Thursday, March 19, 2009

I've been reading about Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones, the novel that is a sensation in Europe, but has received, at best, mixed reviews in this country. As a general rule I don't comment on books I have not read out of respect for the author. However, although I intend to read this book at some point, I will violate my usual rule and offers some pre-reading observations.
I feel comfortable doing this because the book has received so much press that its overall shape has been exposed and I doubt very much that it will turn out to be very different from what I expect it to be. In addition, I am writing a novel that covers much the same ground, so I am motivated to offer my views.
From what I have read the book's main character, Maximilien Aue, is an SS officer who offers first hand accounts of the Final Solution. A minor criticism is that Littell has him move around from killing ground to killing ground, so as to present a full, and critics say, accurate portrayal of the attempt to exterminate European Jews. A more substantial objection to the book is that Aue is a throughly despicable human being who besides participating in genocide commits matricide and incest.
Although critics more postively disposed toward the book insist that the admittedly evil Aue provides us with the full stench of the horror. This is an interesting idea, but one I must reject. The enduring question of the Holocaust is how could seemingly ordinary individuals take part in crimes that beggar the moral imagination. To create a representative Nazi like Aue begs that question because he is clearly not in any sense of the word ordinary. Matricide is surely not commonplace, nor is incest. Combined with his obvious pleasure in his day job, killng Jews, Aue seems a monster, but we know that Nazis while committing monstrous acts were not otherwise monsters.
More later.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Rejection Follies

Yesterday, I received a rejection of a short story. That is not unusual. Rejections are to be expected. However, this one was unusual in an unpleasant way. First, it was more than a little tardy, arriving as it did almost a full year after the submission. Second, the envelope contained only my cover letter. No note. No apology for being so slow. No recognition even of ever having received, much less, looked at the submission. Showing more courtesy to the journal than I received, I will withhold its name (available to those who personally request it), and say only that it is a well established, university sponsored literary journal.
I have been at this business of marketing my work for some forty years and have received my share of mindless, insulting, or simply frustrating responses. This one has to rank near the top of any list of such I might compile. It competes for this honor with the rejection of a poem I received years ago on the basis that it had been submitted in a 9 X 12 envelope instead of a business sized envelope, the editor declaring with perfect seriousness that he only considered submissions in the latter. Or in the frustrating category was the one that said "We were going to publish your story, but we have folded."
These are the bumps and bruises we all received along with the occasional successes.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

New Novel

While working a rewrite of an old story, I discovered that it wanted to be a novel. I have now written some 70 pages of a book with the working title Two Sisters. It has a Holocaust back story, but focuses on a man of a certain age who has his whole life been unsure which of two sisters is his biological mother. Both women were in Auschwitz. One survived and with her husband came to New York and raised the man. The other sister died in the camp. But the man has reason to believe that not only was the one who died his mother, but that his father was the Nazi officer who raped her.