Cutty, One Rock: Low Characters and Strange Places, Gently Explained

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9780374530181: Cutty, One Rock: Low Characters and Strange Places, Gently Explained

Cutty, One Rock takes the reader on a wild journey by airplane, bus, ferry, and foot from childhood to early manhood in the company of a New Jersey family in equal measures cultivated and deranged. We witness scenes of passionate, even violent intensity that give rise to meditations on eros and literature, the solitariness of travel, and the poetics of place.

These individual pieces, most of which first appeared in The London Review of Books and won an international cult following, are by turns "poignant, surreal, down home and lyrical, a mixture of qualities that inheres in his language with uncommon delicacy and effect" (Leonard Michaels). Together they make up an intellectual and emotional autobiography on the run. The book's final section, about Kleinzahler's adored, doomed older brother, is unforgettable, and since its appearance last year in the LRB, has already entered the literature as one of the most moving contemporary memoirs.

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About the Author:

August Kleinzahler is the author of ten books of poetry, most recently The Strange Hours Travelers Keep. He lives in San Francisco.

From The Washington Post:

August Kleinzahler's magical new memoir, Cutty, One Rock, is a deeply moving, unpretentious 155-page masterpiece. Readers of Kleinzahler's poems (he has published 10 volumes of them, most recently The Strange Hours Travelers Keep) will be familiar with some of his themes and objects, his family, his travels, his heterosexual adventures, his tragic gay brother who died long ago (aged 27); but if you missed these prose pieces when they were first published in the London Review of Books and elsewhere, this collection, which constitutes a brief autobiography, will come as a rich surprise. Only a mature poet could have written as lyrical and limpid a book as this.

One of the impressive traits of Kleinzahler's prose is the ease with which he engages with the language; he is totally comfortable, relaxed and in command, while at the same time energized and amply supplied with experience for his stories. From his 55 years of living, he has pared down the worthwhile topics to just a few. There are nine short pieces in the book, which is divided into three sections. As his subtitle implies, Kleinzahler is drawn to the odd and the eccentric, as best exemplified by his family. The first essay in the book, "The Dog, The Family: A Household Tale," opens with: "It was the dog who raised me. Oh, the others came and went with their nurturing gestures and concerns, but it was the dog on whose ear I teethed and who watched me through countless hours with the sagacity and bearing of a Ugandan tribal chief."

Kleinzahler grew up in New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan, where he went to school. "On a fine, late October afternoon in 1957," he writes, "I came home from school to a great commotion at the foot of the block where we lived." The Kleinzahlers' neighbor, Albert Anastasia, the affable mobster whose "appetite for killing had made him reckless and a liability," had been offed, ending young Augie's friendship with Anastasia's daughter, Gloriana, until then his playmate under the close supervision of an "affectless gorilla with a shoulder holster." The widowed Mrs. Anastasia and Gloriana moved to more modest accommodations; when they had vacated the big house in Fort Lee, Buddy Hackett moved in. "After dinner one night my parents told me to go get Buddy Hackett's autograph," he writes. When Hackett came to the door, "red-faced and breathing moistly and with some difficulty, like a toy bulldog on a sultry day," little Augie was asked what he wanted "in one of America's most distinctive voices." He was sent home empty-handed but more educated about the use of expletives.

In "East/West Variations," Kleinzahler begins a rapturous meditation on his travels back and forth from one coast of the United States to the other with a recollection of the "thirty-six hours or so" after arriving in a place where he once lived for a long time, when he is "hyperawake. I'm talking about light, scale, smell, all of it familiar, but for that short while extending beyond the common registers of the familiar until the buildings, river light, the smell of benzene and tidal flats, what have you, become almost stereoscopic, carrying a taste of the unreal -- as if the world had been passed through a solution, cleansed."

The essay veers from New Jersey to San Francisco (his current home) with frequent layovers in Greenwich Village. In San Francisco, when his parents are visiting him, he introduces them to one of his girlfriends, Melodia, "who chose to be an English duchess, or what she imagined an English duchess to be like from assorted films and novels." The meeting does not go well; Kleinzahler's parents are tough customers, especially his mother. After the duchess gushes that August is "the sweetest man in the world," Mrs. Kleinzahler responds. "There was an extended, ominous pause, and from Mother's lips came the word 'dear.' Father's head snapped up from the menu. The curtains came abruptly down on my own little reverie. The word 'dear,' as Father and I knew only too well, coming out of Mother's mouth and directed at another female, meant that launch mode was locked in and under way." After repeating the deadly word three times, she says, " 'he's not sweet,' nodding in my direction. 'I'm not sweet,' emphasizing that last word both by slowness of delivery and uncomfortably thorough elocution, then landing on the 't' with both heels. 'And do you see that old man seated across the table?' pointing to Father and then looking at Melodia, who had taken on the aspect of a stunned mullet. 'He's not sweet either.' "

The longest and most unforgettable of the essays is the last one, "Cutty, One Rock," about Kleinzahler's brother. The young poet often accompanied his wild older sibling to gay bars in Manhattan, such as Julius's in the West Village. "It was a merry, friendly atmosphere. We ordered drinks. My brother always ordered 'Cutty, one rock.' Then he introduced me to his friends, of whom he seemed to have many; all of them teased him about trying to pass off his latest trick as his brother. A couple already seemed aware of my existence, which I found flattering. To a one they checked me out, up and down. But it was a bluff sort of lechery, all in good fun. Julius's provided the overture, the launching pad for my brother's evenings. He'd have a couple of drinks, or three, or four, catch up with his friends, survey the talent on hand, and after an hour or so head west, usually to the International Stud."

Suffusing the essay is Kleinzahler's eternal, glowing love, which must have been among the few good things in life for the writer's troubled older brother. The essay builds from there to a sad, raucous climax. Kleinzahler's brother was a self-destructive live wire who found it impossible to keep himself under control -- he gambled too much, drank too much, took too many drugs, spent too many nights out wandering around the city looking for trouble. He may have killed a knife-wielding Mexican with a rock (he wasn't sure if the man was dead when he left the scene, but he was "lying there very, very still"). He tried to make extra money by selling drugs but got caught and was given a felony conviction with probation. He killed himself in 1971 by swallowing 50 barbiturates he'd got from "his friend Bobby, a cute younger blond guy he'd tricked with over the years." Kleinzahler does not shy away from telling about any of this, but he does so without ever collapsing into sentimentality or bathos. "I'll spare you the funeral and mourning rituals," he says. "It was pretty horrible. The spectacle of a parent grieving for a child is tough to watch, especially when it's your own parent. There was an animal sound coming out of my mother, like a dog wailing, but softer."

We can't argue with that.

Reviewed by Rick Whitaker
Copyright 2004, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.

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Book Description Farrar, Straus Giroux Inc, United States, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.Cutty, One Rock takes the reader on a wild journey by airplane, bus, ferry, and foot from childhood to early manhood in the company of a New Jersey family in equal measures cultivated and deranged. We witness scenes of passionate, even violent intensity that give rise to meditations on eros and literature, the solitariness of travel, and the poetics of place. These individual pieces, most of which first appeared in The London Review of Books and won an international cult following, are by turns poignant, surreal, down home and lyrical, a mixture of qualities that inheres in his language with uncommon delicacy and effect (Leonard Michaels). Together they make up an intellectual and emotional autobiography on the run. The book s final section, about Kleinzahler s adored, doomed older brother, is unforgettable, and since its appearance last year in the LRB, has already entered the literature as one of the most moving contemporary memoirs. Bookseller Inventory # AAV9780374530181

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Book Description Farrar, Straus Giroux Inc, United States, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. Cutty, One Rock takes the reader on a wild journey by airplane, bus, ferry, and foot from childhood to early manhood in the company of a New Jersey family in equal measures cultivated and deranged. We witness scenes of passionate, even violent intensity that give rise to meditations on eros and literature, the solitariness of travel, and the poetics of place. These individual pieces, most of which first appeared in The London Review of Books and won an international cult following, are by turns poignant, surreal, down home and lyrical, a mixture of qualities that inheres in his language with uncommon delicacy and effect (Leonard Michaels). Together they make up an intellectual and emotional autobiography on the run. The book s final section, about Kleinzahler s adored, doomed older brother, is unforgettable, and since its appearance last year in the LRB, has already entered the literature as one of the most moving contemporary memoirs. Bookseller Inventory # AAV9780374530181

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