Feb 242017
 

. . . beginning in 1984, many of the men there were recruited by a California flower-grower who needed workers for his farm, in Somis, an hour north of Los Angeles. The Zapotecs were taken by train to Tijuana and smuggled to Somis, and there they were enslaved: held in a compound in perpetual debt, frightened into submission by warnings about the Border Patrol, and forced to work sixteen hours a day. Some of the men eventually sought help. In 1990, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted the grower on charges of slavery.

William Langewiesche, speaking of Zapotecs from the mountain village of Santa Ana Yareni, Mexico, in “Invisible Men,” The New Yorker, February 23, 1998. More on the story and trial here. Some of the workers fled to a ravine in San Diego County where they became squatters, illegally, out of sight, hence the title.

I taught the essay to my comp classes in Silicon Valley over the years, telling students how it reminded me of and added insight to Diego Rivera’s painting The Flower Carrier, 1935, above. We saw afresh the burden. Recent events bring further illumination, more colors and contrasts.

Really, it is gorgeous what is being envisioned now in this country, simple and direct in its formal symmetry, bright in its assumptions, beautiful and impossibly light in its composition, in its solution to the tensions it proposes to ease.

There are all kinds of walls and all kinds of invisible men. We’ll want to follow not only what the proposed wall to the south will keep out, but also what it will contain and allow to blossom. So much that has been hidden behind walls will be revealed; other invisible men will come to light.

Gary Garvin

Feb 232017
 

Here’s an interview with Severn Thompson, the actress and playwright who adapted Elle for the stage and who has made the role her own. This is in the venerable prairie newspaper, the Winnipeg Free Press. The play opens tonight at the Prairie Theatre Exchange and runs till March 12.

“She was somewhat rude and she had this impulsiveness. She had strong appetites, including sexual appetites, which get her into trouble,” Thompson says. “And like me, she resorts to humour when things get bad. That was one of her coping mechanisms and I just really appreciated that.

“She was shaped by the 16th-century aristocratic culture that she came from, but definitely lived on the fringes of it,” Thompson says. “She was a misfit.

“She had no interest in being a wife or a nun and those were the two options really available to her,” Thompson says. “In this account, she volunteered to go on this journey to see a new world. I don’t think she had plans to live there for the rest of her life. She wanted to have an adventure and see something she wasn’t familiar with.”She had no idea what she was getting herself into.”

Source: Banished and left to die – Winnipeg Free Press

Feb 222017
 

Elle, the play, opens in Winnipeg at the Prairie Theatre Exchange tomorrow (February 23) night. I am told that tonight’s preview performance is sold out (upwards of 300 seats). Go Winnipeg!

This is the Theatre Passe Muraille production on tour. With Severn Thompson as Elle (she adapted the play from my novel) and Jonathan Fisher.

Some very nice poster art to go with the play.

Winnipeg performances run February 23 – March 12. Tickets and schedule here.

 

 

 

Feb 222017
 


warhol-marilyn-use

So I go to the Warhol show at the Portland Art Museum. Memories pop—the term is apt—pop through the layers, fresh and flat. It’s the ’60s. Marilyn, Mao, JFK, Jackie, 20 kinds of that soup, including, of course, tomato:

warhol-soup-use

Liza, Ali, Mick, Birmingham, the hammer and the sickle, a pointed gun, and the chair:

warhol-electric-chair-low-res

Seeing all the Warhols on the walls is like looking, way back when, at the layout room, early stages, of a magazine that will never go to press, never go to press because there isn’t one, a press. Which I guess is kind of the point, if there is a point. Maybe.

warhol-factory-use

Richard Avedon made a portrait of the Warhol Factory, which was shown at a retrospective at the University Art Museum, Berkeley, fairly large and a going concern at the time. This is a huge photograph, life-size or more. Click to enlarge. I worked at the museum while a grad student and did a good bit of the lighting for the show, including this one. I spent hours on a rolling scaffold, hanging, adjusting the floods and spots, making sure the faces and bodies came out, evening the white space and removing pools. Avedon and crew were there, advising, helping out.

A Berkeley regular, Abe Lincoln we called him—he had the beard, defiled the portrait by spraying iodine on Warhol’s face, taking moral offense or something. Who knows. I lived with four others two houses down from where Patricia Hearst was kidnapped, though I never saw the bullet holes. A year before I worked at The Daily Cal and was there the night the Jonestown mass suicide story broke, in Guyana. Reports came in over the AP wire machine in fragments that made no sense, the body count kept rising as the night wore on. The summer before that, my first in Berkeley, a scene for a made-for-tv movie of the Hearst abduction was being shot in Ho Chi Minh Park, a few blocks away from our house. Extras stood around in designer t-shirts. This one won’t be put to bed, either. It’s the late ’70s.

patty-screen-use

I think the working title for the movie was Get Patty but it changed when the movie aired, which quickly fell into oblivion.

warhol-electric-chair-detail

I took one of my housemates, E—, an undergrad, to opening night of the show. I had to. She was weaned on Vogue and grew up looking at Avedon’s fashion shots. Berkeley via LA via New York, quite sharp, quite sharp looking, not a princess, not easy to pin down and I won’t try. Not my age, not my league, I wasn’t her speed, but I liked her and we got along. She was our entry to the music, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Blondie, The Cars, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the others—more memories but these don’t pop but sizzle, but fall into stupor—we are Devo, we’ve been on tenterhooks ending in dirty looks, fade away and radiate, I can’t sleep ’cause my bed’s on fire, I wanna be sedated, get pissed, destroy. We were waiting for the end of the world.

Half of San Francisco was there, dressed to impress in all the different ways San Francisco knew how. The museum was packed, literally packed. All the galleries were mobbed and we couldn’t move. The heat from the lights, from each other, melted our edges, our anticipation. E— and I got stalled before Avedon’s pensive Marilyn it seemed forever.

avedon-marilyn-use

Avedon, really a gracious, humble man, threw the staff a dinner. Once more I took E—. While we ate he went around with a Polaroid, taking candid shots. But he kept missing our table, so I flagged him and asked if he would get E— and he immediately complied. E— froze, then broke into an exotic pose, hands and elbows thrown into the air.

When Avedon returned with the developed picture, she took it, stood, touched his arm—this memory breaks through the layers now, through the noise—and kisses him on the mouth.

Gary Garvin

Feb 122017
 

I don’t know Lincoln Kaye, but anybody who calls me a “CanLit superstar” is okay in my books and will no doubt find a special spot waiting for him in Heaven. The reviews coming out of Vancouver have been great, but this might be the best (and not just because he calls me a “CanLit superstar”). Here’s a quote. Follow the link below to read the rest.

And it’s as “Elle,” an unnameable, unimaginable “she”-bear, that she impossibly manifests in a Paris cemetery to maul to death the perfidious uncle decades after that ill-starred outbound Canadian voyage.

In Thompson’s commanding stage presence, all these “Elle” avatars nest within each other like Matryoshka dolls. Her body language and her stream-of-consciousness narrative slide fluidly backward and forward along the story-line, just like the text of CanLit superstar Douglas Glover’s novel from which Thompson herself adapted the script.

Read the rest of this scintillating  review at the Vancouver Observer.

Feb 122017
 

Here’s a generous and smart take on Elle, the play, from a critic and writer — Colin Thomas — who saw it the second night in Vancouver. I like the part where he says the audience was “deliriously appreciative.”

As if that starting point weren’t already thrilling enough, Glover and Thompson have wrought a magical realist telling of Marguerite’s story in which they explore—poetically and with great humour—themes of female sexuality, colonialism, and our spiritual relationship to nature. As Marguerite struggles for survival, killing birds and eating books, as she starves and hallucinates, as she rubs up against First Nations cultures and experiences the pull of a different world view, the shadow sides of patriarchy and colonialism gain force. Marguerite’s femaleness, her untamable libido, the relentless beauty of the wilderness, and her growing understanding of the fluid relationship between humans and animals, between waking reality and dreams; all of this pulls Marguerite apart and reshapes her. She has heard, vaguely, of a First Nations god, whose help she solicits—at a price. “One god guarantees my faith is true,” she says. “Two makes it a joke.” Marguerite begins to turn into a bear. “You cannot inhabit,” she says, “without being inhabited.”

The play’s language is as rich as its ideas—and it’s unpretentious. The fog off the coast is “as thick and oily as fleece.” “The smell of this new world is so fresh it has almost no smell at all.” And I mentioned humour. When Marguerite sees human footprints in the snow, she says, “A man was here. And now he is gone. I am suddenly not dead. It feels like a social life.”

Read the rest at Mapping the Intuitive.

Feb 122017
 

More press out of Vancouver. Here’s a quote, Severn Thompson talking about the process of adapting the novel.

“It’s the story of survival that most of us missed in our history classes,” Thompson explained.

An admirer of historical fiction, the actor quickly saw the potential of showcasing Elle on the stage.

“It was very visceral and rude and funny in a way that historical fiction isn’t usually allowed to be, especially when involving women,” she enthused.

It took more than two years for her to adapt the work. Full of literary references and philosophical tangents, Elle is a complex book.

“That was the hardest part, really: whittling away at all these wonderful aspects of the novel,” Thompson said. “But the play hopefully brings it even more to life. From what I hear from people who see it, they feel spent but inspired by the end of the piece.”

 

Read the rest 24HRS Vancouver.

Feb 112017
 

Here’s a teaser from an interview Severn Thompson did with the Vancouver Sun.

Q: Elle opens with the main character engaged in what one review called “frantic fornication.” Was that also part of that early version?

A: Yes, with a chair. (Except for one other small part, Elle is a one-woman play, with Thompson occasionally using props). And he (Glover) came with his son. And my family was there too. I tried not to think too much about it.

Read the rest at the Vancouver Sun.

Feb 112017
 

Outside the Old Town Hall Theatre in Waterford

The 2017 winter tour of Elle, the play, started in the Old Town Hall Theatre in Waterford, Ontario, January 26 – February 4. I’m a little reticent about the experience. More than I can translate into words. My ancient mother got to see the play for the first time (she remembered 2003, making the trip to Ottawa to see the Governor-General’s Award ceremony). My sons came on closing night. The play was better than a year ago. I thought I might be impervious, but it sucked me into the dream. There were standing ovations. There was a champagne reception. Keith Rainey came up to me after and I reminded him that when I was in Grade One, in the little stone one-room school house at Dundurn (eight grades in one room), he had played Bob Cratchit to my Tiny Tim in the Christmas concert. My father made me a crutch and a leg brace out of soup cans and old horse harness and we drank apple juice for wine and I got to say the words, “God bless us, every one!” My first brush with theatre.

dg

Severn Thompson as Elle

DG and Amber Homeniuk during the talkback after the last performance

Taking pictures during the champagne reception after the show

Top row l-r: Severn Thompson, Paul Thompson (legend of Canadian theatre, Severn’s father), dg, and Amber Homeniuk, master of ceremonies. Bottom row: Claire Senko, Old Town Hall Theatre artistic director, and Jonathan Fisher

DG with multiple NC contributors Jonah Glover and Jacob Glover

Feb 112017
 

And here’s another review of the Vancouver production of Elle, at the Firehall Arts Centre till February 18.

Thompson is a riveting performer with a rich voice and big emotional range, and director Christine Brubaker’s minimalist approach to the staging offers many pleasures. In Jennifer Goodman’s set, a structure of bent bars looms at the back of the stage, and a single piece of cloth becomes a sail, a hut, a fire, a bear cub, and so much more. Lyon Smith’s spare, otherworldly music is performed live by Jonathan Fisher, who also plays Itslk. And Goodman’s textured lighting enhances the magic-realist qualities of Elle’s story.

Read the rest at The Georgia Straight.

Feb 112017
 

Delightful review of the Vancouver production of Elle, the play, at the Firehall Arts Centre. This is in Room, the fine and venerable feminist literary magazine.

dg

Playing Elle—who is something of an antihero, never without her flask—Thompson is a powerhouse from start to finish. Five minutes in and we see her energetically miming a sexcapade with her somewhat inadequate, tennis-obsessed lover, and from then on her energy (and healthy libido) hardly wavers. She delivers ninety minutes of vibrant, darkly funny text (it’s nearly a one-woman show) and though her character is desperately exhausted throughout, Thompson herself is not.

Read the rest at Room Magazine.

Feb 092017
 

CaptureSevern Thompson as Elle via Now Magazine.

I’m a little slow on this. The story came out in December. But it’s a huge vote of confidence for Severn Thompson to add the to Dora Award nomination for Elle, the play, earlier in the year.

dg

You only had to watch Thompson, off to the side in a scene from Breathing Corpses, weep silent tears to realize how committed she is to her roles. She had a wider emotional scope in the terrific historic feminist script Elle, which she adapted as well as starred in. As talented a director as she is an actor, she co-created and helmed Madam Mao, which focused on another strong female character, and later directed a light, inventive staging of Peter Pan, set in various breweries around town.

Read the whole list at Now.

Feb 092017
 

elle7

Elle, the play based on dg’s novel, just opened in Vancouver last night at the Firehall Arts Centre after a two-week run in Waterford, Ontario. I was there. I have more to say but am processing. I saw the play several times last year when it premiered at Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto. It was stunning then, better now. Mesmerizing, magical, mythic. Severn Thompson looks eight feet tall on stage. Subtle changes in the script and staging and music have clarified and strengthened the production.

But here is what The Georgia Straight had to say — more anon.

dg

It’s been almost 500 years since Marguerite de la Rocque de Roberval, a French noblewoman, was abandoned by her colonizer uncle, Jean-François de la Rocque de Roberval, off the coast of Newfoundland. Her crime? Being a wild woman—the kind of wanton lady who dared take a lover on a transatlantic journey in 1542.

Her story of survival became the stuff of legend, and has inspired numerous artists over the years, including Canadian writer Douglas Glover. His book, Elle, a fictionalized account of de la Rocque de Roberval’s time marooned on the so-called Isle of Demons, won a Governor General’s Award, and it’s also the basis of Severn Thompson’s Dora Award–winning stage adaptation of the same name.

Read the rest at The Georgia Straight.

Feb 092017
 

Daniel Davis Wood

We’ve snagged another good one here, folks. Daniel Davis Wood is a prolific writer and literary critic, and the author of three books including Blood and Bone, his debut novel and the winner of Australia’s 2014 Viva La Novella Prize.  Currently, he’s working hard behind the scenes alongside our amazing staff of production editors, but we expect (hope!) he’ll be contributing essays before long.  In the meantime, you can read some of his work. Check out his long list of publications and lectures at danieldaviswood.com.

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Daniel Davis Wood is a writer based in Birmingham, England. His debut novel, Blood and Bone, won the 2014 Viva La Novella Prize in his native Australia. He is also the author of Frontier Justice, a study of the influence of the nineteenth century frontier on American literature, and the editor of a collection of essays on the African American writer Edward P. Jones. He can be found online at www.danieldaviswood.com.

 

Feb 012017
 

Jason Lucarelli

This month we’re featuring the contributions of our resident Gordon Lish expert, Jason Lucarelli. Jason has been writing for the magazine since February, 2013, when we published his magnificant essay “The Consecution of Gordon Lish: An Essay on Form and Influence.” Since then he has written about Diane Williams, Robert Walser, Sam Lipsyte, Gertrude Stein, Jean-Philippe Toussaint and Gary Lutz. He has also interviewed Greg Mulcahy and Diane Williams. Mulcahy, Williams, Lutz and Lipsyte are all members of the illustrious corps of authors influenced by Lish’s theories of composition. Jason has single-handedly made us a singular go-to source for all things Lishian. He’s an exceptional literary analyst with a smart, graceful  style all his own.

Jan 262017
 
1 Ramon Alejandro

Ramón Alejandro’s Combustion Espontanea, 2016 — oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in.


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We’re calling this the sun, fire and lightning issue, because it’s February, and here at the NC Bunker, there is only drear and ice, while in the digital ether we are hosting the brilliant sun-drenched paintings of the Cuban-born painter Ramón Alejandro. Alejandro now makes his home in Miami but has lived in Argentina, Uruguay and Paris. He has been written about by no less than Roland Barthes, but he is also an immensely amiable, erudite and energetic personality (I have gotten to know him a bit as we interacted over his appearance in Numéro Cinq) who accesses an ancient Mediterranean wisdom at the drop of a hat. The Alejandro paintings we’re showing you this month are barely dry, just finished for an exhibition opening tomorrow (January 27) at Miami’s Latin Art Core gallery.

Ramon Alejandro

Ramón Alejandro

2 Kate Evans

But this is a truly international issue with contributions from Romania, England, Mexico, Ireland, Canada, the U.S. and Afghanistan plus a special appearance by a Nitsitapi Blackfoot writer.

What the current news reminds us of especially is the fate of refugees worldwide and to honour that we have this month gorgeous, sad graphic nonfiction by the English artist Kate Evans who has given us a brilliant graphic essay on the refugee camps in Calais much in the news in the past year.

3 Kate Evans

Kate Evans at work.

Everywhere there is an air of expectation, of impermanence. People who have been on the move for so long are stuck in limbo, tantalisingly close to their destination but the wrong side of those cruel fences, still so very far. —Kate Evans

4 Julie Trimingham

And an equally brilliant essay from Julie Trimingham on Utopia and utopias, those strange, hopeful human attempts to establish otherworldly harmony in fractious world. Just what we have come to expect from Julie — a combustible mix of whimsy, serious intent, and brilliant writing.

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Julie Trimingham

You can’t promise the child a just, or kind, or beautiful world. But you can teach him where to find it, in snatched glances and in-between spaces. You can teach him how to look. —Julie Trimingham

sonnet-l'abbe

Sonnet L’Abbe

And from Sonnet L’Abbé, prose poems inspired by Shakespeare but inimitable and surprising, not the Shakespeare we remember, something reforged in the present author’s heart.

Would that William’s verse animated our dinner conversations, or that his love’s eloquence seeped into family get-togethers! If only Gertrude’s jingles were intoned in the malls! People might buy back their lost selves, by paying visionary attention. Tonight may I give that sweet duende to those sad-hearted, whose gifts reach out hopefully toward undeserving takers.
—Sonnet L’Abbé

allan-cooper-cropped-image

Allan Cooper

Also poems by the eminent, prolific (review and interview with Donald Hall in the January issue) Allan Cooper, who, yes, has a new book coming out.

I swear my small body rose above the house
and looked down on the black roof,
the winglike shadows cast across the lawn
as if someone would come and carry me

—Allan Cooper

Jamaluddin Aram

Jamaluddin Aram

For fiction this month, we have several very special treats including a short story by the Afghani writer Jamaluddin Aram.

The fighting went on. The boy cupped his ears with the palms of his hands and the shooting was drowned as if in a wind tunnel. As soon as he lifted his hands the sound of gunshots came back, loud and ludicrous. He closed his ears with the tips of his fingers this time and pressed them hard. The sound of war seemed as distant, as unbelievable, as a dream. —Jamaluddin Aram

Erika Mihalycsa

Erika Mihálysca

The Romanian translator, essayist and fiction writer (she has contributed all genres already to the magazine) Erika Mihálysca has a piece called “Sealocked” on the Italian Adriatic ports of Brindisi and Trani with pictures — not what you expect, not the tourist-crowded beaches, a beautiful otherness.

The foam whipped by the creatures short of sea and the pungent smell is all we hear of their agony; above them, bitten-off, close-vowelled words, with an intonation swinging to the rhythm of the rocking, narrate about sea weather. —Erika Mihalycsa

ingrid-valencia-photo-by-pascual-borzelli

Ingrid Valencia

From Mexico, our Numero Cinco series, we have poems by Ingrid Valencia.

It is not the flesh but the destruction,
the slight sound of machines
which form circles in the plaza of the body.

We are merely eyelids
which open to the night,
to the endless noise
of urgency

—Ingrid Valencia

Billy Mills

Billy Mills

For our Irish series in February, Billy Mills contributes new poems.

sap flows
answer ascending
ask what it is
light eases through

the surface of things
as they awaken
as they arise
imperceptable heat

—Billy Mills

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Abigail Allen

From Abigail Allen — a beautifully crafted short story — “Small Creatures” — by Abigail Allen. Watch the lovely patterning, starting with the tiny aquarium fish in the pet store in the opening paragraph.

I looked away from whatever I was watching, wondering whether I’d locked the front door, and saw the shadow of his head slowly rising behind the lace curtain on the window in the door. This was right after my divorce was finalized. It was only much later, shortly before his death, that I found out who he was. —Abigail Allen

sarah-scout

Sara Scout

And from the Canadian west, fiery poems by the activist-artist Sarah Scout, a Nitsitapi Blackfoot writer.

Paper dreams of my mother
Dream of my mother on paper
My mother dreams on paper
On torn scraps from colonial
and Government funded
assimilated magazines
long discarded
and unsubscribed

—Sara Scout

Mark Jay Mirsky

Mark Jay Mirsky

In February, also a lovely new short story by Mark Mirsky.

Gale, how much he had been attracted to Gale, despite the sour shake of her head. The brusque, self-assured carriage that she brought from the snobbish world of her college campus; her slightly disheveled appearance at times, her disapproval of his manners, which reminded him of his mother; made him think there might be a link between them. —Mark Jay Mirsky

And there is more. Reviews by Laura Michele Diener, Jason DeYoung and Melissa Considine Beck plus a brand new NC at the Movies from Rob Gray.

Maybe even more! The dust hasn’t settled yet…

Jan 202017
 

1984-image

Michelle Kuo in “The Shining,” Artforum, cites Siegfried Kracauer who tells us that the artist’s “tasks multiply in proportion to the world’s loss of reality.” Our sense of reality has been stretched to the limit this past year:

The power of the visual has ascended to ever-greater heights, even in a world of invisible networks of control, of flexible and tentacular streams of surveillance, biopower, and microregulation. But at the same time, the top-down dissemination of information via mass culture in the twentieth century has been hyperdiversified, splintered. Today, we confront the spectral atomization of disinformation throughout the dark reaches of the internet, the most esoteric voices flowing like microscopic particles into the lifeblood of the media apparatus. Technological networks can amplify these bits and flows—exponentially, monstrously, radically. And the most effective vehicle for these streams is the image: the appearance of truth, or of might.

Kuo accordingly offers this solution:

Just as other disciplines have, art must think the unthinkable. Art must counter image with image—constructing pictures but also precipitating their undoing, their disruption, their unmooring. Just as Trump’s image seems to usher forth a world of risk, a state of chaotic volatility, art has long fomented the contingent, the unprecedented. Like spectacle, art seduces, frightens, incites, deranges; it glows.

Her proposal needs debate. The essay, however, is a must read for anyone who wants to look ahead. The full text can be found here.

The image above, via rogerebert.com, is a still from the movie version of 1984, with Richard Burton in the role of O’Brien.

War is peace.

Freedom is slavery.

Ignorance is strength.

Orwell’s simple contradictions have been surpassed, his ironies shattered.

Gary Garvin

Jan 192017
 

Alyssa green background

2016 is behind us. It was a great year for NC, middling to catastrophic for everyone else. Now we’re setting ourselves up for a superlative 2017 with the latest addition to the masthead, Alyssa Colton. Alyssa comes to us with a wealth of writing, editing and teaching experience, not to mention she was dg’s student at the University at Albany, yea, these many years ago. She is joining our all-star team of production editors to help keep things running smoothly (at Numéro Cinq, anyway — we have thus far resisted calls to send an aid-team to the Trump transition HQ). And, let it be said, things ARE running smoothly ably captained by our prodigious managing editor Deirdre Baker and with the help of Mary Brindley and Jason DeYoung, among others.

Alyssa Colton has a PhD in English with creative dissertation from the University at Albany, State University of New York. Her fiction has been published in The Amaranth Review and Women Writers. Her essays have appeared in Literary Arts Review, Author Magazine, Mothering, Moxie: For Women Who Dare, Iris: A Journal about Women, and on WAMC: Northeast Public Radio. Alyssa has taught classes in writing, literature, and theater at the University at Albany, the College of St. Rose, and Berkshire Community College and blogs about writing at abcwritingediting.wordpress.com.

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Jan 142017
 

Here’s a brilliant lecture by the late Mark Fisher. Pre-Brexit and Trump, I take it. But predicting the breakdown of things. It explains the demise of the heady ideas of my youth in ways I had not conceived before.

Jan 102017
 

mirabelli

The Burning Air, Hutchinson, London, 1960
The Way In Viking, New York, 1968
No Resting Place Viking, New York, 1972
The World at Noon, Guernica Editions, Montreal, 1994

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Eugene Mirabelli has written four novels which form a significant oeuvre. They are not singular, but interrelate in complex and delightful ways to form a unique (and, one assumes, unfinished) collectivity connected by a set of thematic concerns: family, marriage, Italian heritage, Cambridge, mutability and death; and structural articulations: the dominant male point of view that modulates briefly into the female at climactic junctures, the subtle fracturing and dislocating of time, and the interpolation of what Milan Kundera calls novelistic essays.

Literary comparisons are often invidious, but the names that come to mind as I read Mirabelli’s work are Philip Roth and Saul Bellow. The Burning Air is very much an Italian American “Goodbye, Columbus” and also reminds one of Bellow’s brief, tightly controlled early novels. Almost immediately, though, this comparison breaks down: Roth and Bellow share an era and a set of social concerns with Mirabelli, but their work falls into a Jewish American tradition (with roots in Yiddish literature) which is male-oriented, materialistic (i.e., of this world), intellectual, and comic. Mirabelli’s Italian American mental syntax is quite different: he builds his literary universe around an Augustinian dichotomy. His books are like long, careful sessions in the confessional, talking to God, enumerating small and large sins. His protagonists have one eye on the woman (wife and lover — Mary and Mary Magdalene) and one eye on death. He sees this world as an anxious and frustrating place, a place where his protagonists vain attempts at control are always being defeated by their own sinfulness and the fleeting nature of existence. Redemption comes only in the chaotic embrace of the family, the constricting yet reassuring bonds of love. A Mirabelli character may crack up and take anti-depressants, but one could never imagine him taking Roth’s detour into psychoanalysis or filing for multiple divorces as in Bellow.

Reading through Mirabelli’s novels in sequence one also begins to admire his technical ingenuity. He does lovely things which might not be noticed unless one treats the books as an on-going production. For example, he links his novels by taking a thematic note or plot segment from one and using it again in the next. The Burning Air is about a man who proposes to a woman and then never sees her again. In The Way In, the next novel, Frank Annunzio has proposed to a woman named Alba and then lost her. The Way In ends with Nancy’s premature and difficult delivery which is echoed darkly by Marianne’s miscarriage at the opening of No Resting Place. And, of course, Marco’s affair with Carol Crispin in No Resting Place is echoed in Nicolo’s affair with Roxanne in the last novel, The World at Noon.

Beginning with The Way In, Mirabelli also makes telling use of the novelistic essay. In The Way In, this takes the form of background essays on the Puritans who built New England and on the Shakers who built the school at which Frank begins his teaching career. The latter — mystical, other-worldly craftsmen — become a moral-spiritual counterpoint to the sad emptiness of Frank’s life before marriage and career. In No Resting Place, the device ramifies and extends itself into interpolated essays on Brook Farm, a running Sacco and Vanzetti sequence, and a tiny chapter on historic Albany. And in The World at Noon, the novelistic essay and family history combine and foliate in a delightful series of comic-mythic stories about the ancestors of the Cavallus. These interpolated essays and stories function like classical epyllions (one of Marshall McLuhan’s hobby horses) and give Mirabelli’s books what Yeats, in his essay on sub-plots in King Lear, called “the emotion of multitudes.”

This repetition of technical and thematic elements results in the odd sense one has reading these novels that the twenty-year gap between the publication of No Resting Place and The World at Noon ceases to exist in the experience of the reading. Mirabelli’s novels seem to form a perfectly logical sequence of growth, mutation and expansion. Each novel has been an advance in terms of technical virtuosity, thematic complexity and, for want of a better phrase, metaphysical accommodation. The Burning Air is taken up with George’s failed effort of control over the mysterious and fearful Giulia Molla. In The Way In, Frank Annunzio’s existential emptiness is the aftermath of that kind of loss of control (over women and/or the dark, shiftingness of things in general). Briefly, Frank is reprieved through marriage to Nancy and the community of friends he finds at the (Shaker) school (note especially the wonderful and redemptive chapter on kite flying), only to be plunged back into insecurity by the difficult birth of his child.

In No Resting Place, Mirabelli’s Manichean tour de force (the light of Brook Farm warring with the darkness of Sacco and Vanzetti), Marco Falconieri almost drowns in the slough of mid-life (and post-1960s) burnout which, really, is nothing but the final realization life itself will never redeem us, that things will not miraculously get better: “All our desire has been to carry through time, to stand on firm ground, reach out and stay the changes. Love leads us from ourselves to the things of this world, but in time these same things alter and pass away, no matter how much we cling to them. Here is no steady place.” In No Resting Place, Mirabelli grants us for the first time full access to the mental states of his protagonist as befits the overtly confessional mode of the narration. Mirabelli, as author, is himself beginning at this point to move deeper into his unique Italian-Catholic-American psyche, turning away from the vaguely modish, existential angst of the first two books toward a more chaotic (less controlled) vision of worldly and domestic uncertainty (the sinfulness of the flesh).

This is a dark, brave book which, in many ways, points toward its successor The World at Noon while yet not preparing us for the surprising shift of tone, the operatic and magical comedy of this most recent Mirabelli production. The World at Noon, as I have mentioned, replicates some of the plot articulations of No Resting Place — the extramarital affair, the reconciliation at the end. But the material is handled in a completely different way. It is as if, in delving always more deeply into who he is, Mirabelli has reinvented the peculiarly Italian, extravagantly melodramatic and often comic vision — the opera — in the novel form. By fusing the tale of American mid-life domestic woe with the mythical family histories of the Cavallus, he has created a wonderful interplay of now and then, this and that (the epyllion structure again). And he has coupled this complexity with a new sense of tranquil acceptance; not a superficial shrug but a genuinely comic (loving) accommodation. When Nicolo Pellegrino calmly invites his wife’s naked lover to climb down from the tree where he is hiding we know we have arrived at a totally new (for Mirabelli) and special literary place. And at the end of the novel, the double wedding of Gina and Aurora echoes the wedding at the close of The Tempest when Prospero throws his books of magic away and the world is renewed in the ritual sanctification of love and sexual regeneration.

—Douglas Glover

This essay originally appeared in Italian Americana Vol. 13, No. 2 (Summer 1995)

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