In my reductivist way, I have always chosen to regard Johnny Rotten (Lydon) as the brains of punk, and Joe Strummer (John Mellor) as the heart of punk, and much of that is down to Strummer’s affecting “an ordinary bloke” persona. Salewicz’s encyclopedic biography reveals a complex subject who was anything but an ordinary Joe; he was a deeply flawed hero, with a heart as big as the world, a heart which, ironically enough, killed him. If the 13 years which have passed since his death have taught us anything, it’s that we shall not see his like again.
In November 1974, Werner Herzog received word of the imminent death of film historian Lotte Eisner. He resolved to walk from Munich to be at her side in Paris, in the faith that by essaying this trek, "our Eisner mustn't die, she will not die, I won't permit it"; furthermore, that "when I'm in Paris she will be alive. She must not die. Later, perhaps, when we allow it".
The journal he kept of his peregrination through rain, sleet, hail, and snow is a dizzying document. Despite frequent reference to trains and cars, the feeling is that of a journey which may have been made at any time over the past 500 years, as Herzog alternates ecstatic visions (including the ending of Stroszek) with querelous complaints about the state of his feet, legs, and groin.
The humor of Tom Drury's masterpiece, depicting the quotidian interactions amongst the good folk of Grouse County, Iowa, is dry as dry can be. The characterizations are crisp and clear: each of these people feel as real as your next door neighbor, but much funnier. Well, here's a sample:
"Tiny Darling was still living with his brother Jerry Tate down in Pringmar. This was going better than might have been expected. Jerry, who worked for the post office in Morrisville, liked having his brother's company. He liked Tiny's sense of humor and Tiny's conviction that everyone and everything was out to get him and his kind, although when you looked around it was hard to identify anyone of Tiny's kind. He was an advocate of the laboring class who would say things like "It's the working man who gets a ball-peen hammer between the eyes every morning of his life," but he hardly ever did lawful work. He could handle rudimentary plumbing, and when it came to getting a raccoon out of an attic, he was thought to excel. He was a steady drinker who sometimes seemed unusually intent on losing consciousness. One night not long after Louise divorced him, he wandered into Francine Minor's house and fell asleep on her kitchen counter, a loaf of bread for a pillow."
And you can pick up the threads with them in Drury's subsequent novels, Hunts In Dreams and Pacifica.
As the Great War fitfully starts in the Austrian Empire, we are introduced to our hero, Svejk, who has been “finally certified by an army medical board as an imbecile.” Reconscripted despite his rheumatism (and certified imbecility), we follow Svejk in his progress through a loonybin, an army brig, a prolonged anabasis through Bohemia, and his incarceration as a Russian prisoner of war. Practically all of Svejk’s actions precipitate chaotic, if not downright catastrophic results; nevertheless, Svejk will endure because, while he may be an imbecile, he is most certainly nobody’s fool.
Sammy Barlach is a drifter with the words "fuck up" writ large upon him. He is a stray dog, blessed with brilliant turns of phrase, cursed with an abnormal degree of self-awareness, always on the lookout for "those that will have" him; in essence, he is trying to find a family. And in finding the Merridews, boy does he ever find one. This novel might offer the most succinct explanation of why those at the bottom of the ladder can't climb their way up: they are all too busy clobbering each other.
"If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change" is the keynote paradox propounded by Tancredi Falconeri to his uncle, Prince Fabrizio Salina, as the young impoverished nobleman goes to join the Garibaldini to fight for an independent Sicily and a unified Italy. Don Fabrizio is taken aback; he, after all, lives his life on a Copernican paradigm, with himself at the center of the universe. Tancredi is representative of a Darwinian world, with his ability to adapt to changing circumstances, such that we modern readers, unlike the prince, are occasioned no surprise when Tancredi renounces the sans culottes for a position of power in the new regime. Tancredi rises to ever greater heights, while Don Fabrizio is left in melancholy contemplation of the passing of an old order which he knows was unworthy of mourning. This is an absolutely wonderful, elegiacal work, leavened throughout with moments of great humor.
What a splendid romp! Very much a product of its time and place (New York City, mid '70's), and yet it doesn't feel dated: full of Westlake's brilliant plotting, misunderstandings, and shenanigans, and possibly the highest density of slapstick in any book I have ever read. Westlake has thoughtfully provided a Dramatis Personae at the beginning of the book, but I wish he had supplied a scorecard, so that the reader could keep track of how many times various characters get punched in the face; each face punch seems to get exponentially funnier that the previous ones. Highly recommended for fans of Paul T. Anderson's movie, American Hustle.