Monday, November 21, 2011

Paradoxes of self

My review of Lawrence Douglas's excellent novel The Vices—and my consideration of Lars Arffssen's parody, The Girl With the Sturgeon Tattoo—is now up at Bookforum:

Our narrator is so fluently revealing, even as he peppers his conversation with white lies, that it's a shock to realize that we never learn his name. Is he, in fact, not so much a narrator as a narrative device, a way to tell The Real Life of Oliver Vice? Douglas, or his surrogate, creates exceptionally memorable set pieces: a lust-and-magic-ridden party in commemoration of Beggars Banquet; a Christmas dinner in New York with Oliver's bewitching mother and corpulent, Churchill-worshipping brother. And though the novelist has a seamless voice, he allows other characters to reach us, unfiltered, via their correspondence. Oliver's frequent missives from abroad have the bitter-hilarious tang of a Thomas Bernhard rant:

But her apartment stinks of cigarettes, and I can't stand being there—the odor is so vile, it makes me physically ill. But here's the catch. The cigarette odor in S.'s studio is no different from the smell in my mother's apartment, which has never bothered me. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I find the smell in my mother's apartment pleasing.

Even more impressive are the glimpses of Oliver's masterpiece, the Wittgensteinian treatise Paradoxes of Self. It's one thing for a novelist to invent a genius-author character; it's another order of difficulty to include excerpts of said genius's work that are brilliant enough to convince us of the character's literary chops. The five pages of Paradoxes of Self that Douglas presents—i.e., writes—are so good that you'll wish the book existed in full, on the shelf.

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