Saturday, December 3, 2016

André Gide (& Céline & Bove)

One of the downsides of not being particularly versed in French literature (and only being able to read the originals tolerably well) is that one's perception of how important certain authors are is wholly dependent upon what has been translated.  Perhaps this is even more true of post-1930 Russian literature where the main authors that have been translated were critical of the regime or on the outs for one reason or another (Bulgakov in particular).  Almost all of the contemporary NYRB Russian translations have been of outsider authors (Grossman, Sokolov, Platonov, etc.).

While the slant is not as purely political with French literature, it still seems to me that there is a real focus on outsider authors getting more attention, such as Céline or Gide and more recently there has been a bit of a resurgent interest in Bove.  In terms of relatively contemporary poetry, the two that come to mind are Baudelaire and Rimbaud, both of whom sort of exemplify the poet of the outcasts.  There are some exceptions, of course.  Muriel Barbery was/is fairly mainstream, and likely the most read French author (by English-speakers that is) is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.  While he has a dash of the romantic outsider to him, this is a far cry from the focus on down-and-out characters by Bove or Gide's exploration of sexual deviance (including homosexuality at a time when it was still a criminal offense).

I am sure one could construct a similar picture of writers working in English if one only read Charles Bukowski, William Burroughs and Paul Bowles, for example.  I'm just aware of the much wider range of conventional English novels.  While these authors certainly have their place, they probably would not be considered the core of the literary canon.  I honestly don't know what the French literary canon would look like, other than Proust would probably be at the top of the list.  This list from Le Monde is interesting, since it includes far more "foreign" authors and Camus's The Outsider/The Stranger displaces Proust for the top slot.  In any case, Céline's Journey to the End of Night is in the top 10, though none of his other works make the list.  Gide's The Counterfeiters is at slot 30, though it would crack the top 20 if only French-language works were counted.  None of Gide's other novels are on there, which surprises me a bit, since I would have expected to see L'Immoraliste.  Bove is not on the list at all, which doesn't surprise me that much, as his reputation definitely slipped after 1970 or so, and while he is being "rehabilitated" in English, I am not sure if that is the case in France.  I don't want to dwell too much on this list (though it is a solid list of books filtered through a Parisian frame of mind), aside from the fact that it has inspired me to include Malraux's Man's Fate on my reading list (it's a book I've been vaguely aware of for a long time but never have read).  I also wasn't aware of Jacques Prévert's Paroles, and I decided to order the City Lights edition which has the original poems and a side-by-side translation by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

I won't really discuss Bove here, since I already have a post dedicated to his work.  My favorite book so far has been Armand and my least favorite was A Man Who Knows.  It appears that I will get to A Singular Man in the middle of 2017.

I've owned Céline's Journey to the End of Night (the New Directions edition) for what seems like forever, and a few years back, I picked up the companion Death on the Installment Plan (also ND).  I've never cracked them.  Recently, I added Journey to my reading list, but it is fairly close to the end, and it may well be 3 or so years before I get to it.  On the other hand, if the spirit moves me, I may move it up so that I read it no later than early 2018 for instance, and then slip in Death into Journey's place.  After some reflection (and reading of the reviews), I have decided to hold off from buying any other of his later works (such as Castle to Castle or even North), since they seem kind of like the writings of a very cranky, right-wing jerk (sort of like a more political Victor Meldrew complaining about everything).  They may be worth reading once, but that would definitely be it.

As far as Gide goes, I'm fairly sure that in high school I picked up a box set of his novels in French (from a library book sale) but eventually parted with them not having read any of them.  While that is a bit disappointing to my 40-year-old self, I have found that most of them can be found in electronic editions here, and that may actually be better, since it will be a lot easier for me to look up words and phrases on-line.

While not at all a complete list, this is how I am thinking of approaching Gide in terms of my overall interest level:

Les Caves du Vatican – (The Vatican Cellars aka Lafcadio's Adventures) - 1914
L'immoraliste – (The Immoralist) - 1902
La porte étroite – (Strait Is the Gate) - 1909
Les faux-monnayeurs – (The Counterfeiters) - 1925
Isabelle – 1911/La Symphonie Pastorale – (The Pastoral Symphony) - 1919 Published as Two Symphonies by Vintage Books.

While there are several translations floating around, I'll probably stick with the Penguin editions.  (I haven't bought any of these so far, but I'll keep an eye out when I am in used book stores over the next couple of years.)  I've added The Vatican Cellars to my reading list, sort of pairing it with Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March.  There is a small chance that I will actually end up tackling The Immoralist and Strait is the Gate sooner, since they are short novels and may end up on a parallel reading list of short novels I read at work on breaks (though I have to get through D.M. Thomas's The White Hotel first, and before I start that I want to read some of Freud's case histories -- there's just so much to try to read in one lifetime...).

Anyway, this basically covers my recent forays into French 20th C. literature.  I do feel I should have read much of it sooner, but I was occupied with other books.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

At the Rex

I went over to the Rex Hotel on Queen St. last night to catch the early set (the Allison Au Trio + 1).  There have been a few times I saw a group on the calendar that I wanted to catch, but invariably it was for a 9:30 show, and I just am not interested any longer in staying out that late.  I'm not sure they ever got a lot of major acts (10 or more years before), but now it is fairly rare, and the focus is certainly on local acts.  That said, I enjoyed it.  There was no cover and no hassle about a 2 drink minimum (I just ordered some decent quesadillas), and I was able to sit quite close to the small stage.  Allison's group was quite good, though I only stayed for the first set.  I might go back from time to time, though it probably is best not to have one's expectations set too high, particularly for the groups that get the 6:30 slot.

One thing that I like about jazz clubs with actual tables is I can haul out a notebook and write (the music helps me get those creative juices flowing).  Last night, I was able to write out almost all of the ending of The Study Group, so I have the first quarter and last few pages done now, which is a good feeling.  I'm still having a bit of trouble deciding how to recover from the Back to the Future gag.  And also whether this should unfold "in real time" or should I put in a break to allow for the passage of time.  If they are supposed to be studying all afternoon, how can this be accomplished in an hour (or even 70 minutes) of  stage time?  I can't think of any natural break, at least not right now.  Maybe one will reveal itself as I write the middle bit.

I don't know if it is possible to SPOIL an unwritten play that may never be produced, but if you don't like endings being revealed, then turn away.

I'm fairly happy with the second-to-last part.  The math whiz, Kim, had sort of tentatively been coming out of her shell to Trevor, the science geek, and was hinting that maybe she would like to go to Prom with him (she's pretty awkward and may not even be fully aware of what she is doing).  He says he has to study for A.P. chemistry test and can't be distracted.  This sort of happened to me in reverse.  I was sort of dating a girl my Junior year and did ask if she wanted to go to the Prom, but she blew me off with that excuse.  I was also taking the AP exam (and scored quite well), but I didn't think it required my whole attention.

Anyway, as the play is winding down, one of the regular kids encourages Trevor to hang out with Kim, since he is pretty sure she likes him.  Trevor is paralyzed between thinking that they are making fun of him (setting him up and having a huge laugh when she rejects him) and the possibility that it might be true.  This also happened to me with a guy I knew a little said that this high school Senior thought I was kind of cute.  I never got the nerve to really probe if it was true.  Now it didn't help that I wasn't in any classes with her at all, and I had absolutely no interactions with her, so there was no obvious reason why she would even have known who I was.  It definitely felt like a set up.  I still remember that I was out with my mom, towards the end of the school year, and we ran into this girl and her friends in a donut shop, and I was feeling totally humiliated (at this point I could drive myself).  Note to self: it doesn't take a lot to upset teenagers with all those hormones rushing around and I might try to squeeze a bit more of that into the play.  I doubt that I would actually have managed to talk to her with her friends around, but it felt like a missed opportunity.  So I am giving Trevor the shot at redemption I didn't get (or take).

But after this, Will (who has been a bit annoying throughout the play, feuding with his ex-girlfriend) gets a fairly brutal put down and finds out that his friend (or someone he considered a friend) is taking his ex to the Prom.  I'm thinking about leaving him alone in the basement and then having the lights go out, as a particularly stark reminder of how it can feel to be on the short end of the stick when it comes to childhood cliques.  On the other hand, the tone overall has been fairly light, even with minor currents of aggression surfacing throughout, so maybe it would be a better ending if they relent and ask him along to go to the movies.  I honestly can't tell, so this might be something to take to a workshop, like the Toronto Cold Reads folks.  If you have an opinion whether I should go with the darker ending or the softer ending, feel free to comment on this post.  Thanks!

Edit (12/2): I think I have come up with a way to have my cake and eat it too (to borrow from a term much loved by Boris Johnson).  Early on in the play, I introduce an 8-sided die (the singular form of dice) from Dungeons & Dragons (quite popular in the 1980s) and they pretend to use it during the play (the die rolls are fixed in the script).  I am thinking that Will rolls the die for real (as a saving throw) and announces what the actual number is.  There are a variety of ways to do this, but I am leaning towards 1-5 leaving Will in the basement alone, 6 means a couple of his friends come back and ask him to go to the movies, 7 means Kim comes back and he offers to coach her in English grammar (it's implied that he will make a move on her, but it is left open ended) and 8 means that another friend comes by and wonders if Will is interested in going to the Prom with his cousin.  I could adjust these settings or even add yet one more outcome, but I think leaving it up to chance it somewhat satisfying.  It could be considered a bit of a tribute to John Cage, though Cage would probably have make large chunks of the play dependent upon the roll of a die, but I think that would be too much of a challenge, particularly for younger actors.  (I have seen this done occasionally (and I really should have gone to see Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind when I lived in Chicago, since it follows these principles), but it puts too much focus on the gimmick as it were.)  Anyway, any thoughts on this approach are also welcome.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Study Guides

I believe I discussed the dilemma of setting a play so firmly in the past that it doesn't resonate any longer with today's audiences.  While there are always some people that like historical realism, and maybe this is slightly higher for historical periods that are in lived memory (so those people are fitting the play into their memories of their youth or early adulthood), there are probably at least as many that want theatre to be about "the now."  It probably is better to just write a novel if it has to be set in a very specific time frame.  And yet I think I will continue to press on with The Study Group.

Interestingly, I'm finding just how hard it is to be accurate when it comes to which version of the ACT the characters would be studying for, since the test changed very substantially throughout the 1980s and early 90s, particularly when they first started allowing calculators in.  (This was definitely not allowed in my era.)

On the plus side (at least for Canadian audiences), almost none of them would have taken the test, particularly the ACT in the 1980s, though they would probably at least have heard about it.  Still, they would have been even more likely to be familiar with the SAT.  So as long as I am plausible about what the sections are, it should be smooth sailing.

The problem comes with US audiences.  If you look at this site, you see that in 1989, major changes came to the ACT, and they no longer had a Social Studies section that assumed a working knowledge of US history.  Instead, you were asked to read a passage about social studies and answer a bunch of questions.  This all became part of a Reading Comprehensive section.  They still had a Science section, but it was again, more about scientific reasoning from reading charts and tables and less about having a solid working knowledge of science.  That may have been more "fair," but it is definitely a different sort of test than the one for which I am having the characters prep.

So a vanishing number of people would have taken the pre-1989 ACT -- and actually very, very few audience members on the East Coast or in California would have that version of the test.  It seems kind of crazy to have to include a note in the program about their being a pre-1989 version of the ACT, but I might have to, given the sticklers who would say this doesn't mesh with their vague memories of the test.*

Anyway, I stopped by OISE last night to look at their oldest ACT study guide.  (Combing my memory, this actually was my first time setting foot in the place.)  The book was from 1996, so it already was focused on the "new" version of the test.  It was substantially different than I expected, particularly how the English section had you find grammatical flaws in sentences.**  There was essentially no place for showing off with an extended vocabulary, as there is with the SAT.  So I either have to rewrite some sections of what I have already written, or I have to make a big deal about the fact that a few of them are studying for the SAT as well, which certainly would have been common in Michigan at that time.  (I was one of the relatively few high schoolers in Michigan who only took the SAT.)

I think I can salvage much of what I have written, but I really need to get my hands on a study guide from 1988, though 1984 would probably be even better.  The used book that I ordered is actually from 1990, and it's not a total waste, as this will definitely help me with getting a better handle on the English and math sections (I should probably drop the trigonometry, as that probably was not included at that time, but I wasn't going to go there anyway).  But I really need a better sense of what was on the Social Studies and Science sections.  I've just put in an order for a 1988 study guide, and I hope 1) it actually is that edition, as sellers tend to get sloppy with listing the proper edition unless it is a valuable first edition and 2) they are still talking about the current ACT rather than the new test.  If all else fails, there is a 1984 edition I can order, but I know I wouldn't have that in hand before January.

Clearly one question is whether this play must be set in 1986 when it would already be easier to move it to 1990 or 1991, but I feel I am somewhat memorializing that moment in time when I was thinking ahead to college, and I just know what it was like to grow up as a teenage then, rather than 1991 when the Gulf War was dominating news coverage and teenagers were starting to wonder if the army bogged down in the desert would they need to reinstate the draft.  (Obviously this didn't happen, and Saddam's army just gave up essentially without a fight, but the mood in 1991 was definitely darker than it was in that more innocent age just a few years before.)  Also, there are several pop references I want to make, especially riffing on Back to the Future, which was still very fresh in 1986.  I'm going to try not to overdo it with the 80s slang, but I'll throw in a bit here and there.  This is my favorite site so far covering slang from that era, and this one isn't too bad either.  I still hear "sweet" from time to time.  Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to show how much research can go into writing something set in the near past.  At one point I was doing a similar historical dive into life in Toronto from 1992-95 for a different project, but I think I have what I need now, but, if not, I definitely have better resources now than I did a few years ago.

* While it is definitely a less important facet of the play, I do casually have these juniors driving themselves around the city.  It's surprisingly difficult to do research on certain facets of life in the late 1970s and 80s, since so few people have bothered to put this on-line (and relying solely on memory is risky, as memories definitely get foggy, particularly for these less essential details).  Someone was in a similar boat, trying to find out the youngest age one could drive in Chicago in the late 1970s via this post.  When I went to look up the driver's license rules for Michigan, I kept finding out about today's rules, which are clearly different and involve several stages of graduated licensing.  In my day, if you took driver's ed in summer school, then you got your license at 16 (and I think you could get a learner's permit at 15 1/2).  There might have been some deal where parents had to supervise for a few months, but it was more informal than today's system.  Anyway, this article confirms that in 1983, 56% of Michigan residents had a full license at 16 and another 17% had learners permits with some restrictions!  While there is a small chance that the laws had changed by 1986 (since the federal government was starting to push for a tightening of licensing for youth), I'm pretty sure it hadn't gotten to Michigan by that point and my memories are correct.  Michigan in particular had a car-oriented culture, and our school had a large parking lot for students (though I think seniors had the first crack at the spots).  In my case, I had an education exemption and I could drive myself at 15(!), though I couldn't take anyone else in the car (a rule I only broke once or twice).

** I have to say, it was sort of a weird flashback to a bygone era, including how at least a couple of the answers in the guidebook seemed ambiguous or even wrong (something that continues to plague the ACT and SAT).  The Reading section was different and actually harder than I expected, and I might not have aced it back in the day.  (The SAT suited my strengths better, though I assume I would have gotten a solid score on the ACT.)  I have forgotten trigonometry, though I should be able to catch up in time to help my kids through high school math, but most of the rest of the math wasn't too bad.  I've forgotten almost everything I once knew about chemistry and most of what I knew about physics.  I suspect I would actually do better on the post-1989 ACT than the pre-1989 ACT.  If these books I ordered have complete tests -- and they cover both types of tests -- perhaps I will actually take them and post the practice scores (if they aren't too embarrassing).  Though that may be going beyond the call of duty...

Fortunately, neither was very expensive.  If I actually thought I would ever make money from writing The Study Group, I could deduct this on my taxes, but that is really just a distant dream.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

10th Canadian Challenge - 10th Review - The Cure for Death by Lightning

I have to admit that while it started off fairly well, in the end I didn't actually enjoy The Cure for Death by Lightning by Gail Anderson-Dargatz.  It could be that I am worn down by work and the state of the world more generally.  (In that sense, I think about this a bit like a fairy tale, which I'll expand upon shortly, and I am in no mood for fairy tales right now.*)  Probably my biggest single issue with the book is that I don't mind flashes or hints of magic-realism, but I am not particularly tolerant of fantastic events contributing to main plot points in what starts off as a realist novel.  Others may feel very differently about this of course.

While this is a 20-year old novel, that doesn't mean it can't be SPOILED, if you haven't read it beforehand, so be warned.

SPOILERS ahead

We're introduced to the "spunky" and somewhat tomboyish Beth Weeks, the narrator of Cure for Death, as she reveals hardships of living on a farm in B.C. during the tail end of the Depression.  Most of the young men in town have shipped off for the Western Front, but her brother and a couple of hired hands are still around to keep things going.  Her father is clearly the chief liability that the family faces, as he is somewhat troubled in the head from a war wound from WWI.  (Beth's mother was involved in nursing him back to health and it seems most of her problems could have been avoided had she not married him when there were clearly more suitable options available at the time...)  Over the past couple of years he has started feuds with several people in town and then a long-running feud with his neighbour, the Swede, over a fence between their properties.  Beth was never a particularly popular girl to begin with (unlike her brother) and she becomes a bit of a pariah once her father gets into all these squabbles.

One thing that is somewhat strange is that in one-on-one interactions, Beth seems to be a bit of a femme fatale, and both the farm hands are interested in her, as well as a half-Indian girl, who wants to run away with Beth to find work in Vancouver, since women were desperately needed to keep the factories going.  (Had they done so, this would probably have been a more interesting story.)  There do seem to be a few flashes of Cather's My Antonia throughout the novel.

In any case, the book starts to reconfigure itself as a kind of dark fairy tale with Beth's father as the monster that must be slayed (and her brother running away from the situation to join the army puts her in even deeper peril!).  I think the moment where it became clear that her father was molesting her (and that Beth's mother, while strong in many ways, was willing to be blind to what was going on) was when the book turned sour for me.  He was clearly such an unfit person to begin with that the novel could have functioned with him as a sinister motivating force without going as far as it did.  Anyway, it should not be much of a surprise that the novel comes to a close with Beth getting the courage to push him away and say that he can never touch her again (while it does help he was sent off to a mental hospital for a while (for burning down the Swede's barn and trying to kill him!) and is a shadow of his former self, it still takes some intestinal fortitude on her part).

On top of everything else going on, there is a Coyote-figure who seems to inhabit different characters throughout the novel -- Coyote Jack, Filthy Billy and Beth's father.  I don't quite understand how if it can flit across multiple characters (such as in the movie Fallen, which I thought was totally unfulfilling for exactly this reason), then when someone commits suicide while inhabited by Coyote (which happened with Billy's father and then Coyote Jack) this is sufficient to drive Coyote away for 10+ years.  It seems like unbelievable sloppiness on the part of the author to not have really thought this through.  And while I try not to be a "special snowflake," I thought it was incredibly offensive to compare Tourette's Syndrome to being possessed by a demonic force.  (Billy's Tourette's disappears completely after Coyote Jack hangs himself.)  As I said at the top, a bit of magic realism here and there (Beth's grandmother's ghost hanging around their kitchen, for instance) is ok, but when the entire plot hangs on a mythological being, I lose interest fairly quickly.  Indeed, I turned against this novel in a big way by the end.  As always, individual mileage may vary considerably, and many people like this novel a lot, but I can't recommend it.

* I did finish To Kill a Mockingbird in the end, and this seems a bit of a positive fairy tale of Southern life, with one true prince (Atticus) trying to redeem an entire Southern town from its deep racism and general ignorance.  I'm sure that if I had managed to read this before the 2016 election results came in, I would have enjoyed it more.  As it was, it definitely feels soiled and despoiled, along with pretty much anything coming out of America right now.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Close calls

I was quite shocked to read in The Star that there was a shooting in South Riverdale right near Dundas and Broadview at 4 pm.  I was biking back from The Citadel (which is Dundas and Parliament) after seeing George F. Walker's The Damage Done.  I passed by that intersection probably 15 minutes before the shooting.  This isn't a case of thinking that I would have been snarled up in this, as the shooting was inside a house (and most likely a targeted attack) but I'm still glad I wasn't around when it happened.

There are too many guns floating around in Toronto, though apparently the number from the US is somewhat on the decline.  In any event, I wouldn't be too surprised if the feds decide to make it harder to buy legal handguns and they certainly ought to restore the gun registry for handguns, so that transactions can be tracked.  I would definitely support that.

I think the East Side neighbourhood (South Riverdale and Leslieville) might be slightly more dangerous than when Walker lived here, both in terms of gun/gang violence and the street drugs are definitely more lethal, but on the other hand the neighbourhood is definitely gentrifying, and if the GO station opens near Gerrard Square in 5-6 years then it will definitely fuel even more gentrification.  To a certain extent, the remaining gangs will be squeezed out of Leslieville and then will run up against the Beach and the Upper Beaches, so who knows where they will go then, though perhaps North York or even jumping way west to Etobicoke.

I did enjoy The Damage Done, though there were a few things I thought Walker probably could have cut.  I don't think Bobby is likely to be able to reintegrate himself into his daughters' lives (and that might be a more interesting play) but it was mostly interesting to see Tina skating on the verve of a breakdown, which is why she is enlisting Bobby's help in the first place.  Anyway, there is one more week to catch it, and it is certainly worth it if you are a Walker fan.  What sort of made the whole experience more "real" is that the older audience members in front of me had spent the entire time prior to the play talking about how they were dealing with their parents who had all been put in different residential settings, and one of the mothers was pretty deep into Alzheimer's and didn't recognize her daughter.  I'm expecting we will start seeing more and more of these types of plays soon.  Walker did have one of the characters in Escape from Happiness in a semi-catatonic state but this doesn't last throughout the play, and I don't think he has yet really tackled what it would mean for his marginalized characters to have to deal with aging and infirm parents. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Longer books

It does look like I am slowly migrating to longer novels.  I'm a few chapters into Butler's The Way of All Flesh.  In a couple of weeks I should be tackling David Foster Wallace's The Pale King, and then I hope to wrap up 2016 with Vanity Fair.

At one point, I had Trollope's The Way We Live Now just a few slots behind Vanity Fair, but I just think I would be better off trying to end (rather than start) 2017 with that whale of a novel.

Still, 2017 should have quite a few fairly long novels, including Humphrey Clinker, Murakami's 1Q84, Gaskell's North and South and maybe Wives and Daughters, though that may actually be carried over into 2018.
 
Then I will be mostly back to shorter works, with a few exceptions: I am hoping to tackle Bennett The Old Wives' Tale in the late spring or summer and Gregor von Rezzori's Death of My Brother Abel in the fall.  Then Trollope in the winter.

At some point I need to start in on Dickens again, but you do need to be in the right frame of mind (and have some leisure time available) for most of his novels.  At any rate, I am doing what I can to get through this massive backlog.

10th Canadian Challenge - 9th Review - Beautiful Losers

News of Leonard Cohen's death made me regret not seeing him on his last (or even second-last) tour.  A friend of mine did go and said that it was an extended concert and Cohen was a very generous performer.  Fortunately, the Live in Dublin CD set does a pretty good job representing what this tour was like for those in attendance.

I decided to revisit his most famous novel, Beautiful Losers.  I vaguely remembered reading it many years ago, but it didn't really stick with me.  Having reread it, I think the reason it didn't stick is there is essentially no plot at all in the book.  This is a very stylized examination of a strange and unhealthy love triangle between the unnamed narrator, his wife Edith and F., with three or four pages of actual "plot" filled out with pages upon pages of digressions about Catherine (or Kateri) Tekakwitha, a Mohawk saint from the 17th Century who ended up dying near Montreal.  Wikipedia has a fair bit about her short life, almost all of which was relayed in Beautiful Losers.

Maybe it is unfair asking what a novel is supposed to be about or, essentially, why did the author bother to write it, but this issue does come up with highly experimental novels.  Why did Cohen bother to write this novel about sexual deviance and then bring in Quebec nationalism and the pages upon pages about Tekakwitha?  It seems an intentional linkage between the separatism of the day (marked by the rise of the FLQ) and the madness of F., the narrator's friend/foil,* which seems a strange position to take for someone from Montreal, particularly one who had friends in the independence movement.  (I've spent a bit of time delving into the subject and Cohen doesn't seem to have ever committed to or condemned the idea of an independent Quebec.  This may or may not reflect his dual outsider status in Quebec as an Anglophone and a Jew.)  Or maybe Cohen was commenting upon the role of the Catholic church in Quebec (just as MacLennan had done in Two Solitudes) and the subtext was that Quebec still wasn't ready for independence until it had finally broken free from the church.  In any event, it isn't at all clear what Cohen is going for here.

I'm not sure I was ever shocked by the sex scenes in the novel, but there are a lot of them.  I was honestly fairly bored the second time around, though in the second section there was an overheated (yet somewhat amusing) description of a Danish vibrator that seemed to have escaped from Burroughs's Naked Lunch. I'll be honest and say that this really isn't a novel that has aged particularly well, and if you don't like lurid sex scenes then this is definitely a novel to avoid.  I suspect I would have enjoyed The Favourite Game (Cohen's first, less experimental novel) more, but I will have to wait a while to find out.

One thing that is worth retaining from the novel is the example of how one person can have a Svengali-like hold on another, in this case F. has a tight grip on the narrator (often literally as well as figuratively).  This could be a general charismatic charm that affects a number of people (to some extent we see this in Dostoevsky's Demons where Stepan Trofimovich is almost as popular as Richard the Lion-Hearted and also there is a bit of charismatic manipulation going on in Bell's Waiting for the End of the World) or a more intimate bond between outsiders.  Sexual attraction is more often implied than made explicit, as it is here.  Novels written from the perspective of a disciple of an unsung genius definitely fall into this category.  I'm having a little trouble coming up with some off the top of my head, but Wilhelm Foldal in Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman sort of fits the bill.  In some cases, this connection goes too far and inverts itself and becomes a passionate hatred, which is seen in Kroetsch's The Studhorse Man.  The bond between the narrator and F. becomes so intense that Edith more or less drops out of the novel and is far from a fully-realized character.  (In fact, we learn she dies in an elevator accident only a few pages in, but almost the entire novel is told through flashbacks, so being dead is actually not a hindrance.)

* There is almost the same weird vibe between Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski explored in My Best Fiend, though the connection in Beautiful Losers is explicitly sexual as well.