Wednesday, July 16, 2008

W. P. Kinsella

Wherein not everything he wrote took place in Iowa, there's a lot in Canada

From the short story collection, The Alligator Report, 1985. There's a wiki page for this book and I suppose it would behoove me to sign up and edit it. Emptily factual, it reports "26 short stories" -- correct -- "134 pages long" -- not correct -- and "another short story" -- also incorrect. The wiki author must be working from a reprint because the original Coffee House Press is 125 pages and stops at 26 short stories. Not that any of this is meaningful or useful information. The wiki ends with Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America was a major influence for Kinsella to write The Alligator Report.[citation needed]

Damn straight a citation is needed, or maybe you could just read the introduction:
Three days after I signed the contract for this book Richard Brautigan's death was announced. I can't think of another writer who has influenced my life and career as much. If I could own only one book it would be Brautigan's mysterious parable In Watermelon Sugar. I think Dreaming of Babylon is the funniest novel I have ever read.

Many of the sort, surreal pieces in this book owe a debt to Richard Brautigan. I publicly call these vignettes Brautigans and many have been published in groups of three or four as such. Brautigan's delicate, visual, whimsical, facetious writing appealed to a whole generation of us who were able to identify with the gentle, loving losers of his stories.

He also includes a letter he once wrote Mr. Brautigan and names one more book - The Tokyo-Montana Express. In a book dedicated to Brautigan and with stories called Brautigans, this would seem to be the most likely place to list Trout Fishing in America as a major influence and not the three books he did list. Perhaps I am practicing nitpickery, so I will stop.

The Secret
On a wet Vancouver afternoon, with rain tapping clandestinely against the brittle panes of my lone window, Grabarkewitcz tells me his secret. I am propped on my bed, my weak pillow doubled behind my head. Grabarkewitcz sits on the room's only chair, rubbing his long blue-stubbled face and neck. Grabarkewitcz occupies a suite on the ground floor of this decaying rooming house in East Vancouver. He shifts his long, pointed feet, which are encased in unshined black dress shoes, and in answer to a question about his past, begins to speak.

"I am a convicted felon," Grabarkewitcz begins, hunching forward, his hand on his unshaven chin making a crunching sound.

Felon is an odd word, I think. I have always associated it with those pale, moldy-smelling wedges of fruit one finds on second-rate buffet tables. I sniff. Grabarkewitcz smells of stale rooms and welfare.

There is a little known statute in B.C. which prohibits carnal and salacious activities with books. I was convicted of Second Degree Bookfondling," he says to the floor, then adds quickly "I hope this won't affect our friendship."

"Of course not," I say. "Why should your literary preferences affect our relationship?"

"I was born with the desire," Grabarkewitcz goes on. "I wasn't corrupted by an older bookfondler as society often supposes. As a child, while my friends were sneaking into their mothers' bedrooms, dressing in their negligees and garter-belts, I would scatter my mother's Harlequin Romances across her silk bedspread and fondle the book jackets." Grabarkewitcz stares up at me, his dark eyes full of pain.

"I tried to live a normal life," he goes on. "For years I was a closet fondler. I frequented dark areas in library stacks, special collection rooms, empty aisles in second-hand bookstores. I married, fathered two beautiful daughters.I should have moved to a province where the law doesn't persecute bookfondlers.

"Eventually my darker desires overcame my good sense. I would buy hardcover books, novels, coffee-table books, nonfiction, even children's books. I'd take them to a secluded spot, remove their dustjackets, and photograph them nude.

"I hid the photographs in a shoe-box in the top of my closet. That was my undoing. My wife found the photos; they broke her heart. Of course, she left me, but before she did she called the police.

"Second Degree Bookfondling carries a penalty of fourteen years to life. One of the provisions of the divorce decree was that I not even be allowed to know the whereabouts of my wife and children.

"When I released, after years in a segregated area of the prison, the John Howrd Society found me this suite, arranged for welfare. There are few job opportunities for convicted bookfondlers."

"I sympathize," I said.

"You don't believe me," accused Grabarkewitcz, shifting his feet, rubbing his bristly cheek.

"I believe you," I said.

"I only photograph my cat these days," said Grabarkewitcz. "Nothing kinky, though I sometimes dress him in doll's clothes."

The rain drizzled against the window.

Let's see Kevin Costner play that role in a movie.


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