The book is in its way a paean to the Venezuelan llano, or plain. I am a son of the Llano Estacado myself, but Gallegos’s plain is nothing like mine. In one of his rivers, for example, is a giant one-eyed alligator; this beast is said to be centuries old and can eat horses, bulls, or anything that wanders near. And, if one escapes this monster, there is the Great Bog, a bottomless swamp that swallows up any creature that attempts it.
Unlike the austere plain I grew up on, Gallegos’s llano is steamy, tumescent, lust driven. Doña Barbara may have been a kind of anticipation of Eva Perón. She owns a great ranch, the Altamira, but must struggle constantly to keep it. She is, in her way, a tragic heroine, seeking to attract a decent lover, while giving herself day and night to very coarse lovers indeed.
She is, however, very vividly drawn, a Bovary of the llano.
“The greatest work of the twentieth century will be that of those who are placing literature on a plane superior to philosophy and science. Present day despairs of life are bred of the past triumphs of these latter. Literature will lay truth open upon a higher level. If I can have a part in that enterprise, I shall be extremely contented. It will be an objective synthesis of chosen words to replace the common dilatoriness with stupid verities with which everyone is familiar. Reading will become an art also. Living in a backward country, as all which are products of the scientific and philosophic centuries must be, I am satisfied, since I prefer not to starve, to live by the practice of medicine, which combines the best features of both science and philosophy with that imponderable and enlightening element, disease, unknown in its normality to either. But, like Pasteur, when he was young, or anyone else who has something to do, I wish I had more money for my literary experiments.”
William Carlos Williams, c. 1931
If you share an affinity for Williams’ four-diver white prose under the summer sun (“So I come again to my present day gyrations”), you’ll find him (or discussions of his work) here:
Paterson, Book V: The River of Heaven, in The Open Door: One Hundred Poems, One Hundred Years of Poetry Magazine, edited by Don Share and Christian Wiman
“Projective Verse” and “The Practice” in The Poet’s Work: 29 Poets on the Origins and Practice of Their Art, edited by Reginald Gibbons
“The Breughel Museum of William Carlos Williams,” discussed in Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery, by James A. W. Heffernan
“The Beast in Pain: Abjection and Aggression in Archilochus and William Carlos Williams,” discussed in The Animal Part: Human and Other Animals in the Poetic Imagination, by Mark Payne
James Marcus, now an editor at Harper’s Magazine, sees a particular irony in Amazon’s entry into book publishing. ‘When I first worked at Amazon in the mid 1990s,’ he recalls, ‘we were advised to think of publishers as our partners. I believe this directive was in earnest. But even then, a creeping contempt for the publishing industry was sometimes discernible. Weren’t they stodgy traditionalists, who relied on rotary phones and a Depression-era business model? Well, the company is now a bona-fide trade publisher. There’s no predicting how these books will fare, especially with many retailers refusing to sell them (an embargo that won’t, of course, affect e-book sales, where Amazon still rules the roost). But Bezos may now discover that cutting out the middleman isn’t all it’s cracked up to be—that it’s surprisingly easy to fail in the neo-Victorian enterprise of publishing, especially when it comes to finding readers for worthy books. Perhaps it’s time for him to acquire a rotary phone, available in five retro colors and eligible for two-day Prime shipping on his very own site.’
A Naked Singularity, Sergio De La Pava’s first novel, fizzes like an overstuffed Roman candle launched over New York City’s downtown criminal court. It explodes. And for those with a taste for fiction that is the antithesis of economical writing — writing that speaks a lush language of the cosmic heart that frequently veers off-road from its central goofy two-public-defenders-pull-off-the-perfect-caper-ripping-off-high-end-drug-dealers plot into long dialogues about justice, cosmology, physics, mathematics, spirituality, entropy, boxing (I could go on, and De La Pava does go on) — it’s worth it.