"...a lot more danger in not leaving it..."
Nice short passage here from Sherwood Anderson’s Windy McPherson’s Son. Sam McPherson, still young but rising rapidly in industry, is the wilds of Michigan, on his honeymoon.
One with whom he talked was a grocer from a town in Ohio, and when Sam asked him if coming to the woods with his family for an eight-weeks stay did not endanger the success of his business he agreed with Sam that it did, nodding his head and laughing.
”But there would be a lot more danger in not leaving it,” he said, “the danger of having my boys grow up to be men without my having any real fun with them.”
I have always agreed with the grocer’s sentiment, especially since becoming a father. The book has lost some momentum since Sam left Caxton, Iowa for big-city Chicago, and particularly since he fell in love, somewhat predictably, with Sue, the daughter of his boss. Since that point, the narrative has read like a 19th century soap opera, with frequent chauvinistic tones. Anderson was clearly still trying to find his way when he wrote this, his first novel.
Summer of Classics update
My review of James T. Farrell's Studs Lonigan trilogy is now up at Goodreads. I've been wanting to read the books for a long time (ever since my mom, a native South Sider, told me of reading Studs Lonigan on the sly as a teenager), and I'm very glad I finally did, though the books were far from perfect.
I'm a notoriously slow reader, and really didn't think I'd finish reading Lonigan before the summer ended, but to my surprise I finished last week. So, to keep the Chicago vibe going, I started Sherwood Anderson's debut novel, Windy McPherson's Son, the majority of which is set in Chicago, around the turn of the twentieth century. Not surprisingly, from what I've read so far, Anderson (best known for the seminal Winesburg, Ohio) beautifully depicts Sam McPherson's boyhood in a small Iowa town, and it will be interesting to see how well Anderson delivers the Chicago passages.
This might be the last Summer of Classics book I get to, since my job is shifting to the suburbs next week and I'll be losing my prime reading time on the train. But if I have time, I'll squeeze in George Ade's comic novel Artie (also set in Chicago) before the end of the month.
"...the mechanics, the farmers and the labourers dressed in their Sunday best..."
Here's a wonderful depiction of small town Iowa life around the turn of the 20th Century, from Sherwood Anderson's Windy McPherson's Son:
Saturday night was the great night in Caxton life. For it the clerkgs in the stores prepared, for it Sam sent forth his peanut and popcorn vendors, for it Art Sherman rolled up his sleeves and put the glasses close by the beer tap under the bar, and for it the mechanics, the farmers and the labourers dressed in their Sunday best and came forth to mingle with their fellows. On Main Street crowds packed the stores, the sidewalks, and drinking places, and men stood about in groups talking while young girls with their lovers walked up and down. In the hall over Geiger's drug store a dance went on and the voice of the caller-off rose above the clatter of voices and the stamping of horses in the street. Now and then a fight broke out among the roisterers in Piety Hollow. Once a young farmhand was killed with a knife.
In and out through the crowed Sam went, pressing his wares.
So many nice touches there: crowds wearing their Sunday best, but on Saturday night; fights in Piety Hollow; the abrupt murder of a farmhand, told in a casual, almost matter-of-fact manner. And throughout, teenager Sam McPherson selling selling selling, working the crowd without ever really being part of it.
"The man who comes to writing late, but is in essence a writer, may sometimes gain as much as he has lost: his experience of life has given him a subject, he is spared the youthful writer's self-torment and soul-searching."
- Wright Morris, in his 1965 introduction to Sherwood Anderson's Windy McPherson's Son
"...never so deeply that he let go of the pen or the bottle..."
Here’s a belated posting of an excerpt from Here Comes Everybody: The Story of the Pogues by James Fearnley, the band’s accordion player, in which he describes the creative fervor of the band, even while on a cramped tour bus, and in particular its iconic frontman Shane MacGowan.
Shane, too, was writing. If I happened to be sitting in one of the backwards-facing seats at the rear of the bus, I could see him in the back lounge hunched over crumpled pieces of paper holding a felt pen in a clenched fist. Despite it being the end of autumn the roof-hatch would be open. The downdraught snapped the curtain in the doorway and lapped at the sheets of paper pinned between his elbow and knee. It flattened his hair onto his forehead. He’d stop for a moment and look out of the window, working his nostrils absent-mindedly as if something in one of them constantly itched. His foot tapped all the while. Then, after cuffing the paper on his knee, he’d wipe his nose with his forearm and set to again. He filled the flapping sheets of paper with large, angular letters and the margin with violent dots. When he’d finished with one of them he brushed it out of the way. The pages lay scattered. The wind pinned one of them on the floor where it shivered under the gusts from the roof-hatch.
I’d look up again and he’d be unconscious, but never so deeply that he let go of the pen or the bottle of wine he was drinking...
That passage perfectly illustrates the enigma of Shane MacGowan: the intense artistry, but also the self-abuse. Here Comes Everybody is simply wonderful. Fearnley writes with lyrical eloquence and brutal honesty. The band and especially its fans are fortunate to have had such a gifted writer in its ranks, and one who was dutifully taking notes during the band’s rise and near-fall.
"...a deuce instead of an ace..."
From James T. Farrell's Judgment Day, the final volume of the Studs Lonigan trilogy:
How often in a fellow's life just one thing goes wrong, and then that guy is through and doesn't come back! One wild, accidental punch below the belt or on the chin. Some little thing, getting too drunk and going to a party and then...If he'd met some girl that night, taken her to a room, slept with her, his life would have been different, and he'd have woke up with her instead of in a hospital. Just such things that gave a guy a deuce instead of an ace. And he'd been chump enough to let those things happen, so here he was. Or was it that he was just the kind of a guy who couldn't take it? He fought the question out of his mind, told himself that the harder the breaks, the more he had to fight, and the sweeter it would be coming through.
Studs often has flashes of insight like this ("he'd been chump enough to let those things happen"), but he just as soon rationalizes away his shortcomings, blaming his travails on anyone or anything other than himself. And despite that last vow to fight through the hard breaks, he is always passive, just letting things happen to him. As he reflects ten pages later:
He was still where he had always been. Just hoping.
He still hasn't learned the lesson that just hoping, without decisively acting, gets you nowhere. And I doubt he ever will. And I suspect that the "judgment" suggested in the title won't be gentle with him.
What I'm writing
I haven't been doing any book-length work this year, but I'm still writing my weekly two-page stories. Nothing publishable there yet - still mostly first drafts that I haven't worked on further - but a lot of promising material. Whether or not any of it ever reaches finished form, it feels good just to be productive. I always feel much better about myself after a few early-morning hours of weekend writing.
On Friday afternoon the first hints of a new story came to mind, after seeing two older ladies walking arm-in-arm down Wells Street. An uncommon sight, at least on days when the Civic Opera isn't doing a matinee performance; at any rate, I don't think there are matinees on Fridays, so I'm not sure what brought these two ladies downtown. Yesterday morning I wrote the first draft ("Muriel and Lillian") which I edited in the afternoon into some semblance of a finished story.
Or so I thought. This morning I woke up half an hour before the alarm, and as I lay there, the story came back to me. I thought about the ending, which now seemed too tidy and summary, and came to the realization that the story isn't finished yet. Since then I've had further thoughts on how to continue the story and reach a more satisfying conclusion. Interesting how the mind works.
"There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. Writers know that. I have never met a writer who does not crave to be alone. We have to be alone to do what we do."
- Mary Ruefle
Sixth in a series of memorable curbside discards from around Joliet. Queen-sized headboard, circa 1980s, on Campbell Street. I'm guessing the garbage man will get this before any scavenger will.
I'm calling this "Sunset, St. Paul Estates, Joliet." Not quite "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico", but in Joliet we take whatever we can get.