Monday, December 21, 2015

no-limit Texas hold 'em

Yesterday I read the first half of Marly Youmans' latest novel Maze of Blood. There is a point, about a third into the book, where Youmans does an amazing and subtle thing: the protagonist Conall (a professional genre fiction writer) and his girl Maybelline (a schoolteacher with ambitions of being a writer) are having an argument about stories. Conall denies that the real-world events all around him are compelling stories; real life is dull and empty compared to the fantastic tales he writes. Maybelline denies that the fantastic tales Conall writes tell the truth about actual human life; they are false and ignore the intimate details of real lives. Both of these people, Youmans shows, are wrong; both "realism" and the fantastic have the power to tell truths, both large and small, about real life. Youmans brilliantly demonstrates this by having the lives of Conall and Maybelline exist simultaneously as prosaic narratives and as myth-sized wonder tales, the daily lives informing the mythic fictions, the mythic fictions transforming into the daily lives, the real-world scene in which Conall and Maybelline have their argument itself existing in both worlds, both the "real" and the fantastic, the whole narrative wobbling ironically around these people's denials. It's just wonderful stuff, high-degree-of-difficulty writing, and Youmans is wise enough that she doesn't point out what she's doing, she just does it and perceptive readers might ask themselves how their own lives are both prosaic narratives and mythic battles between primal forces. Great writing indeed.

The closest thing I can think of to what Youmans does here is the bit in Nabokov's The Real Life of Sebastian Knight where, as the narrator V describes Sebastian's various novels, the narrative itself becomes those novels for a few pages. That was a cool trick, Vladimir. Youmans does something different, but it is also a cool trick. I could barely contain my excitement while reading that chapter. Yes, I thought. Yes, this is the stuff.


  1. Thanks for considering one of my books again, Scott--I am glad.

    1. Your books just get more and more remarkable. Maze of Blood should get the Pulitzer, just for the "art in America" aspect. The prose is terrific, electric, etc. I have 45 or so pages left to read. I wish it was a longer book! I say that about all of your books.

    2. Oh, thanks for that lovely comment! It's consoling in my obscurity in the rural boondocks...

      You know, we writers who begin (and probably end, in my case) as poets often don't see the point of the really long book. There's a lot of fat that I just love to cut and throw into the trash-abyss.