Other People’s Trades - Primo Levi (Italian)
These essays are two or three pages long; many have a scientific subject, for Levi was, at heart, a chemist. What’s here is mostly enjoyable, though Levi sometimes goes over my non-scientific head. I don’t think he should have quit his chemist’s job to become a full-time writer. At the end of this book he admits that he finds nothing compelling to write about, and I couldn’t help but think of his suicide. Still, these pieces are not dark, and some offer up a hard-earned wisdom.
Viper’s Tangle - Francois Mauriac (French)
What we get is a letter a man is writing to his wife, to be read after his death. An interesting (though restrictive) format, but Mauriac uses it to promote his religious beliefs. The book is monotonous, tiresome and murky.
Flying to Nowhere - John Fuller
A concoction of images without form or purpose. Many of these images are bizarre and gross, but they’re rendered in a delicate prose; this mixture induces queasiness. If I hadn’t read good novels by poets, I’d say, after reading this one (or, rather, part of it), that they shouldn’t write them. The faults and difficulties I find in some poetry – particularly obscurity and pretentiousness – are evident even in the book’s title.
The Easter Parade - Richard Yates
Grueling, as is usual with Yates. The book follows the lives of two sisters, from youth to old age, but the narrative is lopsided; at first they’re given equal attention, then Sarah is pretty much abandoned. It becomes Emily’s story (which is one unhappy love affair after another); Sarah appears late in the book as more of a mess than she was when we left her. I found it all depressing, but I had little empathy for the two women; what should have moved me didn’t. Yates is an autobiographical writer, and it’s notable that the strongest episode involves a poet. I saw Yates in this character, observing himself through the eyes of Emily as she loses all love for him. This masochiostic portrayal stands out in a book that sometimes reads like a case study. I think Yates struggled with Parade; even the structure seems cobbled together, as if Yates were trying (and failing) to find the right path. Still, he makes his point again: Life is hard, full of disappointments and failure. This is another one of his tragedies of the commonplace, though he did it best in his first and last novels, Revolutionary Road and Cold Spring Harbor.