Author Topic: Stanley Elkin  (Read 103 times)

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Offline agate

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Stanley Elkin
« on: March 03, 2017, 04:59:59 pm »
March is MS Awareness Month, or so I'm finding out from reading several e-mails. What better way to observe it than by mentioning a notable person who had MS?

Stanley Elkin died at 65 after having MS for many years. One of his books was recently reissued and reviewed in the New York Times Book Review by Jonathan Russell Clark (February 10, 2017):


By Stanley Elkin
404 pp. Tin House, paper, $16.95.

Elkin, who died in 1995 at 65, published 10 novels, two story collections and a few novellas, all of which featured his vociferous skills with language. Indeed, linguistic brio was Elkin’s raison d’être. As William Gass wrote, “Voice: For Elkin, that’s no choir boys’ word.” In this reissued essay collection, which collects over 20 years of his nonfiction, Elkin puts it this way: “Point of view is art.”

In his fiction Elkin interested himself in vocation (a bail bondsman, a D.J., a franchiser, etc.), whereas his essays revolve around his own proclivities and peccadilloes, so the voice that sings from “Pieces of Soap” is entirely Elkin’s. “The secret to life,” he writes in “Acts of Scholarship,” “is to specialize,” and Elkin is nothing if not an expert on himself. Throughout the pieces here, he takes the reader deep into, for instance, the myriad problems arising from multiple sclerosis (a limp, a cane, a wheelchair, grab bars in the shower), which take up the greater part of the lengthy “An American in California,” ostensibly a travelogue. In “At the Academy Awards,” Elkin describes his “first celebrity,” which turns out to have been a general he saw during basic training in 1955. He finds endless ways to digress into autobiographical tangents, usually with some crying and kibitzing.

Elkin’s inimitable language is an exuberant blend of high allusions and colloquial registers, as bounce-and-pop as it is stop-and-go. His sentences can contain, on the same page, wonderful one-off puns (he refers to remainder shelves as “has bins”) and a stretch of boisterous brilliance — if a narrative begins, he notes, with “a couple holding hands,” it will “climax in some spectacle of outrageous sky’s-the-limit orgy of almost Busby Berkeley proportion, as choreographed as battle, as all Barnum’d and Bailey’d three-ring’d, combination lust.” But if he can inspire with his inventiveness, he also, as John Updike noted, “rarely knew when to stop.” This can grow exasperating at times and self-indulgent at others (the didactic description of the flamenco dancer in “Performance and Reality”). Such risky tendencies are common in the literarily dexterous — think of Joyce, Nabokov and Pynchon — but as at an elaborate buffet, if you can stomach the lesser parts, you’ll leave satisfied and completely stuffed.
MS Speaks--online for 13 years

SPMS, diagnosed 1980. Avonex 2001-2004. Copaxone 2007-2010.