Twice into the Center of the Story

Book Review: David Brooks’ Atlas of Inner Antipodes and Rodge Glass’ Stories for the EasyJet Generation

/ by Srđan Srdić

An editor’s job functions like a pure political matrix. Difficult decisions are made. Choices are made, as well. An editorial position is determined; choices are made from that position. This, not that. An editor’s name remains forever, it isn’t merely one of. A published book is an editor’s merit, a contribution which will be taken into account later on. A bad editor makes bad decisions; he/she is late, makes wrong estimations, deals with unnecessary texts, is surrounded by half-amateurs. I perform my editorial duties with a lot of anxiety. The name stays with the book; not on the cover, but it still does. Genuine editions can be recognized by their very covers, their editors are stars as much as their authors, but they are not in the author’s field. Creation is common to them both. It is necessary to come up with a decision on publication, to have arguments, to be ready to confront the results of what has been done. This isn’t a job for people who are not prepared, and not prone to stress. At least it didn’t use to be. Nowadays it seems that it’s all the same. What matters is profit: books are colorful, rights are bought uncritically, an editor is considered one who can read titles from the best-seller list of a renowned magazine. Utter bullshit.

           

Rodge Glass' book LoveSexTravelMusik in Serbian translation.
So, my craft – among others – is an extremely deep anachronism. Who cares? Feel free to forget the first, pathetic paragraph. Or, like this: I don’t speak Russian. I could edit an edition of Russian prose only indirectly, by reading that prose in Serbian or English. I immediately dismiss the last option as totally silly. English suits me much better. David Brooks, from Australia, writes in English. Brooks provoked me. Namely, he is the author of a story titled The Dead. I thought, what must that guy be like, who does not cower from this; to title the story as Joyce did, at the time of real genius? Just to avoid any misunderstanding, let me say that I first read the story in its Serbian translation. I was amazed. The Dead triumphed over the rest of the anthology of contemporary Australian short stories I held in my hands. Moorhouse was also there, an author for whom I’ve been nourishing sympathy for a long time. And some other fine folk. I thought, again, this should be translated.

           

Poet of the Week
Valentina Neri
Imagining

Vanishing one evening

without a trace.

Without  forgotten clues

on the threshold of my room

and no arrow

to show me the way.

Wherever I could have gone

Would be of no relevance:

Laid at the bottom of the sea

Buried in the darkness of the woods

In China devoid of memory

Looking for a pitiful story

Or in the desert with a shroud of sand.

Everything is fine

As long as nobody ever knows.

Sublime fantasy

Vanishing without a certificate of death

So that one day they will understand

What is baffling me now.

Brooks’ prose complied with all of my editorial criteria: it hadn’t been translated into Serbian systematically, I couldn’t recall any other author writing in such a fashion, and the thing was so radical in its expression that Brooks seemed to be addressing me directly, no one else but me. The central protagonist of Brooks’ prose is the sentence. It is a journey you need to complete in order to come to, well, Something. Brooks knows that this is inevitable: that Something can easily be Nothing, or at least nothing understandable. Thence labyrinths, these are labyrinthine stories. If Nothing is behind language, we’d better keep moving and ignore any finality. This is a message Brooks apparently conveys out of the dark depths of his sentence. We’d better get stuck in all the positions language grants us, and even more in those it does not grant, since there do not seem to be many better options available. This is how Brooks writes, finding his readers in passing, taking them into a labyrinth. “My wife cried while she was reading Brooks’ Garden,” Miljan told me. I’d say I am not lonely, even in the labyrinth.

            After coming out of Brooks’ pseudo-mythological world, an old punk, Rodge Glass, waited for me. I remembered an old promise to publish one of his books in Serbian. I am rather rigid when it comes to promises – I am a man with manners from ancient times. If a literature I like is behind this, I am not of two minds. There’s tradition and craftsmanship behind Rodge; now I talk about qualities. Rodge is a disciplined man, any editor’s dream. Loneliness is his story-telling concept, realization is his virtue. Unlike the disjointed mystic Brooks, Glass addresses everyone. It is we, and no one else, who are there, in his prose. At airports, scattered across exotic third-world countries, smoky bars, too-wide boulevards. Not ready to stop, since to stop is to die. Thence the Glassian term “EasyJet generation,” that which too easily covers thousands of kilometers in continual escape from itself.

            Tradition, I say. Glass is a true representative of the enormous kingdom of English-language storytelling literature. In each of his stories, we read about consciousness – this is, perhaps, Rodge’s real topic – he knows perfectly well who precedes him, and how the language of his contemporaries functions. This is why there is neither affectation nor pretentiousness in his work, there’s wicked precision. Brooks’ idiosyncrasy is replaced by Glass’s devotion. If Brooks fills an empty place in Serbian bookshops, a place that had been waiting for him, then Glass is there to show how that is done. What we read in Glass’ work is how to write what concerns everybody, what is really important. Told in an important language that will stay. In a good language.

            This is how things stand.

            What was the subject, then? Oh, yes. I was talking about editing books. David Brooks, Rodge Glass, the like. I would be delighted to know that they are some people’s favorites, I expect something like this to happen, there are some indications, I receive e-mails, people get in touch with me, we talk about particular stories. Being an editor is like being the Lord in the microcosm of literature. I glance at Brooks’ and Glass’ books on the shelf. Gee, it was good.

....
Srđan Srdić

is a novelist, short-story writer, editor, essayist and creative reading/writing teacher. He has published two novels, two short story collections and a book of essays. From 2008 to 2011 he served as the editor of the international short story festival Kikinda Short. He returned to this position in September 2015.


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