High Life: Taki

By Taki | The Spectator, May 30, 2015 | Go to article overview

High Life: Taki


Taki, The Spectator


An operation on my hand after a karate injury has had me reading more than usual. I even attempted Don DeLillo's Underworld , but soon gave up. Truman Capote famously said that On the Road was typing, not writing, but old Jack Kerouac was Jane Austen compared with some contemporary novelists. Making it sound easy is the hardest thing in writing, and today's modernists sure make it look easier than easy. But they're also sloppy, self-indulgent and at times incomprehensible.

What I don't get is how one can enjoy a novel when the plot is not clear. When the reader doesn't know what's real and what's imagined, it's time to regress and look up Papa and Scott and Graham and Jane. (Austen's preoccupation with property, income and class still resonates in today's world. The sainted editor had to write a letter so that I could get into a building in the Bagel. By invoking all three of Jane's preoccupations, I got in.) Avoiding dullness is what great writers do, and amusing sinners are always better than pious dullards. Brio is what keeps a novel going, at least for little old me, and long-windedness has me reaching for the remote and a soap opera.

Speaking of writers, Saul Bellow has been in the news lately because of a massive biography by Zachary Leader, brilliantly reviewed in The Spectator and by every newspaper and magazine on these shores. I am not a Bellow fan -- too much information, as they say nowadays. The astute Norman Mailer described Bellow as 'a hostess of the intellectual canapé table'. I know exactly what he meant by that. It was an accurate assessment of Saul, as well as a kick in the balls. Bellow was a very Jewish writer, but unlike Philip Roth, of whom I'm a fan, he is a revenge novelist, out to settle scores. His close buddy was Jack Ludwig, a fellow professor at Bard, a hothouse of radicalism, and obviously a gentleman of the old school! Ludwig was once asked if he knew Bellow, and he answered, 'Do I know Saul Bellow? Hell, I'm fucking his wife!' He was doing just that, and Saul gave it to him in his fiction. Mind you, Hemingway did the same when it came to some of the characters he knew in Paris during the Twenties -- Harold Loeb was Robert Cohn and Lady Duff was Lady Brett, and so on. But Papa's characters were more inspired by than copies of the real thing.

Fitzgerald was famously obsessed with the mysteries of great wealth, but back then wealth was something new among Americans. Poor old Scott wrote more about the ruinous effects of wealth, which is a very large theme even today. I recently read a couple of articles on Fitzgerald, one claiming that he wrote Gatsby in Great Neck, Long Island, where the action takes place, the other that he wrote the greatest of American novels in Antibes. …

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