By Leisure

A Cautionary Tale
Chris Ayres
(Grove Press)
I can't believe I spent so much time with this clunker last night. I have on my desk a rich collection of titles I've been working my way through: D. A Powell's funny poems (Graywolf); an exhaustive book on art ("Over 2500 Works from Cave to Contemporary"), ART, newly issued by DK Press; Rikki Ducornet's collection of funny essays issued last year by Dalkey Archives ("Lucinda is a healer. Like a pale hummingbird suspended in the ether, she hovers over her clients who, adrift on grass mats, listen to the soothing ping of wind chimes and hushed platitudes") with the funny drawings of "T. Motley" [See Fig. 1 above].

Then from Exile Editions of Canada there are the surprisingly entrancing 1920s poems and paintings [Figs. 2 and 3 below] of Lawren Harris:

    In houses, in hotels and above stores
    People sleep
    On their backs, on their sides, alone and in pairs,
    Mouths open, mouths shut, resting quietly, or fretfully turning.
    Snoring in a ghastly monotony
    Like dead things haunted by incoming and outgoing life.

More: there is Watson-Gupthill's luscious Alla Prima by Al Gury (I've been trying to get to it for months now, waylaid by the fact that exposition of "Traditional Direct Painting" is complicated as hell, and I'm no painter). There's Tavia Nyong'o's The Amalgamation Waltz, consisting of long passages on "the miscegenation of time," Crispus Attucks (The Boston Massacre, 1770), "black people as a community," and thoughts on Senator Strom Thurman's mixed-race daughter ... all from the University of Minnesota Press. And, finally, there's Robin Magowan's Bordel, his latest and probably his best collection, being a saucy selection of translations of verses by Paul Verlaine, complete with huge blossoming erotic lusty drawings by Vertil Burnett (Pasdeloup Press).

I have all these hounds baying at the door, cats jumping on my bed, mice in the basement ... and I spend three hours fiddling with this pot-boiler Death by Leisure. Unbelievable!

It may be a ham-fisted work but it also may doomed to suffer from sheer bad luck. The author (and the publisher) have to deal with the Eerie Chance Factor. For it's a book in which the narrator, supposedly working for an English news service, spends a long chapter --- and too much of our time --- in getting tickets to, getting into, getting around in, and getting out of Neverland, the late Michael Jackson's 3,000 acre spread north of LA.

I happened to be working my way through Leisure on 25 June 2009. It was for us Michael Jackson non-fans one of many days of too much newsprint and electronic hyperspace overload on the death of one who for some for some strange reason was thought to be an important figure of American culture and life.

This is what Ayres writes about him: "I was struck by his tiny figure: it was that of a teenage girl, not a middle-aged man. He wore a black sequined suit. But no amount of sequins could distract from his terrible, broken face."

    From somewhere behind his flame-retardant hairpiece --- or perhaps it was real --- Jackson squeaked out a thank you and riffed with merciful brevity on the themes of children, hope, and the future.

§     §     §

Ayers spends the first few chapters convincing us what a nitwit his narrator is. I agree with him ... so I didn't make it much past page 75.

Despite all good sense, Booklist and Publishers Weekly both gave this title top billing. They obviously weren't listening to what the author was telling them about his boorish narrator. And none of them were expecting the character, the one who, by chance, visits all our lives: the one who Nabokov labeled "Mister McFate."

--- Lolita Lark
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