Saturday, April 16, 2011

Novels: David Prior & Stephen Weiner

Both David Prior and Stephen Weiner gave me their diy books to read. I finally have done so, and will speak of these works. I feel duty-bound, because they gave me the books in earnest. Furthermore, I really encourage the do-it-yourself initiative that computers have fostered. Be your own gatekeeper, sez I.

I at least somewhat know both writers. David I met at a poetry reading. After the reading, folks repaired to a bar, where David bought Michael and me a Guinness. In the later course of things, he sent me his book. That was several years ago, I have to admit. Stephen I have known since I was teenage. Both have non-writing careers. Not sure what David does but Stephen is a librarian. He has published several books on comics, and is regarded as an authority on the subject.

So anyway.

The Yoke of the Horde. David’s novel is a husky effort. It begins in media res, which means in the middle of res. We soon glean that a woman converses one-sidedly with someone she just met at a store. The person with whom she speaks never says a word, never has a chance. That this person never intrudes supplies the woman with the idea of sympathy. She brings this man home with her, to meet, well, the situation there.

The situation there consists of her husband, who just returned from trying to save Tibet, as he puts it. He is nominally the hero of this farce. Additionally, the woman’s boyfriend shares the apartment. She took up with the boyfriend while her husband was away and presumed dead. Now they have a very uneasy ménage-a-trois. The boyfriend is a loutish bully, the husband bullied and outraged, and the woman content within the vision of an idyllic structure. And there we are. Everyone projects their ideas upon the silent man in a tussle of personal viewpoints.

Of course my description of all this sucks. It is really quite funny, as is Prior himself. We see the silent man at work, as well, where he likewise is seen as wise and resourceful, just for not interfering with other people’s viewpoints. The CEO of the company where he works takes the silent man, Tommy, under his wing as an assistant. He gives Tommy the project of improving the little putting green in his office. Tommy proceeds to create a living golf course in the office, with grass, water hazards, and wildlife. Absurdity upon absurdity.

Meanwhile, the ménage grows, with a scholarly couple who are attempting to contact Immanuel Kant via séance. At least according to them, Kant is part of the ménage. Other characters appear, and situations develop.

Like I say, my description of the plot sucks. I thought of William Gaddis (as in: the author of JR) for how intricate relationships perform subtle machinations. Flann O’Brien, to whose name should be attached the great., also comes to mind for the vivid invention of plot and character. Some slightly apocalyptic events occur in the plot. The story almost becomes unwieldy, but David reins it in, and his humour really resonates.

David sets the story in the Boston area, with local references, including a skewed take on our local tv weather guy legend. Thru out the book, and providing a great energy for it, are humourously flaky observations, genuinely funny. This rollicking invention shows what I mean by Flann O’Brien’s influence. I have no idea if David has partaken of O’Brien’s genius, but his eager excitement in the language and plot makes it likely.

I feel the book could be edited. Gatekeepers do provide a service, I will admit. Horde bears the standard mark of diy:typos. For the most part, the wildness of David’s invention works, but an outside eye might excise some sentences. I’ve read enough contemporary novels to declare that this book is far less effluvial than most, but still, a honing can’t hurt.

I know that self-publish still equates with amateur for most people, but this is not amateur work. David’s really at ease in the writing, and disavows the usual map.

Tom’s House. Tom’s House differs from Horde in many ways. Categorize it as a novella, novelette, noveletto, novelini or whatever word sufficient to say that it is shorter than most novels. I admire any novel that can get its work done efficiently. I mean, even as I love the great long novels, the Stephen King sort of affliction that drives stories on and on tires me. Novels should be exactly as long as needed, no longer, no shorter. Please!

Tom’s House presents a teenage boy whose mother has decided to separate from her husband. Tom has a brother, but he’s away in college, so Tom’s alone in the awkwardness between his parents.

Stephen locates this story in our home town, so I identify with that. He actually changes the map some, for the heck of it, I guess. That’s not important, the place is real in the story. The personal warmth of remembrance makes a lively strength here. Stephen lets memory run its course without placing interpretive weight on events. The story is clearly cathartic for the writer, but not tiresomely so for the reader. Stephen manages this by somehow not investing in the character. Very, very often, authors root for their characters, thereby delivering deus ex machina hokum. That’s a bad thing.

Tom feels the expected emotions: anger, betrayal, and confusion. His mother earnestly tries to explain and support her painful decision while his father remains unsatisfyingly reserved. One expects this awkward stoic to disappear by the end of the story.

A second plot point concerns a bully out to get Tom. Tom tries to evade the fight that the bully wants. This is just one more thing for Tom.

Stephen does not exploit these situations but instead handles them with deft ordinariness. He evokes a clean picture of school, friends, homework, and stuff. I easily saw the town where I grew up.

The story pressed towards two big conclusions, as I read. I delight that neither conclusion actually occurs.

I expected, and you would too, that Tom’s mother would decide to work it out with Tom’s father, and Tom would beat the bully. Instead, Tom ineffectually fights and loses to the bully, and mother goes away. Oops, forgot to signal spoiler alert. You know, if a story can be beat by a spoiler, it aint much of a story.

Thru out the book, we see the mother coaxing Tom to accept her viewpoint. We feel him teeter. The denouement, tho, differs from expectation. Tom not only chooses not to accompany his mother to wherever she plans to go, he locks her out of the house. It is a nearly creepy but wholly human scene in which Tom lets phone and doorbell ring, until his mother gives up. He remains with his father, despite the blandishments of his mother.

The father, who relents not to pressure his son, reveals, finally, greater depth that we presumed. Stephen manages to forestall judgmental overplay. We aren’t urged to think anyone made a right or wrong decision, just human ones.

Now the downside of diy. David’s book claims publication by bONGO hEAD pRESS, with a price tag of $12. Honest: you should buy it. If only you could. There’s at least an isbn number, but no address, no copyright, no nuthin’. Facebook David and ask what up.

Stephen’s book can be purchased thru Xlibris here. Sample pages can be read. Obviously, the promotional mechanism lies entirely with the author of diy books. We should support such efforts. Or sit back and let accountants dictate our reading matter.