Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reader's Diary #565- Michael Kenyon: the Beautiful Children

On the back cover of Michael Kenyon's The Beautiful Children, in the top left hand cover is the word novel. Not a novel, like on the cover, just novel.

The further into Kenyon's book and the more I began to think of the other meaning of the word: new and original. Certainly it is like no other book I've ever read. Not quite magical realism, not quite stream-of-consciousness, it's quite difficult for me to describe. Poetic, yes, but not a novel in verse either.

"Happiness is a brilliant house tumbling through the dark."

What does one do with such phrases as these? This is not an easy read. Nor should it be, sometimes we readers like a challenge, but at this point, after a single reading, I'm not sure that I can say I enjoyed it. For an experimental book, I was grateful that it was short. I at least avoided the lab rat feeling that haunted me with Kenneth J Harvey's latest and massive Blackstrap Hawco. It's also more consistent than Harvey's who'd come up just short of writing a chapter in semaphore flags. But then again, perhaps Kenyon's is too consistent. Everyone talks in a crazy sort of hallucinogenic haze that I just wasn't able to connect with. They'd hover close to lucidity enough so that I got the gist of their plot, but I certainly didn't relate. And about the only emotion I felt throughout the whole book was revulsion. What is it with people using the word "beautiful" for ironic purposes? Sam Mendes' American Beauty. Marilyn Manson's "Beautiful People." Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers. Good Lord, some of the ugliest imagery in the world comes from this collection. Now add Kenyon's book. Full of remorseless violence, drug addiction, and hopelessness, I don't think Kenyon will win the Stephen Leacock Award any time soon.

I needed a break, at least one character to come through for me. One that spoke in a voice that was normal. One that didn't see snakes in her veins and dream of chaos. One that wasn't stifling. One that I could embrace. Instead I got egg symbolism. Omelets thrown to a drowning man.

But here's why I think it's an important book. It is novel. I was reminded of a thought I had when I first encountered the poetry of bpNichol: if art is to evolve, we need mutations. If they prove beneficial, great. Plenty of mutations prove to be pointless, but we can't always know in the present day. Que será será.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

You are right, of course, we do need novel works in order for art to evolve. But somehow I get the feeling that I will be too lazy to suffer through this. But that's my own fault.

Wanda said...

"Happiness is a brilliant house tumbling through the dark."

I suppose that could be true if it lands on The Evil Witch of the East, not so good for said witch though.

The cover is so striking, I was wondering about this one ... not sure what I'd make of it's contents. I enjoy stream-of-consciousnes poetry when presented as a poem or two within a collection. However, trying to digest an entire volume can be a little hard on the head. Glad you read this one first! If I see it, I'd likely pick it up just out of curiosity but I don't think I'll seek this one out.