Oct 26, 2011

REVIEW: Lucking out (Wolcott)

I tore through James Wolcott's Lucking Out after managing to get my hands on a copy earlier this week — it took me three nights. I knew I was going to love the writing, Wolcott's prose inspiring in me the same gobsmacked awe that I get watching Chinese gymnasts and Grand Slam tennis champs. Responding to Patti Smith, the prose of Normal Mailer, Talking Heads, David Lynch, porn, Balanchine, Wolcott maps his own synapses with such a heady mixture of pinpoint accuracy and wind-blown abandon, that you don't have time to be astonished, for here comes some fresh wonder down the pike: "the women women in particular suggested minor characters in Dawn Powell novels who had slipped down several rungs in life and were left with nothing but late innings rituals and brief flurries of bother"; (his co-inhabitants at the Latham Hotel) "every phrase quivered like the handle of a knife whose blade has just lodged in the tree bark" (Kael). There's something like that on every page — a Federesque barrage of aces. What stops his writing from descending into mere Fine Writing — or, since Wolcott is too energetic a talent for silver-birch finery, the hyper-caffeinated rock-press equivalent, distracted by its own snarl in the bath-room mirror — are his sure, unshakable rhythms, and the simpatico match-up between his prose and his subjects. In each case, he locks into some obstreperous vitality in his subjects — a gnarly, wriggling life force — and then proceeds to write like a man possessed.
"Patti already has her stage persona pencil-sharpened into a self-conscious, couldn't-care-less wild child, playing with a zipper like a teenage boy with a horny itch, pistoning her hips, hocking an amoeba blob of spit between songs, scratching her breast as if addressing a stray thought, and, during the incantatory highs, spreading her fingers like a preacher woman summoning the spirits from the Pere Lachaise graveyard where Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde were buried to rise and reclaim their former glory."
Notice how, at the very point where most writers would be sneaking off for a well-deserved fag break, Wolcott whips one more delightful image out of the bag — the resurrection of Morrison and Wilde — like a sealion ending its balancing act with one final nudge, sending the ball flying into the delighted crowd. Being this deeply embedded in both the world and one's own reactions to it — a double patrol of two equally fierce perimeters — is hard, and he makes it look easy. Maybe we have New York to thank. "If nothing else the seventies in New York taught me situational awareness, a vital attribute for every slow-moving mammal prone to daydreaming." This book is a must for every such mammal.

1 comment:

  1. Nice job. If I hadn’t already bought the book, this would make me want to. I like it when the Wolcott tsunami of put-downs and negativity accumulates until it crashes over into some kind of enthusiastic embrace and sharp-focus appreciation.