Saturday, May 05, 2007

Endless Things

It's a good year for fans of John Crowley. Sadly, there aren't enough of us, but he is one of my favorite writers, one of the few whose work I connect with on a personal level beyond other "better" writers.

Mr. Crowley is not the most prolific of writers: he manages to publish a novel once every couple of years. But this year, there are three "new" books by him. One of these, Little, Big, is an old novel being re-published in a fancy pantsy illustrated slipcase limited edition. I have been thinking seriously of late of limiting the number of books I own; however, this is one that I will be happy to double-dip. Speaking of limited editions, In Other Words, a collection of essays and book reviews, also came out this year in a signed, numbered small press edition. I have number 580 out of 600 copies. Mr. Crowley's signature is beautiful and looks like script.

But for fans, the biggest news is the publication of Endless Things: A Part of Aegypt. This is the final book of a four-part series that began with AEgypt, published almost twenty years ago. I can remember seeing AEgypt's distinctive cover at the Walden Books where I worked after college. The second part Love and Sleep came out shortly after I moved to New York, and I can remember my excitement, the sense of triumph, when I discovered a copy at the Strand for half the cover price. Daemonomania was published while I worked at, and I made a point of featuring it on the website. This time the elation came whenever we sold a copy. Now, with Endless Things, the cycle is complete.

One of the jokes of these novels concerns the main character, Pierce Moffet, who has esoteric theories about The Way Things Really Work, but can't quite put them into words. He's living off of a publisher's advance, having promised to write a book outlining his thoughts, but he's at a point where he feels his ideas more than he thinks them. Then, surprise, circumstances lead him to an old unpublished journal that spells out exactly what poor Pierce has been trying to say. This experience may be familiar for many who read (I'm going through it right now with The Nuture Assumption by Judith Rich Harris, which puts forth the most accurate description of child development and socialization I ever read. In a nutshell: socialization does not come from your parents, but from your peer group. I'll post more about it when I've finished the book), and it also echoes what it's like to read AEgypt. You've found a book that expresses a sense of life you've felt but never expressed, and then the main character finds a book that expresses a sense of life he's felt but never expressed.

As mentioned before, three books in one year by Crowley is a big deal. There were times when his work was hard to find and used copies were quite expensive. It was during one of these periods, after I had read AEgypt and decided I had to have it in hardcover (to go along with my hardcover copies of Love and Sleep and Daemonomania), that I convinced my friend Ben to steal it from the local library for me. Not exactly "steal." I had asked Ben to take their copy out, then report it as lost, pay for the book and I would reimburse him. Well, the library had a policy that you had to wait two months before a book could be classified as "lost." Then you would pay the cost of the book plus the two months late fees. It turned out to be about as much as buying it on ebay, but at least I got a nice copy of the book in hardcover.

Combined with the release late last year of Against The Day, the new novel by another one of my favorite writers, Thomas Pynchon, the last several months have been a good one regarding my little interests. In fact, it reminds me of ten years ago. I can distinctly remember one night in the early months of 1997 telling my friend Karl that I expected it was going to be a good year because my three favorite directors were each releasing a movie that year: David Cronenberg - Crash, Peter Greenaway - The Pillow Book, and David Lynch - Lost Highway. However, as much as I like these films, 1997 was not a good year. My father died in 1997, and I learned a very long and painful lesson about what is important and what constitutes a good year versus a bad one. When I think back to my naive self on the way to a bar, chirping about how good the year would be based on a couple of movies and having no idea what was coming my just makes me sad.

It reminds me not to boast and to keep things in perspective. Yes, three books by someone you like is nice, but there are more important things. One of the things I gained from my father's death was a sense of perspective, but I would have traded this in, and would have traded anything I had, to have my father back. The choice was not mine.

Little, Big concerns, among other things, a family that consists of a father, mother, three daughters and a son. Father and son have something in common: they both sense that everyone else in the family is connected, and they are the odd man out. The son, Auberon, moves away from home to the big city where...he doesn't do much of anything, but eventually returns home for a visit.

Smoky looked up at his tall son. Through the whole of their lives together, it had been as though he and Auberon had been back to back, fixed that way and unable to turn. They had had to communicate by indirection, through others, or by craning their neck and talking out the sides of their mouths; they had had to guess at each other's faces and actions. Now and then one or the other would try a quick spin around to catch the other unawares, but it never worked, quite, the other was still behind and facing away, as in the old vaudeville act. And the effort of communication in that posture, the effort of making oneself clear, had often grown too much for them, and they'd given it up, mostly. But now -- maybe because of what had happened to him in the CIty, whatever that was, or maybe only increase of time wearing away the bond that had both held them and held them apart, Auberon had turned around. Slowly I turn. And all tht was left then was for Smoky himself to tun and face him.

That was my dad and I.


Erin said...

Goddamnit, you made me cry.

I think Dad had that relationship with all of us-he loved us, but he didn't know how to communicate that. So, he'd reach for what was common between us-movies, tv, stuff like that.

Shortly before he died, we were watching an episode of Homicide together. It was when the character of the female cornier (sp?) was introduced. At the end of the episode, she's sitting with a body that turns out to be her father. I became so upset, I left the room and went into the kitchen. Dad followed me, and I could tell from the look on his face that he was concerned, but all he said was, "Honey, I'm going to bed now." And I just said, "Okay." That's just how it was with us.

Iva said...

I have always found it puzzling that a family from an ethnic group known for its gift with words, the gift for expressing itself, can be so inarticulate. Your Dad felt, rightly or wrongly, but he did not talk. He joked, he chatted, but he never talked about what he was feeling, good or bad.
But, know this, John Hanlon, he love you and he loved your sisters more than anything else in his life. Please, don't ever doubt it.

the hanged man said...

No, I've never doubted it.

Julie said...

I remember the first time I read "Little, Big" that it made me sad to think that you identified with Auberon, who was so clearly unhappy. It was as though he was searching so agressively for something that was always right in front of him. It also surprised me that you seemed to equate the sisters, who were calm and intuitive, with us. I love that book but cannot read it often, with the father who loves his family deeply but cannot follow them.

the hanged man said...

Well, I think I identified with Auberon's circumstances, but not his temperment. I certainly don't think I am that unhappy. In fact, I feel a lot less tormented or dissatisfied than most people I know. Not that I'm bragging or anything...

Anonymous said...


I like that your family comments on what you post!


the hanged man said...

Colette -

Oh yes, they are an opinionated bunch...


Ron Drummond said...

A lovely post, thank you. I especially liked your comment about how in AEgypt you had "found a book that expresses a sense of life you've felt but never expressed, and then the main character finds a book that expresses a sense of life he's felt but never expressed." Also your identification with the quote from Little, Big about Smoky and Auberon, and your family's responses, were quite moving.

I have had the honor of working with John Crowley editorially over the years. I published his story collection Antiquities, edited Daemonomania and Endless Things, and am currently immersed in the editing and production of that "fancy pantsy" 25th Anniversary Edition of Little, Big you mentioned. It's a monster job, one of the most difficult projects I've ever undertaken. And yet a joy too, a sacred task. Somehow.

You can find a new update on the project here:

Here's hoping 2007 is everything you want it to be.

Best Wishes,

Ron Drummond

Julie said...

Well, John, you never know who's reading your blog, do you?
PS ...reading "Little, Big" again, crying my way through it, damn you...

Number 2 sister said...

I admit, I was unable to sustain the interest necessary to plow through Little, Big. But the passage you quoted was also a perfect description of my relationship with Dad. Except, perhaps, that I kept trying to turn around and catch him looking. One benefit: at his knee, I learned to become the rabid, sailor-level swearing fan of football (especially Notre Dame football) that I am today. :)

I always thought that "the ones in the middle" -- you and I -- were particularly puzzling to Dad. Despite all the love in the world, I don't think he could ever get a grasp on what made us tick.

the hanged man said...

Julie -
Yes, it was quite a shock seeing Mr. Drummond's thoughtful, considerate comments. When I saw the name, I thought "I know that name. How do I know that name? Is he married to a friend of mine?" Of course, when I read his post, it became clear.

I sent him a "thank you" email, as I don't know if he will check back here.

Ann -
The beginning of Little, Big was a bit of a stumbling block for me each time I read it, but there's a point in the novel where it just *clicks* (I believe it's when Alice is writing to Santa Claus) and everything just flows from that point on.

Even though you were as different from Dad as a person could be, I think he was always very impressed by you. I assume you still have the letters he wrote you while you were in college, right? it might be too painful to read them, but I hope that you hung on to them.

iva said...

I find that I stand in awe of my children...all four. What interesting, intelligent, indomitable people you are! I am, on one hand, made humble by the fact that I am your mother, and, on the other, made incredibly proud.

Number 2 sister said...

Yeah, my friends used to crack up in English class over Dad's letters. Honestly! You'd think they'd never seen "maggot" used as a term of endearment before . . .

littlejoke said...

Having recommended your blog soon after I discovered the essay about John Crowley, I never got round to going back to it, but I see that Ron Drummond did.

My own essay re your post on The Hanged Man, on my blog that got its start because of John Crowley, appears in this post from early May: