I’m on a roll
Posted October 1, 2007on:
You’re used to my excerpts of Paris Review writer interviews. This time around the source is Mulligan Stew and the “interview/essay” was found in one of Anthony Lamont’s character’s lit mags. This excerpt is not library safe. (Or it could be, because, you know, you might not find it funny at all and just think me very odd.) The interviewer was a Mr. Richard Schiller, and I got some cheap amusement from imagining this was the sort of thing Richard Shickel would praise the print literati for producing.
Rheum gathers in his weary eyes from the harsh sun and motor exhaust. He slowly, patiently wipes it away and smears it, with his curious, blunt, laborer’s thumbs, onto his lavender (“Lavender? You’ll find it’s amethyst,” he says gruffly.) sport shirt. He wipes and smears, wipes and smears, but the rheum continues to well up in the magical old eyes, his shirt is streaked.
McCoy sips his warm bourbon and ginger ale. Or Bronx. Or brandy and soda. Not scotch. Why is he not drinking Scotch?
We are alone in the billiard room next to the bar at the Hotel Splendide. He had Hattie, his devoted wife, make their home at this splendid old baroque hotel, in the winter and summer, and in the fall and spring as well. “It is our adventure,” he smiles. The Splendide is somewhat disconcertingly eerie, particularly in the off-season, when almost all the rooms seem to be occupied by nobody save the strange creatures of McCoy’s celebrated imagination. In the vast dining room (which, McCoy remarks, “reminds one of those preposterous American gymnasiums where people indulge in, what is it called? baskets ball?”), on some bitter January evenings there are “three old rouged catamites and a doddering priestess of Lesbos,” says McCoy.
When he travels, which is rare (“One stays at the Splendide because one does not like to be too far from France — but one does not actually wish to be in it!”), McCoy complains that the concierges often misspell messages, both from and to him. He cannot bear this because his compulsively nagging irritation with it puts him off his work.
Italy is an impossible country, he insists. He is always outraged by the wild, fruitless gesturing of the people and the continual noise. And the unbelievable food! Nobody can spell anywhere in Italy, he decides, except at the Hotel Melanzana. “Not even Dante — a ridiculously overrated author — could spell. I’ve been thinking of writing a letter about my researches into this to The New York Review, but one hesitates for fear of becoming embroiled in a literary feud with outraged Italians. That city is chockablock with greaseballs.” He is wryly amused at his sally.
Q: How do you prepare each day to face the day?
A: I look at my bankbooks.
Q: What literary complexities do you find most interesting? That is, what do you like most to “solve”, so to speak, as a novelist?
A: One wishes to create characters who will speak directly to the minds of comparative literature professors and intelligent book reviewers.
Before Hattie’s attack — which McCoy has magically and facetiously transformed into “Hattie’s Horrible Hives” — the couple had gone to a new hotel at Asse, a small city noted for its scrupulous typists. Here, in this quiet place, he began his new novel, of which he has finished sixty pages.
He calls it The Mounted. “You might think of the title in relation to taxidermy,” he says. “That sort of life in death — or death in life,” he says. “One does not wish to convey anything of the sexual, you see. Sex is something for the cinema people.
Q: What do you feel have been your literary failings, if any? How would you defend these failings, if such there be?
A: My only literary “failing,” as you so drolly put it, has been in my reticence to attack that greatest of literary frauds, James Joyce, or Shame’s Voice, as I have somewhere justly called him. Have you ever read those letters of his? Good God! They are the letters of a man with a grocer’s assistant’s mind. They are concerned only with getting help, or love, or money. To defend this “failing” of mine, I would simply say that one has a responsibility to refrain from kicking at a mere drudge of the Muse.
From Mulligan’s Stew by Gilbert Sorrentino.