“If I watch the end of a day—any day—I always feel it’s the end of a whole epoch. And the autumn! It might as well be the end of everything…That’s why I hate cold countries, and love the warm ones, where there’s no winter, and when night comes you feel an opening of the life there, instead of a closing down. Don’t you feel that?” — The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles
Last summer I was crazy about Kate Zambreno’s Heroines, a feminist literary history of male Modernist writers (famous, lauded) and female Modernist writers (marginalized, institutionalized). Zambreno pays particular attention to Jane Bowles, who lived, traveled, and worked alongside Paul Bowles.
Having only read shorter works by the latter Bowles, I decided to read novels by the Bowles’ in succession—Jane first, Paul second. Both books, employing voices and sensibilities all their own, revolve around eccentric characters stumbling through adventure after misadventure, navigating hope and desperation, passion and suffering. Paul’s vernacular feels very much in its time, while Jane’s is all akimbo (which, I’ll admit, I’m partial to): “I love it here. Wouldn’t go back home for a load of monkeys. It’s hot sometimes, but mostly balmy, and nobody’s in a hurry. Sex doesn’t interest me and I sleep like a baby. I am never bothered with dreams unless I eat something which sits on my stomach. You have to pay a price when you indulge yourself. I have a terrific yen for lobster a la Newburg, you see. I know exactly what I’m doing when I eat it.”
Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil
In lieu of my opinion, I offer a few choice excerpts.
Wayne Kramer: When they got Iggy into macrobiotics he lost like, forty pounds. I mean, he just shriveled up into this shadow of his former self. One day at Stooge Manor, I went upstairs to the attic to see Iggy, and I said, “What’s up, man?”
He said, “Oh, this brown rice, macrobiotic thing, it’s so great, my shit doesn’t stink.”
I said, “Get outta here, man.”
He said, “No, I know it sounds funny, but my shit doesn’t stink now.”
Legs McNeil: Glitter rock was about decadence: platform shoes and boys in eye makeup, David Bowie and androgyny. Rich rock stars living their lives from Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, you know, Sally Bowles hanging out with drag queens, drinking champagne for breakfast and having menages a trois, while the Nazis slowly grab the power.
Patti Smith: Right now I’ve been in this room in this city for so long I don’t see it anymore and you know I’m not being stimulated. Lately I’ve just been doing a lot of cleaning inside my brain. My eyes are not seeing anything around me. So I’ve been dreaming a lot, recording dreams and trying to look within, but I’m not worried about it. I’m just waiting for the moment when I’ll get to take a train or plane somewhere and I know I’ll spurt out because I’ve just got to see new things. I think Rimbaud said he needs new scenery and a new noise, and I need that.
“Now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. Or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and moral wounds and stench.”
It’s always dreadfully sunny in Bolano’s apocalyptic 2666, the magnum opus he pretty much gave his life for. Read The Savage Detectives first, and don’t be discouraged by all the literary references—let his cryptic, seething prose wash over you and be grateful.