And now for something completely different . . . Davenport’s style is entirely his own and a wonder, from the crystal clear to the cryptically ornamental, and he writes it all with apparent ease and talent. This is my first go at his fiction, and it is extraordinary, a collection of stories predicated upon many historical or mythical characters and iconic events – Kafka and the aeroplanes at Brescia, Tatlin and Lenin, Herakleitos and Knaps -- and I especially loved the soaring stories about flight.
Occasionally he digresses in long lists, but even so the language could not help but shine, e.g., Stitch the holpstay of righteousness assailed by ill temper, misanthropy, stupidity, ugliness, neuralgia, the hump, migraine, boils, gripe, catarrh, the squint, clubfoot and warts, a hale old elverkingish god; Nyssus the affrit of ebullience, the scuppernong and yeast, crowblack of hair and eye with a hat of leaves and leopardpelt mantle; Harpoon Jones larvapapa of Erewhon, first man, inventor of the boomerang, calendar and handshake . . .
And so on. Talent and shine aren’t enough to make a story, however, and his fiction often reads more like essay, understandable coming from a master of that form. As in his essays the allusions and cross-referencing never end, and perhaps someone better read than I would find more story in the literary collages.
The characters and conversations – and there is a lot of dialogue – sometimes felt stilted, as if being coerced into theme. But they also provided some of the most natural, vivid and engaging scenarios I’ve read, so I guess what I’m saying is that it was an uneven read, but that may just be me, and regardless: 5 stars.
What most startled and impressed was the sensuality, whether he was writing about philosophy or nature or art or sex. The latter figures heavily into almost everything and culminates in the final story, The Dawn in Erewhon
, which features the actual and metaphorical journeys of assorted and insatiably sexual threesomes, and it is by turns the most clear and cryptic of all.
Davenport is so intellectual that I wasn’t expecting such intimate and lush explorations, then again, I’m recalling the detail and beauty of his essays and how intimate his personal essays are, so perhaps not such a surprise after all.
Here are a few excerpts to give you a taste.
: Tatlin is a professor of Ceramics at the Institute of Silicates. He is also a painter, an engineer, a theoretician. He designs many things. Furniture and clothing, utensils of all sorts, a whole new style of art. Buildings, monuments. And the flying machine. There are two sailors looking at it and grinning. A woman in flat shoes, a decorated woman wearing the Order of Lenin, Second Class, Hero of the People, is looking at it. She has pursed her lips. She has leaned forward an inch. She holds her elbows. Lenin’s face on an eight-foot poster stares through the flying machine.
From The Aeroplanes at Brescia
: Otto had been born into the new world, conversant with numbers and their enviable harmonies and with the curiously hollow thought of Ernst Mach and Avenarius, whose minds were like those of the Milesians and Ephesians of antiquity, bright as an ax, elemental as leaves, and as plain as a box. This new thought was naked and innocent; the world would wound it in time. And Max, too, had his visions in this wild innocence. A suburb in Jaffa had just a few months ago been named Tel Aviv, and Zionists were said to be speaking Hebrew there. Max dreamed of a Jewish state, irrigated, green, electrical, wise.
: Estreguil was all dirty gold and inexplicably strange to look at. His hair was the brown of syrup, with eddies of rust spiraling in and out of whorls of bright brass. His eyes were honey, his face apricot and wild pale rose over the cheeks. He had been to Paris, however, and had seen real Germans on the streets, had heard them pound on their drums. Coencas had only seen the bombers. Agnel didn’t know what he had seen.
: We are lived: the world breathes for us, hears for us, pulses through us heartbeat, eyesight, chill of wonder and fear, sleep and waking. The body is a grave with machinery for keeping us alive. And yet we live, too, in will and desire, in transparent intellect. It was the genius of the Greeks to sort out the two halves of things, to see that our bodies are of the earth, kin to seeds and the animals, made of ocean, rain, wind and rock, while our minds are alive in a different way. The eye’s response to light is probably analogous to the stomach’s response to wine and barley, but of so subtler a fineness as to count as a different process . . . A voluptuous, spry music charmed through the olives. Fingers on lips, Herakleitos stole forward, drawing Knaps by the wrist. In the stoa Selena was playing the barbitos. Tmolos danced before her, his eyes closed.
: Time is but the bringing and the taking away of sudden beauty as brief as the day of the moth. It is in the autumn, per amica silentia lunae, that she returns, when country churches are as quiet as unmanned ships drifting toward the poles. The pure flame of the lamp trembles and goes blue. The mirrors are strange with moonlight from the stairwell, the log is white, and shoals of wind wash about the house, the tides of time.
From The Dawn in Erewhon
: They sprawled happily in a dazzle of meadowlight, wagering nuzzles and touches to see what might happen. Kaatje’s fingertips grazed Adrian’s chest, circling the nipples with tickles, skimming the blond rill from sternum to navel, navel to shag. Adrian edged a spider of fingers up her thighs, walked them across her tummy, over each breast, hopped them down to bounce on her cunt, skittering them back to skip on her nose. Peerke giggled and crowed. Kaatje gave Adrian a dab of a kiss on the cock. Peerke was all eyes and merry fidgets . . . Noon glittered on every leaf, brilliant vertical light.