March 09, 2006

Tom and Darby

Larry Livermore is one of the few people out there who have read King Dork, and he says some really nice things about it in this essay on the vagaries of the "punk" novel.

I've never read the other book he mentions, What We Do Is Secret, which, as the title suggests, is set in the LA punk scene, c. 1981, i.e. the court of Darby Crash. So it's no criticism of that book when I say that, like, Larry, I don't have much patience with the "street poetry" approach to fiction. I used to think it was because I was not mature enough, or that I had not taken enough drugs yet, to enter in to the spirit of the thing. Maybe that's true enough. But anything that makes you have to work that hard to figure out what is going on (or even to figure out where the sentences end or begin) had better deliver something pretty spectacular in the way of insight or effect to make up for its demands. In my experience they rarely do, but that could be just because I'm really a pretty close-minded sort of person. Anyway, if you've read one drug trip anti-narrative you've pretty much read them all. I spent too many years pretending that I enjoyed and understood and could make heads or tales of The Soft Machine. I mean, I've paid my dues, you know?

The narrator of King Dork, Tom Henderson, tries to read what is in some respects the foundational "novel" of that scattershot, hip style, Kenneth Patchen's The Journal of Albion Moonlight. He gives up after a few pages, saying, "it's like this thing was written by a crazy person." And that's the difference between Tom and me, because when I was a teenager I slogged through books like that and went around claiming that I thought they were great and deep. And I even maybe convinced myself that I did think that. Seriously, though, the way I look at things now, you're much better off reading Treasure Island or something. More bang for your brain cells.

Anyway, Larry quotes this bit from the Darby Crash guy:

Why am I a punk? Because I wasn't anything before, except different. And now it's like I'm different, but with a vengeance.
Tom would never call himself a punk, but he could easily have said something like that, except I think that he would have said "I'm indifferent with a vengeance." And then he would have said something like: do you see the irony - I mean do you really? He's kind of a weird guy. Posted by Dr. Frank at March 9, 2006 01:15 AM | TrackBack

So Tom would be indifferent to the difference between "different" and "indifferent?" Or maybe the difference between "different" and "indifferent" is similar to the difference between "flammable" and "inflammable."

Posted by: Nick at March 9, 2006 01:45 AM

Think indifferent.

Posted by: Wesley at March 9, 2006 02:04 AM

So are you going to read maccaulay culkin's stream of consciousness book when it comes out this summer? I know I'm not.

Posted by: MArk at March 9, 2006 12:49 PM

"...and the thoughtful, creative ones who grow up to write what may turn out to be one of the more important novels of the early 21st century."


Posted by: MArk at March 9, 2006 01:00 PM

THere's a huge difference between different and indifferent. THat's why there is no irony in being different with vengeance. BUt to be indifferent, to not care either way, with a vengeance.... there is the irony. I think I'm going to like Tom quite a bit.

Posted by: MArk at March 9, 2006 01:06 PM

I have a feeling books like "What we do is Secret" are to 1981 punk rockers as the movie "The Warriors" is to 1981 NYC street gangs ro maybe "Hair" is to hippies. I'm to young and suburban to have ever considered myself much of anything but, blech, blech and blech some more. Of course I haven't read the book.

Posted by: josh at March 9, 2006 02:02 PM

Incidentally, what do you think of Finnegan's Wake? That's a book I can't follow in the slightest but I have a feeling it's brilliant. Or maybe a great practical joke.

Posted by: josh at March 9, 2006 02:08 PM

I'm really looking forward to reading "King Dork", I just hope that Frank made the character of Tom his own and did not just channel Holden Caulfield into a different scenario. Out of curiosity, on the statement "..that I had not taken enough drugs yet.." I was kind of hoping that from what I know of you that you were a punk/ rock n' roll guy that Nancy Reagan would be pround of. I know you drink beer as we drank a few, many years ago (don't try to remember, I'm not important enough, just another guy).

Posted by: Zaphod at March 9, 2006 03:16 PM

Ah Frank, we had the same highschool reading habits and all I remember about Kenneth Patchen now is his rage against never having been taught where to look when using a public urinal...

I remember you once saying you would put off reading Finnegan's Wake as long as possible so there would at least be one last Joyce book to read. Myself, I could never get past Portrait of the Artist and the protagonist's virgin hang-up.

I hope King Dork is the mass success Alcatraz should have been.

Posted by: Dallas at March 9, 2006 05:39 PM

Whoa. Dallas. Awesome.

Posted by: Matt R. at March 9, 2006 08:39 PM

Going by Livermore's piece and other recent posts, Tom Henderson sounds less like Holden Caulfield and more and more like Nick Twisp, the diarist of C.D. Payne's "Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp." Whip-smart-ass, literate, rebellious (obviously) even though he's into Sinatra, not punk.

Hey Frank: I write about books and music for the daily in Bend, Oregon. Not sure what your book tour plans are, but if you were to come through, I'm pretty sure we'd give advance coverage on any appearance at, say, The Book Barn, for example ...

Posted by: Dave J. at March 9, 2006 09:41 PM

Dave J, that sounds like a good comparison (to "Youth in Revolt") to me. Tom is also sounding a little bit like Julian Barnes's autobiographically-inspired narrator from "Metroland"'s first section (teen years in London).

Posted by: Nick at March 10, 2006 01:22 AM

Burroughs is so unreadable...ugh.

All I read these days is John Irving, whom I have really gotten into only in the last few months(thanks, Ben W.).

Posted by: David Cummings at March 10, 2006 08:34 AM

I have pretty steady contact with at least three people that have read King Dork and I'm really sick of hearing about how great it is. Until I get to read it all such talk shall stop...

Posted by: Manda at March 12, 2006 02:19 PM