Wednesday, July 11, 2012

FAMOUS BUILDER by Paul Lisicky (2002) Graywolf Press, 274 pages

With a clean, clear prose style that evokes both Mary Karr's unflinching memoir THE LIAR'S CLUB and August Kleinzahler's encomium to his elusive gangster brother CUTTY, ONE ROCK, Paul Lisicky's series of personal essays collected in FAMOUS BUILDER made me catch my breath in wonder and envy.

Like Karr, Lisicky is direct and unselfconscious in his portrayal of his relatives and himself. Consider this haunting description of his father from "New World":

My father is a storm. His presence charges the air with abstract particles: guilt, duty, fear of failure, fear of death. If he were a painting, he'd be a Jackson Pollock, all splash and squiggle, no open spaces, no room to breathe. If he were a piece of music, he'd be a Shoshtakovich symphony, brash, shot through with bursts of timpani and horns.

Great, right?

What about this matter-of-fact exchange between young Paul and his unflappable mother from "Luck Be A Lady:"

"What's a whooore?" I say later. I stand with my mother in the tiny kitchen, high on my tiptoes, and stir chicken Rice-A-Roni while she empties a brick of frozen peas into a saucepan.
"Whore," my mother says, correcting me.
"A woman who sells dances," she says without missing a beat.
I cock my head. Selling dances: I cannot think of anything more delightful.

Later, as a young man, making his way in Provincetown, Lisicky contemplates the idea of a loving relationship in "Same Situation:"

I wake up in the morning, groggy, a bar of sunlight blinding my eyes. I feel hope--what will happen today?--before the melancholy settles: dust beaten from a mop. If only someone's face were on the pillow next to mine. If only to watch another man sleeping, his mouth twitching as he dreams.

Who hasn't thought those very thoughts?

I gulped Lisicky's personal essays down in a day and plan to seek out his other work, too: LAWNBOY, THE BURNING HOUSE and UNBUILT PROJECTS. Follow him on Twitter @paul_lisicky.

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