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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A very strange novel that is beginning to grow on me: The House of Breath

Against all likelihood, William Goyen's The House of Breath has won me over - as I noted yesterday the novel, from 1950 and obscure even in its time, is stunningly beautiful at moments and way over the top lyrical and opaque at others, strongly influenced by some of the great, Joyce, Faulkner, especially Wolfe, and influential on some of the highly literary stylists of the 1970s such as Hawkes, Gass, maybe their protegees such as Robinson - but by 40 pages in the novel began taking a turn toward the ridiculous, with a section narrated, as far as I could tell, by a river and with moanful laments for lost and misspent youth, replete with weird passages about leaving one's sperm spread across the earth - but I have to say that just as the prose was seeming to careen out of control Goyen gets ahold of his material and settles down to tell us a story - the Faulkner influence taking sway. He's telling the story of a small east Texas town, Charity, the narrator's childhood home that he's long since abandoned for a life of sorrow and loneliness (we know little else about him so far). The narrator - like an omniscient third-person - tells us of Charity today, completely changed by the discovery of East Texas oil, become a dirty and polluted small town, the forest cleared, some of the people, especially the black families, a little better off than the extreme poverty (and racism) of the early 20th century - but not much better. the omniscient, ghostlike narrator looks from afar at the house where he grew up, now in near ruins, and begins to tell us the stories of all those who've left Charity, virtually all the children of his generation, and also of the few elderly people left behind, as much in ruins as the house. These narratives are as rich in detail as the earlier, florid passages but they also have a voice and a story line and they're much easier to follow, and as I read though - I'm about half-way through the 200 pp novel, I'm getting a picture of the town and its devolution. I hope to learn more about the narrator as well, and what has made him a writer, or a failure, or a troubled man - so far he's opaque, just the source of the torrent of words (much like a river, that metaphor for narrative once again - the Joyce influence) that convey this strange tale.

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