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It would be easy to discard the encomium "an innovative writer" as being an overworked phrase, cliched even; but in Axelrod's case, that's not so. After publishing the "feature novel" Bombay California, one might have thought there would be little else one could do with the novel. Though Cardboard Castles does pay homage to the fathers of the modern text (Quevedo, Cervantes, Rabelais, Machado de Assis), Axelrod also establishes himself as innovative in ways unlike the novels of other postmodern Latin American writers such as Garc'a Marquez, Cortazar, Marcio Souza and Borges, the latter of whom Axelrod knew personally. Axelrod slowly dismembers the architectonics of the 19th century "realistic" novel (which continues today under labored breathing) and buries it, albeit with civility and grace, in the archives of what the French structuralist critic Alain Vieux-Sottise has called "the labyrinth of long ago." It's difficult to approach Axelrod's novel (which it surely is) without discussing a bit of its structure. The novel is divided into 130 chapters, which range in length from three lines to thirty pages; it includes a table of contents (an accoutrement that falsely gives the impression that the book can be read at any part); and is replete with visual effects such as: musical notes, resumes, physical exam charts, crossword puzzles, multiple choice exams, and typographic alterations which would have made Joyce envious, all of which significantly alter, if not bombard, the reader's sensibilities of what constitutes a novel. One could easily label his techniques as "gimmicky" if it weren't for the fact that none of the devices are used indiscriminately for their own sakes, but are used precisely within the contextuality. Because of its construction it would be difficult to give an account of what the novel is "about," though the action (if one can call it that) takes place in the United States (Minnesota mainly where Axelrod finished his PhD), England, and France. Though the plot deals essentially with the protagonist's, (the Brazilian-American Duncan Katz) adventures while living in and visiting America, London, Paris, and the south of France, the plot is merely a conveyance for the words he has to use and for the "digressions" that seem to possess him. Unlike Sterne, Axelrod's digressions always seem to mean something, whether he's talking about nostalgia or world hunger, the Jewish Holocaust or basketball. From the outset of the novel, Axelrod is constantly juggling the reader's sensibilities. His prologue is a tour de force of literary wit, irony, and perspicacity as he explains the protagonist's early experiences with books and their effect on him. From that point on, the reader is well aware that what's to follow will not, in most cases, reflect anything like a Balzac novel. From the chapter titled "The Trial," in which Duncan takes God to court to the "split-brain" chapter titled "Rave Gauche, Rave Droit," it is obvious that Axelrod's fiction is in no way some dalliance with literary convention. The comparison that some might make between Axelrod's texts and Joyce's will obviously do a disservice to them both. Joyce's penchant for the portmanteau, metaplasmus and other forms of enallage don't have any significance in Axelrod. Axelrod makes literary use of seemingly non-literary objects and does it in such a way that Joyce, who lacked Axelrod's graphic sense, could not have done. For example, in one chapter titled "Dying, Hadara...," Axelrod uses a simulated telegram complete with sender, receiver, address, and miscopied message in order to emphasize the apparent futility in technological communication. Two chapters later in "...Almost," we discover another telegram stating that the former telegram was incorrect. Undoubtedly, Axelrod's experience with the Noigandres (the Brazilian school of "concrete poetry") prepared him for using these techniques in fiction. Likewise, Axelrod's characters are as diverse as the novel structures of the novel. Katz runs into such characters as Jean-Christophe, a homosexual gardener who becomes famous for his metaphysical treatise titled Meliora Speramus; Hadara Halevi, Katz's lover and an Israeli spy; and, of course, "Death" whom Axelrod first meets while the two of them are sunbathing on the French Riviera. These characters appear and disappear and reappear throughout the 130 chapters which, like his apparent digressions, seem to be randomly arranged, but which, upon closer analysis, one discovers are tightly and neatly organized. Axelrod constantly deals with evanescences, with appearances, with the relativity of truth and how we, as humans, perceive it. Not all of his prose reminds one of some Kafka vagary dressed in Gogol's overcoat; there are those times when the echo of Beckett (a long-time friend) appears as well. But beyond the polyphonia in the novel, the myriad voices of his characters, the exquisite metaphors and limpid rhythms, there is the urgency of Axelrod's prose which pleads to us in so many different ways that in order to survive, we, as humans, must understand that we, as humans, must understand each other. That may be his only truth in a novel that is constantly deprecating the idea that there is a truth. What is more apparent than what may be the truth, is that Axelrod, has, with this single work, established himself as one of the premier novelists, of international fiction today. Axelrod is more than a thread from Cervantes' cape or a stitch from Machado de Assis; he is a seam in the fabric of 21st century fiction.
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MARK AXELROD is a Full Professor of English & Comparative Literature at Chapman University, Orange, California. A graduate of both Indiana University and the University of Minnesota, he is the Director of the John Fowles Center for Creative Writing, he is a two-time recipient of a United Kingdom Leverhulme Fellowship for Creative Writing, a three-time recipient of the Alliance Française National Writing Award, has published four novels, Capital Castles (Pacific Writers Press, 2000), Cloud Castles (Pacific Writers Press, 1998), Cardboard Castles (Pacific Writers Press, 1996) and Bombay California (Pacific Writers Press, 1994)) and has finished a new, thousand-page Pan-American novel titled, The Posthumous Memoirs of Blase Kubash, based on the character created by the 19th century Brazilian novelist, Machado de Assis, excerpts of which have been anthologized in The Reading Room/4 published by Green Marsh Press. He has also written several collections of short stories titled: Borges’ Travel, Hemingway’s Garage (to be published by Fiction Collective 2 in April, 2004); Balzac’s Coffee, Rembrandt’s Café (the sequel); Dante’s Foil & Other Sporting Tales and The Apotheosis of Aaron and has been published in numerous journals including the Iowa Review, the New Novel Review and the New York Quarterly. A contributor to the former New York avant-garde magazine, Splash, he was a film reviewer for Vinyl Magazine (Minneapolis) and a music reviewer for Playboy. Among the awards he has won for his fiction include: the Tim McGinnis Award (University of Iowa); Camargo Foundation Fellowship in Fiction Writing, Cassis, France (2); the Maxwell Perkins Award for Fiction Writing, New York, NY; a Bush Foundation Fellowship for Fiction Writing, St. Paul, MN; and an Award for Experimental Writing (Indiana University). He has also won an award from Western Illinois University for his play, TI AMO LUCIA OLIVETTI, which is tentatively scheduled to be staged at the Jewish Theatre of Hamburg (Fall, 2003) and is currently working on a new play dealing with the life of Van Gogh. His critical books include, The Politics of Style in the Fiction of Balzac, Beckett and Cortázar (Macmillan, UK, 1990); The Poetics of Novels (Macmillan, UK, 1999) and is currently at work on a book titled Mismatch Dissolve: The Adaptation of Postmodern Fiction to Film. Other film books include: Aspects of the Screenplay (Heinemann, 2001); Character & Conflict: Cornerstones of Screenwriting (also being considered by Heinemann) and I Read It At the Movies: Screen Adaptation. His translations of Xavier de Maistre’s novella, Un voyage autour de ma chambre and Balzac’s play, Mercadet, will both be published by Green Integer Press in 2003 and 2004 respectively and he is co-translating the novel, Museo de la Novela de la Eterna, written by the Argentine novelist, Macedonio Fernandez.
He is a practicing screenwriter and has been awarded for his work by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; the Writers Guild of America, East; the Screenwriters Forum (University of Wisconsin); and the Sundance Institute. He has written over twenty screenplays and teleplays and his adaptation and co-production of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s "An Author’s Mother" won awards from the Scottish Association of Filmmakers, the London International Film & Video Festival, and the Festival Internacional de Video do Algarve, Portugal. He has taught or conducted screenwriting seminars and workshops throughout Latin America, Europe, and the United Kingdom as well as the United States including stints at: the Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV in San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba [the school founded by García Márquez]; the Goethe Institute, Santiago, Chile (with Antonio Skármeta [author of Il Postino]); with both SICA, the Cinematographer’s Union of Argentina, and Proyectos Culturales in Buenos Aires; at the National Film School of Denmark, Copenhagen; the University of Art and Design, Helsinki, Finland; the GriExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I'm a writer. Always knew I would be. So did my father. He discovered that when I was two-years old, when he found me esconced in a corner of his study, crumpling pages of a First Edition of Rilke's Elegies (of which there were few remaining copies) and stuffing them into my mouth. He knew. Probably knew too well. By four, I had eaten all of his Bacon and, taking the philosophist at his word, had consumed most of my father's Byron, Keats and Shelley. At six, Balzac was depleted, except for the Droll Stories for which, at that time, I had no taste, and by the time I had reached twelve I had polished off most everything palatable in the way of l9th-century French letters with the obvious exception of Eugene Sue. For my Bar Mitzvah, I ate Hardy with an antipasto of Manzoni and Vittorini, a calzone of Buzzati and Pavese and a dessert of Gadda and Joyce and Beckett; by fourteen I had finished everything from Cervantes through Petrarch. At fifteen, I was just beginning to nibble on the Russians, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Gogol, when my father, fearing I would deplete the rest of Germany and all of South America (See Chapter titled A Bit About the Author), finally decided to give me pen and paper of my own. But by the time he got around to it I was sixteen and most of his library was bindless if not bereft of pages. Not wanting to hurt his feelings I thanked him for his gifts of ink and vellum by returning the uneaten portions of Hamsun, Ibsen and Strindberg, and a not-too-badly chewed copy of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. Sighing as deeply as a sigh could be sighed without exhausting one's life, he was sadly relieved.
By the time I was twenty-five I had written ten novels, eight plays, dozens of short stories, and scores of poems, but because of my tender age and overwrought modesty, I published under such noms de plume as Eliot, Poe, Pound, Pushkin and Pasternak among others. My words were highly successful, well-reviewed, and paid my way through college and several years thereafter even though I never won an NEA Creative Writing Fellowship writing under any of those names. But then disaster struck. Shortly before quitting graduate school, my true identity was discovered, due to some ludicrous investigative article written by a student-journalist named Bernstein, and I was forced to use my own name from that moment on...D.J. (Duncan Joaquim) Katz. That unearthing, of course, was truly unfortunate since I had gathered such a large reading audience and had made such a comfortable living by using the names of other writers, well, I wasn't sure if anyone would buy anything of mine. So I tried writing my own stuff. Original stuff. Novels. But as fate would have it I didn't have much success. As a matter of fact, the following letter from a New York agent (who, out of pity, eventually decided to take me on) will give you an indication of how badly my career had turned. DEAR MR. KATZ: WITTY...STOP...CLEVER...STOP...BUT TOO ECCENTRIC...STOP...SHOULD BE WRITTEN AT A LATER AGE...STOP...PREFERABLY IN YOUR SIXTIES...STOP...WHEN YOU'VE ESTABLISHED YOURSELF...STOP...AS A WRITER...STOP...CARRY ON...STOP. REGARDS, SADIE LIPSCHITZ
My sixties! When the pale light pales the opaque window! When the ebb has lost itself beneath the curl! My sixties! The news was disarming. At first, I thought about retreating to my bedroom and nibbling on some wholesome pages of German Weltschmerz, something salivating and depressing. The Sorrows of Young Werther usually tasted good at those times or a bit of Heine accompanied by a demi-tone of Mahler. Instead, I settled for some guava nectar, straight up, and pouted for awhile staring at some melancholic reprints by Edvard Munch.
As you might imagine, it was a tremendous letdown to have been published extensively under my kleptonyms only to find rejection for D.J. Katz. Damn Bernstein ruined my career. It just goes to show, I said to myself, staring out of a broken window mended with strips of masking tape, it just goes to show that more often than not the name is judged instead of the work, that the sign is accepted as the symbol, that the "bottom line" is who you are and not what you've written. At that time I began to wonder seriously who I was. I mean, when I wrote under someone else's name I was secure and security bred confidence. But now, that is then, I was alone. Just me, Duncan Katz against all those people out there. All those faceless, nameless readers. That is, You. After an appropriate amount of self-imposed, self-disposed grieving, I came back to my artistic sensibilities. Modestly encouraged by Sadie's suggestion to "carry on" I did so by gathering my remaining aplomb and began another novel.
For the first time I had discovered the pain of rejection and discovered I could deal with it. In the present. And the future. For surely they were on their way: rejections. They were being written now if only in someone's head. By someone who may not even know me, but thinks s/he knows what is novel. But I could deal with them. It just took a minor deluge of perseverance and a major deluge of succourance from friends and loved ones. For if one believes that the truth is what must be written, then it's to that end that one must be true. Besides, I said, staring into a cup staggered around the chipped edges with the grounds of bitter coffee, I'm a writer.
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Book Description Pacific Writers Press, 1996. Trade Paperback. Condition: Very Good +. No Jacket. !st. Edition. 232pp. Clean , tight binding, no marks or tears. Novel part one in the Castles Trilogy. Paypal welcome Size: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Seller Inventory # 008818
Book Description Pacific Writers Press, No Place Noted, 1996 First Paperback Edition., 1996. 8vo. pp 232. Large format paperback. Fiction. Signed presentation from the author on front endpaper, 'To Malcolm and Elizabeth, in friendship. Mark 11/96'. Sir Malcolm Stanley Bradbury CBE (7 September 1932 – 27 November 2000) was a British novelist ('The History Man') academic and writer on English and American literature. ISBN: 0944870082 Fine. Seller Inventory # C4334