The Two Mikes

The Two Mikes
Ever wanted to talk with someone about a book you just read? You could just join a book group and talk about it, drink a little, veer off on tangents, work back around to the book again, and finally wrap it up by picking the next book.

But what happens when the book you just read is about about hungry zombies or a haunted house, and your Eat, Pray, Love–reading friends aren’t really into reading it, much less discussing its finer points? That’s what we’re here for. We Two Mikes will be your virtual book group for discussing new and interesting and old and half-forgotten horror books.

If you want to follow along with us, look at the next forbidden book on the table and start reading.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Episode 127: Cormac McCarthy's The Road

click to listen

The Mikes' journey with Cormac McCarthy comes to an end, but they're still stuck on the road. They poke around the ashes and find some canned peaches of beauty nevertheless.

It's Cocktail Time!

Carrying the Fire

Take two espresso cups. In one, pour a shot of cognac or overproof rum and add a sugar cube. Ignite (be CAREFUL!). In a second, make a shot of espresso. Douse the flames in the first cup with the espresso from the second. Garnish with a cocoa nib. Be sure the flame is extinguished, then enjoy. Chin chin!

Closing music: "Water and Ash" by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis


Emphyrio said...

Great segment, and that passage sourMike read was truly beautiful. Liked his bringing up generativity, which seemed the touchstone of how to think about The Road. Yeah, that 's the only reason to go on. Maybe curiosity, too...and blind faith, conceivably. Maybe things are sort of okay in Tierra del Fuego? Or Pitcairn island? You never know.

It's only taken three years, but I've worn you down! Though I wonder if Stress of Her Regard is the best place to start. I set it aside after thirty pages! But I still have it, and will try to have comments when you post. Hope Three Days to Never is on your reading list. Maybe Last Call would be a good choice, too.

Here's a bit on Powers' injecting-supernatural-into-history process from an interview:

JB: So is the methodology of putting something like that together a matter of you piecing together a historical skeleton of the period? Of the lives of the people you're writing about and using as characters, the actual historical figures – and then you're wrapping a fiction around it – fleshing it?

TP: Right. I'm trying to put a secret motivation behind their overt, and in effect, actual, motivations.

Like with The Stress of Her Regard, the period when Byron and Shelley were in Italy is very well recorded and so I was able to put together calendars – giant oversized calendars where every day is a foot by a foot – and I was able to write in ink all the events that history simply insists did occur.

And I had a lot of sources – Byron's letters, Trelawny's journals, Shelley sources. I was even given actual conversations they had. Shelley wrote a long poem called Julian and Maddalo which is a long account of a conversation he has with Byron in Venice.

And so I not only had to adhere absolutely to the events and travels and times of day that history stuck me with, but I was also stuck with actual conversations which I couldn't leave out.

So I had to look at the conversations and then say "In what way was this actually a reference to my secret supernatural business? They appear to be talking about this, but in what way can I make it be the case that 'oh, as any fool can plainly see, they were actually talking about this magical junk!'" and it was kind of fun.

In a number of cases I was able to put together the secret motivation behind some really well documented conversation between Byron and Shelley.

End quote. Anyway, thanks for this fan service. -- Emphyrio

Emphyrio said...

Guys, I’m only on P.208, but here’s a character list so far.

George Gordon Lord Byron, poet
Percy Shelly, poet
Mary Godwin, author
William, their baby
Claire Clairmont, Byron’s pregnant lover and MG’s stepsister
Polidori, Byron’s doctor
Lucy and Louise, barmaids
Michael Crawford, aka Michael Aickman, obstetrician
Appleton and Jack Boyd, Crawford’s friends
Caroline, Crawford’s faithless wife, dead in a fire
Julia Carmody, Michael’s doomed fiancee, then wife
Mr. Carmody, Julia’s father
Josephine Carmody, Julia’s twin sister
John Keats, medical student, poet
Henry Stephens, medical student
Dr. Lucas, their instructor
Pete Barker, prop. Galetea pub
Francois des Loges, hut-dwelling poet
Brizeux, law clerk
Lisa, the rainbow girl in Geneva
Lord Grey de Ruthyn, Byron’s vampire-lover
Lady Caroline Lamb, neffer
Augusta, Byron’s sister
John Cam Hobhouse, Byron’s school friend
The Curate, who tried to poison Byron and Crawford
The Sphinx on the mountaintop
Hookham, Shelly’s publisher
Leigh Hunt, poet & editor
Allegra, Claire & Byron’s daughter
Clara, Percy and Mary’s doomed infant daughter
Fletcher, Byron’s valet
The aged man with a cane who set the fire at the pillars
Margarita Cogni, Byron’s Venetian lover
Werner Von Aargau, the "young" Austrian
The Carbonari, a secret society
Severn, Keats’ friend
Dr. John Clark, Keats’ doctor

Sheesh, I’m only halfway through! Powers isn’t shy about a complicated plot, though the narrative drive flags once Crawford/Aickman’s flight from justice lands him in Geneva. (Aickman – a tribute to Robert, the British weird tale writer?)

I feel these early 19th century people should have God and Satan much more on their minds, their natural frame for these supernatural events. Shelly’s and Byron’s atheism particularly seems due to be shaken. And they speak in rather conventionally modern terms. Were I Powers’ editor, I would have asked him to pick 100 archaic expressions and salt them throughout the dialogue in the book. Patrick O’Brian he ain’t. But I am enjoying the freewheeling invention.

Oy, that dead baby marionette sequence. Wild. And the mountaintop scene.

Emphyrio said...

More characters:

Santo Sprito and Emile, would-be killers of Josephine
Teresa Guiccioli, Byron's Caboneri-connected Pisan lover
Fletcher, Byron's servant
Jane and Edward Williams, guests of Byron in Pisa
Percy Florence, the Shellys' fourth child
Captain Daniel Roberts of the Bolivar
Charles Vivian, young crewman of the Don Juan
The Siliconari, the opposition to the Carboneri
Francois Villion, poet (aka Des Loges)
Antonia, a servant at Casa Magni
Tita, Byron's servant who aids in Crawford's rescue from the neffer pub under the bridge
Guiseppe, Byron's disgusted servant who tends the wounded Crawford
Niretim Byron's bulldog who eats Crawford's fingertip
Thomas Mersin, gossipy Pisan friend of Byron
della Torri, Carboneri who aids Crawford and Josephine's mission to Venice
Sputo, the boatman

Grumble: The vivid, climactic Venice mission, and to a lesser extent the battle with the nephilin on the beach, point out the long, flagging sections of the novel which preceded them, characters idly hanging out without any plan or effort to vanquish or escape the nephilin who shadow their lives. Having characters want something, and try things to accomplish their desire, beats passivity any day.

That said, the showdown in Venice is a kick, particularly how he handled Crawford and Byron handing off control of the same body.

My other gripes:

Not enough biography of Byron and Percy and Mary Shelly. I feel like their pasts should have been illuminated. Mary, particularly, is underused and under characterized. She wrote freakin' Frankenstein! And The Last Man! There should have been passionate discussions of philosophy, the aims of poetry, religion and atheism, and their past hurts and indiscretions. As written, they just weren't very interesting company. I'm not even sure I believe their personalities were much like those described in this book.

Needed a scene of Byron reciting poetry to his monkeys and other pets. Why else would he keep them around?

Crawford's just too passive, when he's not in danger of losing his life. His late awakening to save his unborn child and Josephine from subjugation was too darn late.

I don't believe somebody would bite off their own finger to flummox a child.

Did someone once advise Powers to put characters in physical distress to create sympathy and tension? The maiming, cutting, amputating, shootings, fevers, nausea (garlic!) verged on being repetitious.

And again, the dialogue is too modern to my ear. And unpoetic, considering this crew. He ought to have lifted some shimmering lines from Shelly and Byron and put them in their mouths.

My likes:

When the action ramps up, Powers is gloriously bizarre.

Nice sense of symbolic magic. He's worked out complicated rules and our heroes work out clever ways to employ them -- for example, using salt water to escape the surveillance of nephelim. I see in this kind of thinking a parallel to the uses of symbolism in fiction.

This is a time, and a world, which feels different from just about any other popular culture I've consumed.

Weird magic ideas. The "eye" being a spot of vivid clarity as it shoots around: pores and cracks on the marble, brighter stars in the sky behind it. A stone nephelim surgically implanted in Werner to awaken the race. Their captivity in the stone of the Alps. Drinking Byron's blood (remember the vinegar to avoid clotting!) to create body-sharing. Using Shelly's barbecued heart as a catcher's mitt for the eye.

Over to you.