who knew macho came in so many delicate colors? evidently don carpenter did. and displayed the entire spectrum in his great brutal HARD RAIN FALLING. with a palpable adherence to some unsaid code of defiant honesty, carpenter’s first novel anchors itself in a historically determined idea of manhood that dates itself much less than one might at first assume.
three very different eras in one man’s life: a raging early hoodlum boyhood of poolhalls and not-so-petty crimes; then stints at prison including one tremendous tear of writing and existential fury describing a solitary confinement episode and also, later, a very moving and tragic love story between inmates at san quentin… the book perhaps should have ended there but gives us a final portrait of the ex-con as a young father… this bit, while burning not quite as hot, also has its philosophical rewards. this last domestic section may also only seem a letdown because by then you’ve become accustomed to the explosive miracles carpenter seems to be pulling off scene after extended scene.
usually i dislike books where i’m constantly wondering what happens next because i feel manipulated, as if i’m on some kind of ride. i wondered what came next here, but i didn’t mind.
a lightning strike, a revelation. populated by persons afflicted — the two serious ladies of its title most so — by some hilarious strain of nutty. each too acquiring a certain kind of self-proclaimed but not entirely inaccurate sainthood. “saint” a title to use advisedly, but there is something of the seeker and holy fool about these characters. an air of privilege perfumes our ladies but their disavowal of it through the casual violation or even destruction of propriety makes it seem the transgressions and non sequiturs are actually the fastidious following of a much higher order. my edition has an awful cover and a great intro by lorna sage who reveals parenthetically that Christina Goering was “named after Jesus Christ and Hitler’s aviation minister”(!) …published in 1943 TWO SERIOUS LADIES can be thought of as a proto-beat novel — only in the sense that it too seems a response and protesting statement to the bourgeois strictures from which it arises — but otherwise a total sui generis. it’s madcap, movingly in touch with despair, structurally profound, and in the best sense foolishly holy.
“It’s possible,” Koestenbaum tells me, “that I worship Jane Bowles a little less than I did five or ten years ago. Self destructiveness isn’t as easily idealized as you get older.” It’s true. The loneliness of Bowles that seemed grand to me at 20 now seems like a question that was never answered.