Saturday, December 06, 2008

Cherries, bars, lemons, and plums

One of my favorite things about Leaving Las Vegas is the names of the four respective parts of the novel, which are, chronologically, cherries, bars, lemons, and plums. No one else ever notices that, or, if they do, no one has ever made a comment about those titles to me.

Sometimes I want to shout, "Hey! HEY! Didn't anybody notice the cool section names John put in this book? What is wrong with you people? Look at how perfect they are. THEY ARE PERFECT!!"

(Hey, John? No worries, I am receiving your broadcast. Cherries. Got it. Well done. I mean really well done. Genius, in fact.)

I am preoccupied with the predictable tinsel and colored sugar and shuffling that goes with this time of year. But the biorhythm of activity that follows in the wake of my brother's work is welling up again and so I'll pause for a moment to remember John, done appropriately enough by posting the first two paragraphs of Leaving Las Vegas:

Sucking weak coffee through a hole in the plastic lid of a red and green styrofoam cup, Sera spots a place to sit down. She has been
walking around now for at least two hours and wants desperately to rest. Normally she wouldn't dare hang around this long in front of a 7-11, but the curb looks high and, having recently accumulated a fresh coat of red paint, not too dirty. She drops down hard on the cold curb and hugs her knees, bending her head into the privacy of the dark little cave created by her arms. Her eyes follow the stream of light running between her two thighs, down to where it concludes in black lace, aptly exposed by her short leather skirt.

She throws back her head, and her dark brown hair fans around her shoulders, dances in the turbulence created by a passing Sun Bus; a window framed profile begins to turn and vanishes in a cloud of black exhaust. In the red gloss of her recently applied lipstick there is a tiny reflection of the glowing convenience store sign, its cold fluorescent light shining much too white to tan or warm the beautiful face appealing beneath it. She modestly lowers her knees, only to have the black blazer fall open as she leans back on her elbows, revealing her small breasts under a sheer lace camisole. Making no effort to cover herself, she turns her head; her dark green eyes, protected by long mascara-laden lashes, scan up and down Las Vegas Boulevard.

If you haven't read the book, you go on and do that. Go on and do that real soon.

(Bars, lemons, plums. Goddamn. I so love that, Johnny. I so love that.)


Whitenoise said...

He was brilliant.

Anonymous said...

"In the red gloss of her recently applied lipstick there is a tiny reflection of the glowing convenience store sign, its cold fluorescent light shining much too white to tan or warm the beautiful face appealing beneath it."

Maybe it just hurt too goddamn much to be that in tune with the world.

Again, I am sorry for your loss. Ironic that my own experiences with demon rum lead me to your blog from which I get so much pleasure.



lucie said...

Only people like you and me can understand what it feels when the big brother you adore is suddenly gone and you did not get the chance to say good bye. How many years did it take for you to stop thinking about him all day long?

Kirk Jusko said...

I admire your late brother's proficiency in present tense.

I try writing three lousy sentences in a row in present tense, and the past catches up with me.

Rodger Jacobs said...

It really is a remarkable work that gives Malcolm Lowry's dense prose in "Under the Volcano" a run for its literary money.

But "The Assault on Tony's" and "Stripper Lessons" must never be overlooked.

Many years ago I lived in the craptastic town of Vacaville, California, 50 miles north of San Francisco; the only bookstore in town, sadly, was at an outlet mall that carried exclusively remaindered books. I sauntered in one afternoon and came upon a table piled high with HB first editions of "Tony's" for one dollar apiece. I know that's not great news for the estate, of course, but for me it was like I was a nine-year-old kid again and it was Christmas morning. I immediately bought 10 copies and over the years gave most of them away as gifts ... mind you, one must be careful to select very discerning readers when offering a gift as dark as "Tony's" but so far no one has ever complained. I believe I have two, perhaps three, copies remaining on my shelf. "Tony's", in my estimation, reads like a comprehensive rewrite by Rod Serling of O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh".

I've only read "Stripper Lessons" in ARC form but I'll purchase a copy to explore again someday. A sad, quiet little tale. I'll never forget Carroll's harrowing search for that damn missing file.

Hal said...

I love the way LLV and Stripper Lessons are written, and I'm working on Tony's right now.

stef said...

I just started reading it today.

Rodger Jacobs said...

You'll no doubt admire the way the plot loops around on itself (that's not a spoiler ... well, no, not really).

Erin O'Brien said...

On John's behalf, thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. Thanks from me as well.

To whitenoise and Hal, thanks for being fans when it still matters.

RJ and Lucie, no matter how many times I revisit John's work, there is always something new for me to discover. His books are my personal John advent calendars, with John secrets hiding behind every sentence. Ironically, there is solace in his pain.

Kirk, goddamn verb tense. I switch back and forth, forth and back all the time. Then I'm forever combing through my draft and picking up the dropped stitches. Verb tense: it's a writer thing, baby.

Rodger, as far as buying copies of Tony's for a dollar, believe me the "estate" is glad to hear that John's work is getting out there in any way. I always check for copies of John's book when I go to a library and I love it when I find one that is dog-eared and smudged.

And Rodger? The Solo-Bombgate file is one of my favorite parts of Stripper Lessons. I love that you remembered it.

Hope you enjoy it, Stef.

Rodger Jacobs said...

Erin, I don't know where Stripper Lessons rests in the real-time chronology of John's writing but between the trio of novels, for some reason it sticks with me the most, all these years later.

Carroll is not, as some critics have suggested, "a lonely outcast" but rather a very common man afflicted by a common man's unattainable and useless desires. The strip club, Indiscretions, is his green light at the end of the pier and Stevie is his Daisy Buchanan. To mix my litetary metaphors, Carroll is Jay Gatsby reborn as Kafka's cockroach. The tender affection that John bestows on his protagonist avoids slipping into idealism by the brute and candid portrait he draws of Stevie.

Assault on Tony's is a visceral and sardonic scream into the void; Stripper Lessons is the void whispering back: "You're not alone."

(S)wine said...

I have sent you an email regarding this.

The Fool said...

(bowing head)...I have not read it, but I'll get right on it. Thanks for the nudge.


stef said...

Currently on pg 129 and hope to finish it today. I love it. I have always loved the movie but the book is so much more telling, heartbreaking, and engaging.

The subject of addiction gets me every time.

Your brother was brilliant.

(S)wine said...

Mike Figgis fucked up the movie first by re-writing it, and second by casting Nic Cage. in the film, you WANT Ben to die; there's nothing complex about him; Figgis couldn't get the complexity fleshed out for the screen.

Figgis started out doing music for Hollywood films, then somehow got into directing...he should've stayed w/the soundtracks.

Kirk Jusko said...

I, for one, didn't want Nicholas Cage to die, although I did want him to appreciate and cherish life more.

Or, at least, appreciate and cherish Elisabeth Shue more.

stef said...

I didn't want him to die either. I found it heartbreaking that neither Ben nor Sera valued themselves, even after finding love. I think everyone can relate to that in some sort of way ... some of us more than others, sadly.

I am a Nicolas Cage fan though. I thought he was good in the movie. But now that I've finished reading, I definitely prefer the book.