Saturday, July 7, 2007

Half-way Under the Volcano, sticky with lava

It takes me forever to read a book, and yet I am drawn to oversized, over-literary things. One of the few points I will agree with Chuck Klosterman on is that I can write something at about the same speed as I can read something, and writing seems like a more worth-while endeavor, though you'd think somone aspiring to be a writer would hold some allure about reading. Perhaps the writing thing is all ego and nothing but.

Anyway, my friend Terry, like most of my friends, reads and reads and reads and, in his way of grand pronouncement that I love, has repeatedly declared Under the Volcano the best book he's ever read, with Lowry a poet better than Joyce or Garcia-Marquez, channeling the soul power of Jesus' prayers at Gethsemane in his prose.

In some ways, I tend to agree. It definitely reads better than Joyce, but I think the scope is widley different. Lowry is talking about human beings whereas Joyce and Garcia-Marquez is talking about the universe, using people as examples of cosmic order.

Under the Volcano deals in triangles, almost constantly. Every character in the book is entrenched in a triangle with two other characters. They are constantly going up and down slopes and jagged streets, angling at every move. Dogs and beggars are the only ones that seem to be able to traverse this landscape with any directness. The volcano itself is a looming but largely absent triangle, with the fervor of pressure and frustration bubbling under the crust just like it is among the people's triangles.

I rather love this book, but I'm wondering if I'll ever finish it. Terry is gone until August, and I'd like to have it and the comparatively more forgiving looking The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald, his second favorite book, tucked away by the time he gets back, since I know he's dying to talk at drunken length about these books and until I happened along, could con no one else into reading them. As a critic, I usually value my own opinion on what I should be spelunking in the grand cavern of art (like Terry has been really trying to sell me on opera, but I ain't havin' it. Opera is the Hollywood movies of its time - the grandest of gestures put forth in the service of grand pedestrianism) but we've talked enough about these two books that I want to be in his book club of two, secret handshakes, Masonic rites and all.

I'm at page 222 of 375, and I can see how things are on the downward slide for our dear drunken Consul and the increasingly frustrated M . Laurelle, and how everyone is not only regretting their awkward co-habitation of this one Mexican town on this particular Day of the Dead, but in fact, their ever having met at all. The triangles which offer the support at the beginning become a complex of dead weights tied together by hairy knots. Fuck-ups of every stripe, wandering the emptiness around them. The portrayals of first person drunkenness on the part of the Counsul are worth the price of admission.

I don't know why they feel the need to give away the goddamn ending on the back cover on the book, or in every review. It is rather obvious what's going to happen, but still it would've been better as a surprise.

All of this is sponsored by the Baton Rouge Public Library notice that these two books and a copy of Philip Glass' modern opera Einstein at the Beach, sitting unlistened to in the same spot I laid it when I came back from the library a week over the due date ago, and the fact that I hear the rest of the members of my own personal triangle consulting said notice this very second! I wasn't sure if I wanted to finish the book or not, but my resolve is, much like this book will be in an hour, renewed!

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