One of the benchmarks of our culture’s decline is that our best writers are barely known and our worst writers are widely celebrated. One of the hopeful thoughts that springs from this is that the celebration of bad writers is an artifact of the final era in which publishers and editors were the gatekeepers of what passed for our literature. In those years getting a new writer launched and established was often a project that required at least four books and half a decade. The process had a little to do with the technology of publishing and lot more to do with the “New York Literary Mafia.” (Which everyone said didn’t exist and which was how you knew it did exist. Especially if you were part of it. Which, at one time, I was.)
Random Selection 1: “Roll over easy, like you might not get up, to get the right buffer. Then stand up, and put your fist one inch behind that feller’s head. The beer is gettin’ warm.”
Since launching my first magazine in 1971 I’ve made my living off of writers and, by and large, they’ve been good to me. As a book and magazine editor I’ve published well over 250 books and so many thousands of magazine articles that I’ve long ago lost track.
Along the way I’ve found a few authors that nobody knew at the time I found them and soon after everybody knew. Luck of the draw really. If you keep rolling the dice, sooner or later you’ll have run of luck. But lucky or not I’ve developed a sixth sense about writers. I know when a writer is marketable, when a writer can be made marketable, and when a writer is capable of writing not books but “properties.” Most of all I know when a writer is “A Natural.”
Random Selection 2: “You see, you’re not born knowing, and you can’t learn much useful from a book. How you gonna know to put fabric softener in the steam box to make the oak come out of there real withy and limber?”
The naturals are the rarest of all but they are the easiest to spot. The trick is seeing them first. According to my archives, I spotted Sippican back in 2007. I wasn’t the first but close enough. “Sippican” (of Sippican Cottage) is “a natural,” and his first book,The Devil’s in the Cows proves it on every page.
The Devil’s in the Cows is a slim volume containing some 37 “stories” that Sippican styles as “flash fiction.” The method here is to take a “random” photograph of old American life from the infinite archives of the Library of Congress and to discover, inside oneself, the story that is inside the photograph.
Random Selection 3: “I wish it would rain. No. Sleet. Sleet would finish the scene nicely. Rain is God’s mop.”
Lit’ry types that make their livings off of approved bloviations in approved journals that nobody reads call this sort of thing “the search for the epiphany.”
Lit’ry parasites who make their livings off of wannbe writers by bloviating at summer writers’ “retreats” call this sort of thing “writing down the bones.”
It’s neither of those things and it never was. Musicians know what it really is. It’s brain jazz. It’s riffing. The Devil’s in the Cows has, on every damn page, the stamp of the real; the sure turn of the hand of a craftsman who can get beneath the appearance of things captured in a photograph’s momentary slice of memory and show you how the never-ending story of the world unfolds on the inside of a man by looking at his outside situation. And not just how it “looked” but how it was to be alive and real in that moment. It’s a higher kind of truth and that’s why we have to, to spare ourselves the pain and shock of recognition, call it “fiction.”
Joseph Conrad, who knew a bit about dressing the truth in the more acceptable costumes of fiction, knew what his job was: “My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything.”
That’s the natural craft that Sippican musters and masters on every page of this book. Every page. There is, and this is rare in books, not a single page in the entire book that does not return an image to your mind that is vivid, striking, and lingers unfolding in your mind like a paper Chinese flower blooms in a glass of clear water.
Get two copies. One for yourself and one to loan or give away. Buy them now. You can thank me later: Amazon.com: The Devil’s In The Cows.
It’ll give you chills. It will give you moments like this: YouTube
How many books can do that?
Vanderleun : July 26, 11