I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. All my other real-time reviews, during the last three and half years, are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/
I purchased this novel today as a customer from Amazon UK and downloaded it in a Kindle format to my ipad.
The Book of Bunk – by Glen Hirshberg
Ash Tree Press Kindle : 2012 (first published in 2010)
There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.
CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.
From “I didn’t hear the knocks” to “and swept him out.”
“Lewis. If you make me do this, I’m going to tell them about you.”
Two brothers, one a first person narrator (Paul), the other (Lewis) who – judging by this short-range time-slippage prologue/outset from 1938 to 1936 in Pennsylvania and Oklahoma (just geographical names to this UK reviewer) – becomes a Senator, following the rather unorthodoxly dealt-with death of their father with the help of blind Lamplighter (their father’s chum). All (after my recent greenhorn orgy of reading this author’s works) in a typically pungent Hirshbergian prose style of some imminent involvement with skilfully picked out genii loci upon the edge of …well, an uncivilly, irreally frayed edge of character and plot… One thing seems certain, these brothers are not going to get on. Never have. (3 Apr 12 – 1.45 pm bst)
From “All Three Senators” to “‘Night Time,’ she said.”
“My brother always took more chances than I did. Many more. But his were planned.”
Another two year time-slippage, just a short notch further on? First, a sort of politically (fictionally?) retro-extrapolated late-nineteen-thirties Senatorial version of a sort of McCarthy Hearing (as I understand American history) where Paul is up before the Beak, but without anyone else knowing (other than he and his brother) that his brother Lewis is one of the Senators-in-sitting – and, then two years earlier, boxcar-hopping, with a tentative touching-base of a brotherly intervention from Lewis, but ending with Paul leaving his native Oklahoma for the first time: encountering thereon a Galsworthy reading woman called Grace who becomes a sort of life’s-tale confessional… This is a telling and possibly calculated ohm-resistor of fiction: an expression coined for something of which Hirshberg is, I’ve found, the master. (3 Apr 12 – 3.00 pm bst)
From “The train had been chugging” to “then went back to her writing.”
“Also, just being near Lewis again was like … I don’t know. Like holding a pillow down on my own face.”
Paul’s journey with Grace railriding in tune with the ‘Railriders‘ here (a story review I serendipitously carried out in the last few days between reviewing Hirshberg’s Two Sams and Janus Tree books) … and her “nigger” child in a blanket whose scream is equivalent to the described ‘moaning’ in the Janus Tree book. The backstories and potential forward-stories accrete in this juddering journey, and I suspect that time’s cruel racisms as well as other conflicts are impending via or beyond (or in spite of) the calculative text’s and my own historically-imperfect brain’s resistance… (3 Apr 12 – 7.35 pm bst)
From “At dusk, the train” to “about my dad, I guess.”
“…grinning like a jack o’lantern.”
I feel like a sort of lamplighter for this book. Gradually, my own patrol of its pages reveals a philosophy regarding the pros and cons of “ends justifying means” and “lose some, gain some”, in history as well as in the fictional specifics before us now: the railriding oral-exchanges and written-down ones, regarding truth, lies, make-believe, make-believe-within-make-believe: possibly making one of those ‘make-believes’ true: a genuine case (the best yet?) of ‘the synchronised shards of random truth & fiction’: and the Lewis character thus emerges from what Paul tells Grace and there is something, too, even more needing my lamplighting from what Grace tells Paul about Patrol (the ‘nigger’ boy) and from what she writes down (as yet unread by me but partially read by Paul) about a fictional (?) character called Roth. It’s almost like competing with other readers about who of us can jump directly through this book’s narrative ‘fire’ with safety and foolhardy aplomb. (NB: John Galsworthy died in 1933, the same year that Philip Roth was born). (4 Apr 12 – 12.45 pm bst)
From “Grace stayed quiet” to “have us both for breakfast.”
“Train tracks spoked away in all directions.”
Railriding now over, Grace arguably finds haven for The Patrol who wields “the blind and deaf kid’s wail” and, then, she and Paul meet ‘Mother’ in a stone house, wherefrom he is sent to Trampleton as part of a Writing Project which you need to read about for yourself to prevent me spoiling it for you first. By brief arbitrary mention of Frankenstein, it also puts me in mind of the ‘Workshop of Filthy Creation’ (a direct quote by me from Mary Shelley’s book): but probably more an absurdist-leaning gazetteer of America that puts me in mind of a version of this type of publication told about in ‘Secret Europe’: a Europe of the mid-1930s etc, too (a book very recently real-time reviewed by me here) whereby Paul (and others) contribute their own form of ‘lamplighting’ or, rather, torchbearing the American tourists of the day… The more I find myself reading this “Book of Bunk”, I am genuinely becoming confident that this novel is a long-lost 21st Century literary masterpiece to out-Auster Auster (and that’s a big compliment from me, one I fully mean). But, if so, not long-lost for long: as it seems to have been first published in 2010! “‘I’m not a writer.’ […] ‘How do you know?'” (4 Apr 12 – 2.10 pm bst)
From “Five minutes later, Grace” to “984 Lumberton.”
“The majestic, intertwined branches seemed to recombine in endless configurations, reminding me of hundreds of conjoined hands or the letters of an unfathomable alphabet scrawled across the sky.”
As well as Paul Auster, please factor in W.G. Sebald. [Amazingly, just writing that sentence, I’ve realised that my favourite Sebald book is ‘Austerlitz’: an imaginative gazetteer in itself!] — Above all factor in Hirshberg himself into this book’s seemingly disciplined yet autonomous text. Sometimes one is amazed at a coincidence: like the event as Paul left in the train towards Trampleton and saw someone he knew on the platform he was leaving… Then it dawns on you, with the help of the book’s own lamplighter, that it is quite explicable and not a coincidence at all. This is a lesson for Life from Fiction. In Trampleton, Paul enters a cinematic world of elms and ‘coloreds’ on bikes. And a triangulation of plot-coordinates that we hardly notice, if at all. Or so I guess. (4 Apr 12 – 3.10 pm bst)
From “I’d seen Lumberton” to “‘You get a lot of musicians here?’ I asked. / ‘They’re the only paying black folk traveling who ain’t running.'”
“I heard sharp, irregular thwacks, as if someone were beating a pillow.”
I feel as if I’ve so far jumped through this book’s ‘fire’ with some safe aplomb and I can now sink back into the narrative as if into a well-earned hot bath. The barbershop scene: the flirting with a new fore-ordained character as well as with seasoned characters from one’s past via acceptable fiction-coincidences that do not stretch credulity too far. All as if overheard by the Senators’ Hearing… like the Gods from the film of ‘Jason & The Argonauts’? We are all our own retrocausal Gods, I guess. Especially Lewis. — Meanwhile, it is easy to take for granted Hirshberg’s striking turns of phrase, poetic conceits, subtle ‘objective correlatives’; so I don’t. “Wherever this led, I wasn’t the first to come this way.” So, to keep on my competitive mettle as a reader, I deliberately savour each new conceit, each new ricochet of happenstance, each constructive stylistic transgression, each addition to the the seven types of ambiguity, for what each is. But the whole writerly project has somehow made me relax a nonce, as I say. I’m sure, though, I’m to be re-stirred before too long, although part of me wants to continue relaxing. “The eggs were butter clouds that melted on my tongue, easily the best I’d ever had.” (4 Apr 12 – 7.35-ish pm bst)
From “He kicked open the kitchen door” to “He let me pass.”
“BRING A SCREAMING PARTNER.”
This is strong soup, a Friend of the Writing Man, as we learn further of Paul’s sly self-flirtation via Melissa, but, above all, his life in Robert’s ‘digs’ along with the other strange guests, plus his ‘Struwwelpeter’-type concoctions of fabrication for his own writing project which Grace and Lewis paradoxically seem to oversee by turning a blind eye to it: a job that reminds me obliquely at least of that with the erstwhile Hirshbergian ‘Safety Clowns’: a sort of apartheid of a miscegenate Alzheimer’s of the 1930s thus fabricated internally by Paul (or Lewis?) as an external reality in our own world where we are reading the book. Potentially frightening for all of us who are at the receiving-end of these words. But whose words, exactly? That’s the rub. A role-playing game called Diaspora (my expression, not the story’s) for “coloreds” or “Black Jews” and Whites in non-“White Trampleton“: a picture show with “a monkey escaped from a rundown circus.” Now Paul’s visiting the Sawmill – but not quite Twin Peaks? (5 Apr 12 – 3.15 pm bst)
From “I visited every day” to “‘Weird,’ Melissa said.”
“Fairest overseer they’ve ever had here,”
Yes, you’re right … Lewis. Not only overseeing, as I predicted earlier, but all-seeing, almost omniscient, even omnipotent? But with a suspicion of elite smugness? Let me make it clear. Throughout my life, I have rarely enjoyed overtly didactic fiction. And there are didactic features to this novel as it seems to be unravelling with its world of three-letter acronymic organisations: i.e. polar balances of black and white, left and right, worker and boss, Christian or Jew or perceived or implied Witchdoctor or Irreligion itself (with Missionary implications for some about others): politics, religion, labour relations, dependancy on ‘relief’ or not: all stemming from the ethos of the 1930s – but if this novel is intended to be didactic (and I am as yet unsure), it’s the first didactic novel I’ve ever enjoyed. If not, then it is its own ‘relief’ or support to my apolitical essence, to my inability to have strong opinions … above all, to my view of fiction as its own cumulative religion: like Paul’s writing project itself, a ‘commonplace’ book of every detail of place, plot and people: and each detail possessing its own power. Even a detail like a tiny shard of seeming irrelevance awaiting potential parthenogenesis as the ultimate aforementioned ‘polar balance’ of truth and untruth. Take the ending of this section: Paul’s spooning with Melissa, impinged upon, for me, by underlying hints of Twin Peaks and what happened to some of the young women amid the timber sawdust and “cicada-buzz” in that erstwhile Trampleton. “I saw half a dozen owls perched like gargoyles in the trees.” (5 Apr 12 – 7.00 pm bst)
THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW IS NOW CONTINUED HERE.
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