June 10, 2007

Proximity to Darkness: The Collected Stories of Leonard Michaels

For those of you who have never read Leonard Michaels, or just read one story and thought "he's a pervert," here's your chance to really get to know and appreciate his work better. FSG has just published his Collected Stories and republished his autobiographical novel, Sylvia. Both books are reviewed by Mona Simpson in today's NY Times Book Review. Simpson "gets" Michaels--at least I think so--and gives some fascinating insight into how he a New York Jew who only spoke Yiddish untl the age of 6 came to be one of the most lyrical writers of American vernacular.

I teach his story "Murderers" often and I write about its influence on me in my book. Uncannily, Simpson focuses on the same story in her review. In fact, the title of the review, "Proximity to Darkness" is, uncannily, very close to the title of the chapter in my book, which I titled "Some Proximity to Darkness."

The thing that makes Michaels worth reading, especially now, is that his stories span the spectrum from young boys fascinated by the mysteriousness and strangeness of sex to adults mired and addled by their own sexual rapacity. I took immediately to Michaels' work, because unlike his contemporary, Phllip Roth, he is able to express the the sorrow and disillusionment of the libertine lifestyle, while making you laugh. His work is not merely cleverly, ironically or situationally funny, but comedic in that deep divine way which has you smirking to yourself because you recongnize the impulses driving the characters.

Michaels' work helped me to see that there was a way to write about being an adult male that wasn't annoyingly self-lacerating or idiotically macho.

1 comment:

sasha fletcher said...

my name is dave, and i'm a peacock