Gone Tomorrow - P. F. Kluge

What occurred to me was a paradox: that even as good writing and its inevitable counterpart, good reading became more marginal, those of us who read and wrote believed in it more passionately. When fiction was central—when even a U.S. president might read a novel—you could take and leave books, as you liked. When it became endangered, when the very act of writing was like sticking a message in a bottle and tossing it into the ocean, then reading, too, was a matter of life and death.

This book was another find from the shelf of rotating books at the library. I thought it looked vaguely interesting from the description, so I checked it out. I don't know that it really fits my usual tastes, but then maybe there's nothing "usual" about my tastes anyway.

Here's the plot: George Canaris is a best-selling author who became a professor at a small Ohio university, and then didn't publish a thing for thirty years. Oh, he's been writing, he says, and "The Beast" will eventually be published, but by this point the people who believe that he's actually been writing anything at all are pretty few. And then he dies. Mark Mays, one of the younger English professors, finds himself named as Canaris' literary executor. Obviously, everyone is hoping he'll find "The Beast." But what he finds, instead, is this book, a rambling autobiographical tale, jumping between Canaris' arrival in Ohio and the last year of his life.

The bulk of the book, framed by Mays' introduction and afterword, is supposed to be the unedited manuscript he discovered. Thus, it is riddled with missing punctuation, transposed words, misspellings, and other little mistakes. I'm sure it was meant to add realism, but in the end it just seemed like a poor excuse not to copy-edit the novel.

Still, Canaris' story is an interesting one. When he first arrives in Ohio, he is warned that it's the sort of college that swallows careers, eats up ambitions. And for everyone else, it appears to be true: what happened to the writer? What happened to his next book? But as we come to understand Canaris (at least, according to his own testimony), we get a deeper glimpse at who he is, who he has become. I really did relate to the idea of moving to a place of which others don't understand the appeal, and getting pulled into its life, its people, its rhythm.

I wouldn't say Gone Tomorrow is a page-turner; it's more of a slow, steady read. But I did enjoy it, for the most part. Small-town college politics probably aren't the most interesting thing in the world, but Kluge turns it into a decent, if not gripping, story.

Fed to jonathan's brain | July 28, 2009 | Comments (0)


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