Friday, May 27, 2011

# 11 - Tony Earley - ''The Prophet from Jupiter''

There is a certain type of fiction which excites me, a type of fiction that works best in a shorter form - and which I find hard to define without citing a few examples. A full, teeming, multi-dimensional type of story such as Barthelme's ''Indian Uprising'', Roy Kesey's ''Wait'', Gogol's''Nevsky Prospect'', a big canvas story which intends to give light to each and every element on its surface, giving life to every face, a narrative for every event, a Hieronymus Bosch kind of work: busy, ecstatic, without predudice to any one object, teeming, teeming with life.
Without warning I came across one of the finest examples of this type of story in Tony Earley's ''The Prophet from Jupiter.'' I'd never heard of Earley before, and it was a dramatic introduction. Things in the story unfold quickly, layer upon layer of detail, character, time all crash into each other brilliantly. It reminded me of what Captain Beefheart managed in Trout Mask Replica. When I was 13 and learning to play guitar my teacher, probably bored of showing his students the same Manic Street Preacher numbers - showed me how Beefheart combined different tempos and rhythms that would come i line with each other before veering off into what a less discerning ear would hear as manic, untrained noise. Every minute or so the various elements of a song would synch and sound as though they were running right alongside each other. This is how Earley's story works. It's disparate elements - floods, infidelity, ghosts, madmen, drunk men, a pervasive dam, mayors, Floridians - all of these have their own melody and beat. The genius of the story is to bring them all together, tie them up in places, then let them veer off again. If it were a painting it would be huge. It would have many rooms, people, couples, landscapes. It would require a painter of obsessive powers of perspective and with the ability to extract the figurative in the abstract.
In his commentary at the end of the anthology Tony Earley writes that he found it impossible to write anything after he'd finished. And I can understand that. It is an exhaustive piece of work, crammed full as it could be. I love this story, it fires up those synapses of the imagination in my brain that makes me want to take a very large wall and write all over it and write everything on it. Tony caught his own big fish here, and if ideas weighed as much as the catfish the main character is harnessed to the Dam night on night to catch, I can see Tony sat in a large reinforced chair hurling his typewriter at incoming ideas.

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