The cult hit The Interrogative Mood—a Best Book of the Year selection by Amazon.com, GQ, The Believer, Time Out New York, and elsewhere—reminded readers that Padgett Powell is one of the enduring stars of American fiction, an electric novelist with a pitch-perfect ear for the way Americans talk and the strange things we say and believe. Now he returns with a hilarious Southern send-up of Samuel Beckett’s classicWaiting for Godot, and we enter the world of the sublime and trivial as only Powell can envision it.
Two loquacious men sit talking on a porch. Funny and profound, daft and cogent, they argue about love and sex, how best to live and die, the merits of Miles Davis and Cadillacs and Hollywood starlets of yore, underused clichÉs, false truisms, and the meaning of nihilism. Together, they shoot the shit—and then they go on shooting it long after it’s dead.
Ribald and roaring, You & Me is an exuberant and very funny novel from a master of American fiction at the top of his game.
About Padgett Powell
Padgett Powell is the author of five novels, including The Interrogative Mood and Edisto, which was nominated for the National Book Award. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Little Star, and The Paris Review, and he has received a Whiting Writers’ Award and the Rome Fellowship in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Gainesville, Florida, where he teaches writing at MFA@FLA, the writing program of the University of Florida.
Following 2009’s The Interrogative Mood, a novel in which every sentence was a question, this slim novel is built out of brief chapters written exclusively in dialogue between two men sitting and biding their time “[s]omewhere between Bakersfield, California, and Jacksonville, Florida.” Similarly, their conversation topics can and do go anywhere: Jayne Mansfield’s cleavage, barber poles, war, sanity, Southern lore, existential notions of identity and more. The banter recalls Waiting for Godot, though the chatter here is more pun-driven than absurdist. When Powell gets deep into wordplay, the book can be great fun, as chapters that begin as sober discussions of, say, Johnny Weissmuller collapse into ridiculous lines of dialogue like, “We could go down to Blockbuster in the vinegar and get Tarzan.” For all the verbal mugging, though, Powell does raise some provocative questions: “What is the big picture?” “Why do we talk?” “Are we free?” What does it mean to live today like it’s the last day of your life? Clear answers to such heady questions aren’t forthcoming, of course, and the novel is bound to frustrate anybody looking for a conventional narrative arc. What this chicken-fried Phaedo does have going for it is its verve and enthusiasm for language—every page reflects Powell’s restless urge to make up words, to drill into them, to apply new meanings to them and sometimes just to revel in the sound of language. For instance: “Be neat, be brave, be Buster-Brown bustamente.” “What does that mean?” “I do not know. But does it not sound right?” If you’re willing to at least consider that question, spending time with Powell’s rambles can be great fun. – Kirkus Reviews
Waiting for Padgett
Los Angeles Review of Books – August 1, 2012 (Excerpt)
IN HIS SEMINAL 1961 work The Theater of the Absurd, Martin Esslin warns against reductive attempts to demystify Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece and one of the defining texts of twentieth century literature. Hasty explanation goes wrong with any work of lasting merit, but Esslin contends that it’s especially senseless when confronted with the soul-rattling complexity of a play like Godot—a play that is itself partly an articulation of our inability to understand ourselves in a cosmos off kilter. Beckett himself could not point to who or what Godot was supposed to be. “If I knew, I would have said so in the play,” he told Alan Schneider, director of the inaugural American production in 1956. And yet it is a testament to the play’s bewitching command that we have been for six decades trying to decode the thing, to decipher the cryptic message at its core that stares us down like fire-lighted hieroglyphs. Beckett arouses in us our human rage for explication, our madness to impose order wherever disorder plants a flag, to clarify the recondite. We are eagerly irked by the unexplained, galled by Keats’s negative capability. Pen a perplexing masterpiece open to a hundred avenues of interpretation and scholars will without tire set themselves to work.
If the pedantic cabal of philosophers and critics has insisted upon Godot’s interminable difficulty as an utterance of our existential dread — as the quiddity of our existential condition — then there was at least one group of theatergoers who received the play by mainline, who required no assistance from obfuscating academics. Esslin begins The Theater of the Absurd with the extraordinary story of Godot’s 1957 production at San Quentin State Prison just north of San Francisco. The director, Herbert Blau, was atremble with anxiety: “How were they to face one of the toughest audiences in the world with a highly obscure, intellectual play that had produced near riots among a good many highly sophisticated audiences in Western Europe?” (If the only crime committed by “highly sophisticated” Europeans was their propensity for near riot, civilization in the twentieth century would have been a less barbarous affair.) In an act of either condescension or assuagement of his own nerves, Blau introduced Godot to the inmates and compared it to jazz, “to which one must listen for whatever one may find in it.” But his introduction was for naught because “what had bewildered the sophisticated audiences in Paris, London, and New York was immediately grasped by an audience of convicts.” [Read the full article...]
That’s Life - ‘You & Me,’ by Padgett Powell
The New York Times Book Review – August 3, 2012 (Excerpt)
Padgett Powell’s sixth novel extends a slender and complicated body of work that over almost 30 years has been occasionally brilliant and just as often stubbornly opaque. “You & Me” is presented by its publisher as a “Southern sendup” of “Waiting for Godot” and is introduced by the author, despite its being a novel, with a piece of stage direction: “Two weirdly agreeable dudes are on a porch in a not upscale neighborhood, apparently within walking distance of a liquor store, talking a lot.”
Except for each other, Powell’s unnamed conversationalists are “essentially alone” and “so d’accordo” in outlook and voice as to be, by the reckoning of one (or the other), “arguably indistinct.” The men come to us with little back story, though we can infer, from appreciative references to R. Crumb and Lily Tomlin — and despite mentions of older “codgers” — that they are roughly of Powell’s generation (60-ish). It seems that at one time they both had wives, and that one of them used to be a writer.
“We come up with things, here and there.” This modest assertion is true, though many of the pair’s musings are only a speculative notch or two above those of the late Andy Rooney. What’s up with children who declare that they’re “going to be corporate lawyers? Plain lawyer wasn’t enough?” A sort of pseudo-etymology sometimes takes over the proceedings, as when the characters spend a tedious page wondering whether “irrigible” ought to be a word, on the order of “incorrigible.” Powell remains, nonetheless, a taste worth acquiring because some piquant bits are usually stirring inside the pot. To take one example, “You & Me” considers the phrase “It’s the least we can do” by asking this loopily profound question: “If the least you can do is congruent to the most you can do, is it an argument to do it or to not do it?” [Read the full article...]
Game of Questions and, With Luck, Answers
The New York Times Book Review – August 14, 2012 (Excerpt)
Padgett Powell, the Southern comic novelist, is a veteran hurler of literary knuckleballs. When he’s on, few can touch him. When he’s not, look out. Someone in the stands is going to be beaned.
He’s still best known, after all these years, for his first novel, “Edisto”(1984), a book that makes a memorable first impression — and a memorable 10th one. It’s about a precocious 12-year-old, and its opening paragraph contains a question for the ages. “Should I drink milk all my life,” the narrator asks, “or go on now to house bourbon?”
Professionally, Mr. Powell, now 60, has gone with the bourbon. His post-“Edisto” books, like Radiohead’s albums, have been increasingly eccentric and experimental, if rarely less funny. (It’s no surprise to learn that his literary mentor was Donald Barthelme, the postmodernist wizard.) Each book seemed about to disappear up its own kazoo. Mainstream readers more or less fled, screaming.
Mr. Powell’s re-emergence in 2009 with “The Interrogative Mood,” a tight, biting and quizzical novel — it is made up entirely of questions — was happy news. With the deaths of Barry (Hannah), Harry (Crews) and Larry (Brown) in recent years, Mr. Powell has begun to seem, along with Allan Gurganus, like the surviving grand old man of Southern letters. [Read the full article...]
DOODLEBUGS & SPITFIRES
Memories and Short Stories by Peter Carroll
“Doodlebugs & Spitfires” is a delightful collection of memories and short stories written by Peter Carroll, the author of “Queen of Misfortune,” in his trademark poetic and profoundly thoughtful style.
Most of his stories, previously published in limited form in local English newspapers and magazines, like “Brave New World”, “The Forties Street Tradesmen”, “Doodlebugs”, or “The Christmas of 43” evolve around his childhood in the Northern part of London during and after World War II. He describes the horrors that came with the V1 flying bombs, nicknamed the “Doodlebugs.” Heroic British pilots in their “Spitfire” airplanes would attempt to divert the flying bombs from the populated areas, sometimes successful, and sometimes not.
Doodlebugs & Spitfires is available at Amazon.Com and its Kindle store, Amazon.co.uk and its Kindle store, Barnes & Noble, and any other good bookstore.