Saturday, May 01, 2010

Arms and the woman

I would recommend Charles Portis to anyone (and I think I have recommended him to everyone), but I was especially eager for Levi to read him. He did...and I've been on pins and needles wondering what he thought. (Is it possible he didn't love it?)

My anxieties have disappeared—here's Levi on Portis's The Dog of the South! After some comparisons with Kafka-as-laughmeister and Melville's The Confidence-Man, Levi writes:

The result is unlike anything else I've ever read, crammed from start to finish with oddballs, dropouts, and failures, all of whom cling to this world all the more intensely for the fact that they can't quite figure out what to do with it. Ray Midge, the energetically sad-sack copy editor who is the novel's protagonist, seems to regard all the world's facts as equally important; though paring them down or assigning importance might reveal hints of a pattern, it's as if he feels an obligation not to discriminate, as if each and every detail deserves his full care--as if the world is a manuscript, and his job is to check it out. It's as admirable as it is crazy, and when he sets out on a road trip to Latin America to retrieve his runaway wife, the reader can't help but harbor some hope that, when he finds her, she'll see his awkward strangeness that way, too.

He includes some trademark Portis dialogue, too:

"The singing school was an entirely different thing, Melba. This was a restaurant they were talking about. Little Bit of Austria. Sybil was going to sing some kind of foreign songs to the customers while they were eating. She said she was a night-club singer, and a dancer too. She planned to dance all around people's tables while they were trying to eat. I thought these night clubs had beautiful young girls to do that kind of thing but Sybil was almost as old as Reo."

"Older," said Melba. "Don't you remember her arms?"

(Moreover, I'm also remembering that Melba "broke the transition problem wide open" in her own writing by starting every paragraph with "Moreover.")

Courtesy of Parkus Grammaticus, here's a brief rundown of some of my writing on Portis (one of those writers who I seem to write about even when I'm writing about something else):

Longish Believer feature
Comparing Bill Clinton's My Life with the CP oeuvre
Portis's Invisible Library entry
A Donald E. Westlake character sort of reminds me of Ray Midge
A few more words on DOTS-as-comic-novel for Bookforum

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