I was at a dinner party recently at which I met a Famous novelist, who told a story about meeting the Very Famous novelist Thomas Pynchon, who I’m sure you know has a reputation for being, shall we say, a very private person. He doesn’t give interviews. He doesn’t do readings. It’s big news when a decades-old photo of his wrist appears. Nobody knows what he looks like. Etc.
Pynchon came up in conversation because FN and I were talking about the strange phenomenon of author readings, with which we have both long since made our peace, and the daunting task of establishing and maintaining an online “presence” that nowadays comes with the business of writing books. Understand that no one forces us to do readings, or to establish and maintain an online presence, but it is expected, and because of the changing ways in which people discover and consume cultural artifacts, it’s almost inescapable.
So much so, that when FN met Pynchon, Pynchon was musing about the possibility of doing a book tour for his new novel. To which a horrifed FN replied, “No! You can’t! Don’t you see, you have what we all want. You did it. You got away with it. Why throw that away now?”
To which Pynchon replied that, yes, he had “gotten away with it,” but he was pretty sure that if he’d come along twenty years later, he wouldn’t have been able to do so.
There’s a lot to be said for participating in the writerly conversation, for interacting with both readers and other writers, for the free exchange of ideas and enthusiasms. I get that, I really do. But I still struggle with the opposing urge towards hermetic solitude that is, I think, at the root of any writer’s being.
And I still envy the fuck out of Pynchon.
I dug up part of an abandoned novel about a guy who drives from New York to San Francisco with the corpse of his girlfriend (he accidentally kills her in the first chapter) in the front seat. If you’re squeamish, don’t worry. I cut out all the gross necrophilia stuff. If you’re not squeamish, sorry, I cut out all the cool necrophilia stuff. The novel was orginally called Boola’s Trip. Maybe someday it still will.
“Wyoming—a great land outdoors,” reads the state line greeting. I suppose what they’re saying is: don’t go indoors. Stay outside and play. Here, we have nothing for you indoors.
The road surface had changed in color from Nebraska’s abraded black vinyl to a lighter, reddish material, some sort of sandstone-based asphalt. Snow swirled in menacing flurries from the green and brown mesas and plateaus surrounding me down across the hood of my speeding Utero.
The mesas were dotted with scrub pine. We passed a graveyard for old railroad cars, stacked in lopsided piles beside a stretch of rusty, unused track. The first part of Wyoming is as flat as my pitch when I sing along to the radio; I could see all the way to the looming mountains, miles and miles in the leaden distance. We were about 45 miles from Cheyenne. It was approximately two-thirty in the afternoon. Mountain Time.
My software needs upgrading. My operating system is outdated. I have a theory about sex. “I have a theory about sex,” I announced to Boola, moonlighting as my girlfriend, well-hung on every pearl of too-truth dropped from my clenched jaws. “My theory, and please note, it’s only a theory–distilled from the honey of daily observation, patiently sifted, sure, but still….”
There didn’t look to be an easy way out of this. A dead girl in the front seat is a dead girl in the front seat, no matter how you say it, or don’t say it, or refuse to acknowledge it.
I resolved to check the atlas next time we stopped, though I had grown adept at pinning the book against the steering wheel and checking my location by means of a swift series of glances. Not that I was worried about getting lost. Even before GPS, it wasn’t easy to get lost in America anymore. Hard to believe if you just stay on this road you can travel three thousand miles from one place to another. From one empty feeling to another.
Passion without precision: chaos. Feeling kind of shandy. Kisses all lead to dreaming, and dreaming leads to death. I have a persistent nagging fear that the world of dreams is the one you will inhabit when you die. That the final few seconds of electrical brain activity will last for a seeming infinity—the only real infinity, I suppose, that any human ego can comprehend.
And that would really bum me out, to be honest. I’d prefer nothingness to some creepy oneiric landscape, over which one can exercise only an unpredictable and vague kind of control. I have anxiety about the afterlife. I fear that when plopped into its recondite midst, I will have a panic attack. Here’s my hell: an eternal panic attack, and no red wine.
Huge robot transformers, arms raised alertly, shunt the country’s electricity along thick ropes of conductive wire. When you pass near them the AM radio band hisses with static, the sound of blood boiling or my brain on drugs, enveloping in a fizzy rush this week’s Business Roundtable, a discussion I think of a new kind of spreadsheet software, then ebbing quickly, back to the banal chatter that helps keep me from thinking too much.
I’m cruising down Route 80 under a sky like shaved soap, the blue of my Utero’s hood etiolated to a light gray in the fading afternoon light. Not even the ontic perplexities of the twitchy stiff propped next to me could distract from the highway delight I now experienced. Gentle vehicular vibrations transferred from the wheels to the drive shaft to the steering wheel to my arms and on through my body, so that I was trembling with connectivity, with what Mary Baker Eddy called at-one-ment, with sheer driving excitement.
I’m not really sure what happened next. I remember the road in front of me sparkling in my headlights. I think we passed the skeleton of a semi in the meridian, buried up to its haunches in luminous powder. I jumped a fast train of thought, and had trouble sorting out the meaning behind the referents. I saw or thought I saw the shimmering carpet in front of me lift up, into the sky, and we rode a carpet of stars over the whole earth, over the storm and the white fields, the ribbon of road, the jutting heliotrope hills. And then just as suddenly as we had taken off we began to plummet, more quickly than I could register. The great white shawl of the ground came rushing towards us but I felt no fear, because this was what I had always wanted: to be embraced. We touched down hard, snow exploding everywhere around us, and we hurtled uncontrollably through the night for uncountable seconds. Eventually we sledded to a halt I knew not where.
I could not move. I could not think. I felt no pain, but could not seem to open my eyes, or, if they were open, to see. I drifted into a state of semi-consciousness.
Search for: Peace with self.
Item(s) not found.
Search for: Meaning.
Item(s) not found.
Search for: Reason to live.
Item(s) not found.
Over at Fictionaut, I posted a new story. It’s about the salt-cellar created by Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), pictured above. It’s pretty short. If you want to read it, go here.
For anyone curious about my next novel, I posted a story on Fictionaut here that was originally published in the brilliant and very worthy of your attention literary magazine trnsfr. A radically altered version of this story will be used for the thing-in-progress. Over the next few mothns, bits [...]
For anyone curious about my next novel, I posted a story on Fictionaut here that was originally published in the brilliant and very worthy of your attention literary magazine trnsfr. A radically altered version of this story will be used for the thing-in-progress. Over the next few mothns, bits and pieces of the new novel will be appearing in various lit-mags, and I will keep you posted as to the when-and-where. Because I know you would much rather read experimental fiction than my silly ramblings about Guided By Voices. Right? Hello? Anyone?
working with laser engraver are always rewarding
While I would argue that Artificial Light is very much not “GBV-themed,” nor “indie rock-themed,” nor “rock-themed,” — it’s mainly about a librarian, after all — a plug is a plug and I appreciate the mention.
- It's a long climb up the rock face at the wrong time to the right place
- James Greer's books on GoodreadsGuided by Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Rollreviews: 24
ratings: 195 (avg rating 3.70)Artificial Light (Little House on the Bowery)reviews: 6
ratings: 71 (avg rating 3.66)The Failurereviews: 9
ratings: 59 (avg rating 3.65)EXPERIENCED: Rock Music Tales of Fact & Fictionreviews: 4
ratings: 6 (avg rating 4.60)Two Letters Collection, Volume 2ratings: 5 (avg rating 4.60)
OCDabsolution abstract rendition of a definite condition a contest featuring human beings advertising A la recherche du temps perdu anecdotage Artificial Light a yellow coincidence book reading Book Review books caffeinated rambling Curbside Splendor Détective Everything Flows experiments do not always work which is why they are called experiments fiction fictionaut film France great rock bands of the united states Guided By Voices interview James Greer Jean-Luc Godard literary magazines movies music parody photography proselet reading reading in public is scary Robert Pollard self-promotion short fiction short film short story Slake The Failure The Power of Suck The Rattling Wall this is the modern world W.I.P. we are all immortal now
Friendly Fire"James Greer, one of the nimblest and most multilayered American fiction writers, has, with his latest novel The Failure, pulled off a sublime and shivery-smooth literary hat-trick-cum-emotional-gotcha. I defy anyone to come up with an equation to explain how this book's first impression as a ridiculously clever, funny crime story can gradually disclose a metanovel built from far more encyclopedic scratch only to reveal upon its conclusion a central, overriding thought so heartfelt literally it trembles your lower lip. This is one stunning piece of work."—Dennis Cooper"James Greer's The Failure is such an unqualified success, both in conception and execution, that I have grave doubts he actually wrote it."—Steven Soderbergh"Greer has done it again: a big-city, techno-jargon-filled thrill-ride with slick medium-brow drop references to our (once-shared) mythological hometown. What could be more poignant?"—Robert Pollard"How do you assess if your life has been a success? For starters, take time and turn it on its head. You'll first need to find its head. Luckily, James Greer's novel The Failure will help--it's a brainy, boisterous, unsettling, and unsettled look at a group of people thrust into the most confounding of existences, complete with petty crime, high science, love, sex, and cars. The narrative winds and darts, gleefully uncooperative. The characters have funny names and sometimes funny existences. Still, you will recognize them. They are us."—Ben Greenman
- The Believer
- Ben Loory
- Ben Tanzer
- The Breeders
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- The Cinefamily
- Curbside Splendor
- David Roth
- Death to Kenny Rogers
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- False Binary
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- Nick Eddy Relents
- The Nervous Breakdown
- The Paris Review
- Project Gutenberg
- Shane Jones
- SmokeLong Quarterly
- Some Came Running
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