Mikael’s Picks

(LitKicks friend Mikael Covey tells us about three things he likes, two books and one play.)

The Suburban Swindle by Jackie Corley

These are power words that Jackie Corley writes. Come screaming atcha from inside your head, a white hot poker stuck in your mind’s eye. Emotion raw and real, honest as it gets. What it’s like on the mean streets of New Jersey, growing up tough and fast. Rugged realism wrapped in the soft hard words of a brooding street poet.

Words as emotions transcending literal meaning to an inner storm of feeling. Where it hurts, or where there is love, lust, desire, longing. A bursting forth of the moment, the augenblink. All of that, being young and feeling old. Feeling all of it slip sliding away like quicksand, and drowning in our own unfulfilled needs.

The passion of want, and the hopelessness of watching it burn out like glowing embers fading in the dusk. Fireflies flickering brightly then gone forever. Youth passing us by, leaving nothing in its wake. Watching in sad reverie the lost youth, the time that was never enough, the fading faces of happy go lucky kids jilted at the altar of self-sacrifice.

But what a feeling there was; what promise there was. And what to do with it now that you know it’s over, as good as gone. You take that with you maybe, pass it along to another generation. Hold them like a treasure in the palm of your hand and deep within the prisons or your heart, like the sad strains of saxophone blues wafting away in the night. These are Jackie Corley’s words, and you feel them feeling you.

Everyday by Lee Rourke

“That was fucking great!” I told Lee Rourke when he finished reading his short story “Night Shift” at the dark and raunchy KGB bar in New York City. Of course, I was sitting beside Lee’s pretty girlfriend; and yeah, I was pretty well schnockered by then. But I stand by those words — it was great, and still is.

Tried my best to steal a copy of Lee’s book from his coat pocket, but he caught me, said he’d only brought the one, having accidentally left a stack of others back in London. But when I finally did get a copy, it was well worth the wait.

Rourke’s Everyday, a collection of twenty-eight short stories is always good, always worthwhile. Like literary treasure, you take this book with you, read a piece here and there, think about it for awhile. You feel it like being there, at the pub or a dark alley in Soho or a busy street on your way to work. The settings are all familiar, even if you’ve never been there.

Rourke draws you in, to his world, makes it seem like our own. A comfortable thing, this familiar everyday world, a place we’d all like to be, even if the stories cut and stab, slapping our everyday life in the face.

We know what Rourke means when he reminds us that even success at our robotic repetitive jobs is a sort of unspoken suicide of the mind and soul. That which we are willing to trade or sacrifice of our precious time for comfortable positions, a comfortable little life.

And as writers who are artists are wont to do, even the writing, the style, the words are comforting, familiar, appealing. Absorbing us in a blanket of serene peace of mind. And what’s wrong with that? Why do we come off as villains in these tales about ourselves?

Well of course, it’s obvious, once we recognize the real heroes in Rourke’s stories. The unfettered, the birds, the pigeons, whose ordinary life is unbounded and free. And however wretched or capricious their lives may be, it’s never given up or given away for something else, something artificial, not of their own making. Like the young kids on the flat rooftop of that abandoned building. We see them from our office window.

They’re naked now, and splendid. That muscular young fellow and his pretty girlfriend, and having sex now right out in the open. Everyone can see them. These unemployed aimless kids, unashamed of their naked bodies and their shiftless carefree lifestyle. What are they doing out there in front of everyone. Don’t they care what people think?

Respectable people? Don’t they care what responsible people do? Don’t they care?

Time and the Conways by J. B. Priestly at the Lyttelton Theatre, London

Sometimes literature takes on the great themes. What those in the know call “the function or purpose of literature”: to tell us how so’s we’ll know. Why, what to do, right and wrong, that sort of thing. Time is one of the big ones. Whether we control it or it controls us or is completely beyond our grasp, pushing us relentlessly toward the grave. “And at my back I always hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near” as Sir Robert would say.

Or … why the hell do you have to remind us of that!? Something we spend every waking moment trying to forget. Only able to fall asleep once we’ve put it out of mind, or too exhausted to go on. Dreading to wake up, the waste of time, the endless meaningless tasks that have to be done and all of it with one foot stuck in the mud and the other in the grave.

It’d be good, a good thing, if someone would explain that one to us. How to deal with time, mortality, the limitations of a little finite life ended by eternal death. So a 1937 play called Time and the Conways, currently running in London, manages to do that. In their 20’s the big family — four up and coming flapper sisters, two brothers, the older one back from the big war, the younger one maybe coming back, maybe not — and mom, still youthful resilient and gay despite the death of her wonderful beloved husband, still surrounded by her wonderful blossoming children. Got it all right there in front of them, the costume party at the big luxurious house, charades, games that grown-ups play.

Fast forward 20 years and whatcha think it looks like? Yeah, if you done that, you know. If you haven’t, you don’t. But either way, it’s so so scary … many of us can’t take it, don’t want to, can’t handle it. Throw up our hands in despair. Give up, give way to whatever will take us. Hold us hidden from the reality of I don’t want to see it, don’t wanna know.

Well, looking it square in the face, Alan, the older brother who doesn’t much count to anyone says to his distraught family and to us: don’t worry about it; you aren’t yet you; you’re never really you until you’re dead. Until then, you’re just a slice, a part of what your self is to be. Don’t despair, don’t despair this self, it’s only fleeting. Years ago it was a different self in a different time. And so will be years from now.

This self which is nothing of the great potential and promise you had — is not declining, not withering — just changing is all. In fact, it’s growing, if you’d but recognize it. And none of it is ever so way past beyond your control. All is still and always is, right in the palm of your own hand.

There’s a lot, a lot more to this lengthy three act play. But the concept of time … that alone is enough to know. It’s good thing that literature has function. To tell us.

5 Responses

  1. Covey, you are truly alive
    Covey, you are truly alive and conscious. You see life coming, lingering, and going in one unblinking flash, and doesn’t it feel amazing?

    ever read any of jota’s stuff? variations on a stream.

  2. Excellent reviews
    Excellent reviews Mikael…short, precise, crystal clear and, as with all your writing, effective.

  3. mikael, thanks for the very
    mikael, thanks for the very likable reviews on rather obscure art.. you come across as thorough, honest, raffish. i wonder, are we in for a priestly revival..?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!