Saturday, 12 November 2011
Walter Holland, Falsehoods, Concerns (2011)
Compromised though the recommendation is by my friendship with the author, I nevertheless recommend this title: you can buy it, hardcopy, for $12 (I'm not sure what the e-book status is). More to the point, you can see whether this is the sort of thing that would interest you by browsing le blog hollandais on which many of these pieces first appeared. The fact that you can see for yourself what kind of a writer Holland is, by clicking through to his blog, renders my summing-up of his style mostly redundant, of course; but in respect of the cover blurb, up there, and the 'wanna buy a book?' page to which I just linked, I'll say that the book itself has a slightly lower quotient of goofy than they might imply. There's some goofy, true; and a touch more Foster-Wallaceishness; but Holland's voice is his own, unlike anybody else I can think of. Stylistically and formally there is a flavour of the riff about the way he writes; but it's not as freeform or sprawling as that description, perhaps, makes it sound. Say rather, perhaps, that his writing has the more structured sense of Phishian improvisation (there's quite a lot in here about Phish; some of which is perhaps a little over-specific and fannish) -- I mean, the working through of a tight set of particular fascinations (childhood and the making of children; love and hate; remembering and belonging; the new and the old) in ways that deliberately resist a too-polished articulation, a commitment to using a considerable technical accomplishment as a springboard to something a little less constrained by technique.
The falsehoods are experiments in writing fiction (fragments thereof, mostly); the concerns are wide-ranging -- music, politics, cinema and TV, gaming, religion, art. What he's particularly good on is the relationship between truth-telling and gaucheness, a fruitful worrying away at the limits of originality -- how 'original' can any writer be, today? -- and a genuinely complex relationship, in what he does, between the urge to splurge everything, no matter how embarrassing, and the urge to autoprotect, to mask-up, to hide behind affectations and styles and ironies and obscurities. If Holland committed wholeheartedly to either route, he'd be a less interesting writer. The standouts for me, here, are: the piece on pregnancy and possibility; the essay on atheism (I'm writing a book on religion at the moment, and plan on quoting this); the classroom essay. I liked plenty more -- the 'fixing you' stuff, for instance, which Holland himself dismisses, in the book, as 'dumb'. Some I disagreed with quite strongly (the love/hate piece, for instance) -- a state of affairs which is, in case I'm not being clear, commendable and praiseworthy rather than anything else. You'll have other stand-outs. The whole is stimulating. There are some typos; but -- hey.
One more thing: I don't believe, whatever he says, that Holland's Dad ('from the north of England') was 'a snappy soccer player'. He was a football player, is what he was. There. I've said it.