Thursday, March 12, 2009

I. by Stephen Dixon

I feel like I'm on speed whenever I read a Stephen Dixon book. His chapter-length paragraphs and run-on dialogue propel the narrative forward so effectively that I feel as if I can't stop. And he captures the sometimes brutal realities of everyday life in such a deceptively simple language it only adds to the amphetamine rush of words. This book, more than the other Dixon works I've read (Frog, Long Made Short, Gould) appears to be more about the act of writing--the constant sense of revision inherent in every action we make, every line we speak.

Dixon's novels and stories are strangely compelling, but I'm always exhausted by the time I finish one and feel like I need a break before tackling another one. I picked up I. bundled with End of I. from McSweeney's, but I'll be saving End of I. for later in the year. Right now I need to take a breather.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My Life as a Fake

This is the first of anything I've read by Australian writer Peter Carey and I'll definitely be returning to his work--True History of the Kelly Gang is supposed to be excellent. My Life as a Fake reimagines the events of the Ern Malley hoax, in which two poets created a fictional character, Ern Malley, and passed him off as a poet savant to the pretentious editor of a literary magazine. With very authentic-sounding letters attributed to Malley's sister, she laments her deceased brothers genius that seems to have gone unnoticed (the two poets cast Malley as a mechanic).

In Carey's version, the fake poet, named Bob McCorkle, has come to life to torment his creator. Carey's narrator, the editor of a British literary magazine, has traveled to Malaysia at the request of the famous poet, John Slater, an old family friend and nemesis (she believes Slater is somehow responsible for her mother's suicide). Once there, she meets Christopher Chubb, a strange white man living a meagre existence among the Malaysians. Chubb turns out to be the perpetrator of the infamous "McCorkle hoax" and relates the story to the narrator, enticing her with a glimpse of some brilliant poetry supposedly written by the hoax come to life, Bob McCorkle.

Carey manages to weave themes of identity and the artistic process through a riveting tale that takes the reader around the Pacific Rim with a plot that involves kidnapping, murder and exile.