The Critical Mass

William Gay was no açaí berry smoothie

William Gay, 1941-2012.

William Gay, 1941-2012.

I stopped in at one of the city’s mega-chain bookstores last night, because they’ve slain most of the indie book stores, figuring I could ignore the stacks of books from the Bill O’Reilly death series. Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy and the new one, Killing Alan Berg. Kill a few hours myself, looking up writers who I’d been meaning to catch up on. Most of them are dead, but not Tolstoy dead. Recently dead. William Gay is a Tennessee novelist who my friends Rick and Monica have been pushing on me. His obituary, beautifully written by Tom Franklin, is in the current issue of The Oxford American:

He cut his own hair. In warm weather, he’d bathe in the creek behind his house. He hunted ginseng in the woods when the season was right. He tended a vegetable garden that grew tomatoes, squash, okra, carrots and onions. He smoked Marlboros. He sometimes wrote in a treehouse on his property…. He never drove. He wrote. He wrote in yellow legal pads, one stacked on another…. When the writer Janisse Ray met him, at Rowan Oak in Oxford, Mississippi, she said, “You look like a man who’s been shot at.” And he did. He looked like a man who’d been shot at.

But our local corporate bookstore had no books by this celebrated writer. Sold out, I conjectured. But just a slight setback. I’d been wanting to check out something by Larry Brown, anyway. Another dead writer of the contemporary Southern Gothic style. I wandered over to the B section.

But again, our local corporate bookstore had no books by that celebrated writer. My suspicious were aroused.

I’ll tell you what they had.  Dollhouse: A Novel, by Kourtney, Kim, and Khloé Kardashian. I’ve never seen their TV reality show, but these Kardashians are known to me. One of the Internet web sites that I check each morning, huffingtonpost.com, regularly features stories such as KIM KARDASHIAN’S CLEAVAGE IS FRONT AND CENTER FOR NIGHT OUT IN HOLLYWOOD and KHLOE KARDASHIAN AUCTIONS OFF USED WORKOUT GEAR and KIM KARDASHIAN VISITS GUN RANGE.

I have suspicions that Dollhouse may even be ghost written. I open the book to Chapter One, and the first sentence: “Sitting in a cafe across the street from her family’s restaurant, Kamille Romero sipped her açaí berry smoothie and lifted her face to soak in the sun.”

OK, perhaps the Kardashians did write it themselves. I do not find it surprising that Dollhouse is on the same shelf as Kafka. It was probably a marketing decision to identify Dollhouse as A Novel, lest book consumers confuse it with A Trio of Jet-Trash Tarts Prove Anyone Can Be On TV. The next morning, I looked up the book on amazon.com. “It lacks any plot, imagination, and character development,” writes a citizen reviewer. That one was pretty typical. As most of the book’s readers are likely to be Kardashian enthusiasts, and are familiar with the show’s intellectual cred, I’m not quite sure what these critics were expecting.

This morning, I walked to the downtown library and checked out a copy of Gay’s second novel, Provinces of Night. The one that Rick described as the kind of book where “you relish every sentence.” I open the book to the prologue, and the first sentence: “The dozer took the first cut out of the claybank below Hixon’s old place promptly at seven o’clock and by nine the sun was well up in an absolutely cloudless sky and it hung over the ravaged earth like a malediction.”

Now that’s an opening line. Both have the sun. But William Gay does not do açaí berry smoothies.

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