Monday, July 14, 2008

Jonathan Evison

Jonathan Evison is the author of All About Lulu, and the founder and moderator of The Fiction Files, an on-line literary discussion forum. He likes rabbits.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Frederick Exley – A Fan’s Notes

I’ve been meaning to read this book for over a decade. More often than not, due to alphabetical proximity, All About Lulu sits right beside A Fan’s Notes in bookstores everywhere, along with Middlesex, forming a Lulu sandwich (gotta’ love the bread on that sandwich). When I finally got around to inhaling A Fan’s Notes in three sittings last week, I felt as though I’d discovered a long lost father, as though it were possible to have been influenced by a voice I’d never heard before. It has been suggested to me by some (most recently my brilliant friend Greg Downs, author of Spit Baths, that every writer is fundamentally Shakespearean or Dickensian in their approach to character. Exley-- from Mr. Blue to Paddy to the Counselor—is decidedly Dickensian, from his characterizations, right down to his mastery of the sprawling, spiraling, digressive, hilariously convoluted sentence. Exley’s characters are small people operating in a big world, or more precisely, being operated upon by the big world (in the case of his protagonist, quite literally).

While Exley’s voice is at times as ribald as say, Bukowski (I’m reminded of the singular, almost sacrosanct respect reserved by Mr. Blue for the mysterious and daunting possibility of cunnilingus), Exley’s insights into the squalid business of alcoholism, sexual perversion, and abject failure, are far more nuanced, distilled, and textured than anything from the imagination Bukowski.

I loved A Fan’s Notes for its honesty, heart, and irresistible voice.

William Faulkner – Absalom, Absalom

Here, now, is a guy who lands firmly on the Shakespeare side of the continuum; big characters exercising their influence on the world. We’re doing a group reading of Absalom, Absalom right now on The Fiction Files, and I’m really trying to approach it with an open mind. I’ve had a contentious relationship with Faulkner always, and my opinion of him is often unpopular. I love his ambition. I love his themes. I love his settings. And sometimes I’m enamored of his sentences. But oftentimes (to my ear) his language chokes on its own exuberance. Sometimes he writes like a drunk guy trying to sound sober (coincidence?). When he starts stringing so many modifiers together that I feel like he’s trying to distract me, I think of old Hemingroid’s comment about Faulkner mistaking big words for big emotions, and I stop trusting his language. At times I can’t escape the feeling that Faulkner does not want to offer his reader full access to his material, that he’d rather keep his reader at a distance, preferably in a state of confused admiration. I’ve felt this also with the later works of Joyce. This could well speak to my own shortcomings as a reader, though. At any rate, I’ve just started Absalom, Absalom, and I’m sinking into Faulkner more than ever (though he still sounds drunk half the time).
Among the early praise for All About Lulu:
"The star-crossed lovers at the center of All About Lulu forge a middle ground between Archie and Veronica and Kurt and Courtney. Evison has delivered a witty, understated, heartfelt, and, at times, almost unnervingly honest debut."
—Adam Langer, author of Crossing California

"At once exuberant and clear-eyed, scabrous and wise, Jonathan Evison's All About Lulu has something for every reader--love, betrayal, growth and, ultimately, redemption--all wrapped in the addictive voice of William Miller, Evison's fiercely likeable narrator."
—Keith Dixon, author of The Art of Losing
Visit Jonathan Evison's website.

--Marshal Zeringue