Writers don’t always follow the rules. Those that don’t clearly want to liberate their readers from the common process, and imagined dullness, present in the literary regularities of the common author. No one likes dull writing, but literary excellence within the rules proceeds like gardening must operate with seed, water and sun. In fact exceptional gardening prunes rather than proliferates. Liberation in writing comes dangerously close to Kudzu on the Kerouac.
So clever, eh?
The discord of incomplete sentences, arched-back language, angst unkempt, and life issues without the constraints of moral order don’t liberate the elderly fellow from his sense of how things work. And, I am old, reading what seems awkward, like Liberation Theology, or using tires to build a house. The elderly fellow is not like the eager young man who wants to read with abandon. And yet, that’s the stuff of today’s edgy writing. Rules abandoned.
Aged readers follow migration patterns. We don’t just tend to read what interests us and what seems enjoyable to us. We are rooted in those as our premise. I suppose the word “rut” could be construed as my actual behavior. I don’t believe that’s fair, though.
A rut is caused by tramping through soft, probably muddy ground, over and over, until the pathway places us deep below the surface where rambling about takes place. Rooted means that we’re not actually traveling anywhere at the moment. We’re sitting down and reading, for goodness sake.
I just got through reading short stories by George Saunders in his book “Tenth of December.” It’s a rather recent, 2013, work for this acclaimed author. HIs acclaim is worthy, though my effort was exhausting. The book came highly recommended, or maybe cautiously recommended, by my nephew. I’d passed on to him the book on writing, for writers, titled appropriately “On Writing,” by Stephen King. Tit for tat, so to speak. I gave him King and he gave me Saunders. I can’t remember who suggested which book first, so I’ll suppose I was the tat part.
Interestingly, I’m not a fan of King’s writing, mostly because horror means everything that’s in the word to my storybook brain. If my breathing speeds up enough to make me reach for my blood pressure gauge, then I’m going to have to quit. His book on writing, though, is fantastic.
I read Tenth of December on the Fifteenth of May, and my brain still hurts. It remains the Fifteenth of May, so maybe I’ll be better tomorrow.
This may be the aim of George’s pen. To hurt old men. Or, to shake up young men who smoke a pipe and purse their lips before answering any question.
Spoken out loud, after having already read one of his stories, the writing sounded better. Sounded, I’ll say, because the inflections in my voice take the bite out of Saunder’s cadence that seems designed to inflict pain in the brain.
Reading speaks mostly to visuals, I’ve been trained to believe, and subsequently have been formed. Saunders has plenty of visuals. They paint pictures in my brain, though, like a rap artist spitting out phrases and familiarities which don’t make sense to my phraseology, and with which I have little familiarity. That’s on me. George is difficult, like Shakespeare, except backwards, or forwards, or whatever the dickens I must mean.
There are moments, though, when the tale behind the words drags me along, keeping me interested enough to continue. He writes like I golf. Mostly in the weeds, swinging clubs that numerically associate with little that my arms are able to do. Every now and then a point is made, where I’m back on the fairway, or rolling up onto the green. Inevitably I chip off of either, or both, and spend an inordinate amount of time searching for my ball. Then, I smack the thing perfectly. Every now and again. George strikes me like that. Every now and again, and I’m hooked on golf for another hole or two.
Unfortunately, from the picture of Saunders on the back flap of the paper cover, he appears to be about as old as myself. Hmmm. Maybe he’s the John McEnroe of writing. Loudly verbal, insulting with conviction, youthful in banter, and inevitably older now and indignant, irreverently annoyed with the paucity and reflection of elderly considerations.
That said, I read searching for the source, or force that moves old George to write his short stories with such odd ferocity and staccato diatribe. That source appears to be a reasonable brilliance intent upon writing with spicy ingredients.
If he were a chef there would be oysters, Tabasco, onion rings dipped in nothing, beef Tartar, and bourbon. I need my mayonnaise, chips and ribs.
(Literary critics deserve absolutely no attention, and my criticisms should be ignored. I am largely criticizing myself, and my limited ability to enjoy a meal I cannot eat. My cringes and winces at fingernails on the chalkboard get in the way of the wordsmithing and emotive mining of Saunders. He’s remarkably talented. If I were younger, maybe?)