Tuesday, December 20, 2016

On Philip Roth's The Facts...And George Pelecanos's The Cut: A Brief Note


So I just finished in this order Philip Roth's The Facts, his biographical memoir, and just now, like a few minutes ago, George Pelecanos's The Cut. That's the only reason I have this odd pairing in mind. 

I liked the factual portion of The Facts, the recounting of Roth's life with his parents, his growing up in a Jewish enclave in New Jersey, his time at Bucknell, then the University of Chicago, then his making his literary way in the world, with most of it undergirded by his impossible relationship and marriage to the impossible Josie, to whom he's neurotically drawn even as he dreads her and wants to get away from her. Those portions are concrete, since rooted in real life events, and brim and bristle with Roth's typical trenchant literary intelligence. One slight caveat, the prose is very fancy, with lots of big words used when more simple direct ones will do. It works in the end, but at times it's a bit much. I've never noted this, if I may, sesquipedalian quality to Roth's prose before. 

But what drove me round the bend are the bracketing letters from him to "Zuckerman" and Zuckerman to him, that stand in contrast with the fact based biographical accounts within the brackets. The letters are full of complex theorizing about the relations among life, fiction and biography. But they are so unrelentingly and obsessively introspective, so unrelentingly self obsessed, they they tried my patience and irritated the hell out of me. I managed through them both but often wanted to say to him, "Enough already. Shut the hell up."

So what a refreshing contrast it was to read The Cut's great, linear, detailed, spare story telling, with strongly drawn characters, with a great sense of DC's streets and street life, a story that simply flows along atop, may I say it, muscular, no nonsense prose that is unpretentiously literary in what it both denotes and evokes. 

I can just see Hemingway retching in reading the bracketing letters in The Facts and feeling fatherly towards Pelecanos's The Cut. 

Next up another go round with Gulliver's Travels, last read by me decades ago.

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