(Norton)Josh Cody has cancer that will probably kill him, so they do chemo which almost kills him too. All is related here in exacting, scary detail.
Through all of it, we get to be with Cody and his memories of his father and mother and the many lady friends he has known and his movies (he makes movies) and his music (he makes and teaches music) and his thoughts about the detritus of modern western culture: Ezra Pound, Fiorello LaGuardia, Picasso, post-modernism, the "guilt of the ill," Vienna and Trieste in the early part of the 20th century.
And Mozart, Orson Welles, the Third Earl of Shaftesbury and, repeatedly, the Rolling Stones' "Some Girls " --- along with Manhattan's 59th Street Bridge, "the least elegant, most aggressively, heavily industrial of our bridges:"
for to live in New York, like living in any great city, is to possess it): not a joiner, but an exit.
The title of the book comes from a line in Ezra Pound's Cantos, "grey mist barrier impassible [sic] ... "
[Sic.] You know what that means. "Used after a word or passage to indicate that it is intended exactly as printed ... it exactly reproduces the original." It is usually used by over-educated reviewers like me to show the reader that we know more than the author, that the writer blew it --- usually with a grammatical or factual mistake. Critics (like me) favor sticking it in the middle of a passage to show that the writer may think he is spot on but that really he's a bit of a dummy.
[Sic] being the title of an entire book implies that there's a more universal error here that should be called to the reader's attention. OK, but there is always with Cody a hint of something else being slipped under the table. You got cancer. Modern American magic medicine can't seem to cure it. So what you are is impassibly [sic]. Sick.
§ § §
Cody is a helluva good writer, so good that the rest of us who have labored long in the writerly grove could get riled. He pulls it all in so easily, weaving in Pound and Eliot and Klee and sex and hospital walls and near-death experiences and cocaine and doctors.
There is, for example, Cody's "pain-management" physician who seems to fall in love with him (everyone seems to fall in love with him; after reading this, I am too).
It would not do to write the name, especially with the strange courtship that follows,
but here we are presented with the intentionally unemphatic entrance of the real Not Her Real Name. Obviously Caroline was not Caroline's real name, but neither was Caroline not the real Not her Real Name, just as Sophie (not her real name) was not the real Not Her Real Name ... Not Her Real Name: or Nothereal, as I'm going to call her for short, for convenience. I deserve a little ease at this point.
This last bit is thrown in there as afterthought and the reader thinks, well, after a series of chemo that didn't take and now going through this harrowing bone-marrow business ... perhaps you do deserve a "little ease."
§ § §
Luis Buñuel and Werner Herzog come to mind, film people who had a way with words. It's a kind of writing that makes one think of good cinema: control over shots, artful lighting, a growing sense of drama. We are in Cody's movie of the mind with its careful building of scenes and elegant lighting (Cody mentions how many times he mentions light, and he does) until it comes to the watershed where all is frozen in a moment of near-death. And Cody has a vision which is the final one which spins out something like this: he says he "needs to escape the body;" he begins to see a "smooth black form, floating in a dark red field, slowly rotating..."
What was this thing? Where was it? Each time I saw it, it was easier to discern, as if it were lit by a gradually brightening light source on a dimmer. My mother's face, then this thing, then Nothereal's face, then this thing now slightly better lit than before: still the deepest black I've ever seen, but I could make out a texture on its surface I'd previously held to be as smooth as the surface of undisturbed water, as sheer as a shard of glass cleanly broke. I knew what it was. I recognized it, floating there innocently, suspended. It was the most familiar thing in the world.
§ § §
In [Sic] there's not only cancer but the usual existential despair, coupled with an attempted suicide. Yet withal, Cody can be (and improbably is) a comic writer. As we all know this sickness/dying business is woefully sad and woefully funny at the same time. I was put in mind of John Callahan and Mike Ervin and most improbably the very funny Lopsided: How Having Breast Cancer Can Be Really Distracting by Meredith Norton.
Chaucer hit on this unlikely mix, as did Shakespeare, Byron, and Nabokov. They reassure us that no matter what befalls us, we always get the consolation of our tears. At the same time, and most improbably, there is also the silliness of it all.--- Lolita Lark