Category Archives: Don Carpenter

Links: Rod and Reel

In a Philip Roth interview with the Wall Street Journal—that would be the Roth interview that doesn’t address green dildos—he talks about his current reading habits, which mainly includes old favorites. “Mostly what I’m doing is rereading stuff that I read in my 20s, writers who were big in my reading life who I haven’t read in 50 years. I’m talking about Dostoyevsky, Faulkner, Turgenev, Conrad. I’m trying to reread the best before… I die.”

“Sometimes you write amazing sentences, she wrote to me, and sometimes it’s amazing you can write a sentence”—a lovely piece by Alexander Chee about studying writing under Annie Dillard.

Atlas Shrugged and Ralph Nader’s new novel, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!, have more in common than you might think.

Dan Green takes a close, thoughful look at Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road, but determines (rightly, I think) that The Subterraneans is in many ways a superior work.

The American Scholar takes a close, thoughtful look at F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s tax returns.

Ethan Canin on the film adaptations of his work: “Movies are big, exciting, hopeful collaborations, brought down by venality, pandering, and greed.”

Lionel Shriver opens up about using her family as source material for her novel A Perfectly Good Family.

The Nation on the novels of Don Carpenter. (subscription req’d)

A gallery of Tom Adamscurious paperback covers for Raymond Chandler novels.

Writers aren’t doing too well in the Baltimore Sun‘s contest to declare the area’s biggest local celebrity, but Anne Tyler‘s still in the running.

In related news, Laura Lippman, George Pelecanos, and Dennis Lehane speak out on the importance of the late James Crumley.

“The most overrated novel ever has got to be Beloved.”

Should you wait until you’re 40 before attempting to read Moby-Dick?

Links: Sad State of Affairs

Happy Friday! Here’s a guide to depressing novels.

Jonathan Lethem recalls his longtime relationship with the works of Philip K. Dick (via i09).

NYRB Classics editor Edwin Frank talks with Washington City Paper about its reissue of Don Carpenter‘s excellent debut novel, Hard Rain Falling.

The Road director John Hillcoat is looking to film The Wettest County in the World, Matt Bondurant‘s bracing 2008 novel about Virginia bootleggers.

Newark, New Jersey, makes its pitch to be a “major cultural capital” by landing a major poetry conference. Jayne Anne Phillips approves.

Meanwhile in Newark, Amiri Baraka turns 75.

Flavorwire has a Q&A with Joyce Carol Oates, who reveals that she’s working on a memoir titled The Seige: A Widow’s First Six Months.

Liked the book? Buy the handbag.

Elmore Leonard will receive PEN USA’s lifetime achievement award.

Why Vladimir Nabokov‘s unfinished novel The Original of Laura won’t be available as an e-book.

The case for Alice McDermott as an important Catholic novelist.

James Ellroy: “I distrust people who do not err on the side of action. And there’s a distinction between being conflicted and being ambivalent. Ambivalence connotes wishy-washiness, being conflicted connotes a clash of dramatic choices. And so I despise the idea of shades of grey or ambiguity standing as ultimate moral value or literary value.

How to Fight Loneliness

There isn’t much online about the author Don Carpenter, who started his career in the mid-60s and died in 1995 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. An online bio says he spent most of his life in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he befriended Anne Lamott and Richard Brautigan, and wrote a series of well-liked but generally poor-selling novels. His first novel, Hard Rain Falling, is enjoying a reissue through NYRB Classics, with a new introduction by George Pelecanos. (If you’re in the D.C. area, Pelecanos discusses the book September 10 at the Busboys & Poets off U Street.)

To discover the book now, as I have, is to feel a little like you’ve uncovered a sort of Swiss army knife of contemporary fiction, encompassing noir, crime fiction, prison fiction, gay fiction, and the domestic novel. Carpenter appears to be the only novelist who aspired to connect all these ideas, and certainly the only one who connected them in a way that felt at all coherent. Jack Levitt, the book’s protagonist, is a pool hustler with a short temper who spends time in Portland, San Quentin, and San Francisco. His adventures generally involve some mix of sex, alcohol, and bloodshed, held together by a sense of loneliness pervades nearly every moment of his existence. (It’s no accident that Beckett and Algren get mentioned in passing.) It’s a sort of ur-Corrections, a catalog of all the efforts one man makes to shake off his feeling of isolation, and how he fails at it pretty much every time.

What the book isn’t is an existential novel—though Carpenter’s narration is deeply interior, it’s not especially philosophical. Also, it’s bitterly funny at times, or at least reflects a certain kind of gallows humor that I don’t recall in the French existentialists. This bit, in which a fellow prisoner talks to Jack about one of the worst places he’s been incarcerated, captures some of Carpenter’s tone:

“When I came in here, I was a mild socialist. I suppose I dreamed of a world in which all men received equal treatment before the law, and the function of the law was to see that everyone received equal treatment. Perhaps I even dreamed that in a mildly socialist world, we might even stop murdering each other’s children, since there would be nothing to gain from it. I have been in here two weeks now, and when I get out I’m going to make a very formal ceremony of going down and registering as a Republican. I have been in here two weeks, and like all the rest of us I have been stripped, absolutely stripped, of every single emotional and intellectual value, every basic urge, every desire; everything that distinguishes me as a human being from other human beings, or even from other animals. My privacy is gone, my pride is gone, I have no status, nor is there any way to get any status in here. My sexual urges, as weak as they are, have no possibility of satisfaction. My other appetites have been reduced to the point where I eat, drink, sleep, crap, piss, scratch, and yawn all for the same thing—the mere satisfaction or rather, reduction, of a primal itch I’d be better off without.”

Carpenter wrote nine other novels, and a few story collections as well; recommendations about where to go next are welcome.