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Monday, July 3, 2017

The Writer's Life 7/3 - Duality

A couple of weeks ago one of my regular benefactors, Tanya, handed me four books. One title, The Two Deaths of Senora Puccini by Stephen Dobyns, immediately caught my eye. She said it was very good. I just finished it. It's the story of a group of middle age friends who meet annually for a dinner that is hosted on a rotating basis. They are 16 men who were classmates, now middle age. Only four attend, as a rebellion is going in their city, which is unnamed but most likely in South America. The action is seen from the point of view of a newspaper book reviewer, a diabetic. Gradually, ugly secrets are revealed. This year's host is a successful surgeon, the unofficial leader of the group, a cruel womanizer who has at one time betrayed all his chums. Given his treatment of them, why do the other three even attend the party? They seem gluttons for punishment. The focus of the narrative is the doctor's strange relationship with the titular figure, his servant and subject of humiliation. I was reminded of the duality of nature of which Dostoevsky spoke, although there seems to be several more layers to the psyche of these characters. The author does not cast the existential aspects of the theme in a pretentious manner, but they are obvious. Here are snippets: "He is someone who makes his own rules... partly we admire that and partly we wish to see him caught. For if he gets away with it and is not punished, then we become fools for pursuing our own little lives and never taking chances." This happens to be one of themes of the novel I plan to self-publish in January. Here's more: "It made me wonder if I had any knowledge of these people. I had known them all my life, yet they were strangers." Cue the Billy Joel song: "...That's when I felt the stranger kick me right between they eyes." And more: "Give people enough to eat, a warm place to live, and some amusement, companionship and general safety and they are basically good human beings who eagerly claim to believe in Judeo-Christian values. Take something away or make them want something they can't easily have and those values become a little shaky." Also: "I describe what they have done, yet I don't know why they do it. I describe what I do but I hardly have any sense of my own motivation." And the last lines: "Even though the sugar was like poison to me, I couldn't help myself. That cake was so good, so sweet." These are keen observations on the bittersweet mystery of life. The novel is a grim, unrelenting view of the human condition. Although none of it is implausible, it strikes me as exaggerated. While it is likely that most people suffer despicable thoughts, most rarely act them out - fortunately. The narrow focus makes it seem the entire race is more prone to the negative than the positive. I don't know if that's true, although the negative is a powerful lure, while the positive seems light and often inconsequential. Published in 1988, the large paperback edition is only 260 pages, a fast read for such a heavy work. Born in 1941, Stephen Dobyns has had a long career, writing a series of mysteries as well as other fiction, poetry and non-fiction. Two of his books have been adapted to the screen, including The Two Deaths... I've added it to my list at Netflix. Only four readers at Amazon have rated it, forging to a consensus of four on a scale of five. I agree. It's a pleasure to read serious work, even the downbeat.

My thanks to the kind folks who bought books today. I had visits from two people I haven't seen in a while: Ol' Smoky, who regaled me with his scattershot tales, and Mira, who will start her final semester in September. She is doing her thesis on Eugene O'Neill. Good luck, my dear.
Vic's Sixth novel: 
Vic's Short Works:

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