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Before I left Truro
I started reading this old novel on the bookshelf next to my bed, a hardback of the kind that is picked up in a thrift shop and left for summer tenants to bring to the beach. It is by the prolific R.V. Cassill, a former neighbor of mine in Truro, now dead. He was, I’m almost positive, though Wikipedia doesn’t seem to know it, the founder of the Associated Writing Programs!
The novel is very interesting to me for several reasons. First, you can see from the start why no one reads it anymore. It was published in 1983 but feels like a novel of the early 60s, in terms of its attitudes toward women (it concerns a married, failed novelist, the protagonist, on summer vacation on the Cape, who’s having an affair with a much younger woman–who quite literally worships his prick!–in the midwest where he travels for his job). It’s all going along like a derivation of Updike when the interesting part starts and the young woman in Cincinnati starts speaking in tongues out of her hoo-ha. It’s very sexual, as I remember novels in the 70s being. The failed novelist’s wife is a former dancer with two kids who’s very pragmatic, and here’s where my ears pricked up: I think that character is based on my mother! (I’m enjoying writing about something that could only possibly be of real interest to me.) At one point when I was about nine or ten we, my mother and brother and I, started going down the road to visit this old novelist quite often. Then stopped.
Of most interest to anyone in this episode will be how sad it is to read a novel with actually very rich and worked prose that just fails fails fails because you can see, for various reasons, that it’s too close to the source material. It’s undigested? Or unmined? Unprocessed, unflagellated, unfiltered? Is there a name for this, in literary critical terminology? If so, does it apply to poems too? And if not, what’s it doing on this blog.