Monday, May 18, 2009

The Masticating Critic

The critic couldn’t read if he wasn’t also eating. This was problematic because he had to read a lot. He was on deadline for a review of The Collected Letters of Blake Brinings, Vol II, which collected Briner’s correspondence from age 12 to age 16, about 1,196 pages, not including endnotes and several appendices. It was the largest book he’d seen in some time. He was literally, physically incapable of reading more than a stop-sign if he wasn’t masticating. Beholding the colossal Brinings galley, which felt as heavy as if he was holding his own massive gut in his hands, he’d driven straightaway to the city’s food-supply center, where farmers drove their trucks into an automitive bazaar that the city’s restaurants came to in order to buy their vegetables. The critic had purchased a huge flat of celery from a mute Latino dude in a 49ers cap—about 40 bunches worth. He then drove home, sat down at his kitchen table, and started ploughing through the celery. He’d began dipping it into a low-calorie vinagrette, the recipe for which he’d poached from his stepmother, but he'd eaten so much celery by early afternoon that he was now morosely crunching stalk after stalk, turning the pages in a steady rhythm, occasionally making notes in the margins—little celery and radish-shaped tics of disapproval. The review would be easy to write, because the book was awful. Brinings was a brilliant novelist, but his brilliant novels were published when he was in his 70s, in the early 1980s – an old Australian man inexplicably situated at the white-hot center of London’s New Wave punk-rock scene. A 76-year-old Australian who wrote novel after novel that defined (and redefined) what it meant to be young and New Wave in London in 1981. This is was all well and good, but the letters, this hugely voluminous correspondence from his adolescence in the 1920s, was excruciating stuff. “Mummy loves me, I know it, but she loves me only from a biological imperative. If I met mummy on the street, or in a cocktail bar, mummy wouldn’t give me the time of day. This makes me loathe mummy. I loathe mummy.” This is largely what filled the book’s pages. Um, then suddenly the critic died, because the mute Latino, who was actually a guy who had some fancy literary reason for hating him (wearing a fake mustache, and a fake cap), had poisoned some of the celery. In 'revenge.' Sorry. The end.

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