Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003249, Thu, 30 Jul 1998 09:19:28 -0700

Nabokov's influence on contemporary novels (fwd)
EDITOR's NOTE. NABOKV-L thanks Donald Harington <dharingt@comp.uark.edu>
for the item below. Harington, a longtime Nabokov admirer, is the author
of the novel EKATERINA, an elegant inversion of the LOLITA theme. Hs
novel may be sammpled on ZEMBLA, the Nabokov Society afiliate web site at
http: //www.libraries.psu.edu/iasweb/nabokov/nsintro.htm
He is best known for a series of novels set in the semi-mythical Arkansas
hamlet of Staymore.

Thanks for calling our attention to NERVE's review of "Lolita" by Philip
Martin. The same reviewer, who writes regularly for the ARKANSAS
DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE, recently reviewed Jack Butler's new novel, DREAMER. As
you can see, Butler introduced his character "John Shade" nearly a decade
ago in his novel NIGHTSHADE, and now resurrects (hardly the word, since
he's an immortal vampire) the same character in the new novel.

Here's Martin's review of this great new book:

ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE (Little Rock), Friday, July 24, 1998, p. 19NW

Philip Martin _On Culture_


Full disclosure: I am a fan of Jack Butler -- the author of JUJJITSU FOR
slim volumes of poetry and a cookbook. Jack used to live here before
moving to New Mexico to become the director of the creative writing
program at the College of Santa Fe. I:'ve met him. He's said nice things
about my work and supplied blurbs for two of my books. If and when my next
book is ever completed I'll probably have the galleys sent to him. I might
even send him a copy of the manuscript if I ever get it into presentable

We don't really know each other very well, but since we're both
Southerners I think it is all right to consider us friends.

I feel I have to say all this because I am about to rave about Butler's
latest -- a novel called DREAMER ($25, Knopf). I read it on an airplane a
couple of weekends ago and I honestly believe it is a great book. Not a
"worthy effort," or a "good commercial book," or a "great summer read" but
a genuinely great novel. I am somewhat taken aback by how much I think of
it -- I do not usually give myself over to books so easily; I usually try
to maintain at least a decorous distance from any work of art that I plan
to write about, but in this case it is no use. I'm not one to employ
exclamation points or offer guarantees of satisfaction but I must say that
it has been a while since a new novel thrilled me quite the way that

It is a psychedelic ski-jump of a book -- a soaring, gliding,
adrenanlin-forcing, gut-slamming power ride. Definitely an E-ticket. It is
an easy book to get into, as accessible as any serious novel I've ever
read. It works on any number of levels, as a quickie spy vs. spy casual,
as a parody of New Age manners and X FILES-style paranoia, as a
philosophical treatise. It is comic and sexy and densely allusive and
electric -- a chrage throbs through the book. Butler makes his words play
jazz, his language leaps and plays -- though not in the ostentatious,
gymnastic way employed by Tom Robbins or T. Coraghessan Boyle. Butler's
sentences romp like puppies, they don't show off like acrobats. The cover
blurbs don't do it justice -- though the one from Larry Brown is nice:
"Climb on (Butler's) back and fly him."

Arkansans will appreciate Butler's name-checking of home folks -- the
architect Fay Jones is but the first to pop up -- and he evokes the weird
charm of Santa Fe ("the City Different") with the bemused precision of a
tippling surgeon. He isn't above making jokes that might strike some as
WAYNE'S WORLD-level groaners -- he names his sexy dream researcher
protagonist Jody Nightwood (think about it) -- for even these jokes work
on more than one level. Butler has made a serious book that touches on the
most profound metaphysical concerns -- the epistemic limits of the human
mind -- and disguises it as a glossy beach read.

If I were to play the influencing antecedent game, I think I'd pick the
obvious one -- Nabokov -- and one that mightn't seem so obvious, Erica
Jong. Butler reintroduces us to "John Shade," the Martian vampire from his
1989 novel NIGHTSHADE. Nabokov used "John Shade" as the name of the poet
deconstructed by the deranged academic Kinbote in PALE FIRE, and Butler
directly alludes to PALE FIRE (as a matter of concern for U.S.
intelligence agencies) in DREAMER. One might also make something of the
similarity between "Nightwood" and "Darkbloom," the last name Nabokov gave
to his female _doppelganger_ Vivian in LOLITA, but this column hardly
seems the place to go into that kind of Kinbotic exegesis.

There, I've gotten through the hard part. One of the most interesting
things about writing criticism is the odd fact that it is always easier to
pick apart a work than it is to praise one. It is more fun to write a bad
review of a movie than an admiring one, and often the only thing that
keeps me sitting through some of the movies I sit through is the delicious
anticipation of writing about them.

I don't want to write about DREAMER; I want to keep reading it. But
there's no more to read, so all that is left to do is tell you about it.
ANd now I guess I've done that, so all I can do now is wait for the next
Jack Butler book.

# # #

sent in by Donald Harington