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"...a lot more danger in not leaving it..."

Nice short passage here from Sherwood Anderson’s Windy McPherson’s Son. Sam McPherson, still young but rising rapidly in industry, is the wilds of Michigan, on his honeymoon.

One with whom he talked was a grocer from a town in Ohio, and when Sam asked him if coming to the woods with his family for an eight-weeks stay did not endanger the success of his business he agreed with Sam that it did, nodding his head and laughing.

”But there would be a lot more danger in not leaving it,” he said, “the danger of having my boys grow up to be men without my having any real fun with them.”

I have always agreed with the grocer’s sentiment, especially since becoming a father. The book has lost some momentum since Sam left Caxton, Iowa for big-city Chicago, and particularly since he fell in love, somewhat predictably, with Sue, the daughter of his boss. Since that point, the narrative has read like a 19th century soap opera, with frequent chauvinistic tones. Anderson was clearly still trying to find his way when he wrote this, his first novel.

August 24, 2014 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Summer of Classics update

My review of James T. Farrell's Studs Lonigan trilogy is now up at Goodreads. I've been wanting to read the books for a long time (ever since my mom, a native South Sider, told me of reading Studs Lonigan on the sly as a teenager), and I'm very glad I finally did, though the books were far from perfect.

I'm a notoriously slow reader, and really didn't think I'd finish reading Lonigan before the summer ended, but to my surprise I finished last week. So, to keep the Chicago vibe going, I started Sherwood Anderson's debut novel, Windy McPherson's Son, the majority of which is set in Chicago, around the turn of the twentieth century. Not surprisingly, from what I've read so far, Anderson (best known for the seminal Winesburg, Ohio) beautifully depicts Sam McPherson's boyhood in a small Iowa town, and it will be interesting to see how well Anderson delivers the Chicago passages.

This might be the last Summer of Classics book I get to, since my job is shifting to the suburbs next week and I'll be losing my prime reading time on the train. But if I have time, I'll squeeze in George Ade's comic novel Artie (also set in Chicago) before the end of the month.

August 13, 2014 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

"...the mechanics, the farmers and the labourers dressed in their Sunday best..."

Here's a wonderful depiction of small town Iowa life around the turn of the 20th Century, from Sherwood Anderson's Windy McPherson's Son:

Saturday night was the great night in Caxton life. For it the clerkgs in the stores prepared, for it Sam sent forth his peanut and popcorn vendors, for it Art Sherman rolled up his sleeves and put the glasses close by the beer tap under the bar, and for it the mechanics, the farmers and the labourers dressed in their Sunday best and came forth to mingle with their fellows. On Main Street crowds packed the stores, the sidewalks, and drinking places, and men stood about in groups talking while young girls with their lovers walked up and down. In the hall over Geiger's drug store a dance went on and the voice of the caller-off rose above the clatter of voices and the stamping of horses in the street. Now and then a fight broke out among the roisterers in Piety Hollow. Once a young farmhand was killed with a knife.

In and out through the crowed Sam went, pressing his wares.

So many nice touches there: crowds wearing their Sunday best, but on Saturday night; fights in Piety Hollow; the abrupt murder of a farmhand, told in a casual, almost matter-of-fact manner. And throughout, teenager Sam McPherson selling selling selling, working the crowd without ever really being part of it.

August 8, 2014 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Quote

"The man who comes to writing late, but is in essence a writer, may sometimes gain as much as he has lost: his experience of life has given him a subject, he is spared the youthful writer's self-torment and soul-searching."
- Wright Morris, in his 1965 introduction to Sherwood Anderson's Windy McPherson's Son

August 6, 2014 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...never so deeply that he let go of the pen or the bottle..."

Here’s a belated posting of an excerpt from Here Comes Everybody: The Story of the Pogues by James Fearnley, the band’s accordion player, in which he describes the creative fervor of the band, even while on a cramped tour bus, and in particular its iconic frontman Shane MacGowan.

Shane, too, was writing. If I happened to be sitting in one of the backwards-facing seats at the rear of the bus, I could see him in the back lounge hunched over crumpled pieces of paper holding a felt pen in a clenched fist. Despite it being the end of autumn the roof-hatch would be open. The downdraught snapped the curtain in the doorway and lapped at the sheets of paper pinned between his elbow and knee. It flattened his hair onto his forehead. He’d stop for a moment and look out of the window, working his nostrils absent-mindedly as if something in one of them constantly itched. His foot tapped all the while. Then, after cuffing the paper on his knee, he’d wipe his nose with his forearm and set to again. He filled the flapping sheets of paper with large, angular letters and the margin with violent dots. When he’d finished with one of them he brushed it out of the way. The pages lay scattered. The wind pinned one of them on the floor where it shivered under the gusts from the roof-hatch.

I’d look up again and he’d be unconscious, but never so deeply that he let go of the pen or the bottle of wine he was drinking...

That passage perfectly illustrates the enigma of Shane MacGowan: the intense artistry, but also the self-abuse. Here Comes Everybody is simply wonderful. Fearnley writes with lyrical eloquence and brutal honesty. The band and especially its fans are fortunate to have had such a gifted writer in its ranks, and one who was dutifully taking notes during the band’s rise and near-fall.

August 3, 2014 in Books, Music | Permalink | Comments (2)