Category Archives: Books We Live by

PEN America

There was a popular series of illustrated books when I was in England in the late 80s’. It was an unusual series. A silly-looking guy, with thick glasses, and red ski hat, walking around with a walking stick, a backpack, and a white and red stripped shirt, through complex imaginary landscapes. That was the world of Wally, as in “Where is Wally?” Everyone read those books, spending hours to locate for “the silly guy” buried in the various scenery.

When the series was transferred to an American audience, the name was changed to Waldo, which is a weird adjustment, since the new name conveyed nothing of the original title. A Wally is a Wally, not quite an idiot but a stupid or silly person. Waldo carries no meaning whatsoever. Basically the English cheekiness was lost in translation.

Attached is a photograph from a PEN America event back in January 2024. Can you find the Wally/Waldo in the picture? Clue: This Wally attended the event, and his face landed on the main photograph of it. He is standing, clearly a victim of imposter syndrome, along the crop of the best young emerging writing talent in NY. Next to him, Ayana Mathis.

New from BWLB: “Detour” a novel by Michael Brodsky

Brodsky-Detour-1-small-04-25-19Detour,” a novel by Michael Brodsky (BWLB, ebook $ 5.99, print $23.99)

Detour charts the struggle of a film-crazed young man to shape his identity; it is also about his resistance to doing so at every turn. Owning an identity can mean being straitjacketed, condemned to a living death; language becomes both an escape from the straitjacket and its evilest genius.

Detour is also a story of first love, as it concerns the intense, transient sexual relationship between the young man, who is very reluctant about to enter medical school in the Midwest, and a rootless former heroin addict named Anne.

The hero of Detour experiences movies the way Don Quixote responds to the romances of chilvary—as being infinitely more real than anything else in the world. Hence the connections relentlessly made between his own often Bresson, Welles, Fellini, Ophüls, Sternberg, Sirk, Karlson and Godard. Camera movements, cuts, dissolves, tension between sound and image—these torment, fascinate, liberate and exalt, because they seem to lie just beyond the vampire clutch of words, thoughts, analysis.

It is within such contexts that one begins to understand the “detours”—social, psychological, familial, erotic, existential—that frustrate and enrich the protagonist’s quest for love, for connectedness, for the satisfactions of a calling. As well as the artistic detours that are crucial to depicting his complex, lacerated, maturation.

It is by means of a technique that has truly absorbed the formal lessons of the novel and through an extraordinary command of language—and of the many different languages inside language: colloquial, technical, abstract—that Brodsky makes this account of the growth of the self so unnervingly new and unpredictable. In sentence after sentence, he manages to discharge the shock of the unknown, the unspeakable, the never before said.

Detour is a vastly expanded version of the novel that received the Ernest Hemingway Foundation Citation of the PEN American Center in 1979.