March 12, 2009
"Of all the happy musical accidents that have occurred over the past couple years—Bon Iver’s fantastic For Emma included—DM Stith’s arrival may turn out to be the biggest “eureka” moment of them all. Stith is a shy guy of conflicted Christian stock, a graphic designer by trade whose previous claim to music fame was owning the computer on which My Brightest Diamond recorded its debut. Yet Heavy Ghost, Stith’s debut, is nothing short of a masterpiece of mood and texture, an album that sounds as if it was devised in equal parts by a seasoned composer and an inspired amateur."
I was in the middle of writing the songs on Heavy Ghost when a friend who I was visiting handed me a copy of Last Evenings On Earth by Roberto Bolano. I was at first put off by the prominent aesthetic of the writing. I don't like being manipulated. Still I was drawn into the stories in a way I hadn't been in years. I brought Last Evenings on Earth to a lake in New Hampshire with me -- I read through it twice before I knew it -- his dread was as ever-present as the sound of the waves: an almost overwhelming complexity of things, stirred by a confounding simplicity. He writes with the most stark, acidic tone about poets living in dark lonely places. "Last Nights..." is a collection of short stories set in Mexico and Chile centering around these desperate poets, post-Pinochet, all dislocated and plaintive, and all in the throes of one menacing circumstance or another. There's a sometimes overdense aesthetic of doom, or dread, or certain disaster, the silence between tornado sirens, an atmosphere shocked and regaining -- It's an aesthetic so consistent, so otherworldly, I found myself putting the book down after each story, walking down to the lake, washing my hands, taking deep breaths and then returning to the room with the book. But the source of this dread is indiscriminate, hidden in an almost untraceably economic weave of language. The writing is unsettling but he makes it so in the spaces between words, not the words themselves.
For Bolano, the world is a sinister presence -- his characters exist in the belly of some unidentifiable beast. They all seem to operate in a resolve after some sort of panic, exhausted from some unnamed event. Still, despite the tension, his books are more poetry than horror, more drama than thriller. His characters are alarmingly real, and his landscapes more Polaroid than painted landscape. I didn't come away from the books looking forward to inhabiting his world again -- In the week after finishing one of his books, I found his world everywhere in mine.
I was still standing on a northern corner.
Moonlit winter clouds the color of the desperation of wolves.
Proof of Your existence? There is nothing but.
-Franz Wright (from Walking To Martha's Vineyard)
On another vacation in New Hampshire a year later I found a copy of Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem in a dollar bin at a library book sale. I bought it because of its bright orange cover and because I've always loved the Yeats' poem quoted in the title. This collection of non-fiction cleared out the haze left from all the Bolano I'd consumed. It was at first merely meant as a palate cleanser, but I got sucked into Didion's world with at least as much intensity, and with, I think, in the end, more fanatic devotion. Didion utilizes an incredibly rich vocabulary with keen precision to trace and render the mystical calamity of the American West -- she bends these terrific stories of grand folly and minor glory around one another. It's just incredible.
I finished her first book and drove to the nearest bookstore willing to spend just about anything she asked on another book. I found a hardcover collection of her non-fiction collections -- a book I went nowhere without for a couple months. After reading Bolano, Didion's world seemed dazzlingly bright and direct. In her second collection of non-fiction, The White Album, she examines California via its political leaders, its racial tensions and its water system: detailed in her essay titled "Holy Water" -- she gathers a cluster of stories explaining her fascination with water: the transportation of water from the Colorado river through the Mojave Desert, over the Tehachapi Mountains and on to the LA Aqueduct. She can pinpoint the precise location of the glass of water she'll drink with dinner 5 hours before it reaches her faucet (cascading "down the 45-degree stone steps that aerate Owens water after its airless passage through the mountain pipes and siphons"). She's got this bigger than the world view of the world. She sees things from the inside out, and then from the other side of the world, and then from the careful cadence of her startlingly pure prose.
DM Stith links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Previous Note Books submissions (musicians discuss literature)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
guest book reviews
Soundtracked (directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)
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