Friday, September 07, 2012

Harry Mathews

If you've not yet checked out the new issue of the Quarterly Conversation, by all means do so. In addition to the usual spate of strong reviews (including one from the always-worthwhile Patrick Kurp), the issue features a symposium on one of the most interesting living American writers, Harry Mathews.

I've written about Mathews and his strange, funny, linguistically and structurally experimental fiction before. If you've not read those posts, you should at least go check out the one that draws on his Paris Review interview and features a perplexed Bennett Cerf saying, about Mathews's novel The Conversions, "Mr. Mathews, I don’t know what the hell you’re up to and I think you owe it to Random House readers to explain!"

In the TQC symposium, Dan Visel takes a crack at explaining the book that baffled Cerf. Jeremy Davies writes about Mathews's most conventional novel, the surprisingly moving Cigarettes, as does A. D. Jameson, who focuses on the novel's complicated plot. Laird Hunt writes about another of my favorite Mathews novels, the dryly funny and playful My Life in CIA, John Beer addresses the poetry, and Daniel Levin Becker writes about Mathews's book of fractured proverbs, Selected Declarations of Dependence. Sadly, no one attends to Matthews's Singular Pleasures, a goofy book of microfictions that are all about masturbation. I guess that one's less appropriate for group analysis than for solo study.

And on top of all that there's my favorite piece, a memoir of discovering Mathews by none other than my fellow Invisible Librarian, Ed Park. After reading a few of these essays, you'll have a pretty good idea, I suspect, whether Mathews is for you--and if so, you'll be incredibly grateful, for he's a truly singular writer, one whose work, despite an often rebarbative surface, stays with you for a long time after reading.

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