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Tribune Book Highlights

Today's Tribune has a surprisingly large number of noteworthy literary items:

Lynna Williams reviews A Miracle of Catfish, the final novel from the late Larry Brown. The novel remained unfinished at the time of Brown's death in 2004, and his longtime editor and friend Shannon Ravenel whittled down 700+ pages of manuscript "to streamline the narrative and lighten some sections" into a final publication length of 455 pages. The reviewer states:

...each cut is marked by ellipses, so readers can track where additional material once was.

No other editorial changes were made, (Ravenel) says, and there was certainly no effort at 'ending' the novel. Instead, the last writing we see from Brown is a half-page of notes for those final, unwritten chapters.

Reading "A Miracle of Catfish," it's impossible not to wonder how those notes would have been transformed into chapters -- and how those chapters would have truly ended the novel.

This is certainly an interesting editorial approach to completing an unfinished novel. To me, it's highly preferable to an editor presuming to know a late author's exact intentions for how the finished novel should be. (Which, of course, assumes that the author himself had a clear idea of such.) I was quite disappointed with the posthumous editing of Ralph Ellision's epic lifework, Juneteenth, which ended up as a disjointed, convoluted mess. I like the fact that Ravenel implicitly admits that she's not much more enlightened regarding Brown's intentions than anybody else, and largely leaves interpretation in the hands of the reader.

Louis Masur doesn't think much of John Evangelist Walsh's The Night Casey Was Born: The True Story Behind the Great American Ballad "Casey at the Bat". (Guess you'll just have to settle for "Mighty Casey".)

"New in Paperback" has three intriguing titles: Lance Olsen's Anxious Pleasures: A Novel After Kafka (an alternate take on "The Metamorphosis" from the perspective of the rest of the Samsa family), James Green's Death in the Haymarket (on my radar screen for quite some time), and Vasily Grossman's A Writer at War (check out Nextbook's feature on the book).

The Arts section even had two literary pieces. First, a gorgeous, full-page, full-color article on Continuum's great 33 1/3 series on classic rock and soul albums, including a great old photo of James Brown. (A quibble: they failed to cite my favorite 33 1/3 title, Colin Meloy's lovely memoir treatment of the Replacements' Let It Be.) Second, as part of feature in which all of the paper's arts writers were asked to assess one artist whose career started out inconspicuously (from an artistic, if not commercial, standpoint) but went on to have a major turning point, Julia Keller cites Stephen King's short story collection Everything's Eventual as being the point at which:

His work acquired an emotional richness and psychological acuity that it heretofore lacked. Most impressively, King was able to shift to this higher gear without losing the storytelling brio that made him famous in the first place: the colloquialisms, the regular-guy narrators, the vivid descriptive details, the ability to scare the bejabbers out of you.

Forgive me if I reserve judgment on Keller's raving claims. Though I'll try to track down that book and check out the particular story she cites, for now I'll keep doubting that the writer of earlier books about a possessed and homicial automobile and an ax-wielding nurse/bookworm is capable of emotional depth and delicate nuance.

(Tribune site requires registration. Use "k@mytrashmail.com" for the user name, "password" for the password. Thanks, as always, to bugmenot.com.)

March 18, 2007 in Books | Permalink