Panorama City/Antoine Wilson: Reflections

Friday, July 27, 2012

I encountered Antoine Wilson at the BEA, where I had gone to find out which adult titles had all the buzz, and why, on behalf of Publishing Perspectives.  Quick on his feet, witty, Antoine was, nonetheless, the author of a book about a "slow absorber"—a 28 year old named Oppen Porter who is recording every millimeter of minutiae about his life and thoughts for the benefit of his unborn son, whom Oppen doesn't expect to meet, stuck as Oppen is, in a hospital, and perhaps dying.  I would need to add a few more commas to that last sentence, a smattering of additional half-steps, not to mention some unexpected profundities, they would have to be funny profundities, but also true, in the way that funny is also true, except that I am personally incapable of conjuring either the profound or the funny, in order to foreshadow the nature of the novel itself, which I have just finished reading, in order to give you a sense for the whole. Or one small sentence of the whole.

I would have to be Antoine Wilson, but I am not.  I would have to be a literary ventriloquist with an obsession with the question, What is a man of the world?, but this is Wilson's terrain.  His Oppen is a Forrest Gump of sorts (minus the super-hero powers and the awesome historic coincidences)—optimistic, well-meaning, highly observant but also stuck in his observing, capable of seeing a lot of the picture, but perhaps not the same picture that so many of us see (because we are rushing, because we have conformed, because we have ceded something of the raw and unschooled in ourselves).  The novel is a monologue, a man talking into a tape recorder while his baby sits coiled within his gold- and white-toothed mom.  It is a circle, and while riding the circle, one meets fast-food workers, big thinkers, exasperated aunts (all right, just one single exasperated aunt), religious zealots, and a talking-cure shrink who cures nothing. 

I'm going to share here three sentences of Oppen's world.  Oppen is tall, you see, and his sleeping arrangements are unfortunate.  He's finding himself slightly fatigued:
I'm not a complainer, I wouldn't have said anything, except that I was concerned I wasn't going to be getting enough rest, that over the course of several nights the lack of rest would add up to a general fatigue, it had happened to me before, it had happened to me in Madera, when I had broken my arm, or rather my arm had gotten broken while playing Smear the Queer with the Alvarez brothers, I had fallen in an awkward way, and because of the cast and the way it was situated I could not roll over freely in my sleep, and as a result I suffered from what your grandfather called general fatigue, which he said was quite noticeable with me, what happened was that in addition to having less energy I was less interested in everything and less friendly, too, I wasn't myself.  At the time I did not know the root cause of the general fatigue but I have since come to realize that without sleep the head gets clogged with other people's words.  The head needs sleep to make everyone else's words into our own words again, it is a conversion process.
One final thing.  Panorama City is a Lauren Wein (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) book.  Lauren, whom I am proud to say is a friend, continues to produce some of the most interesting books around.  Read Shards, if you can.  Read Book of Clouds.  Read Say Her Name.  Read Kamchatka.  And read this interview with Lauren herself, who keeps daring to do different in literature, and who keeps proving that different works.


Serena said...

Wow what an incredible list of books for me to add to the wish list!

Melissa Sarno said...

As you know, I love Shards and Say Her Name so I completely trust this Lauren Wein. :) I like the idea that sleep converts others words into our own words again. That's really interesting even if I'm trying to wrap my head around it.

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