Saturday, February 5, 2011

Great Expectations

Yes we remain enthralled by the uprising of the Egyptian workers and students and have the greatest expectations of where it will all lead. My confession, though, is that I haven't yet been to any of the street demonstrations here in solidarity with them because I'm down with the flu. And that, while I have been following the news, I've also been doing what I do when sick, which is read and watch junk TV. As for the junk TV, um, don't ask and I won't have to tell. As for what I'm reading, it's an oldy but goody that I've meant to get to for some time: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. It is tremendously entertaining, a rip-roaring good story told with wit, charm and marvelous language. Who knows, this may set me off on a Dickens phase. Most of his books are available in cheap paperback editions--this one in my hand cost $4.95--and I could certainly do worse when in need of a good read.

Leading in to the Dickens, and as I was nursing my lover Teresa through and thereby catching her flu, I made my quick way through two volumes provided by their publishers as free review copies. (There, I've met my legal obligation.) The first is a slim volume of tiny poems by Andrew Rihn titled America Plops and Fizzes. There are 50 of them, two or three to a page, each page faced with an illustration by David Munson, most of them unflattering images of the bosses and bankers. It's all to my liking--the take, the quirk--but, unschooled poetically as I've confessed myself to be, I feel ill equipped for any meaningful comment. In lieu of my own, then, let me commend you to the publisher's comment, following, and then to a recent interview with the poet.
When Jack Kerouac deviated from the traditional haiku form, he began calling his poems "pops." Andrew Rihn deviates even further, to the edge of formlessness, adding a new entry into the rubric of "American pops." With short, sudden flashes, the reader is given glimpses of pop culture--the celebrity, the sloganeering, the fetishism. These poems remind us that we are all tethered to something dark, violent, and absurd that lies hidden below the surface of late capitalism.
Next I read Wingshooters, the new novel by Nina Revoyr. She is a favorite of mine; I loved all three of her previous novels. This one continues her exploration of issues of racism, identity,  the clash of communities, but far afield from her previous usual setting of Los Angeles. The story takes place in rural Wisconsin, in 1974. I'm not sure why it didn't quite grab me the way Revoyr's other work has--it may simply be that I was getting sick--but it's an important story and I'm glad to see that it's getting stunningly good reviews all around. What I found most interesting was the way this novel forced me to view that time and that place in a new light. I'd never have thought of Wisconsin as a backward place, especially not that late along in the 20th century. Somehow I had a vague sense of it as a more enlightened spot, no doubt substituting Madison and Milwaukee and the Progressive Party and Father Groppi and other flotsam of information and misinformation lodged inside my brain for the more various, complicated and nuanced truth of the whole state, whose rural precincts, as Revoyr portrays them here, were redoubts of backwardness and racism. This is a terrible tale that culminates in horrid violence--what amounts to a lynching and its aftermath--and Revoyr makes the reader see how all of it is perpetrated by solid citizens who are roundly respected, admired, loved. It made me think of the assassins of Medgar Evers and others of their ilk in the 1960s South, of how an apparently benign paragon can at the same time be a racist terrorist murderer. That this is 10 years later and many miles to the north shouldn't make the story all the more shocking, but it does, and it's a good contribution that Revoyr brings it to light with Wingshooters.