Sunday, January 30, 2011

Inferno (A Poet's Novel), Eileen Myles (2010)

Many year ago, about ten years ago, I was handed Eileen Myles' Cool For You. It was written in a very interesting style. But, the novel made me sick. There were passages that turned my stomach. As a whole, I found the book to be too much. Too boring, too gross, and trying too hard. I never finished the book. When I started reading reviews for Inferno, I was confused by all the praise. Myles has always received rave reviews for her work, but this novel seemed to be getting even more attention. When I discovered the topic was about writing as much as it was about the writer, I was determined to get my hands on a copy.

Getting your hands on a copy isn't as easy as snapping your fingers. Or, clicking on Amazon. The item is only available through the publisher's website and select book stores. I was lucky enough to find a stack of autographed copies at a cute little bookstore in Brooklyn. I didn't get to start the novel while I was in New York, but I think that is how the book was best started. Leaving the city, up above who knows where and too many miles away from the city, I decided to start on my journey through Myles' version of hell. The novel starts out beautifully. I felt I was arriving back into the city instead of turning away.

I am not a fan of memoir, autobiography, or most non-fiction. It is just a fact I've realized with all the reading experience over my lifetime. But, Myles manages to start Inferno out in such a way that it doesn't feel too personal. Inferno is pushed as fiction, but the main characters name is Eileen Myles. Much of what is being stated is based on or loosely based on Myles' personal life. I am a huge fan of the artist turning themselves into fiction in this manner. It is my personal favorite way to compose short stories, too. I admired how Myles treated herself, her character, her art.

About halfway through the novel there is a new section. A section that plays out like a grant application. At times, funny. At times, a great bit of satire. But, mostly, too personal. Myles has lost the creative path of the first section of the novel. We are now delving into the phases of her work (theatre pieces, poetry, poetry readings, etc). Myles begins dropping names left and right (Patti Smith, Kathy Acker, John Ashberry, Lynne Tillman, etc). And, at first, knowing all these names and the art they are attached to made for interesting reading. Connecting who they were with who they've become. But, it starts to make the reader feel detached. As if Myles wants to show off. Of, thinks she is too cool. All the while she is acting uncomfortable and a bit shy. I just wasn't' buying all of it.

The writing remains beautiful throughout the piece. Her language is lovely. Myles is playful, sharp, and biting. While the first half of the novel is certainly stronger on many levels, the writing never really falls to the side like the story.


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