Nabokovilia: Rabih Alameddine's An Unnecessary Woman

From Rabih Alameddine's An Unnecessary Woman

An observer would receive the wrong impression from this salacious tableau. Their ages were wrong, I thought. Incompatible. Insidious Nabokov insinuated himself into my dreams once more, not allowing me to lose myself in watching what was before me, not allowing me to engage life. Hannah was my Humbert, the lieutenant the ingenue. Fire of my loins. They fucked, no other term can be used. Hannah and her lieutenant fucked and fucked.

(...)

...I won't translate Lolita even though I've always wanted to. It's against the rules. Nabokov's earlier work in rowdy Russian I could. "But in my arms she was always Lolita."

"Lo. Lee. Ta."

My memory has aged into an unruly child but is still quite precocious. (47-8)


Nabokovilia: Jenny Offill's "Dept. of Speculation"

Nabokovilia in Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation:
I was going to be an art monster instead. Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things. Nabokov didn’t even fold his own umbrella. Vera licked his stamps for him.
Quote spotted in these two James Woods New Yorker pieces:

Nabokovilia: Nabokov's Creepy Bathtub in Gibson's Spook Country

Susan Elizabeth Sweeney spotted the reference and posted it in the Nabokov-L forum: Gibson's character, Milgrim, Sweeney explains, "is traveling in a Zodiac, an inflatable motorized boat." The quote follows:
He was bouncing along at some insane speed on something that reminded him of a creepy folding rubber bathtub that he'd once seen Vladimir Nabokov posing with in an old photograph. (344)

Clotheshorse: David Foster Wallace's The Pale King

David Foster Wallace's final, unfinished novel contains some astute observations on style and men's clothing, of which these two were my favorites.

On the narrator's father:

He looked good in a suit -- like so many men of his generation, his body seemed designed to fill out and support a suit. And he owned some good ones, most single-button and single-vent, understated and conservative, in mainly three-season worsteds and one of or two seersucker for hot weather, in which he also eschewed his usual business hat. To his credit -- at least in retrospect -- he rejected the so-called modern style's wide ties, brighter colors, and flared lapels, and found the phenomenon of leisure suits or corduroy coats nauseating. His suits were not tailored, but they were nearly all from Jack Fagman, a very old and respected men's store in Winnetka which he had patronized ever since our family relocated to the Chicagoland area in 1964, and some of them were really nice. At home, in what he called his "mufti," he wore more casual slacks and double-knit dress shirts, sometimes under a sweater vest -- his favorite of these was argyle. Sometimes he wore a cardigan, though I think that he knew that cardigans made him look a little too broad across the beam. In the summer, there was sometimes the terrible thing of the Bermuda shorts with black dress socks, which it turned out were the only kind of socks my father even owned. One sport coat, a 36R in midnight-blue slubbed silk, had dated from his youth and early courtship of my mother -- she had explained -- it was hard for her to even hear about this jacket after the accident. (175-6)

On the narrator's 70's sartorial proclivities:

I can't think of this period's hair without almost wincing. I can remember things I wore -- a lot of burnt orange and brown, red-intensive paisley, bell-bottom cords, acetate and nylon, flared collars, dungaree vests. I had a metal peace-sign pendant that weighed half a pound. Docksiders and yellow Timberlands and a pair of shiny low brown leather dress boots which zipped up the sides and only the sharp toes showed under the bell-bottoms. The little sensitive leather thong around the neck. The commercial psychedelia. The obligatory buckskin jacket The dungarees whose cuffs dragged on the ground and dissolved into white thread. Wide belts, tube socks, track shoes from Japan. The standard getup. I remember the round, puffy winter coats of nylon and down that made us all look like parade balloons. The scratchy white painter's pants with loops for supposed tools down the side of the thigh. I remember everyone despising Gerald Ford, not so much for pardoning Nixon but for constantly falling down. Everyone had contempt for him. Very blue designer jeans. (159)

(Clotheshorse is an occasional series on the intersection of literature and men's fashion.)

Nabokovilia: Edward St. Aubyn's Lost for Words


"It's lucky Proust or Nabokov aren't competing this year," said Vanessa, "or Henry James, or Tolstoy, or anyone who sold a novel because word got put that it was worth reading, like Dickens or Thackeray, or..."

"All right, all right," said Jo, "we all know you've read every book under the sun, but I think Malcolm has a very good point. If I had my way I would add, 'No pseuds and no aristos.'" (P. 83)

More on Edward St. Aubyn.

Convergences: What We See When We Remember Keyholes in Covers

I'm very much looking forward to reading Peter Mendelsund's What We See When We Read. Mendelsund is a terrific book designer, so his thoughts on what happens to our brain on books -- what we visualize -- should be fun. (Here's an excerpt that touches on Anna Karenina.) I was also surprised when I saw the cover for his book:


Because here's the first thing it reminded of:


About which you can read here or here

The keyhole motif is not that uncommon -- here's what Google Images pulls up when you do the search -- but to the question, What do you see when you look at the cover for What We See When We Read? The answer is: A former ballerina's book-length memoir about a particular sexual act.

Nabokovilia & Nabokomaybilia: Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics & Night Film


Marisha Pessl's first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, features a pretty clear case of Nabokovilia:
"You're a sick, sick liar! You're evil!" 
I threw Lolita (Nabokov, 1955). 
"I hope you die a slow death riddled with unbearable pain!"
Although deflecting the books with his arms, and sometimes legs, Dad didn't stand up or try to restrain me in any way. He remained in his reading chair. 
"Get a hold of yourself," he said. "Stop being so melodramatic. This isn't a miniseries on AB --" 
I hurled The Heart of the Matter (Greene, 1948) at his stomach, Common Sense (Paine, 1776) at his face. (461)

I'm nearly done reading Pessl's sophomore (and excellent) Night Film, which doesn't have anything quite so clear, though there's a strong possibility of some Nabokovian nods:
She was Beckman's latest housekeeper. Ever since his beloved wife, Véra, had died years ago from cancer, Beckman, totally unable to take care of himself, hired a multitude of petite Russian women to do it for him. (48)
And another possible Nabokov nod:
"Need some help?" 
"Yes," said Nora, setting a book she'd been leafing through -- Signs, Symbols, & Omens -- back down on the stand. "We were hoping someone could help us identify some herbs and roots that we found in strange patterns in our friend's room." (229)

Sighting: Nabokov in "Finding the Words"

By that time, Gabriel had developed a series of tics. “He had a cough that was a tic,” Hirsch said. “And a way he used to run his hands over his face.” His parents took him to a psychiatrist, who sent them to a colleague, “a specialist who had the Nabokovian name Dr. Doctor,” Hirsch said.

From Finding the Words, a profile of Edward Hirsch and the book-length poem about his son Gabriel, in the 4 August 2014 New Yorker.

Convergences: The Punctuation-Mark Exploits of Jack Pendarvis and Stephen King

I love Stephen King, and I love Jack Pendarvis, and the odds of finding anything in common between the two should be zilch. They're both huge fans of crime literature and crime movies -- they're notorious and encyclopedic in their appetite for undersung directors and authors in the genre -- but other than that their sensibilities seem pretty far apart. One does his own special brand of horror and works best when going long, the other writes short and funny. That said, they both do wonderful things with punctuation-mark abuse.

King's Mr. Mercedes features a creep whose messages are stuffed with character-revealing unnecessary !'s & "s:

And Pendarvis is the reigning champ of same:

King wants to creep you out, Pendarvis wants to you register the humor, but both do a pretty sweet job of assigning a kind of moral weight to the uses and abuses of punctuation, and to a certain clueless disjointed quality that comes with it. 

Clotheshorse: The Great Hierarchy of 80s Jeans in Kevin Brockmeier's A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip

Photo from Michael Galinsky's Malls Across America
"Holes are cooler than no holes..."

From Kevin Brockmeier's searing, lovely A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade:

He sits down and gives his jeans another try. The coolest jeans are black or acid washed, followed by gray, followed by faded blue. Holes are cooler than no holes, buttons are cooler than zippers, Levi's are cooler than Lees, Lees are cooler than Wranglers, and Wranglers are cooler than Toughskins. It has taken him longer than average, but he is learning. (166)

(I love clothes, and I love books -- anytime I run across a particularly neat intersection of the two I'll post a short representative quote here, under the label Clotheshorse, with minimal commentary for maximum enjoyment.)

Nabokovilia: Rebecca Makkai's The Hundred-Year House

From Rebecca Makkai's engrossing The Hundred-Year House:

"Here's my point: The administration should not be able to access the computers of tenured faculty. Let's imagine you were looking at some Web site of a communist politician, and then you're hauled in front of a committee. When the whole point of tenure is the freedom."

"I'm not tenured."

"You've heard what's happening, I'm sure."

Zee attempted to look bewildered, but he shook his head.

"You hear everything. You know what the deans ate for breakfast. You know when Blum takes a crap. And what I want to know is, when did we become afraid of sex? We ask them to read Lolita and Chaucer, but a nude picture is going to warp their minds? They're adults!" (87)

See also: More Makkai Nabokovilia.

Convergences: Maria de Zayas, Spain's 17th century exploitation filmmaker

Reading Thomas Pavel's Lives of the Novel right now, and this bit summarizing one of the tales in Maria de Zayas's 1647 Disenchantments of Love make me think that her stories could have been filmed by fellow Spaniard Jess Franco a couple of centuries later:

In "Too Late Undeceived," Don Martin sleeps with an unknown lady, falls desperately in love, and later finds and marries her. But a female slave falsely informs him that his wife has had an affair with her cousin. Don Martin burns the cousin alive and locks his wife in a kennel, forcing her to drink from the dead man's skull and eat only scraps from his table. As a reward, the slave becomes Don Martin's mistress, but two years later, gravely ill, she admits that she lied. Don Martin stabs his mistress to death and rushes to free his wife, who has just died of a broken heart. The man goes mad. (75)

You'll find the same mix of sex and revenge and bloody retribution in pretty much any Jess Franco movie. One of my favorites is 1971's She Killed in Ecstasy, which YouTube summarizes thusly:

A young doctor kills himself after a medical committee terminates his research into human embryos, considering it too inhumane. His wife then seeks revenge on those who drove her husband to his death by luring each member of the committee into compromising situations and then killing them one by one.

Hell, here's the whole movie: