APPLES AND PEARS by Guy Davenport


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Odd, super-literary pieces from the author of Ecologues: two stories, a sketch, and a novella-length continuation of ""The Death of Picasso"" (in Ecologues). The sketch is an amplification of Kafka's diary-reference to having seen the Belzer Rebbe at a spa in Marienbad. The two stories are likewise literary personifications: ""The Bowman of Shu"" presents the life of ill-fated sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brezka--in Vorticist prose; and in ""Fifty-Seven Views of Fujiyama,"" a journey by the poet Basho is interleaved with other literary excursions into ""the Real""--made by the narrator and other luminaries of a personal pantheon (Ives, Pound, Thomas Merton, and others). These stories, with their sense of aesthetic harmony strung tightly upon a juxtapositional mechanism, are enjoyable if one can tolerate Davenport's pedantry--which is unapologetic, sharp, and deep. And the pros and cons of this rarified approach are even more vivid in the title novella. As in ""The Death of Picasso,"" the story here concerns two bisexual Dutchmen, philosopher Adrian and younger painter Sander--now joined by Sander's sister Grietje and various post-pubescent boys in an assortment of socio-sexual experiments: posing nude for Sander, in all combinations; Sander/Grietje incest; pederasty; constant undressing, hugging; more painting, reading, masturbating. Davenport delivers all this in painfully tight prose, mixed with chips of Dutch: ""Pulled on jeans to the flat hollow underlip, saddling the wortel of scrotum and schacht out over the crotch seam of his spread fly, standing with knees hasped straight, bare feet parallel 30 centimeters apart, animal cunning in the nipped corners of his mouth and flat gray eyes."" And he tries to build these pseudo-Utopian sexual fantasies on a base of artistic principles. But the result is mostly just a quasi-pornographic drone: a fascinating failure for students of fiction, perhaps (in its visionary/linguistic ambitions), with virtually no appeal beyond certain ivory towers.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1984
Publisher: North Point