What I want is for Elizabeth to read this, because she should get over the ram in the opening pages and just float in the language within. I've had two wonderful conversations about this book in the last few whatever days, one with Karen, who indirectly made me read this, and one with Elizabeth, who can't get over the ram.
So, I'm drunk, so this might not make a lot of sense.
Karen talked a lot about existentialism in her review, which is a wonderful take on this book. I can't engage that way at all, because my brushes with existentialism are so godamn weird that I can barely extrapolate them to other fictions. This is the fault of my reading life, entirely. I remember reading a maybe Pinter play - and then seeing it performed - about a guy who brings his gf home to meet his gross, lower class British family, and then the gross family fucks the gf on the kitchen table with her weird, impossible consent. But the play had something to do with existentialism because the stage directions said something about there being a bucket hanging from the ceiling, and you, as the audience, are supposed to ask, what the fuck is up with the bucket??? And then the answer is nothing is up with the bucket, much like nothing is up with the kitchen-table-fucking going on, even though that's an impossible answer. But this play was written by someone in the Angry Young Men, whoever it was and I'm not looking it up, and whoever it was was still locked in the social/political/generational anger of its time.
Maybe this is true, and maybe it isn't, but the folk tale is a much better place to work out this sort of whack, post-modern riff on the construction of narrative and its fall. I've often disparaged the 70s American novel as an exercise in navel gazing and smugxhaustion. And many may feel the same way about this here Grendel, but this earnestly moved me. I feel like I enjoyed this book while not understanding it on a deeper level at all, which is a weird thing for me. I was worried, I admit, that Grendel
was one of those backwards readings, those boring reversals, like the books where it turns out that the Wicked Witch has a hard childhood or some dumb shit, and we're supposed to read the whole Oz thing backwards. No. I don't like one-to-one reversals; that is boring to me.
So I was regaling Elizabeth tonight about this book, talking about how I thought there were a thousand literary hat-tips in this book, like the ram who meets Grendel and batters a tree, and how the ram was the moo-cow from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the piss gone cold which is the reminder of the embodied, and she made me write down a sentence on the back of a man's progress report and stuff it in my purse. Which I did, but I didn't dig it back out when I started writing. Ah, post-modernism, I love you sometimes. There's another literary hat-tip when Grendel gets stuck in a tree and hangs there for three days - Odin much? - where he meets humans and their casual, constructed, unconscious brutality for the first time. There is something here, something smarter than I am, about this idea.
And there's a dragon that spouts 70s style economic theory to a bronze-age monster, the monster who crouches like hobbits by the word-hoard of a smoking, hateful fucker, and it was funny and brilliant to me. I want to like post-modernism more than I often do, because I think it should have a sense of humor, and so often it doesn't. This does. It's hilarious. The hilarious of whistling past graveyards and mortality, the hilarious of everyone dies
, the hilarious of inevitability. And the not-hilarious of words written in their place, a physically pleasant sensation of the not real working into your mind and becoming real. Ah ha ah aha ah. It is somewhere between laughter and tears that I feel about Grendel. It was a feeling in my mind, and now it is memory, and that is infectious, like all stories when they are told with strength and humor.