Needles from the Gods - Umberto Tosi
I'm halfway through one of the few novels I can unequivocally call beautiful - musical writing, unsparing and heart-rending at the level of Toni Morrison, A.S. Byatt, or Vikram Seth. It happens when lyric poetry is fashioned into narrative prose without losing lucidity. No surprise given that the author, Ocean Vuong (Vương Quốc Vinh), is a prize winning poet. From Penquin, 2019; this is his debut novel.
The title conveys its poetry: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous. It's a Vietnamese American's paean to his war damaged, semi-literate immigrant mother, written as letter to her that she'll never read - a familiar therapeutic device raised to high art. It's easy to read and difficult to take in some of its graphically descriptive passages of war and reflections on war, racism and homophobia.
I know writers who'd kill for a title like that. I think about Amadeus. I muse over his memoirist novel's seamless, rhythmic sentences with a mixture of admiration and envy - a reminder that if you write something well enough, it will fly. Every sentence succulent - delivered to all five senses, seasoned with reflection. In America, facility of language defines the immigrant as much as race, class and ethnicity. It can be an impediment or a tool. Here is an immigrant's child, who, as is common, stepped up to being his parents' English translator, triumphing in their adopted language with the facility of sublimely blended icon Tiger Woods (to whom Vuong refers often) making a chip shot.
As a writer, I realized long ago that I have neither the patience nor the talent to do more than admire such fine work. As with great music, I float in the wonder of it, and then continue on my way. This journeyman scribe, goes about his plots, constructs, ironies and smart-ass-ness hoping to entertain, if not to self-examine. Right now, I'm splashing about the swimming hole of genre fiction, on the third of my Hollywood noir, Frank Ritz Mysteries. They are memoirist only in that I select, construct and embellish them from the memories of incidents and characters of my youth in 1950s Hollywood among artists, hopefuls and poignant failures.
| Ocean Vuong - 2019|
It's from the land of the dead, as Margaret Atwood puts it. It's up to impatient me to realize or ruin it.
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
Kinda scary: There's the rub. Maybe that's why I admire fabulous writing so much, though I consume readable writing by the bale.
Here's one of many multidimensional gems from Vuong's slim volume. It tells a story in itself:
"... Memory is a choice. You said that once, with your back to me the way a god would say it. But if you were a god you would see them You would look down at this grove of pines, the fresh tips flared lucent at each treetop, tender-damp in their late autumn flush. You would look past the branches, past the rusted light splintered through the brambles, the needles falling, one by one, as you lay your god eyes on them. You'd trace the needles as they hurled themselves past the lowest bough, toward the cooling forest floor, the long on the two boys lying side by side, the blood already dry on their cheeeks ..."
Catching needles from the god of pine forests: what a metaphor for the writing process.
Enjoy my Hollywood noir detective thriller: The Phantom Eye (a Frank Ritz Mystery) newly released in paperback and ebook by Light Fantastic Publishing - soon to be followed by Oddly Dead and Death and the Droid.
writes with tremendous style and a pitch perfect ear for everything
that makes the classic noir detective story irresistible. Philip Marlowe
and Lew Archer, make room for Frank Ritz!" - Elizabeth McKenzie, best-selling author of The Portable Veblen.
"... reminds me of Chandler's The Little Sister, and The Big Sleep of course." - Actor playwright Gary Houston.
That doesn’t leave much for those of us at the bottom of the heap, Umberto.
And I agree the title On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is fantastic, definitely something to look out for. Recently I've come across the name of a book by Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah It's called The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born, another title for a writer to kill for as you suggest. Have a good Christmas.