PLEASE NOTE: The Long Modern Novel, “DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT” BY LUCY ELLMANN + NEW MUSIC FOR THE WEEK

Sometimes it feels like the best novelists are pranksters. Maybe they are. David Foster Wallace’s gargantuan postmodern 1,079-page nesting doll novel “Infinite Jest” is meant to be a fun read. Wallace clearly saw the future in 1996 as sponsorship, massive information ingestion, and shutting down every once in a while to make sense of it all. That Wallace was actually toying with us as readers remains unsubstantiated – perhaps giving avid readers so much joy in revisiting his splintered view of an absurd world.

Its antecedent, 1973’s “Gravity’s Rainbow” by Thomas Pynchon, is slightly more manic and darker in its humor. Pynchon clearly knew there was nothing funny about the war or its impending threat. However, he also wanted to communicate that sometimes we need to laugh out loud in the face of adversity to keep going.

The mere fact that these two mammoth works feature in many lists of the “100 Greatest Novels of All Time” is enough to merit at least picking up a few hundred pages every once in a while. The stream of consciousness writing that began with Marcel Proust and Dorothy Richardson was perfected by James Joyce. 730 pages of “Ulysses” needs its own reference book to accompany even the shortest read. While the 100-letter words of “Finnegan’s Wake” (also known as thunders or thunders), led to a generation of debate and misunderstanding.

Instead, we have to go back to the 1916 “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” to really tap into stream-of-consciousness writing and its power. Joyce’s condensation of the “Stephen Hero” tale into five chapters has led to a story that materializes from inner dialogue and careful use of words. One hundred years later, “Ducks, Newburyport” updates and refines these techniques to bring together the best aspects of all the aforementioned works.

Ellmann’s 2019 award winner consists of approximately one sentence spread over 1,030 pages. It is an internal monologue close to the length of a book. Because Ellmann has such command of the language, the narrator’s hiss of thoughts never becomes repetitive. Moreover, Ellmann peppers the text with the necessary details that make you recoil from showing your sympathy to him while remaining both empathetic and interested in the direction this journey is taking. Like Wallace, our protagonist throws darts at a commentary dartboard (celebrity, home life, health issues, career, culture, etc.). However, unlike Wallace, the best parts of “Ducks” feel like they’ll spark a conversation.

We meet an unknown woman from Newcomerstown, Ohio. Married mother of four children. A history professor at a nearby college on medical leave for treatment for a heart defect and cancer. We get to know his family almost by accident. Her razor-sharp attention to detail sometimes lets in something that opens the door to her life. She loves words. They’re tangled, and she regularly chooses one that often jumps off the page – leaving you to repeat it out loud with her feeling how much it titillates the tongue or defies the lips. Either way, the important fact to keep in mind is that our narrator chains up this whirlwind of thoughts so that he doesn’t think about those events, potential events, events, or people that really affect his life.

Though it may be dated by its choice of detail, the same sense of dread that pervades Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow” hovers over certain passages. Its “local” problems are constructed by Ellmann to act as symbols of larger ones. (My only example: Forced by her medical convalescence to bake pies at home to sell, she is stranded one day in the cold of winter by a flat tire. Without a cellphone, she is forced to wait until a driver pulls over to help him This help comes from a pull-over tow truck driver named Jesus.)

As you can imagine, there’s a lot to do to get to those thought-provoking points. However, would you also say that about your own daily life? Ellmann takes the same observations that so many authors (Virginia Woolf, for example) use to illustrate the banality of life and flips them inside out and inside out.

The question that will be on the tip of your tongue is “Why?” This is where this stream of consciousness prose and story has no real answer. There is nothing monolithic about “Ducks, Newburyport”. Ten years from now, some of his facts will need Wallace-like footnotes. However, like Pynchon’s ornate fiction, these can allow the real world to become somewhat “otherworldly”. Yet this hybrid mix of intimacy, triviality, and fact may actually reflect our daily news consumption – which may become even more voluminous and compartmentalized in the future.

“Ducks, Newburyport,” for its modernity, conversational tone, and tiered combination of stream-of-consciousness lore, may be your best entry into this difficult prose.

Mik Davis is the Record Store Manager at T-Bones Records & Cafe in Hattiesburg.


New this week

KURT VILE – Watch my moves

[LP/CD](Verve)

Moving to a major label (one personally revived for him) is a tall order for Kurt Vile’s lanky, nonchalant reverie. There’s no real change in sound for Vile (and there never was.) “Watch My Moves” might be the perfect post-pandemic tune. The songs move slowly like clouds passing over our heads. Tracks like “Like Exploding Stones” have repeated refrains that sound like mantras and slow your breathing. His wash of guitars on “Mount Airy Hill (Way Gone)” is as sweet as a single could get right now – which, as spring turns into summer, is the perfect time for that level of relaxation. and observation.

Reissues this week

RUSH – Animated pictures

[LP BOX](Mercury/EMU)

POLICE – The biggest hits

[2LP](EMU)

The 80s have been back in fashion for quite some time now. You see little bits of the 90s on various fashion, hairdressing, and especially streaming shows — but to be honest — their continued success is rooted in this wretched age of excess.

Rush entered the world as one of Canada’s first exports to America. They first sang for the “Working Man” in a Led Zeppelin helium RAWK high. However, their real success came when they became a Prog band that could hide all their changes and just RAWK. Curiously, it was Stewart Copeland’s drumming and The Police’s short, spiky Pop-turned-Punk (like their bottle-blonde hair) that led them to embrace more technology and write more concise songs. Their first taste of commercial success came with 1980s “Permanent Waves” where they pumped out their radio hits (“The Spirit of Radio” and “Freewill”) and still put together Prog-ish “sequels” to satisfy longtime fans.

Their revitalized and very modern sound made those boundaries disappear on their best album of all time, 1981’s “Moving Pictures”. Here, the “radio” songs (the concert staple “Limelight” and the immortal “Tom Sawyer “) actually frame the propelling Prog of “Red Barchetta” and the scintillating instrumental “YYZ”. Flip the record and Rush further blurs the lines between three of their most underrated songs “Witch Hunt”, “Vital Signs” and the eleven-minute “The Camera Eye” which actually starts out complex to become simpler. .

“Moving Pictures” was a huge hit. All seven tracks were AOR radio classics. Their live videos (particularly “Red Barchetta” and “Tom Sawyer”) were early MTV staples. Over time, even as their follow-up albums changed sound and producer (the next album, the underrated “Signals”, would be the last by longtime producer Terry Brown – he was not a fan of the intensive use of synthesizers and electronics). continue to have radio hits, and their high-difficulty solos and breaks would bring new generations of fans back through their rich catalog.

This 40th anniversary edition includes the 2015 remaster and an unreleased concert from March 25, 1981 in Toronto where they interweave the entire “Moving Pictures” album into a set of classics. (It should be noted that these Rush Deluxe Edition concerts introduced unknown career highlights, including Massey Hall 1976’s live “2112” and “Something For Nothing,” a startling 1980 rendition of “By-Tor And The Snow Dog” from Manchester, and the stunning 1978 cassette-only version of Arizona’s “2112” which ends the deluxe “Hemispheres”.)

The Police, apart from inspiring this major shift in Rush, rode an unpredictable wave of US chart-topping success with their latest album before heading back to the top. Their pasts were Prog Rock. Stewart played drums in Curved Air. Andy starred in Gong (among many others). Sting played a kind of jazz fusion bass. Fueled by Punk’s palace purifier and the creative management of Stewart’s brother Miles, The Police entered the world as a trio (when no one else would dare – well, except maybe Rush) and danced fearlessly to intricate pop sprinkled with Punk’s growl and driven by a unique reggae beat.

From the outset, their 1978 single “Roxanne” sparked controversy. Promoted as “Banned by the BBC”, it took off, as did the photogenic group. Fortunately, The Police achieved enough success in the UK to lead to a guerrilla-style US tour. This frenetic tour in a Ford Econoline van in America gave the band their reputation for being ambitious and upwardly mobile (two traits that would become synonymous with the 80s).

Luckily, the success in the US garnered more attention in the UK, which created more buzz in the US. Contrasting these two growth models, The Police have been in the press for an alarming amount of time – but still able to keep up with the hype with brilliant albums and singles. It was definitely a high-flying act that could pay off – even if it hurt their relationship as a group. 3 UK No. 1 singles were eventually enough to get US radio playing. “Message In The Bottle”, “Walking On The Moon” and their first US Top 10 “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” as well as all the singles leading up to their world number 1 “Every Breath You Take” are here with a much of their final record “Synchronity” was arranged to capture the fury of their litter and the capture of that golden ring.

About Cecil Cobb

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