Wednesday, October 8, 2014

That’s All You Get

Hi Friends,

This is Momma X. Daddy is in the hospital with some chest pains. They’re not sure what the deal is so they are keeping him overnight. He asked me to post the below for your blog even though he hasn’t had a chance to really proof and refine it. I think it’s great. Hope you will enjoy and hope Daddy can be in touch with you all soon.

 by Daddy X

One thing I miss at OGG is the quarterly “What I’ve Been Reading” topic we used to address. It offered a free ride every three months so I didn’t have to reveal how clueless I am regarding this craft we pursue. My status as dilettante is once again exposed—a hobbyist—a common trickster hidden among the real McCoy.

So here are a couple of books I’ve read recently, and my take on the first person pov in each:

Night Film
by Marisha Pessl

A tricky book. I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that it’s a story of an apparent suicide: The talented daughter of an enigmatic, reclusive horror film director (one Stanislaw Cordova) is found dead from a fall in an abandoned building on the wrong side of town. The narrator searches for truth in the matter, escorting the reader through the machinations and minds of pro and anti-Cordovites, opposing forces who put him either on the highest intellectual pedestal or who saw him personifying evil at its worst. The director’s unconventional filming methods are hinted at, allowing the reader’s imagination to take flight through red herrings, dead ends, dark, intriguing characters and situations.

Well worth the read, considering that Pessl’s inventive repertoire of devices could soon become commonplace in literature.

The female author adopts the first person past pov, which holds up well, both in delivery and in convincing me that it was actually a man narrating the story. Unfortunately, her use of italics is distracting. When I first saw how many words were leaning over, I thought it was another successful device among several in the book, but it did get annoying with such a plethora down the road.

Not so in the next book I started, the first novel by Donna Tartt, Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Goldfinch.

A Secret History

A masterwork, wholeheartedly recommended, but IMO, not quite perfection due to pov issues. Although the delivery was convincing, the gender of the male narrator was not, at least not until about the middle of the book. Perhaps this is personal on my part: The language is that of an earlier time, maybe late 19th century to the middle of the last, when we had the likes of Anais Nin and Lawrence Durell in the mix. Flowery, verbose, intricate language—used by a social class completely unfamiliar to me. Not what I usually equate with a modern masculine voice. The book is gripping, with good detail and a sense of intrigue to die for. Her longer sentences are well thought-out examples of sentence construction. If only she’d made the narrator with an innie instead of an outie.

All this brings to mind the ultimate pov/tense shifter: JP Donleavy. It’s generally acknowledged that the best practitioners can get away with anything. Donleavy is a perfect example, a writer who can and does flout the rules successfully:

He finishes about a quarter of his sentences. He jumps pov, sometimes within one paragraph, encompassing several tenses. With each of his characters, he takes us through first person present internal monologue. Donleavy’s heroes are often preposterous assholes, horrible breeds we wind up loving on some level of ironic compassion.

How does he do it? With a style unique to himself.

Even though completely different, the Tartt book shows a few general characteristics of a Donleavy work: The players occupy the highest economic levels of society—people with too much money or status for their own good. A job is something other people do. In fact one of Tartt’s characters, Bunny, is reminiscent of Donleavy’s Beefy, featured in “The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B.” Tartt’s book is set on a college campus, evoking  some of Donleavy’s atmospherics.

Donleavy’s most well-known work is “The Ginger Man”. Written back in the 60’s.  He should be required reading for convention-breakers. ;>)

Here’s hoping I’ve managed to skate by on this topic that I can’t articulate as well as others here have done so eloquently. All a guy can do is try.

“Use what you got, because that’s all you get.”
Clarence “Pine Top” Smith.


  1. Wow, terrific post, Daddy (and Momma) X! Wishing you all the best! We need you!

    I kind of dread the "What Have You Read" times, because they reveal how terribly ignorant I am of most thing written in the last, oh, four decades. Must do more reading and less writing/editing.

    1. We're all ignorant about some things and experts on others. That's one of the fabulous aspects of this blog.

  2. Wishing you a quick recovery Daddy X - I enjoyed the Secret History by Donna Tartt - in my youth I read and re-read Lawrence Durrell and James Baldwin. Still hard to beat.

  3. Hoping you're back at your computer again soon, Daddy X. I look forward to your insights and your common sense and witty comments. At least that's how I see you. Isn't it fun to find out how we're perceived by others?

    And thanks, Momma X for posting for your old man. And I mean that as in the 60s lingo, of "my old lady", or "my old man". Because age is just a number and you and Daddy are ageless, right? Grin. And I have to mention that your long years of marriage are an inspiration to me. Thanks for that.

    I prefer to write in 3rd person because I like to know what all of the important characters are thinking. The only time I've written in 1st person was for short stories where word count demanded a terse story. But usually I want to know more than 1st person allows for.

  4. Daddy X, I hope you get well soon! Momma X, thanks so much for the update, and giving us his post.

    I have a good friend who's way, way into Marisha Pessl, so I've been meaning to read Night Film. Definitely need to get around to it based on what you said. But I can imagine what you mean by certain devices getting old. Her previous book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, was utterly riveting to me at first, then started losing me toward the end. I have trouble putting in a lot of energy over a long reading haul, though, so I've always wondered if the fault was mine.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Terribly sorry Lisabet. I'd made a mistake on a reply, tried to fix it and it erased your whole comment . Please repost.

  6. I'm back, and apparently fucking up already. See what I did to lisabet's post? Thanks all for reading and good wishes! Good to be back home.

  7. Thanks to Momma X for posting. Daddy X, it's good to see you back! (Luckily, I've never erased someone else's comment, but it seems like something I could do, esp. if trying to fix something. Lisabet has great patience.)


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