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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Yesterday's discussion about Golijov and the mention of Gaddis got me thinking about who I, and others, consider the best unknown contemporary author, Donald Harington. With is simply one of the most accomplished, complex, straightforward, generous, spiritual, and lovely novels I've ever read. I have literally worn out two copies loaning it to friends, all of whom have adored the novel, some of them English teachers I had at Georgetown, and one of them, who delights in finding some flaw in a novel that spoils the whole, totally succumbed to the book. It's that good.

What I find intriguing about Harington is the utter ease he has in using postmodern techniques - magical realism, metafictive dialogue with the reader, multiple narrators, displayed scaffolding - to invite an intimacy with the reader. So often in pomo, frustrating the reader's apprehension of reality is a theme unto itself, and yet in Harington the reader is invited - and "invited" is a key word in Harington - to see the gears and joists and widgets that undergird contemporary postmodern culture, not to overcome them or subjugate them or even comprehend them but to understand, at least a little comfortably if wobbily, one's place and stake in the world. Unlike many pomos, Harington doesn't believe you have to confront complexity with either impenetrability or forlorn chaos to tenuously apprehend and portray the world, and this artistic generosity reflects, I hope and believe, a generosity in the author himself.

That the novels are set in the fictional Ozark town of Stay More Arkansas, many of them in decades past, and are peopled by plain folk who speak in plain talk, is a major part of the charm of the project. The novels are all related to each other and yet each distinct and separate. The first one I read, The Choiring of the Trees is perhaps the most somber, and after With I'd recommend The Archetecture of the Arkansas Ozarks, which serves as the backbone from which the other novels spin. All are wonderful. Start with With.