Monday, February 22, 2010

Knife Thrower's Sonata

The Knife Thrower’s Sonata

Hemingway did his work, and he’ll last. Any biographer who gives him less than this, granting the chaos of his public and personal life, might just as well as write the biography of an anonymous grocer, or a wooly mammoth. Hemingway, the writer he’s still the hero of the story, however it unfolds.” Raymond Carver

My mother taught me: never leave the house without a book. You might get stuck in a line out there. The waiting room of a dentist’s office. Freeway. Runway. I left for Europe with a bag of heavy books, which included: “The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink;” with fine essays by Joseph Mitchell and A.J. Leibling. Also books about two Raymonds: Chandler and Carver. The Chandler bio by Hinney, and the new Raymond Carver bio by Carol Skelenicka. Chandler was a maestro of hard-boiled detective literature – and Carver brought suburban noir-realism to the American short story. Both writers mastered American lingo, character and the backwater emotional landscapes of the Promised Land. Both men pretty much drank themselves into the graves. Writers. Sagas of two Americans who traversed the nether land of fame and publishing world. Critics – Hollywood – fortune – lossredemption. Marriage ups and downs. Drink. The carny wheel spins round: Drunk. Sober. Drying Out. Off the wagon. Under the wagon. They wrote their way through all of it. Chandler (after he was dead of course) was slagged by some fellow writers, including popular novelist Joyce Carol Oates – who declared Chandler and his detective Marlowe: “racist and misogynist.” Oh, Christ, please. New York critics deemed Carver’s work dreary and depressing. Welcome to the world of high brow, arch-political correctness and snobbery. Look out, folks; here comes the “new fiction!” The children of Joyce Carol Oates. Boring me to tears. But ah, Chandler and Carver…it’s a reminder of the work; then the later criticism of Hemingway –Hem’s work may seem dated to some; overly macho to others; out of date and style. But much of it will last because it was made with an artist’s honesty and passion; an accurate ear, a proven B.S. detector; and a whittled character that is lacking in much of today’s fiction. Style. But, oh mama, the morally-toned snobs love to kick the old lions when they’re down or dead. Ah, the hyenas and knife throwers…enough!...some final words from Chandler:

Apparently Hemingway was very sick when he wrote the book (“Across the River and Into The Trees”) and he put down in a rather cursory way how that made him feel…I suppose those primping second guessers who call themselves critics think he shouldn’t have written the book at all. Most men wouldn’t have…that’s the difference between a champ and a knife thrower, the champ may have lost his stuff temporarily or permanently, he can’t be sure. But when he can no longer throw the high hard one, he throws his heart instead. He throws something. He doesn’t just walk off the mound and weep.”

4 comments:

Saddle Tramp said...

I'll lead off on this one ... Great piece Tomas!
A loose quote to add regarding Joseph Mitchell. A dinner guest and staff writer at The New Yorker asked Joseph Mitchell what the great writers who contributed to The New Yorker all had in common. Joseph Mitchell replied in his slow drawl " Well, none of them could spell; but they all had a wild exactitude in their writing ". I won't wring out any litany of names. Hemingway was a force of nature we will never see repeated. He left enough and suffered enough and without self pity. As far as Raymond Carver being depressive to read. Far from it. I love him for his wry sense
of humor and self deprecation. It helps if you've been there. Check out the Criterion Collection's version of Altman's film of " Short Cuts " where the supplements alone
are worth the premium price of the DVD. No Carver fan will be disappointed. Keep bringing out the jewells Tom. We have lost our way and know it.


-saddle tramp
Via: Marlboro, NY on a winery to winery coast to coast toast so to speak. Mission Bell Winery - Madera, CA to Kedem Winery in Marlboro ... A 3,000 mile gig. California crushed grapes delivered.

editor said...

Here's a quote for ya from Sgt. Rory Miller, a corrections officer, author of "Meditations on Violence anda thinking man's tough guy, from his blog:

"So for writers: angst is not terror.
This is for me, I know I'm not your target audience... but damn, people. Please. If your protagonist is in fear for her life, if she is looking into the eyes of a man who wants to beat, destroy, kill and humiliate her it is a different animal than dealing with a broken heart. Do not try to extrapolate from the embarrassing pimple you had in eighth grade to the terror of imminent annihilation. Do not try to recall your childhood heartbreak of flushing you goldfish down the toilet to write touchingly of a couple who just lost their baby. Please.

"I know some will anyway. It might be okay for the readers who also have never been to the deep places. But the rest of us can tell."

I like that.Seems to get at a lot of what's being expressed here.

Jay said...

Love Chandler and Carver, not a big Joyce Carol Oates fan, but she did write a pretty good boxing novella called "The Man Who Fought Roland La Starza" in the anthology "Murder on the Ropes." As a boxing fan, I think you'd like it--and the same anthology has a long story by FX Toole. Peace, Jay

Thom Jurek said...

Now critics are falling all over themselves to praise both men, and Poe--who was dismissed as "drivel for children." Critics, professional academics who wouldn't know why art was art if it bit them in the ass.

BY the way, though he's now known as the guy who wrote the novel the film Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates was a hell of a short story writer and influenced Carver's voice. I swear it. Check out his collected short stories. My favorite quote from an interview (and he wrote like this): "I'm only interested in stories that are about the crushing of the human heart."