Sunday, May 11, 2014

Born Eighty-Four Years Ago Today

Stanley Elkin, one of my Deserted Island Five even though I don't play Deserted Island Five with novelists and poets. 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 an interview from 1976. I reread Dick Gibson Show and the triptych novellas Searches and Seizures between last year's birthday and this year's. I wrote a Masters thesis on Elkin in 1996-97, going back to the novels since, while still an exhilarating and unique again experience, felt like chapters were due to D in the morning - quick, scan novels for highlights, my margin scrawls, scavenge my notebooks a seventh time before pounding out paragraphs before the morning. But this year I read Searches and Seizures, my favorite Elkin triptych of his three triptychs of novellas (and he loved novellas best), after D died this past Fall, D who loved Elkin too but loved "The Bailbondsman," the first of the three in Searches and Seizures, best. Reading Elkin last December didn't feel like research. Thursday Night Pints started when D was Head Signature on my Masters thesis on Stanley Elkin. Rest in Peace, D. Scheduled for the next year, Mrs Ted Bliss and Van Gogh's Room at Arles, respectively Elkin's last novel and last triptych of novellas.

Let me know if I can turn you on.


  1. We have "Little Free Libraries" popping up all over town, take a book leave a book dollhouses mounted on fenceposts in peoples' front yards. I found a copy of "Tales Out Of School" by Benjamin Taylor in one the other day, and it had a Stanley Elkin endorsement on the back cover. Have you read it?

  2. No, I've never heard of it. Looking at the library and consortium libraries, none of them have it. I'll add it to my look for next time in used book store list.

  3. Replies
    1. Email me a mailing address, I'll send you some Elkin.

  4. i too would be appreciative of some elkin, although to be frank these days it is missus charley reading the novels chez nous - currently she's working on mark twain's personal recollections of joan of arc - in choosing what to dispatch, please consider that however square i may be, she is even more square - not that there's anything wrong with that

    i am ordering now, to be sent to you, a 'like new' (however 'like new' a 1995 book could be) of taylor's tales out of school

    1. Thanks, Charlie, and I'll be routing an Elkin towards soon.