Stanley Elkin, one of my Deserted Island Five. These are the two excerpts I always use for his birthday, the first capturing one of Elkins's great themes, the second simply the most beautiful, heartbreaking paragraph, as stand alone but especially within the context of the novel, I've ever read:
Ben, everything there is is against your being here! Think of get-togethers, family stuff, golden anniversaries in rented halls, fire regulation celebrated more in the breach than the observance, the baked Alaska up in flames, everybody wiped out - all the cousins in from coasts, wiped out. Rare, yes - who says not - certainly rare, but it could happen, has happened. And once is enough if you've been invited. All the people picked off by plagues and folks eaten by earthquakes and drowned in the tidal waves, all the people already dead that you might have been or who might have begat the girl who married the guy who fathered the fellow who might have been your ancestor - all the showers of sperm that dried on his Kleenex or spilled on his sheets or fell on the ground or dirtied his hands when he jerked off or came in his p.j.'s or no, maybe he was actually screwing and the spermatozoon had your number written on it and it was lost at sea because that's what happens, you see - there's low motility and torn tails - that's what happens to all but a handful out of all the googols and gallons of come, more sperm finally than even the grains of sand I was talking about, more even than the degrees. Well - am I making the picture for you? Am I connecting the dots? Ben, Ben, Nick the Greek wouldn't lay a fart against a trillion bucks that you'd ever make it to this planet!
- The Franchiser
And it was wondrous in the negligible humidity how they gawked across the perfect air, how, stunned by the helices and all the parabolas of grace, they gasped, they sighed, these short-timers who even at their age could not buy insurance at any price, not even if the premiums were paid in the rare rich elements, in pearls clustered as grapes, in buckets of bullion, in trellises of diamonds, how, glad to be alive, they stared at each other and caught their breath.
- Magic Kingdom
Here's what I wrote below those two excerpts last year:
When I knew beyond doubt that how I read had undeniably changed was rereading George Mills last fall when reading Elkin changed from WOW! to merely wow. George Mills was never my favorite (though it was Elkin's) - the two novels the two above quotes I always use are - but I had never found myself wishing for the end of an Elkin novel, and I've read them all multiple times for pleasure then thesis then pleasure again. This idiot machine I'm typing this sentence into no doubt is a factor: self-publishing changes everything, the idea that somebody may be reading me makes me write for them rather than read for myself, though, while a substantial proportion, that is more contributory than causative, and in any case is being reconsidered. I've never read fiction more poorly, I've never read non-fiction willingly and now find it almost onerous, I've never read poetry better. I never would have guessed I'd put down a novel because I was thinking of someone's poetry after a lifetime of putting down poetry because I was thinking of a novel. I think about this constantly, am working it out, will report back here no later than the anniversary of Elkin's 83rd birthday, or sooner, or not.
I don't flatter myself anyone remembers my promise much less has tuned in to see if I kept it. I can say I'm still working on it, constantly, I am reading fiction more poorly than last year, I'm reading poetry better than last year, I'm as happy with what I create, here - yes, fuck me (and fuck this blog) - and elsewhere (occasionally made available here and there, the majority not) - as I can remember.
In any case, when I was writing the thesis Wonder Books in Frederick had a stack of fifteen Magic Kingdoms on a remainder table at a dollar apiece, I've still a few, I think everyone who reads this blog and wants one has got one, but if you want one email me.