Saturday, July 7, 2007

Under and Done with the Goddamn Volcano

Done! I took advantage of an afternoon off and finished it.

Don't get me wrong, this is an amazing book but I am glad to be done with it. Lowry has a very real-time approach to his hallucinatory sense of human suffering, so there are points when it trundles along at the speed of actual life when you want him to jut forth, cut to the chase, but he never does it. He makes you suffer the consequences of your voyeurism.

And it managed to surprise me in how it ended. Neither you nor the Counsul see it coming quite the way it comes. More dogs, more noseless peons, more dead and alive intermingling in darkened bars. So much of this book takes place in bars. In fact, it seems the only time we are not in a bar in this book is when we are heading to another bar. Makes you want some mezcal dribbled out from an elephantine gourd while a three-legged dog scampers around the room.

It also makes me (almost) want to see Peter Lorre's 1935 film The Hands of Orlac, since the poster of it is plastered everywhere in the town of Quauhnahuac as the characters and their triangles stumble and stagger around. Almost.

This story is not one that unfolds, it winds itself up into a tight ball and then unravels into nothing. Also, this book is barely about the characters, who in many ways are just thinly-veiled, slightly more heroic variants of those in his own biography. In that regard, its very much like the best work of Charles Bukowski and John Fante, where horrible people get a degree of elevation from the fact that they manage to persist through their own annihilation. Poetically, though, this book plays on the same fields as Ulysses (it bears many structural similarities to Ulysses) and One Hundred Years of Solitude and even Patrick Suskind's Perfume, where time and persona bends around an unseen abyss , a vacuous negative space created not only by human cruelty and indifference, but hollow romanticism and idealistic projection that are the flip sides to that same cruel, indifferent coin.

I'm glad to be done with it, but I suspect this is one of those with which I will never be really done.

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