“For six years she had hidden herself up here and not even noticed that no one was looking for her.” This is the protagonist’s major insight in this slow moving portrait of TV star recovering from a car accident that leaves her disfigured and widowed. I read this book slowly over the course of year, in between other books & magazines. Therefore it was interesting to me that when I first started reading this book the first sentence I highlighted was: “She was capable of staying hidden for hours on end … before she realized that no one was looking for her.” Perhaps that is the genius of Peter Stamm’s book, because Gillian’s character is as bland as every other TV personality, I never realized that she was missing from my life either.
“By rights you should be contented now, without a single damned hope or lying dream left to torment you!” an exasperated Theodore Hickman says to the band of washed up alcoholics Hickey calls his friends. Do our ‘pipe dreams’ actually prevent us from being happy? I don’t know. But since reading “Iceman” I can’t help but think about the big things I’ll get to tomorrow; writing that book, climbing that mountain. Would it just be easier to accept the fear and laziness for what it is? Taoists would say that pipe dreams are phantoms that take us away from the present moment. But in America our hopes and dreams define us. They are the fuel that powers our effort for a better tomorrow. I also wonder about the band of alcoholics O’Neill chose to create. I get the feeling that all of the characters have received the short-end of life’s stick, and I don’t blame them for their phantoms. These are people who have been totally abandoned by their families and the organizations that are supposed to provide support and structures. Are the educated and wealthy really any better? Wouldn’t “Iceman” have been equally as moving if set in a classy bar of lawyers and financiers? How about a prayer circle of sinners? I don’t know. But “The Iceman Cometh” is haunting and bound to stay with you for a very long time.
There’s a moment in “Zombie War” when the book’s main character, John Culver, is interviewing a civilian survivor of the zombie apocalypse. The helicopter rescue by army rangers is almost genre predictable until the survivor reveals that he didn’t want his family to be rescued, “I thought we were safer in the compound than we would be in the outside world. We had everything we needed here. We were self-sufficient.” It’s a small twist, but it feels true. And it’s in small moments like these that Nicholas Ryan’s novel really shines. A good addition to the zombie genre.
“You never had real problems so you got to make all your problems yourselves,” Violet Weston chides her family at her husband’s funeral dinner. To me, this line best encapsulates Tracy Letts’s savage portrayal of family and marriage in “August: Osage County”. Violet joins Blanche DuBois and Martha from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe” in the Pantheon of tragic women I read this year. I wouldn’t want any of them as a mother, sister, or wife. But I’ve encountered each of these monsters in some form in my life, and that is what is so amazing to me. The truth behind these characters is something we’ve probably all experienced before.
I know this will be controversial, but I’m not the biggest fan of Frank O’Hara’s masterwork Lunch Poems. This small collection of poems contain countless references to New York City and the popular culture of the 1960’s. Without Wikipedia handy many of the poems are inaccessible. I believe great art should stand on its own.
When Walt Whitman writes: “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love / If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.” You know that he was completely overwhelmed by the natural beauty around him. Where Whitman composed those lines is irrelevant because his words can be appreciated by anyone who’s had a similar feeling. But when O’Hara writes: “If I rest for a moment near The Equestrian / pausing for a liver sausage sandwich in the Mayflower Shoppe / that angel seems to be leading the horse into Bergdorf’s.” I know that O’Hara is writing about Central Park South, but would someone who doesn’t know New York City appreciate those lines? And his references to Bette Davis, William Morris, and Hart Crane are completely lost on me.
To be fair, there is a lot of brilliance here too. O’Hara articulates the fear of fatherhood brilliantly, “and do I really want a son / to carry on my idiocy past the Horned Gates.” And the poem “A Step Away From Them” brilliantly describes the feeling of an afternoon walk on a hot New York City afternoon. But in general, I feel that Lunch Poems demonstrates the weakness of modern art, and all things “meta”; if an audience can’t appreciate a work forty years after publication, who will appreciate it in a hundred or two?