I tried to funnel off some the boredom and make myself feel better by starting another book. After all, sometimes reading something else in tandem with a difficult book will move the whole project along, or at least create the illusion of progress. I’ve heard it can work, that’s all I know.
I started a mass market edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Flappers and Philosophers, figuring reading short stories wasn’t going to be as much of a commitment as trying to read, and keep straight, a second, simultaneous novel. I started, as I imagined one should, with Arthur Mizener’s introduction. Maybe I am a moron. I don’t know who this dude Mizener was, or who he knew, or was possibly sleeping with, at Scribner’s, but he really wasn’t the man for the job. He first gets you right in the mood to read these stories by practically coming out and saying that F. Scott wrote them for the money and for no other purpose. Then he tells you flat out that Fitzgerald himself had a low opinion of the stories—an opinion Mizener clearly shares, writing stuff like:
“Their [the stories’] smart observations on ‘Life’ are immature, their literary references are often inept, their feeling are often superficially handled—‘passably amusing stories, a bit out of date now, but doubtless the sort that would then have whiled away a dreary half-hour in a dental office,’ as Fitzgerald himself said of them.”
“The evident defect in ‘The Cut-Glass bowl’ is the inadequacy of the symbolic bowl itself.”
“The superficiality of ‘The Offshore Pirate’ is less disturbing than the priggish sentimentality of a non-commercial story like ‘The Benediction.’”
Not exactly the man I would nominate to write intros to my books were I a world famous author, alive or dead. I occurred to me that Mizener might have been happier introducing Ernest Hemingway’s stories. Or Faulkner’s. Perhaps he was beaten out for the plum Hemingway job by way of some misadventure into the political skirmishes that proliferate in publishing and academe and was still pissed off about it when he wrote the Fitzgerald intro. Perhaps he should have found another line of work entirely. Better yet, perhaps he should have been hired to write an intro to the Satanic Verses and saved everybody a lot of time and trouble.
Jettisoning Flappers and Philosophers,I revisited the pile on the nightstand. David Byrne’s How Music Works had been screaming out to me since well before this whole Satanic Verses debacle began. I could easily see myself picking that up and immediately, and without a single shred of regret, forgetting that Salman Rushdie had ever been born. The new Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins, did not look particularly sexy when I first glanced at it but was by then starting to look like the last girl in the saloon at two in the morning. My wife told me the Charles Woodrell stories, Outlaw Album, I gave her for our anniversary was very good. That, too, waited. A mediocre-looking biography of Doug Sahm started looking more and more like a Robert Caro-style masterpiece. And those were just the ones I could pull out without tipping the entire stack onto the floor and waking up the whole Goddamned building.
I thought of taking a pair of bricks and taping them to either side of my head with several winds of gaffer’s tape, thinking I couldn’t possibly fall asleep so encumbered, but we only had enough tape in the junk drawer to go around my head once, so the whole contraption wouldn’t hold together. I thought I might be becoming a just little bit unhinged at this point, but dismissed the thought as paranoia run wild.
With time running out and the deadline descending on me like an anvil dropped from the top of the SeagramBuilding, I decided the best tack was to reread Alejandro Murguia’s short story “The Other Barrio.” Alejandro had written it specifically for the San Francisco Noir anthology that Peter Marvelis of City Lights had edited a few years back. Now they’re making a movie out of it and we were going to a benefit that was supposed to raise the money to complete the film. It seemed important to reread the story before going, in case anybody asked me about it. Turned out no one asked me about it even once—no one, outside of Peter, talked to me very much at all, in truth—I could’ve read My Friend Flicka for all the good it did me.
TO BE CONTINUED