Too Loud a Solitude
This was recommended by a friend who went to Czechoslovakia and had this book recommended to him by a bookstore clerk as representative of the nation’s literature. Solitude is just over 100 pages and reads a little like Kafka, and a little like Beckett. The book deals with the nature of life and work, alienation, loss, etc. It reminds me of Jan Svankmajer’s films, particularly something like Conspirators of Pleasure (1996), in which characters begin building surrealistic pleasure machines. Maybe it’s because both artists (and Kafka now that I think about it) have roots in Prague, but I think there’s more to it that would best be explored at another time.
I think Hrabal deals with love in a way that most people can relate to, whereas in Kafka and Beckett there is an alienating sense to interpersonal relationships which also makes connecting with the characters difficult with many first time readers. I admit, that’s a general statement that may not hold up, but that’s my sense of it at the moment.
The novel is about Hanta, a hermit and paper crusher, who is soon to retire. He hopes to buy a crushing machine of his own so that he can continue creating artistic cubes of wastepaper. He’s constantly pulling art and philosophy books from the piles, so much so, that he essentially lives in a precariously built cave of books. There’s much more to all this; a summary doesn’t do it justice. It’s a fantastic little book.
Troy James Weaver
Speaking of fantastic little books (and art and memory and love and loss), Witchita Stories is a bildungsroman (of sorts) and Weaver’s debut. It hints at a novel, while each chapter functions as a piece of flash fiction. One of the strings of narratives involves the fictional Weaver dealing with his brother’s addictions and breakdowns. The spelling of “Wichita” in the title gives us the cue that Weaver is playing with fact and fiction, and the pieces show possibilities of how we individually construct life, memory, and truth.
Several chapters are lists, and unlike many books where that structure seems forced, the inclusion of that device, and others like it, fits Weaver’s narrative and structure. Some of these pieces include pop culture references, particularly of musicians, which again, the references, like the lists, aren’t empty. It’s a book that captures growing up in and among particular groups of social outcasts in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. Punkers. Skaters. Stoners. Metal heads. Goths.
An author’s first book is always interesting because there are always seams that show. Writing a novel is difficult and the struggle to put a narrative together is often easier to see in a young writer. Weaver’s form here works well, though I imagine some may not like it, but I find he strikes a nice balance between the chapters that feel like flash fiction pieces and the telling of an overall narrative. It feels like a novel, but it also doesn’t, and by that I don’t mean it’s a failed novel, either. It is called Witchita Stories, after all. The structure fits the themes of the narrative and though the pieces are short, the overall effect is no small feat.