Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Soup and Salad: Capote, Chekhov, Tinkers, Hugo

On today's menu:

1.  The 11-bedroom Brooklyn Heights mansion where tenant Truman Capote once hosted fabulous parties, thought up new ways to insult Gore Vidal, and wrote In Cold Blood (not necessarily in that order) is now on the market for a mere $18 million.  Buy it and you can forever boast you had breakfast at Truman's.

The Complete Short Novels2.  Over at The Millions, Sonya Cheung holds Chekhov up to John Gardner's critical mirror in a mind-nudging essay: I Heart Chekhov; Better Than Booze or Smokes.  As Cheung notes, I read Chekhov repeatedly, in marathon sessions, story after story, for consolation and for a kind of cleansing out of both personal and writerly bullshit. I go to him not exactly for writing instruction, so much as to enlarge my writer’s vision; which is to say to deepen my capacity to see and feel more honestly.   As it so happens, I'm working my way through Chekhov's The Complete Short Novels and I'm enjoying my time wallowing in misery, despair, debt, and frigid cold.  (By weird happenstance, I'm also reading Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, so the two sometimes get muddled.)  I think I prefer Chekhov's short stories, but when I read passages like this from The Story of an Unknown Man, I feel cupped in the hands of a master:
At night I was cold, bored, and in pain, but by day I reveled in life--I can't think of a better expression.  The bright, hot sun beating in through the open windows and the balcony door, the shouts below, the splashing of oars, the ringing of bells, the rolling thunder of the cannon at noon, and the feeling of total, total freedom worked miracles with me; I felt strong wide wings at my sides, which carried me God knows where.

3.  Here's yet another account of the Cinderella story of Paul Harding's Tinkers, this year's Pulitzer-winner.  This is one of the first times I've actually read excerpts of the much-lauded prose quoted in the news article (Lightning crawled down the mountain and drank at the water, lapped at the shallows with electric tongues, stunning bolt-eye frogs and small trout and silver minnows).  Out of context, it seems a bit purple; but nevertheless, I cannot wait to get my hands on Tinkers and find out for myself if all the fuss is deserved.

4.  Francis McCue's The Car That Brought You Here Still Runs is another new release that's piqued my interest.  Using the poetry of Richard Hugo as a roadmap, McCue travels the backroads of Montana and the Pacific Northwest to discover, among other things, "Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg."  Since I moved to Butte, Montana, a year ago, I owe it to myself to get reacquainted with Hugo.  I'll do that as soon as I'm done with the Russians.  Read more about McCue's odyssey in this article from The Montana Standard.


  1. Hey man I heart Chekhov as well...can't get enough of him, which is good because I don't know that I've ever actually read his entire body of work. I don't even know if that's possible in a lifetime, he was so prolific. I love your blog, keep it up! -- T. Mills

  2. I, too, cannot wait to get Tinkers. I need to know what the hullaballoo is for. I was disheartened that neither Wells Towers' nor Lydia Peelle's collections were nominated, but I'm excited to check this out.