The Books of My Numberless Dreams

The Summer Paris Review

Posted on: July 25, 2007

This issue wasn’t bad but overall I was underwhelmed. From the boring photographic cover to the shorter table of contents it offered a so-so experience. (Most of the Gourevitch edited cover images pale miserably in comparison to anything under Hughes or Plimpton.) A caveat is that I only read one of the poems because I’m immersed in Averno and Paradise Lost and find myself reluctant to sample much else at the moment. I’m sure this will change since there are a few Charles Baudelaire poems translated by Jeffrey Croteau.

There are only two pieces of short fiction: “Monsieur Kalashnikov” by Andre Aciman and “Speak No Evil” by Uzodinma Uweala. I expected to be bowled over by the first and indifferent to second but the opposite occurred. Part of this is my fault because the novels of David Adams Richards and Roger Mais have ignited an interest in reading about the underclass; plots with the Ivy League New England flavour evince a yawn and/or a sneer and Aciman’s writing could not persuade me to think otherwise. The story is about an Egyptian Jew, a Harvard grad student in love with everything French, and his brief friendship with Kalaj, an Arab cab driver from Tunisia who gained residency in the US because of a marriage, now divorced. One has already entered the world of “jumbo-ersatz” American culture and the other scorns it with a fervorous “rat tat tat tat” that earned him the nickname that is the title of the story. One struggles with the less refined aspects of his cultural identity recalled by the other, the other flirts with the cushioned Ivy League life. All in all it was very typical, you know? I still have hopes for the novel.

From Uweala I was not expecting much. I’ve read numerous accolades for his Beasts of No Nations but I generally stay from those kind of stories, unless it’s written by an author I already enjoy. But Uweala’s voice won me over by the end of the first page. He took a style I don’t like, the overtly conversational first person that was my biggest problem with Never Let Me Go, and made me not only appreciate the rhythmic highs and lows of the prose but showed me how it was an inextricable element of his character. Another plus was that it centred on a US soldier honourably discharged from Iraq, labouring under a last request from his deceased commander that had the potential to create conflict for the family left behind. I’m fascinated with fiction that addresses the thoughts and emotions of soldiers and their families dealing with the current quagmire. Benjamin Percy’s “Refresh, Refresh” in The Paris Review Fall/Winter 2005 issue dealt with it from the children’s perspective, especially after a parent’s death in combat.

Basically I’ve added Beasts of No Nations to my purchasing list.

In the middle there’s a long, mediocre photo essay by Raymond Depardon who’s supposed to be really really awesome at this sort of thing. He’s done magnificent “documentary films” and is considered to be “one of the great seers of our time” in Europe. That may be but of the over thirty (!) photos he took of cities around the world I only liked about 6, all taken in Shanghai. The people and the objects in those frames had verve and magnetism. Anyway isn’t The Paris Review supposed to be a literary magazine? Why the hell did they plop a gazillion boring photos when half of that space could have been used for an excellent short story? Wtf.

“Document” was some snapshots of Norman Mailer’s notes and doodles donated to a Texas university. A previously unpublished William Carlos Williams poem was rather neat, not the least because we got a scan of the original as well as a type written version. I love when they do that and I’ll post pictures of the Mailer and Williams as soon as I can.

The interview with Mailer went well for the most part. I can always, always tell when the interviewer is a friend or well-acquainted with the subject because there’s this overly familiar, chummy tone that I despise; and inevitably they get into some aspect of the writer’s personal life that I could give a fuck less about. Mailer did kinda sorta convince me to at least do a middle-of-the-book test for some of his older novels.

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