L.L. Barkat (T.S. Poetry Press, Softcover) 112 pages
The great Dorothy Parker said of novella that it was a wretched word and she'd promised her mother she'd never use it. I love Mrs Parker as both a reviewer and a poet, although I do note that if she had not actually used the word novella, she never would have been able to write that very sentence. And it's exactly that kind of half-witted observation that has denied me entry into cafe society my entire adult life.
It is observations on the literary life that make The Novelist such an enjoyable read for those of us who have read widely. Laura is an aspiring novelist who so far has written two words of her first novel: The End. Well you have to admit, that certainly beats the dreary Chapter One that the rest of us use – those two words that stare at the blocked writer like a basilisk daring us to move a finger to the keyboard.
Laura is also having two affairs. One physical, with a rather dreary academic and poetry expert named Geoffrey, and conducted in a series of hotel rooms. The other is through the internet with the much cheerier and insightful James, who unfortunately is a bit long in the tooth although sharp in the email. Add in the remorselessly positive Megan, a cheerfully encouraging tea seller and here you have Laura's world. Add insight to taste and stir.
Anyone who has thought of being a creative writer will get Laura. She is better at expressing herself through her fingers than with her voice; or perhaps it just that our written voices are much more eloquent than our verbal. She observes her relationship with Geoffrey through poetry, not oral conversation. This is very much the way we busy little scribblers and typists roll...we invent characters with the vocabulary and verve to say all the things we lack either the balls or the ovaries to say ourselves.
Also, writers think a lot about writing. We, like Laura, are forever looking for that magic key that unlocks the door to the Writing Is Easy room. As you can guess, we find many keys yet none of them ever fits that lock. Yet we do keep on trying as does our Laura, searching through F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marcel Proust (both of whom got a happy little booze glow on before starting the day's work) and Thomas Pynchon, who was never really happy, little or glowing.
There is a bit of 'writerly-ness' to The Novelist that if mishandled would see me loading up the shotgun and taking random aim at anything that moved. Laura refers regularly to one L. L. Barkat's poetry throughout this. Does that name sound familiar? Take a peeky-weeky up at the top of this page. Yes, that's right. The character Laura refers to the author of the story. There are only three people in all of literature I will let get away with that kind of self-referencing. In order of appearance, they are Norman Mailer, Martin Amis and L. L. Barkat. Thankfully she does not overplay her entry into her own story and only refers to herself as someone Laura has read. Had L. L. come sweeping into a room in a ballgown with champagne in one hand and a swain in the other, well that shotgun would have been out of its case.
To state the pleasurable, Barkat is a damn fine writer. Talking about literary theories and analyzing writers can serve as a better antidote to insomnia than Sominex with a Scotch chaser. Yet, her prose is elegant without becoming stuffy, plus the poetry included within the text is astonishing in its range and individuality of styles as she shifts from Laura, to Geoffrey to 'Barkat'. Truly, this is the kind of tour from which springs de force.
I may only review a dozen or so novellas in my career as truth be told I am rather with Mrs Parker in her assessment. But I'm damn glad I picked up this one.
Be seeing you.