Saturday, May 20, 2017

About Exes and the Futility of Memory

Disclosure: Max Winter (that's not a pen name, that's his birth name) was a friend of mine in high school in Providence, Rhode Island. I have a few good stories about him. Nothing incriminating or acutely embarrassing. He was rather obsessed with Bob Dylan for a period in high school, but I was bonkers for T.Rex at the same time, so who am I to mock?

I point this connection out because it's relevant to the book and how I experienced it. This is about people and the relationships left behind (or that left us behind), and the futile effort to reconstruct connections through memory.

Another confession: I dislike a lot of "literary fiction." I'm not sure I agree with the suggestion in Max's afterword that narrative economy is "overprized." Sometimes when reading contemporary lit I wish it were valued more.

(Although I don't always model that value myself.)

((Oh, and right now, I'm doing something that Max's novel does: annotating myself, and then annotating the annotations. Makes you realize how much memory really is a construction in the present moment.))

Too often I read literary fiction that disdains the reader, that confuses more than it elucidates, that is more interested in unique sentences than a compelling story, that seems designed to make the author seem profound and beyond the comprehension of the lowly reader. When I smell that on a book, I feel angry. Happily, Max's book is plenty "literary" but it does not bore or bullshit the reader. It does not seek attention through bogus mystification, and once you figure out how the book works it isn't difficult to follow. It is entertaining, often hilarious, and it evokes a beautiful melancholy that can only be understood when you have loved a friend and lost people who mattered to you. It is loaded with stories, many of them fit to stand alone, but the jumble of histories (and the annotations that follow) depict the struggle to touch people across a distance with memory.

It reminds me of Max : here is his deceptively casual wit (masking a lifetime of attentive reading and media absorption) - and also his heart. All the characters sound like Max altering his voice ever so slightly. The book also stoked my long-smoldering homesickness for Rhode Island, its unique colloquialisms and irascible characters.

The book struck me like a specially formulated pill: my own memories and people I've lost mingling with the characters (some of whom are very much based on persons living or dead, trust me). And if you have loved people and places, this might be your experience as well. I don't think you'll regret spending a little time with Exes.

Order it here. (Fuck Amazon.)