Some Do, Some Don’t: a book review in four brian-doyle-esque sentences

The iron law of sociology says there are always two kinds of people…some who do and some who don’t. There are some who like to subordinate their minds to the words of someone else who is doing the writing that they read for they wish their minds to be pegged down to the field of a conceptual ground by silken threads clove-hitched to Lilliputian toothpick, tent peg, words and thus be secured and thereby safely nourished and the more tiny-word tent pegs and silken hawsers the snugglier the wrap of this ecstatic surrender to the generous and comfortable firmament of literature led to that abdication by being seeming necessitous for–I believe, though I have no proof–a vicarious experience even if it is second or third hand; they come to the text to acquire a little filament of contingency beyond themselves, while over there on the far other end of the spectrum there are those (probably visual thinkers, if they ever take the trouble to think at all) who will not be instructed as what to think or see or feel or taste or smell or suspect (intuit) and there might even be some who refuse to believe anything they read or hear because maybe they have been around the block six or seven decades and know that within the space between these polarities there hangs some words, in this case the words of two novels about the sea and some people who putter around on its surface.

I just finished reading this sea story, a novel called The Plover by Brian Doyle who from Portland University sends incalculable bundles of Lilliput tent word pegs out to his waiting, apparently appreciative fan base, while coincidentally from the opposite hemisphere I recently reread a sea story from the other end of the spectrum called Far Tortuga by one of Doyle’s brethren nature writers, the late Peter Mathhiesson, and I want to take a look at that work because there is this thing called economy that in sculpture  is called negative space or all the stuff that Henry Moore took out of the  rocks or in painting all of the stuff that Andrew Wyeth left out of his scenes into which the peg-shy mind could pour creativity and imagery and memories of sensation and relationship, thus the visualization is that The Plover is to Bosh’s Christ in Limbo to what Far Tortuga is to Wyeth’s On Her Knees 1973, illustrations that Doyle does and Mathiesson doesn’t because Mathhiesson opens for his readers a sea-wide door into a Barthian “Death of the Author” experience while it appears that Doyle resists and insists on taking control and hewing dense experiences for his readers like a Victorian modernist although he also continues to lard his texts with mind-withering lists like any formidable postmodernist.

It is no doubt unfair and unwise for one who appreciates a Don’t novel to do a critique of a Do novel because there is probably a genetic and fundamentally unbridgeable predisposition by readers toward one or the other, like predispositions toward closure or open ends, so in all fairness I write that while I have a void of empathic accordance with any element in The Plover, correlativeley I found nothing there that was offensive or questionable or irritating and one has to assume that every word was crafted for a gracious muse and was consciously laid down and read aloud to a kind but critical ear to make sure it did not sound to another out of place, discordant, irrelevant, repetitive, pretentious, or silly or stupid when it entered the world as a sound, a palpable flow of entropic force, rather than just a tent peg particle of a concept because all (I believe) works of words should be written to be read aloud, but therein lies the fault of Far Tortuga because it is shaped around too many long silent negative spaces, still I cannot fault Far Tortuga for the fact that it also does not have any winsome crippled kid tropes and winsome crippled kid guardian angels who are actually magically real talking bird tropes left over from the last effort, or any pages of irrelevant to the plot asides that are essentially fragments of essays made sadly superficial by their own fragmentation and it did not have a Hollywood ending but on the positive aspects Far Tortuga has a well focused artistic purpose which I believe was to miniaturize Moby Dick in size, style, theme, characterization, metaphor, global span and a few other non-reducible elements–it could well have started out with ‘Call me Speedy, mon’–for which I will give it five stars for effort and ingenuity and classic artistic discipline and for being one of the most evocative novels I ever read for all the words that Mathhiesson left out.


About Steven Nickeson

I've been a cowboy and a hobo and a truck driver and a newspaper reporter and magazine editor. I've written two text books on Native American property rights and been awarded national prizes for investigative journalism. I've ridden horses, all named Alpo, damned hard in the Westerns. I was once a range detective for Santo Domingo Pueblo and a private investigator for 18 years. I've also been a manuscript physician and writing tutor and journalism teacher and consultant to a literary agent. I've been a fencing contractor, and a welder in one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world and read Nordic Runes as a contract oracle on several psychic hot lines. My occupation for the last 19+ years is "Artist/Blacksmith" and I've done better at being an artist than any other calling. For nearly half of my life I have had an address along The Pan American Highway (Carretera Panamericana) in five cities/towns/villages, five counties, four states, two nations, two continents. I am in some way wedded to that road. View all posts by Steven Nickeson

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