their cooking — their "extraordinary" supper — was not an optional cost of service. He bathed in a hostel that featured for its "bath" a brisk stream that literally ran through the hostel's interior, and required, if one did not wish to be washed away by its cleansing current (and thus duly exposed to astonished onlookers at the nearby bridge downstream), that you held on tight to the rope affixed to the rafters.  Denton Welch barely held on, but hold on, he did — the story of his short life.  At another hostel, Welch learned from its owner something of the practical value of cruelty and emotional detachment.  A mother cat was watching her kittens toy with a mouse.
It "was not yet dead and a thrill of horror ran through me as I saw it squirm under the paw of one of the little fluffy kittens.  They did not bite it or even let their claws out to it; they just stared at it with their large blue eyes and patted it every now and then playfully as they would a ball of wool. . .
'Won't you kill it, or take it away?' I asked the woman urgently.
'Good Lord, no,' she smiled, 'they're learning to be good mousers.  How do you think she can teach them if we interfere?'"
Stonehenge, however, was humdrum to him.  He was neither impressed by mysteries or by priests.  A couple he met at a hostel toward the end of his journey thought he looked to be about the age of sixteen and yet carried himself as if he were a decade older.  Which perhaps explains much of his expressed loneliness, gloominess, and melancholy, in the pages of his remarkable memoir, being the young but wise old soul he was.  Though perhaps it explains something else as well:  Perhaps had I lost the use of my legs at the age of twenty, as Denton Welch had (because senseless circumstances saw fit to have him hit, almost killed, permanently disabled, partially paralyzed for life, by a motor car) and in this context of suffering and grief was remembering how it was when I was a spry young lad of eighteen and could still walk thirty-five miles across the moors and hillocks of southern England in a single day, perhaps I'd know, as Denton Welch no doubt grimly did (and so decided not to mention it in I Left My Grandfather's House), that the sadness so intrinsic to his poignant recollection surely required no further explanation.


Rick Harsch's autograph (Arjun & the Good Snake...)

Being that Rick Harsch's Arjun & the Good Snake: Being an Ophidiological Account of Six Weeks in India without Alcohol . . .*

. . . bears the lengthiest, most cryptic, most interesting inscription I have, I'm puzzled that I had not posted it sooner, and so correct my oversight now.

And since the image of the inscription above isn't entirely clear, I've quoted it below.  Occasional words or letters I couldn't make out I've underscored instead.

"Dear Brent / DM / eF / HEF / under-

I am younger than my crippled 
writing hand is.

Thanks for buying the book,
of course, but also for your enthusiasm
in general, which led me to and
stuck me to LT.***

Please enjoy this quirky,
Slovene __ i_ V___, the strangely
located yet perfectly placed
dedication The tr___ 'ofi_____'
Etc.  And, judge me multifuriously

Uživaj, Rick"

* "Ophidiological" ... Scientific study of snakes.

** "DM" ... Dick Misanthropic.
       "eF" ... Enrique Freeque.
   "HEF" ... Henri_Etta_Freeque.

*** "LT" ... LibraryThing

Arjun & the Good Snake... (2011) is a scarce title — available only in hardcover from Slovenian publisher Amalietti & Amalietti, and now possibly out of print — from the author of The Driftless Trilogy.  The Driftless Zone (or Driftless Area) is a paleozoic plateau cut threw by several river valleys in southwestern Wisconsin, and serves as the primary setting for Rick Harsch's trio of under recognized novels. Published by Steerforth Press, the novels included The Driftless Zone; or, a Novel Concerning the Selective Outmigration from Small Cities (1997); Billy Verite (1998); and The Sleep of Aborigines (2002).  These novels are worthy of revival.  I can envision NYRB reissuing them in a first ever omnibus, can't you?  

Excerpts from Rick Harsch's more recent novels, including The Appearance of Death to a Hindu Woman and The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas, can be read at his website.


The Adept by Michael McClure

I was initially drawn to The Adept by its psychedelic dust jacket.  Even after a friend pointed out that each "e" of the title on the cover looked like a Pac-Man — albeit striped Pac-Mans — I didn't care. I didn't care even though I was strictly a Galaga kid back when Pac-Man was all the rage.  I had to have it; that cover called to me; I was transfixed by its meditative, out of body experience, in the cover art and design.  Thankfully, Lorne Bair Rare Books, self-described "specialists in the history, art and literature of American social movements" (Woodstock's generation, for instance) was there for me when I was jonesing hard for it and needed this amazing fix fast.

Copy of my first edition, 1971
The Adept was Michael McClure's second novel, published by Delacorte Press forty-five years ago, and so far, it has been his last. After safariing deep underneath its alluring surface cover, I polished the novel off last night.

Sure wish McClure had written another novel (or would write one more soon).  Pure pleasure finding myself unself-consciously submerged by the reading, swirling deep into the vortex of Michael McClure's immense imagination — a subversive, unpredictable, and visionary realm at once spiritual and corporeal.  Michael McClure has long been an Artist attuned to whatever it is out there that stalks and breathes beyond our senses, and in The Adept he takes us there.

The Adept is "anti-narrated," you could say, by an expert antihero; by a metafictional-minded — "Listen, my Dear Reader, my Fine Punk Asshole, my Lovely Hypocrite, and you shall hear what it is to be a full-grown adult male animal with hair down to the ass and a fine set of muscles." — cocaine addled mystic, this drug dealing New Yorker, Nicholas, with his kooky predilection for impromptu longueurs galore on things like leonine symbolism one second or Botticelli's illustrations for The Inferno the next.  The novel compels its "Dear Reader ... Lovely Hypocrites" along with Nicholas' digressive commentary (is it maybe Michael McClure's social commentary disguised?) because, yes, it blends like this linguistic smoothie out of erudite esoterica and streetwise jive.  The Adept is serious funny brains.  McClure's colloquial commingling of down and dirty earthiness and high art prefigured David Foster Wallace's own super-smarts-meets-low-arts sensibility of style.

"More Niccolo Macchiavelli than St. Nick," Nicholas' worldview counters the counterculture of his time.  In 1971, when we meet him — we "Fine Punk Assholes" — whatever happy hippie idealism he may have once had has long escaped this enigmatic cynic for good—
"I despise the radical and social Left which would poison me and put me in a prison of Society—leaving me no pleasures but those of happy work, and marriage, and perhaps finally automation so that there would be nothing for me to do but watch state-owned television and pursue crafts and cultural events until the utopia breaks up in sheer boredom of existence."
I said I was enamored by the The Adept's dust jacket at the outset.  I'll say now I was mind blown by the book, and leave it at that, except for this beautiful bit of prose—
"A rose is not only beautiful when new but it is also beautiful when wilted. The Japanese know this. There is more thought in a wilted rose than in a new rose. The new rose, lucent flower meat, gleams and gives off light like a psychedelic drug being whirled in a centrifuge in a dark room. No, not like that. The new rose is new flesh.  It stares back at you.  It is shocked to be removed from the garden, but newborn to be unitary, disparate, and free."