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Up by Ronald Sukenick
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Up (1968)

by Ronald Sukenick

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Ronald Sookanith was probs the hippenest, happenest kid in the Fiction Collective back in ’68, thereabouts, a club of New York innovators taking advantage of the postmodern, self-reflective revolution they were simultaneously witnessing and instigating in literature. An embracement of verbal tricks, of cut-and-paste visual collages in place of story progression, accompanied by a self-awareness of their own limits and possible stylistic pretentions. Does it add to literature? Does such a question matter, when the novel itself is Ronald Sackernack unloading his soul and dumping all his relationship issues out on the reader in as humorous and creative a way he can cough up, no boundaries considered?

[N.B. This review includes images, and was revised and formatted for my site, dendrobibliography -- located here.]

A revolutionary of the literary form, he sits today known only among the nichest of niches: English professors (wasting their lives?) and a couple pomo-hungry fiction dorks like myself(-ish). Evidently a niche so small it gives his most famous and important novel, UP, few enough readers he may as well be already forgotten minus occasional historical acknowledgement.

UP is a masterpiece both good and bad, in some ways a slow-jerk of self-satisfied, self-obsessed snark, and a misogynistic representation of the male-dominated New York publishing industry. (Like so many of his FC/early post-modernist peers, women are nothing more than sexual jokes and attractions for the male reader, only reaching that faint trace of genuine humanity when tugging at the author’s past regrets and failures. While I would have enjoyed this a few years ago, it only upsets me now and hurts my impression of the book.) It lacks a trace of linearity, or even a border between fantasy and reality; flowing back and forth, sometimes mid-paragraph, in time, fantasy, sexual misadventures real and un-, perspectives, focuses (but Sootchanitch always the locus!). Sometimes a failing professor of English pushing himself towards employment; other times a slumming New Yorker writing his own novel as the pages go by, rats infesting the framework; then and before a teenage dreamer reaching for a degree in God-knows-what; simultaneously his alter-ego: a hyper-misogynist Mary Sue interacting with, fucking with, the real Suchanitch; oftentimes a sack of lost chances dealing in broken dreams with a partially fictionalized love interest; holding steady the framework, the real Subefitch discussing his upcoming novel with associates, asking them what they think of the parts yet to happen--given anything but praise.

Another angle: Take Godard’s ‘60s output and subtract the overbearing eyebrows of seriousness; slap on the novel form.

Sasserwrackle, falcon hunter, cloth worker, ends his book with a literal literary classroom revolution; segue to a party celebrating his book, a book he seems to know is a weak imitation with nothing to say however hard he tries to innovate and say something: Every character, lost romances, defeated alter-ego Strop Banally, invited(—fellow FC author Steve Katz makes a cameo!). A finale and celebration well-deserved—the trip’s a lot of fun while it lasts, but its of-its-time ‘60s romantic qualities make the forever-underground status understandable. I.e., unless you’re this book’s core audience—that small gosh dang audience—unless you’re a frustrated academic (English preferred) or a fan of the self-aware post-modernist movement this book helped launch, there’s no reason to ever get UP: Either stay away or continue the dig.

”Our generation is a sacrifice to history. When a creative writing student asks me what to write about I answer: Amuse yourself. There’s nothing to write about….I see what you’re going for. Writing as self-expression and all that. The Romantic gambit. But you can’t go back. Between crisis and catastrophe who cares about your ego? Your complaint, your indignation, your outrage—your boils, your hangnails, your stomach aches. It turns to self-pity. This just bores us, we have the same problems. You ought to stick to comedy….Now don’t go and blame yourself. This is just the trouble. You’re helpless. It’s history. It’s politics. It’s capitalism. It’s the literary situation. We’re all paralyzed."

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3 vote alaskayo | Mar 4, 2013 |
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