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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

=2013 Books Read=

Summertime
by J.M. Coetzee


And Then There Were Six...

You wrote to me and offered an interview. You said that you'd once been involved sexually with the writer John Coetzee.

Did I? Did I really say involved? It was a one-night stand. Actually three days and two nights. Check out was at eleven.

Where did this...erm affair...take place?

A motor inn. Hohokus, New Jersey.


What would John Coetzee have been doing there? I have no record of him ever being in...what did you call it?

Hohokus, New Jersey.

Right. Hohokus. What in God's name would he have been doing there of all places?

How should I know? I didn't ask. You tell me. You're his biographer.

His fictional biographer. "Summertime" is actually a novel in the guise of a biography of the late South African writer and Nobel Prize winner John Coetzee. I would have thought that was made amply clear.

Of course it was. I'm not an idiot.


My apologies, I never intended to imply...Listen, why should I believe anything you say?

Why should anyone believe anything any of the five people you interviewed said in Summertime? They were all made up themselves. I guess I figured, what the hey? Why not get in on the action, too?

I'm not sure that's really cricket.

Well, you pretended to be your own biographer, interviewed five imaginary people to talk about yourself as if you were already dead, and then went ahead and put your own name on the book. I'm not sure if that's cricket or just a staggering display of narcissism.

It was a literary device. A means of self-examination and self-exposure. A mea culpa, of sorts. I assure you it wasn't an act of self-aggrandizment. If you read the book, you'll see...

Yes I read the book. Don't be such a nit. You were pretty hard on yourself, it's true. No one who you interviewed had much good to say about you. But, of course, that doesn't mean the book still isn't an extravagant exercise in operatic narcissism. It could be argued that you've thrown yourself a literary self-pity party and made yourself the belle of the ball.

Hmmph...

Now don't pout. I'm not saying that's what it is. But a reader could take it that way. I'm just saying.

So, you liked the book?

It was interesting, I'll say that much. A quick read, too. A good psychological portrait of a type. I think it helps enormously to have an interest in J.M. Coetzee, both as a writer and as a person, that is. His struggle to free himself from South Africa's legacy of apartheid while at the same time maintaining what is undeniable: his roots in that world. His need to belong somewhere though he feels a refugee from his native land, a man with no real home in the world.

It also helps to have an interest in serious literature as it exists today...if it exists today. What I mean is literature's role in society, in politics, in culture, etc. If literature even has such a role anymore, as it once did, in defining values and assuaging the spiritual crisis of men and women. In the book someone points out that there are no great writers anymore in the way that there used to be...no more Tolstoys or Hugos or even Jean Paul-Sartres. That was a very modest thing for a Nobel Prize winner to say, for any writer, to say. I bet Philip Roth wouldn't say it if they finally broke down and gave him a Nobel Prize. I bet he wouldn't say such a thing even now. Instead what you're saying is that today's Nobel Prize winning writer is just a little man, a man like John Coetzee, flawed and ultimately unimportant in the grand scheme of things. A man more or less licking his own wounds, picking at his own scabs. Just a human being, not a god, not an oracle, not a prophet.

Yes yes. Probably so. Just as you say. So what did you think of me--I mean, John Coetzee--as a lover during those three days and two nights in Hohokus? How did you imagine it to be in bed with him?

Pretty much the way it was described by the other women in the book. You--sorry, I mean he--was rather cold. Stiff. Standoffish. Unable to let go and really feel anything. Unable to really give of himself. He struck me as emotionally and physically blocked. It was like being in bed with a scarecrow, prickly, you know? As if he were stuffed with straw.

You didn't think he was homosexual?

Yes, I did. Ha, don't look so horrified. I was only joking. At least, I think I'm joking. Frankly, I don't know. I mean, that's for you...or him...to answer. I know you seemed awfully obsessed with asking every woman you interviewed that question. And you were very careful in having them all answer in the negative. He was asexual, celibate, like a priest...every other reason was given for his lack of erotic passion except the one. That he might be gay. It sounds a little like resistance to me, like denial. You know, where there's smoke there's at least a possibility of fire. But how can I say? I wouldn't rule it out, that's for sure.

They all say he performed the act adequately...

Yes, performed the act. That's an apt phrase. He could have been imagining himself having sex with George Clooney for all I know. He was always in his head so much. Maybe that's how he managed. 

I don't think that's fair...

Look, I'm prepared to drop it. You're the one who brought the subject up in the first place.

Okay, okay. One last question.

Sure, but make it quick. I've got a pedicure scheduled at one.

Do you feel that your acquaintance with John Coetzee has had an impact on your life and, if so, what has that impact been?

As a man, as an imaginary lover...no, he's had no impact whatsoever. 

As a writer?

I wouldn't kick him out of bed.

Interview conducted May 1, 2013, at the Oasis Diner, 2132 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y.