Portrait of the Artist as a Sobbing Jessie

In Reviews on April 24, 2014 at 7:00 am


by Lee Klein

Move over robins, tulips, pastels, and jelly beans, the appearance of a fresh volume of My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard now marks the coming of spring and will continue do so in 2015, 2016, and 2017 as the final three books in the series appear in English in the United States, translated from the Norwegian by Donald Bartlett, published by Archipelago Books in signature squarish hard covers. Quick recap: My Struggle is a six-volume literary autobiography. Comparisons to Proust’s In Search of Lost Time—thanks to size and spirit—are inexact and inevitable. On a sentence level, My Struggle is easier reading than In Search. Scene-wise, the former includes no interminable stretches (i.e., hundreds of consecutive pages) in which haute bourgeois folks, gently derided by the narrator, chat about the Dreyfus Affair. There are similarities, sure: Marcel is a tad fey and Karl Ove is called out for being a bit of a nancy boy (a “jessie” in Norwegian slang); both narrators tend to wax ecstatically about unexpected encounters with the sublime (the “little phrase” in Vinteuil’s violin sonata in Swann’s Way; Roxy Music’s “More Than This” in Book Three); and there’s the commonality of fulfilled ambition on the part of both writers to produce elevated literary art by tracing in text their wandering paths en route to life’s core. Proust’s highest highs (for me, in Sodom and Gomorrah, the central pages describing Marcel’s Grandmother’s death and Marcel’s first sight of an airplane) may be higher than those in My Struggle, but overall, as a child of the 1970s and 1980s, I find myself relating more to Karl Ove than to Marcel.

Aging in America

In Reviews on April 23, 2014 at 7:00 am


by Brendan Rastetter

I often wonder what it will feel like when I’m old. Every time I feel an ache or pain in my body I imagine it magnified. I’ll often forget things that were much easier to remember when I was younger, people’s names after first introduction or how to solve a basic math problem.  If I’m already experiencing forgetfulness in my 20s, how horrifying will it be when I begin to forget people’s names entirely, when I spend an hour or more trying to remember the name of that actor in that movie. You know the one, right? I often find myself agitated when I’m around older people having a hard time understanding new technology. I feel like telling them to stop trying, but I have to remind myself that there will come a day when I’m old and my grandchild is ready to chew me out for not understanding his fifth explanation of how to work the teleportation device. Old age is an inevitability. There comes a day when everyone is made to feel redundant. Lore Segal explores this theme and others in Half the Kingdom, her follow-up to 2009’s Pulitzer Prize finalist Shakespeare’s Kitchen.

American Formality

In Reviews on April 21, 2014 at 7:00 am


by Susan Scutti

The sonnet is a formal poem composed of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, which is just long enough for a thought to develop, gracefully pirouette, and shape-shift into something else entirely. In fact, this so-called turn is a key feature of the sonnet and though in most instances it does not lead to utterly surprising revelations, it is always crucial. Within the context of so short a poem, even a slight tonal shift provides dimension. For this reason the most effective turns are often the most subtle. In many ways, the turn of a sonnet is representative of a world view. In most things we do, isn’t there that moment when our purpose suddenly deepens? It is the instant when passion, once a wasteful bonfire, transforms into a less obvious but more prudent flame.


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