Book Reviews, Novels

William Eastlake’s the Checkerboard Trilogy, or, Lyric of the Circle Heart (1956 – 1963)


Go in Beauty (1956)

Eastlake_GIB_cov.pngWrite what you know. Golden advice, and Eastlake devotes his first novel to these words, writing deeply of the white-red divide that’d banished the Navajo culture to the ‘Checkerboard’ region, as well as the role of the writer, of art, the relationship shared with the outside world, and, surprisingly, the land itself, devoid of culture except as a current morphological and ecological influence. Unfortunately with Go in Beauty, Eastlake gave too much focus to world of the artist, which doesn’t always mix well in the scheme of things. It helps stress the cultural dead-end meetings, but something indeterminable about this hurts the novel’s impact, especially comparatively with the thematically-similar trilogy closer.

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Book Reviews, Novels

Language and history in Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (1980)

Ful of the Moon Ful of the Moon,
Ful of the Moon nor dont look back
Folleree Folleroo on your track
Oo hoo hoo Yoop yaroo
Folleree Folleroo follering you
If they catch you in the darga,
Arga Warga

Reading Riddley Walker has been one of the most profound and moving experiences I’ve ever had with literature. Every sentence and every word stuck to me, and I couldn’t help but want to get lost in the corrupted language.

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Book Reviews, Novels

Paul Bowles’ the Sheltering Sky (1949)

Three American travelers, wealthy beyond description, drift into the Saharan desert, suffering constant discomfort, loneliness, illness. Their station as travelers is key: They are not the foul-brained tourist gawkers they miserably judge, gathering immediate snapshots to largely leave behind, but Travelers with a T, ingrained in the cultures they move between, accepting the differences or rejecting them — they at least pretend to understand the foreign cultures they inhabit.

Travelers Kit, Port and Tunner live this philosophical post-war outlook from bedrooms and buses, boxcars and hashish-hazed cafes, the culture on the outskirts only there to suffer the Americans’ wealthy dissatisfaction. Rejecting, then rejecting, they move further inland, further into a bored American’s Heart of Darkness, attitude and identity similarly removing themselves from the malaise’d bodies with every mile, every dune crossed into the oppression of that finalizing sheltering sky.

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Book Reviews, Novels

Ronald Sukenick’s UP (1968)

Ronald Sukenick was one of the founders and vocal leaders of the Fiction Collective back in ’68, a club of (largely) New York innovators taking advantage of the postmodern, self-reflective revolution they were simultaneously witnessing and instigating in literature. They — including authors like Steve Katz and Jonathan Baumbach — argued for an embracing of verbal tricks, of cut-and-paste visual collages in place of story progression, accompanied by a self-awareness of their own limits and possible stylistic pretensions in order to combat the novel’s stagnation. Does it add to literature? Does such a question matter, when the novel itself is the author unloading his soul and dumping all his relationship issues out on the reader in as humorous and creative a way he can cough up, no boundaries considered?

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Book Reviews, Novels

Stanley Elkin’s the Franchiser (1976)

A few lines are spoken deep in the Franchiser where the course of events suddenly shift, the novel’s focus jolts away towards being more than just a self-conscious, slightly corny satire of the golden-arch homogenization of small-town-big-city America. Ben Flesh, Elkin’s hero and franchisee, is suddenly faced with an impending multiply-sclerotic powerlessness that bounds back and forth, grows and subsides through the rest of the novel — the scope of the novel no longer space wasted on been-there-done-that social commentary but deliriously depressing and impacting tragicomedy, well worth its place on McCaffery’s 20th-century best-of.

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