The Passenger – So Many Questions

Cormac McCarthy’s The Passenger opens with a dead woman hanging from a tree. She committed suicide on Christmas day. So that’s brutal, but then you remember who the author is.

The Passenger is a beautifully written Southern Gothic. It’s also frustrating – taking detours that may be interesting but don’t lead anywhere. For example, one character has a wordy monologue about who really assassinated JFK. It’s only mildly intriguing because this terrain has been trampled for decades. So you wonder – was McCarthy being paid by the word?

After the suicide, the story jumps about 10 years to 1980 and a small plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico. Excellent, more death. Perhaps McCarthy can work the Holocaust into this. Spoiler alert – he does.

Bobby Western (think Western Civilization) is a salvage diver. He is sent by an unknown client to investigate the crash. He and his partner, Oiler, dive into the literal and metaphorical murky waters, use a torch to open the plane’s door, and find 9 drowned passengers. The plane’s black box is missing. It is clear there was a tenth passenger, but that person has disappeared. When he returns to New Orleans, government agents show up asking vague but concerning questions. Oiler goes to work on another assignment and dies. Was he murdered? Is Western next? How come the plane crash is never mentioned in the newspapers? Is Western being followed? Who keeps breaking into his apartment? Can he do anything about it? If he can, will he? So many questions, and McCarthy isn’t interested in answering any of them.

This story is really a meditation on the shitshow that was the twentieth century. Auschwitz and Hiroshima are the “sister events that sealed forever the fate of the West.” It doesn’t help that Western’s father was a physicist who helped build the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Western’s sister (Alicia) is the young woman who committed suicide. She was schizophrenic and stopped taking her meds. In flashbacks we jump into her mind. She’s a twentieth-century Alice in a demented Wonderland, and these chapters are stunning. They show McCarthy at his formidable best, and the novel is worth reading for these sections alone.

Western is haunted by Alicia’s suicide. He loved her very much. Maybe too much. Incest is hinted at. He’s also extremely troubled by his father’s work on the bomb. If Alicia is a modern-day Alice, Western is a twentieth-century Hamlet. He certainly has daddy issues, and suicidal Alicia just might be his Ophelia. Plus Western is supremely indecisive. He doesn’t know if he’s being hunted by a killer or haunted by a ghost. He’s trapped and doesn’t care. “If all that I loved in the world is gone what difference does it make if I’m free to go to the grocery store?”

So who is the passenger? Who isn’t? The passenger seems to be any creature buffeted by storms trying to survive without necessarily knowing how best to do that.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Thoughts on the Dangers of Pretending to be a Poet (Part 5)

Delusions of grandeur. Pretend poets think they’re special. Which is ridiculous. Poetry never saved a life. It hasn’t cured cancer. I’m certain it never will considering how much liquor it drinks.

Have you read Lewis Carroll? Pure nonsense.

So this is a message to everyone who pretends to be a poet (and that is every poet living and/or dead): get a real job. You will be happier and so will your family. Poetry has never solved any problem. You know what has? Money and hotels.

If my lazy-ass son had a real job, instead of masturbating all day and calling it a poetry blog, he wouldn’t keep asking me for money. I wouldn’t keep telling him no, and I would love him.

Poetry is easy. I will show you. I literally wrote this off the top of my head three minutes ago.

The Ballad of Knowgood Carp 

I know damn well
when I cast my spell
I will be okay
on the Judgment Day
because I have more money
so I can buy God's honey
and if I want to bone ya'
what I'll do is phone ya'.

Do better than that, B.S. Eliot.  I defy you.

Knowgood Carp, Owner of all the Hotels on Block Island and Some in Connecticut

Challenge Accepted

The world is cluttered with “be careful what you ask for” stories, so do we really need another one? Yes.

My grandmother passed away last week, so I was called back to Roanoke. At the gravesite, the minister gave a touching tribute. She obviously did not know my grandmother. As she was wrapping up, the minister did something unusual. She asked people to share their feelings.

“There are no wrong feelings at a time like this,” the minister encouraged.

After an awkward silence, someone volunteered, “sadness.”

“Of course, that’s very normal and appropriate,” the minister replied.

“Anger.”

“Yes, that is normal too. We shouldn’t be afraid of our emotions. Everyone mourns differently. And that’s ok.”

“Arousal,” someone called out. A few people coughed. Others snickered, but in a respectful way.

“I think I understand what you mean,” the minister said haltingly. “Our brains our stimulated with all sorts of thoughts. It can be confusing.”

“No, I have an erection.”

“Well, that’s . . . “

“It’s throbbing.”

“Let’s say a prayer, shall we?”

Tengo Leche, Social Anxiety Scholar

Cavities

Who throws pepper in the air
so upstanding citizens will sneeze?
Who slips sugar into milk 
so wholesome kids get cavities?
Who hides the cherry flavored 
condoms so chaste teens get STDs?

Once it was the evil fascists,
then the dirty commies
followed by the hairy hippies,
Russians, Iraqis and Chinese
who committed these depravities.

So who will we blame next
for giving us a mouthful of cavities? 

Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief

Annie Ernaux’s Exteriors: The Most Honest Review Ever

Don’t read this book. It’s a fraud.

I don’t normally give book reviews, because I don’t normally read books. They’re a waste of time, and this one sure was.

First, it bills itself as a memoir. Now, when I think of memoir, I think of great men, like myself, doing great things, like own hotels. To my surprise, this memoir was written by a woman. I was immediately suspicious. What has she ever done? The answer is nothing. She rides trains all day and makes observations. I could do that, but I have better things to do. And for this kind of crap someone decided this Annie Ernaux woman should be awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature. It just confirms why I never had any respect for that award.

Second, Annie Ernaux has no friends. Nor should she. She’s a voyeur who is obsessed with eavesdropping on strangers – as if strangers can tell us anything about ourselves or our world. Yet, she seems to think so. Here’s something stupid she said. “It is other people – anonymous figures glimpsed in the subway or in waiting rooms – who revive our memory and reveal our true selves through the interest, the anger or the shame that they send rippling through us.”

The only time a stranger ripples me is when she’s sexy. Then the hunt is on, and she won’t be a stranger for long.

Knowgood Carp, Owner of all the Hotels on Block Island and some in Connecticut

Annie Ernaux’s Exteriors: A Stranger’s Connection

When Annie Ernaux won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature, I had only one question. Who is Annie Ernaux? Why have I never heard of her? Is she French or something? That’s where the internet comes in handy. She’s French. Regardless, I picked up one of her books, Exteriors, which was first published in English in 1996. It’s short, curious and rewarding.

Ms. Ernaux believes a “hypermarket (supermarket) can provide just as much meaning and human truth as a concert hall.” That concept has been expressed before, but not quite the way Ms. Ernaux presents it. She writes in a hyper-detached style, as if she’s a scientist. She focuses only on the essential. Unicorns do not prance on these pages. Exteriors purports to be a memoir, but there is no sustained narrative. The book consists of written snapshots of complete strangers. Her observations are more akin to sparse journal entries.

Still, it is literary and themes do emerge. Ms. Ernaux describes contemporary society as purely transactional. Tacky consumerism pervades everything. She’s not a fan of the ruling classes either. Their obvious disdain for the working classes is oppressive and depressing. The few relationships presented tend to be dysfunctional. Ms. Ernaux does not interact with anyone except the reader.

So why does Ms. Ernaux write about the strangers she observes on the train or at the mall? I enjoy being a voyeur as much as anyone, but is this mere voyeurism? Ms. Ernaux thinks not. “It is other people – anonymous figures glimpsed in the subway or in waiting rooms – who revive our memory and reveal our true selves through the interest, the anger or the shame that they send rippling through us.”

In a crass world, there can still be profound connections, even with strangers. A child on the train reminds Ms. Ernaux of her sons when they were young. A woman waiting in line reminds her of her deceased mother. “So it is outside my own life that my past existence lies: in passengers commuting on the subway or the RER; in shoppers glimpsed on escalators . . . in complete strangers who cannot know that they possess part of my story; in faces and bodies which I shall never see again. In the same way, I myself, anonymous among the bustling crowds . . . must secretly play a role in the lives of others.”

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor


Breaking News

A cow covered with hundreds of mouth-like lesions   
each containing a tongue that lovingly licks my ear -    
tells me all the black lies I desperately want to hear;    
a massive udder with hundreds of mottled leathery teats    
and I suck the sour milk.

Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief

Lessons In A Life Adrift

Ian McEwan’s Lessons opens with a piano teacher groping her student. She is 25 years old, and the boy is 11. Her cold fingers pinch the inside of his upper thigh and travel up his shorts to his underwear. As is typical, the victim blames himself. He’s newly arrived at his English boarding school and misses his mother tremendously. He’s textbook, and Miriam begins grooming him.

Roland is 14 when the Cuban Missile Crisis happens. Fear and loneliness compel him to ride a bike to Miriam’s house in the nearby village. She doesn’t seem surprised when he shows up unannounced. Roland is escorted upstairs to her bedroom, and Miriam tells him what she expects. As if he is a child. Because he is. After they have sex, he is even more under her control. “She had always frightened him. He had not forgotten how cruel she could be. Now it was more complicated, it was worse and he had made it worse.”

Over the next two years, Miriam manipulates Roland. She is always the teacher, and he is always the pupil. His schoolwork suffers. He loses touch with friends. The night before his sixteenth birthday Miriam tells Roland they will be traveling to Scotland in the morning to get married. This scares him more than the Cuban Missile Crisis did. When he flees, Miriam yells “You’ll spend the rest of your life looking for what you’ve had here.”

She’s not wrong. The trauma from this relationship has “rewired his brain.” He drops out of school. He floats from one job to another, from one relationship to another. Finally, in his thirties, he meets Alyssa. They get married and have a son, but the marriage falls apart.

Alyssa dreams of being her generation’s greatest writer, but she’s sinking. Being a wife and mother is suffocating. She can’t be the writer she wants to be so she leaves. Years later, she writes novels and they’re brilliant. Roland wonders how he could have been married to a genius and not realized it. Is Miriam to blame? Is he still a victim?

Roland’s life story (from the 1950s to 2020) is deftly told. McEwan is a deeply humane writer, and he creates fascinating characters with complex motivations. The women are far more interesting than the men, but this shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Shakespeare or women.

McEwan is generous and empathetic with all his characters – even Miriam. That is a testament to his genuine skill as a writer. But there’s a problem. Roland does eventually (late in middle age) confront Miriam. This is a pivotal moment, and its resolution is humane only if Miriam hasn’t abused other children. And we have no reason for believing this is the case. What if she is a serial pedophile? The fact that no one thinks to ask this, especially after all the scandals uncovered during the 1980s and later, is a glaring problem in an otherwise masterfully told story.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Please Don’t Vote

The U.S. election yesterday reminded me of the two principles I’ve held ever since I dropped out of Boy Scouts as a Tenderfoot. One: I love democracy. And I mean that in the biblical sense. I do democracy doggie style every night.

Two: I hate that we vote.

Let me be clear. I cherish having a vote. But what I really want is having THE vote. This requires you having no vote. So in the next election, please don’t vote. You’re only diluting my vote, which is a shame because I am very smart, and I know what’s best for you. So don’t worry your pretty little head. Let me handle our democracy and then I’ll handle you.

Titmouse Beak, CEO of Pungent Sound Technical College of Technology and President of Pungent Sound Community Bank