Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Place in Flowers where Pollen Rests

When Maurice first introduced me to Paul West, he said, "Paul West can ride a metaphor longer than almost any writer I know of today." Astounding words to be said of any writer but more astonishing when you realize just how many books Paul West has written. The bibliography, were I to post it here would be long (24 by Wikipedia's count!), but even that does nothing to express to you the richness of the content of the books. How does one man have the sheer strength of word to write so richly, so compellingly in book after book, I cannot possibly say. But, I would perhaps like to drink a bit of the water that he is drinking, if it's contagious...

The Place in Flowers Where Pollen Rests

Oswald has reappeared in Palookaville, returned with a secret that's darker than a starless night on the reservation. Was he the one who killed her? He'd had his hand on her throat but they'd all been involved, was it his grip or one of the other actors who had finally caused her to turn blue from being held so tightly for so long? It was on the tape but he wasn't waiting around to find out and who was going to come looking for him on the Reservation? And as his Uncle George The Place in Flowers Where Pollen Rests nears death, Oswald finds a place to hide in caring for his invalid relation. As time passes however and their relationship deepens, Oswald's "care" amounts to little more than fussing while the nurse becomes reliant upon patient. When at last their earthly relationship is severed, Oswald is still haunted by his uncle's presence as he wanders through the swamps of Vietnam where he builds a "gook" from body parts of the dead that lie all about until he's finally sent home and back where he began. Back in his own village he finds the truth of his own narrative and attempts to find his place among the living as story teller in his own right.

Although the story seems straight forward and clear as described on the book jacket (and as I have described it), there is nothing linear or clean about Paul West's writing. From the first sentence you are on a wild ride of metaphor and description that forces you to pause and look back or wonder and reread and digest. It is as though you were eating the best meal you could possibly imagine and couldn't get enough, yet sometimes you just get full and need some time to let the food settle before you can sit back at the table to eat again. In one particular spot a single sentence flows through three pages! In another, a simple paragraph that concerns Oswald giving back his phone... "He phoned the phone company and handed back the shiny set. Now he had no number in his life" Here is a craftsman, whose intention is not to describe the phone but everything about loneliness and a man who was going to miss the half-life his character has built for himself as he moves on to think of his uncle who "shuttled back and forth between uncle and apparition... more like a cloud with a voice, a mesa in his own right." Poetry in motion, the story moves without the reader realizing they are being taken on an adventure. Oscar's time in Vietnam, begins midway and lasts a third of the book, is a cacophonous event that keeps the reader riveted even as the colors deepen and darken, twist and deviate. Characters flow in and out of focus showing us West's impeccably chosen dialogue. Each person has it's own lilt and sway as though you can see them walking down the street, smell their perfume. A masterpiece written by a master story teller, this has "Written for Hollywood" no where on it. It is simply too complex and lyrical to be on the big screen. I highly recommend this book to all who are ready to face the Mount Everest of fiction.


  1. I'm intrigued. The story had me at "reservation." Sometimes I crave a slow read, one where you can sort of wrap your mind around the words. This sounds intriguing. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Liz: Thanks! I hope I did it justice!!! It's really a book that is hard to describe and I felt like writing the review I got a bit more out of the book that I didn't catch while reading it so it was good for me to write this. Let me know if you decide to make the climb!

  3. hm, i'm not sure i could hang with the dead bodies part...but you describe his writing so exuberantly i want to give him a try! he's been on my "list" since you mentioned him awhile ago, so maybe this is the text i'll start with ... have a couple other reads to get through first ... in all my spare time -- ha! :)

  4. Sarah: It took me along time to read this because I have so little time to read but it was worth it. The dead bodies were not overly described... I didn't feel. I'm not into gore.


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