Due no doubt to some failure of my literary imagination, I have a hard time with a lot of his other works. (Thought Non-Stop was boring as hell, tried to get started with the Helliconia Triology several times without success.) But I do want to hail two short stories — “Let’s Be Frank” (very original idea) and “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” (you can read the whole thing from a link in the obit), very different from the film “A.I.,” more of a mere inspiration, both works engrossing in their own way.
So there’s a new biography out there. And I certainly agree with the basic conclusion of it. I discovered Himes by accident because, strangely enough, he apparently had a huge fan in Missoula, MT who sold all his ’60s paperbacks to a local used store. I started out in the summer after I graduated from college with For Love of Immabelle and had to pick the shards of my brain off the ceiling. I resolved to read everything I could find by Himes and I have. My only mild disappointment was his autobio, The Third Generation, which seemed too careful and cleaned-up to me. (Well, Pinktoes has long porno-mechanical stretches mixed in with wonders.)
The connection to Melville is spot on target. Mord and even Borne him/her/itself are clear descendants of Moby Dick even if in no way derivative. Much more accurate than the Lovecraft comparisons. After all, Melville was somebody who had dribbled the salt from his body into the salt of the ocean and knew nature. Lovecraft was more like a strange kid who secreted himself in the basement and yelled for you to come down and kill a spider for him. Also — gives climate catastrophe the key role in the story it deserves. Bizarrely all but passed over in some other reviews I’ve read.
My first published review was of Tom Robbins’s debut novel, Another Roadside Attraction. I am proud to say I got it pretty much right, claimed the guy would become wildly popular and have a flashy career.
So when I read that Robbins stated he found his voice when he wrote a 1967 review of a Doors concert for the alternative paper in Seattle, I had to track it down and read it. I mean, a favorite part of my career was spent doing the exact same sort of piece for the exact same sort of outlet!
So this afternoon there it was, in Wild Ducks Flying Backward: The Short Writings of Tom Robbins.
Yes, that would be doors. But, my God, what doors are these? Imagine jewel glass panels, knobs that resemble spitting phalluses, mail slots that glow like jack-o’-lantern lips — and not a welcome mat in sight. Enter if you dare, my children, exit if you can.
The Doors. Their style is early cunnilingual, late patricidal, lunchtime in the Everglades, Black Forest blood sausage on electrified bread, Jean Genet up a totem pole, artists at the barricades, Edgar Allen Poe drowning in his birdbath, Massacre of the Innocents, tarantella of the satyrs, bacchanalian, Dionysian, LA pagans drawing down the moon.
That’s that voice, alrighty.
I like to dream that, had I been Music Editor at the Helix in ’67, I would have had the insight to run that as is — evocative, funny, worthy of Jimbo and the Boys.
(Though I have to be honest and say when he taught there, it was the toilet of writing-teacher jobs. But by all accounts he had wonderful effects and I wish I could have studied with him as …. a … well … 7-to-9 year old kid.)
I thought Zen and the Art was a captivating book, drew you into the spell of a flamboyant storyteller who was capturing a cross-America jaunt in the lineage of the Beats, the Merry Pranksters and itself as a final chapter. The land wouldn’t seem as open after the mid-’70s. I did not consider it profound, though I appreciated the boost for my interest in Buddhism and thought it laid out a detailed, off-beat, personality.
What I really resent, though, are comparisons that claim the book is a “post-counterculture” influence the way Carlos Castaneda is a ’60s influence.
Whatever its limitations and overrations, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is not a malevolent fraud.
The local paper does a better job than it would have when he first moved to town. Seriously, a caring, detailed farewell.
The musts? These —
Alp (belongs with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Catch-22 and more playful and funny than either)
Grey Matters (forgotten even among his fans — sure as hell deserving of the next lost-marvel-of-science-fiction revival)
Toro! Toro! Toro! (the “bullfight novel” the ghost of Hemingway wishes he had written)
Falling Angel (at least this was seen right away as a noir as sharp and inventive as Grey Matters in sci-fi was not)
Nevermore (unclassifiable as Alp and as much, if darker, fun).
Angel Heart (a perfect adaptation of Falling Angel)
One I’d most like to see made: Morning of the Magicians
The High Days —
Paradise Players production of Twelfth Night in Emigrant, MT, 1974 —
Feste the jester is “Gatz” — in the middle. Grand artist Russell Chatham who designed the sets, in white shirt in back.