Thursday, December 17, 2009
Me and Mr. Pynchon
In life, I've found, we have two kinds of friends. First, we have the friends we admire. These are the friends who send us Christmas cards with pictures of their pets and children, the friends who throw dinner parties and attempt dishes out of cookbooks illustrated with photographs of the food. These friends own appliances, knit, and regularly wash their hair. These are the friends whose sheer competence dazzles us, gives us hope, that we too will one day have some similar measure of control over our own lives.
Then there are the other friends. These are the friends we can't take anywhere. These are the friends who barrel through life, leaving a scattered trail of McDonald's wrappers and parking tickets in their wake. These friends alternate between stunning us with their intellectual brilliance and describing their gynecological problems in graphic detail. These friends trash our apartments, drink our booze, crash our computers, and scare our dogs. These friends give us presents they found in the garbage, and those presents are lovelier than anything else we own.
Of course, this is a vast oversimplification: in life, our friends are generally some amalgamation of these two categories -- they wouldn't be bearable otherwise. But for the sake of argument, let me offer that we generally love and admire others because they either maintain a degree of control that we cannot, or because they allow an amount of chaos that both frightens and excites us. For me, writers are the same way. Steven Millhauser, Charles Baxter, Richard Yates, Raymond Carver are, for me, all examples of the first category: though their work is at times really freakin weird, there's a sanity, a logic, to the way that images and characters are conveyed. When reading, say, The Feast of Love -- an intensely ambitious, formally experimental novel, mind you, and one of my all-time faves -- I still had the sense that Baxter inhabited the same world that I did: his mall coffeeshop, his Humane Society, his football stadium were all instantly recognizable to me, and within them, he was articulating thoughts that I might have had myself, if only I'd thunk a little harder.