Read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress. Finished Blake Butler’s Sky Saw and Raymond Queneau’s The Flight of Icarus. Started Diane William’s Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty and Loorie Moore’s Anagrams.
We should crown Diane Williams as the god-like ruler of short-story collection titles. Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty? Romancer Erector? Some Sexual Success Stories Plus Other Stories in Which God Might Choose to Appear? It’s just no contest. I’ve read some of her work in various lit mags, mainly old copies of The Quarterly. The stories in this collection are very good, and she’s tightened her sentences even more. I’m enamored with the way her and Gary Lutz make plot feel like a repercussion of language.
More small notes after the jump.
Queneau’s The Flight of Icarus was a lot of fun. Queneau clearly enjoys putting Icarus through various archetypal plots (detective story, marital drama). I think Queneau’s reputation is less than that of Perec and Calvino’s because he’s seen as more playful and less “literary,” but now his stripped down language and interest in form comes off as ahead of his time.
I read “The Yellow Wallpaper” because it was mentioned both in the afterword to Wittgenstein’s Mistress and in Kate Zambreno’s Heroines. It’s remarkable how many levels the story works on: as a feminist text, as gothic horror, as an experiment in voice. But its the synthesis of these approaches that’s remarkable — she pulls off each and every one of them.
Wittgenstein’s Mistress was the highlight of this round of reading. One of the chief claims leveled at experimental fiction is that the work produced is unrelatable and distant from human experience — any emotion resulting from it could have been achieved better in a more direct fashion. But there’s an accumulative feeling that takes place during Wittgenstein’s Mistress. As the narrator tries to recall (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) various works of art, the work acts as a justification of art as a whole. And the metafiction version of the book at the end is even more heartbreaking given its originality.