Look How the Fish Live by J.F. Powers, the Poet of Frustration

Look How The Fish Live by J.F. PowersThe most haunting story in Look How the Fish Live, a collection of short stories by J.F. Powers published in 1975, is the eponymous story that opens it, “Look How the Fish Live,” a story about the indifference of the universe. Every time I read it I think of Jack London’s “To Build a Fire,” although the stories could not be more different on the surface. The story was in the first book Powers published after his masterpiece, the novel Morte D’Urban (see review), with which Powers beat out Nabokov, Updike and Katherine Anne Porter for the 1963 National Book Award. “Look How the Fish Live” is now available in The Stories of J.F. Powers.
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John Edward Lawson’s Discouraging at Best: A View of the National Id

Discouraging at Best by John Edward LawsonReading John Edward Lawson’s Discouraging at Best is like watching the Marx Bros. directed by Wes Craven. It’s a series of snapshots of American life in which the national id is hanging out for all to see, where every character is a caricature of our worst views of each other, and all traces of plot take a back seat to the punchlines. Continue reading John Edward Lawson’s Discouraging at Best: A View of the National Id

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Agnes Owens’ Like Birds in the Wilderness – The Kids Aren’t Alright

Like Birds in the Wilderness, by Agnes OwensAgnes Owens’ Like Birds in the Wilderness (now available in Agnes Owens: The Complete Novellas) is about a 23-year-old working class kid in Scotland named Mac, who faces shut doors, hard times and bureaucratic indifference no matter which way he turns. He falls in love with a 23-year-old typist from a slightly higher level of the working class and has to figure out how to keep her while fighting off anxiety, depression and alcoholism and stubbornly groping his way to his own code of morality. Continue reading Agnes Owens’ Like Birds in the Wilderness – The Kids Aren’t Alright

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William S. Burroughs’ Junky: A Spiritual Quest via Heroin Addiction

Junkie by William BurroughsJunky, a semi-autobiographical novel by William S. Burroughs, is a seductive story set at the inception of the “hip” subculture in America. The story follows a man at odds with American mainstream culture into a quest for spiritual meaning via heroin. Burroughs did, in fact, start using heroin in 1944 and within a year, he was an addict. Though the book does not shy away from the sordid aspects of an addict’s life, this is not a literary Reefer Madness. Continue reading William S. Burroughs’ Junky: A Spiritual Quest via Heroin Addiction

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Larry McMurtry’s Horseman, Pass By – A Force of Nature

Horseman, Pass ByLarry McMurtry’s Horseman, Pass By is a perfectly constructed tragedy, but because the main characters wear cowboy hats, it got consigned to the “Westerns” bin long ago by the academics and New York critics, who could then write it off as a lightweight elegy on the passing of the Old West and return their attention to boring novels about men in suits. Continue reading Larry McMurtry’s Horseman, Pass By – A Force of Nature

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George Williams’ Degenerate – A Man Will Search His Heart & Soul

Degenerate by George WilliamsNovels are rarely about the things reviewers say they’re about. If a writer’s done a good-enough job on his novel, he’s created such a vivid impression of life that we’re compelled to search for a higher meaning in it, just as we relentlessly pick over life in our endless search for meaning. I’m going to seek to entertain you by comparing George Williams’ Degenerate to John Ford’s The Searchers. Continue reading George Williams’ Degenerate – A Man Will Search His Heart & Soul

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Finding God on LSD (A Short Story About Schizophrenia)

by Arnold Snyder

My first wife, June, was schizophrenic, or so I’ve since surmised. I don’t know that she’d ever been officially diagnosed as schizophrenic, but I knew that she’d been diagnosed as something and I’m guessing it was schizophrenia. Three nights after we met, she called me at my dorm in the middle of the night—woke me up—because she was seeing green men outside her window. I talked to her for a couple hours, until the green men had disappeared. Then I went back to bed but couldn’t sleep. This was in 1966, at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. We were both eighteen, though I was an incoming freshman and she was a returning sophomore. Continue reading Finding God on LSD (A Short Story About Schizophrenia)

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