Harold Brodkey
August 23, 2011 8:34 PM   Subscribe

[Harold] Brodkey produced fiction that was epic too, but chiefly in its elaboration of human intimacy. To read his prose is to be incarcerated in the situations of his characters; indeed, it is to be very nearly overwhelmed by them. ... Brodkey moved forward with new forms for rendering human consciousness. His protagonist was, almost always, "a mind shaped like a person." The action consisted of that mind discovering its thoughts.

Newcomers are advised to start with "Innocence" - collected in Stories in an Almost Classical Mode, which Harold Bloom admitted into his version of the Western Canon.
posted by Trurl (11 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Brodkey reflecting just before his death:

Sometimes I can still sleep it off, my fear. My dreams are gentle now even when they are about being mugged, robbed and knocked down, even when I am pressing my car key into a bit of yielding earth. But often in the afternoons I wake after a nap with an awful sense of its being over and that it never meant much; I never had a life. The valuable sweetness and the hard work are infected by the fact of death: they no longer seem to have been so wonderful, but they are all I had. And then I want to be comforted. I want my old, unthreatening forms of silence, and comedy-and-cowardice. I want breath and stories and the world.


Thanks for the post, hadn't come across Brodkey before.
posted by rsanheim at 9:30 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Harold Brodkey.

That's a name from the time before laptops...
posted by darth_tedious at 9:51 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Every once in a while I take my copy of The Runaway Soul off the shelf and put it in my living room, and say, more or less in its direction, "That's the next book I'm going to read." And then it sits there for a long time patiently and finally it goes back on the shelf.

I loved Stories in an Almost Classical Mode, though.
posted by escabeche at 10:06 PM on August 23, 2011

I've not (yet) had time to dive all the way into the article/interview -- it looks great. Hopefully someday I'll be able to keep up with all the spectacular things to read that constantly show up here on mefi -- it's truly a challenge to me, so much good. As the t-shirt says, so many books, so little time...

Thanx for the heads-up, I've not come across his writing prior to this, I read as far as google books let me before cutting me off, the collection now on its way to my greazy little fingers via amazon.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:19 PM on August 23, 2011

I remember reading a story of his some time ago - I think it was in Jefferey Eugenides' collection of love stories - which was a very long and detailed description of oral sex. Somewhat lilac as I recall. I looked him up as the notes said that the bulk of his work was about a relationship with a girl called Orra, but there is very little online.,
posted by mippy at 5:14 AM on August 24, 2011

That's the aforementioned "Innocence". The link is to Google Books, which omits some pages, but there's enough there to give one a taste, as it were, of Brodkey's style.

The Orra character is based on Joanna Brown, who became his first wife. The New York magazine profile at the last link above the fold has the only picture I've ever seen of the woman who inspired the line "To see her in sunlight was to see Marxism die."
posted by Trurl at 6:30 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Sometimes I can still sleep it off, my fear."
Apropos Brodkey's fear of death, Edmund White has a slightly bitchy anecdote about the same in his recent City Boy:
"Of course it probably helped that Harold went to almost every literary party and spent hours on the phone every day with Don DeLillo, Harold Bloom, Dennis Donoghue. DeLillo told him the way to stop worrying about death was to watch a lot of television."
posted by octobersurprise at 7:17 AM on August 24, 2011

aieee. That "Innocence" makes my skin crawl: what does it feel like to be a woman reading this?

There's something about those mid-century New York writers, the combination of misogyny and narcissism which gets hard to take after awhile.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:12 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

That "Innocence" makes my skin crawl: what does it feel like to be a woman reading this?

Is there a word for the opposite of nostalgia?
posted by heatvision at 10:41 AM on August 24, 2011

Is there a word for the opposite of nostalgia?

posted by rusty at 10:57 AM on August 24, 2011

eenui.bz, it's that and the particular prose style in these things - everything is So Very Profound and oddly...punctuated [like this]. I'm female and I found the line about Marxism dreadfully sixth-form, to be honest.
posted by mippy at 2:59 PM on August 24, 2011

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