Monday, December 10, 2007

Rejection + THE TUNNEL

Today I got a personal rejection from John D'Agata, the lyric essay editor at the Seneca Review, whose book of essays HALLS OF FAME I absolutely adore, and who also edited THE NEXT AMERICAN ESSAY, which is by far to me the criterion of excellence in creative nonfiction. I felt really happy to see he'd taken the time to comment on two lists I'd sent him, asked to see more in the future, and signed his name. A good rejection can make you feel just as good as an acceptance, at times.

NOTE: The December web update of Hobart features an interview with Jesse Ball by Shane Jones, as well as an excerpt from one of several new books by him, as well as also a story THE PEACHES ARE CHEAP by Mike Young, which I'd read before in its publication in MONDAY NIGHT LIT. It is a great story.

Anyhow, now, this week I've been slightly reobsessed with THE TUNNEL by William H. Gass.

THE TUNNEL is a 651 page novel released by Dalkey Archive Press. Gass spent more than 30 years writing it. It was his second book. I read this book for the first time about 4 years ago, days which I spent endless hours on my bed in a basement bedroom with no windows, reading until I felt ill. The book is about a man writing about the Holocaust, during which he begins digging a tunnel in his basement pretty much for no reason. But the subject of the book becomes irrelevant: this is an encyclopedic novel of the widest breadth. Virtually any subject you can imagine arises.

If there's ever been an accomplishment of language play in literature, this is the high water mark. Looking at prose poetry, which has become popular among excellent poets like Ben Lerner, Noah Eli Gordon, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Tony Tost, and so on, THE TUNNEL seems to predicate it all. It is a prose poem that goes on for 651 pages and almost never loses its intensity. It is word play to the extreme. You can open this book to any page almost and be hit with a sentence that is so adept in craft it makes you quease a little. At least, it does me. It is a very difficult read, but an experience unto itself.

Here is a .jpg excerpt, chosen mostly at random via Amazon book search. Click on the image and you can read it:

The type of this book is also very unusual. There are lots of inserted photos and weird fonts and printing that makes the book look warped.

One of the facets of the book is the creation of a group called the PDP, or THE PARTY OF DISAPPOINTED PEOPLE, which I think about sometimes in the evening.

I found another text by Gass online, in which he wrote up preparations for the person that would work on designing THE TUNNEL as a book, which is incredible in and of itself, even if you haven't read the actual book: Designing the Tunnel.

If you are interested in Gass, but not quite ready for perhaps the most demanding book of all time, I'd recommend starting with OMENSETTER'S LUCK, which about 1/3rd as long, and has a more concrete story, and is kind of Cormac McCarthy on LSD. There's an image in that book where a man is hanging in the top of a very high tree in the middle of a forest that I will never be able to get out of my mind.


death-hustler said...

You are a champion for many reasons, but also for reading and survivng THE TUNNEL.


thank you death-hustler. your blog is very nice.