Yesterday was tremendously exciting; I did absolutely nothing except read alternating pages of John Fante’s Ask the Dust and Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West.
But I stopped reading at page 14 with Exit, yet continued reading the next 80 pages of Dust. I plan on finishing that book today.
So why one, and not the other?
Fante is an American writer archetype; while Hamid is a Pakistani brand consultant, who nevertheless was treading on literary turf that I should have claimed as mine, long ago, and would have, except for the troubles.
And now here he comes, with his knowing Wall Street ways, his contrived interstitial plot devices, his arrogant contempt of all things American, and I seethed.
That was supposed to be me, you Penguin!
I was to be the Otherness literary mega giant from America; the first to get there (if you ignore the cannon, that is) with his classic New York City immigrant opus, Gum Arabic, the one and still the only truly Great Arab American novel, published in the 70s, the one that won all the literary awards there are to win, the one that cemented an unmatched reputation, which inevitably lead many literary critics to characterize its author as the reclusive Rushdie of Arabia, and Page 6 rags as the incredibly handsome young literary Arabian genius, with the gorgeous, wild American young girlfriend of patrician stock; a lionized writer who of course would go on to pull a Salinger, and disappear in the ruins of an abandoned Roman topaz mine in the Red Sea desert mountains behind El Gouna, Egypt, this after publishing Gum Arabic, his first and only novel, and who became The One to whom later modern Arab (but of course far inferior) writers who choose to write fiction in English — Lalami, Haddad, Almeddine, and all the others — would pay literary obeisance to, for having presciently blazed the path they would all follow with such post-deconstructivist, sexually-adventurous, hyphenated panache.
And so I set out to find fault in everything about Exit West, in particular, its plastic, manufactured main protags. Saeed and Nadia, who seem to have been generated by a calculatingly dystopic novel writing Android app released on Google Play by some junior Tata developer obsessed with senior sex and in particular prolapsing uteri.
No, Fante was my man, the one who anticipated all the themes in Gum Arabic — the classic young doomed writer with the foreign sounding name, his low class but beautiful girlfriend whom he would meet in a seedy Manhattan dive joint, the novel’s incredible culmination in the pitch black tunnels beneath Grand Central, where the writer would survive in brutal desperation amidst all the mole people, navigating the rat-infested, neon-lit subway tunnels every night in search of booze, provisional sex, a mirage muse, his unresolved bluish Identity, and of course the Long Lost Lenore, a trope he hung on to for at least a decade, until he could no longer be considered “young” in the pickup bars and still evincing “promise” as his looks went down the toilet. Such dark days and nights, them were, until he watched Sunset Boulevard at the Village Cinema on retro midnight Friday and resolved to find his own Nora Desmond… .
Then I discovered on YouTube Robert Towne’s (of Chinatown fame) last feature, Eat the Dust, starring bad boy Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek — the full version I might add, can you believe that! And I also found out that one can even read, via the unholy miracle that is the Internet, the full text of Marquez’ No One Writes the Colonel right here, another book whose premise I can easily ID with, and have been meaning to read for years, but for those tired, crutch-excuse-for-being-a-failed-writer troubles.
Life in Gouna is not so much as it should be, but as you make it to be. Today, it appears there will be much rizk by way of good reading and free streaming of cult films, Allah willing, and the enduring self delusion that nobody, but nobody, outwrites the Basha.