Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Horny dilemma

A former Esquire editor’s lingual acrobatics

Posted By on Wed, Aug 30, 2006 at 12:00 AM

You think you've got problems? Let me be the first to tell you that your problems are minor compared to the problems of Gordon Lish. "Gordon Lish" is the narrator of the recently reissued Gordon Lish novel Zimzum, first published in 1993. Gordon Lish the novelist wants it to be known that the problems of "Gordon Lish" the narrator are bigger, badder problems than any problem that you might yourself be presently wrestling yourself with.

What are "Gordon Lish's" problems? To begin with, "Gordon Lish" is horny. "Gordon Lish" has a libido driving him insane. What I want to say is this: More than anything else, "Gordon Lish" wants to get laid. In a madman's machine-gun rant, "Gordon Lish" lets it be known that he is a man known to get around town from bed to bed. And yet, to make "Lish's" bedroom matters all the more complicated, in his own bed lies the dying body of his wife, a woman who, as "Lish" likes to tell us,

has to be turned now. She has to have someone come turn her now. I have to go hurry and turn her now. Whereas what I need to have is Myrna now. Whereas I want to have Lily now. Or have Sylvia now.

Not only that, not only is there tension between what "Gordon Lish" wants and what he needs to do as a husband, the temperature in his and her apartment is kept insufferably cold because his wife, in her affliction, is "burning up." The apartment is equipped with a wide variety of air-conditioners — "a Fedders ... a General Electric ... a Chrysler ... a York" — that, like Lish, are all of the time turned on.

And if this — a sick wife in bed in need of constant "turning over," an ice-cold apartment, the body's unyielding desire — isn't problem enough, "Gordon Lish" also has aged parents in a nursing home who must also be dealt with; a mother in want of her Puffs Plus, a father who wants help choosing the color of Comfer shoes to place on his own feet. And as if the demands of parents aren't enough, the "home" to which the elder Lishes have been taken to live the last years of their living, a place called the Henning House, is giving "Gordon Lish" an ultimatum: Come up to the Henning House on July 15 to talk about what next to do with Mr. and Mrs. Lish. Or else.

Or else what? That's what "Gordon Lish" wants to be told. But does he get what he asks for? Since "Lish" is the teller here, the answer is no. Then there's the issue with his Oster going kaput. The Oster is what "Lish" employs with one of his many lovers to make her the coveted lover she is. So what's a "Lish" to do when the Oster stops its steady humming? Would it be too much for a "Lish" to ask to back up such a product with so much as a guarantee?

There are no guarantees in this world. This is what the novel seems to want us to know. "What's fair is fair" is this book's motto. Though as with any Gordon Lish book — written for readers who are drawn to the inner languages of Beckett and Stein and the lesser-known Thomas Bernhard — this book comes with its own guarantee, which is this: Lish is a writer unafraid to let down his guard, to turn off his censors, so he can tell the truth that can only be told in his own peculiar way, in a voice that is desperately urgent and urgently real and always, in true Lish fashion, neurotically, unshakably unapologetic. Here in Zimzum, Gordon Lish makes the misery of "Gordon Lish" a monologue of lingual acrobatics unlike any other voice you've ever listened to. Picture a man possessed by, saved by, whatever ruins of temptation and salvation have made their way to his man-self. Now picture "Gordon Lish," a man possessed by his own fear and his own fearless desire. Out of this tension, out of these dueling instruments, Gordon Lish utters a music that is hard to listen to, true, but even truer it is a truth, a riff, equally hard to forget.

Peter Markus is a poet and freelance writer. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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