Monday, January 29, 2007

The Dead of Winter

Ever since visiting Bella Flora, I’ve found myself vastly more appreciative and attuned to the marvels of desiccation, and I’m suddenly seeing it everywhere. Check out these skewered shrunken heads I discovered lurking in someone’s garden.

Shrunken Heads

How’s that for winter interest? Less gruesomely, I’ve been admiring the random scatterings of seed pods and tendrilly ornamental grasses that seem to be everywhere. I’m also very partial to this scarlet heather (even though it’s neither dead nor dried out).

Scarlet Heather

Totally unrelated. I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of On the Road. It’s such a landmark of American literature, and yet I’ve never read it or anything else by Jack Kerouac.

I’m liking its breathlessness and aimlessness, but I can’t decide if its hallowed reputation is quite deserved. (Not that I’m qualified to make that kind of judgment.) The narrator is always succumbing to “blondes” (which irks me for some reason) and uses the word swank a bit too frequently. It’s so very obviously the work of a young man. He thinks that because he’s criss-crossed the country via rail and thumb, hobnobbing with hoboes and drunks, that he’s seen it all. Kerouac was 29 when he typed it up (in three weeks!) and even younger when he wrote the journal on which much of the novel is based. It’s hard to take seriously the world-weary attitude of such a youthful narrator.

And yet Kerouac manages to write quicksilver passages like this:
The ride I proceeded to get was with a skinny haggard man who believed in controlled starvation for the sake of health. When I told him I was starving to death as we rolled east he said, “Fine, fine. There’s nothing better for ya. I myself haven’t eaten for three days. I’m gonna live to be a hundred and fifty years old!” He was a bag of bones. A floppy doll. A broken stick. A maniac. I might have gotten a ride with an affluent fat man who’d say, “Let’s stop at this restaurant and have some pork chops and beans.” No. I had to get a ride that morning with a maniac who believed in controlled starvation for the sake of health.
Hilarious! Stream-of-consciousness at its best. Why can’t I ever tap into an internal monologue like that? I so much admire writing like that that has a frenetic, spontaneous feel to it—and the above passage conveys the narrator’s barely contained exasperation just perfectly.

Ugh. This blog entry is starting to sound like a 10th-grade English paper (“conveys”)—the kind of thing guaranteed to bore everyone (myself included) to extinction.

Lone Shrunken Head
“I’m bored!!!!!”


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