Frederick Seidel
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Anyone who has the wit to name a book of poetry --- published by the much respected Farrar, Straus, and Giroux --- Oogba-Booga has our vote. Especially one who can write the King James version of a love song to a landing field: "The East Hampton Airport is my harbor. / I shall not want..."

Or, this on old man love:

    I enter the jellyfish folds
    Of floating fire
    The mania in her labia can inspire
    Extraordinary phenomena and really does cure colds.

Seidel's poetry is not only passion (and airports), but love and death, with wonderful lines such as his telling us that he finds his own poetry "incomprehensible." And

    I spend most of my time not dying...


    I like your brain. Your pink. It's sweet...


    The butterflies titter and flutter their silk fans,
    End-of-summer cabbage butterflies, in white pairs.

There are times when it may get to be a bit too much, "Mother Nature went to China, / China the vagina." But we have to forgive Seidel because he is funny and sophisticated, so sophisticated that he wants to die in Paris. "I mention I am easily old enough to die:"

    The value of life which will end is unbearable.

--- Richard Saturday

Not that
You Asked

Rants, Exploits, and

Steve Almond
(Random House)
Random House sent us a few sample chapters from Not that You Asked so all the votes aren't in yet. Still, some rants are funny as hell. Like when Almond gets busted at Long's Drugs for trying to shoplift a package of condoms and a greasy something called "Stay-Hard Gel." And he's wearing only shorts.

Best, there's the chapter titled "10 Ways I Killed My Daughter Within Her First 72 Hours of Life." In the delivery room, the doctor offers Almond the scissors so he can snip the umbilical cord. He snips there instead of here, and the blood "seeps down her legs and stains the bedsheets. In effect, I've stabbed my newborn in the gut," he confesses.

In Death #5: Aneurysm (Age of Deceased: 27 hours), the author is instructed to use a bulb syringe to remove excess mucous, but "I fail to deflate the bulb before insertion. Instead, I blow air up Baby's nose."

    The air travels up into the soft cup of her skull and pops the fragile balloon around her brainpan, which I am certain exists despite having no actual neurological expertise. The popping of this fragile "brain balloon" ruptures the frontal lobes, the synaptic nerve bundles, and every single micro-artery in Baby's head.

Almond then precedes directly to "Death #6: Intestinal Detonation," which I leave to your imagination.

Anyone who has tried to be a loving father to a newborn baby will recognize the symptoms. I remember my own lovely daughter when, one night, my wife went out on the town (they still called it "Girl's Night Out.") I was assigned to diaper duty.

In those days, we used real cloth diapers with real (and large) (and pointy) safety pins. I got the dirty diaper off safely, and got the clean one on, then, in the process of stabilizing it, I managed to stab my beloved daughter in the upper tender thigh. She cried, I cried, I knew she was going to die from blood poisoning, and that I was going to hang.

§     §     §

Other excerpts in Not that You Asked include a mildly funny article on those who care to root for the Boston Red Sox, a long and not very interesting paean to Kurt Vonnegut, and a wrenchingly funny story about Almond at age fifteen years when he and his mother and the family dog together encounter one of his condoms on the living-room rug, the oriental rug "hand-knotted and beautiful,"

    with intricate designs I have spent many many stoned hours inspecting, a rug that frankly had no business in the living room that belongs in a boy-and-dog-proof vault.

His mother, a "neat-freak," tells Lizzie (the dog) to "sit and drop it,"

    but Lizzie will not, so my mom finally grabs the edge of the used condom, which to Lizzie, signals that it's time to play.

It is, and they do, and the reader --- at least one of us --- is thoroughly charmed.

--- Paul Abraham

Falling Man
Don DeLillo
John Slattery,

(Recorded Books)
Keith Neudecker works in the World Trade Center as a lawyer. He is there on the fateful day, but he survives to wander around Manhattan, in a daze, finally comes to the apartment of his almost ex-wife Lianne. He is covered with white dust and is quite bloody.

Neudecker ends up moving back in with her (they've been separated for more than a year). He also manages to locate Florence Givens, a black woman who came down and out of the Towers at the same time as he. They share tortured memories of the long walk down the stairs, smoke, ash, dust and water, the crowds, the firemen passing on their way up, staircase after staircase. He had taken Givens' briefcase out of the building, was never quite sure why.

§     §     §

Am I the only one in this crowd (going up or down the down staircase) that suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder on reading (or hearing) DeLillo. I first ran across him a couple of years ago in a story in The New Yorker filled with characters like Jackie Gleason and J. Edgar Hoover and I think Frank Sinatra. It was an OK exercise in improbable history, but it was nothing to write home about. However it seems that many are beside themselves in sheer awe over the novels Underworld and White Noise and now this one.

His is a flat prose and not flat artistic like Hemingway but flat and dry like an AP dispatch. The dialogue is more of the same. When people are speaking, you can never quite be sure if they are making sense to each other, much less the reader. As if the reader is of any importance to DeLillo, what with his long meditations in Falling Man on watching a poker tournament on cable TV a poker tournament on TV or being part of a fist-fight on the 9th floor of Macy's. In the bedding department.

Richard Drew's photograph of what came to be called the "jumper" turns up. It was a snapshot taken at exactly 9:41:15 AM on September 11, published in the United States but immediately withdrawn as just too much. It is a photograph of a man who, apparently, jumped from Tower #1. He is falling headfirst, one leg bent. (For the morbidly curious, it now resides at Wikipidia). DeLillo denies that his Falling Man is the one you and I may be thinking of. Rather he introduces a street theatre artist who jumps from various tall structures, one leg cinched with a cable so that he will not brain himself. But there are, to say the least, some uneasy echoes.

The bit players in Falling Man may create a little interest if not empathy. Keith's sometimes wife Lianne runs a writing class for pre-Alzheimer's geezers. Their essays and interactions can be touching: how do you remember putting on your pants when you can't remember putting on your pants?

Then there's Keith and Lianne's son Justin and his friends who spend days searching the New York skyline to see if they can locate a new incarnation of "Bill Lawton" (bin Laden in childspeak) and, as the very young will often do, firmly refusing to admit that the towers have crashed.

Still, I had to give up on this one halfway through disc four. It is not the fault of John Slattery, the reader. I suspect it's the sheer humorlessness of it all. Life for us in post-9/11 Manhattan was sad and at times desperate, but it certainly wasn't drab and heartless.

--- John Bernstein
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