THOMAS PYNCHONESQUE

From a photo taken from Pizza Express window seat in Edinburgh, Scotland.

 

Here’s a great forgotten American writer: M. F. Beal, sometimes called Mary, often referred to as the once-wife of another forgotten writer, David Shetzline, who is also definitely worth reading but not nearly as good.

I took a writing class from her. It was a night class at Fresno State.  She would sit in a desk dressed in fatigues. She was calm, private. Smoked unfiltered cigarettes, lit them with wooden matches. Memory gives her the occasional camouflage look, but that may be due to the back cover photo on Amazon One. She always looked like she just came from a chat with Che Guevara.

Beal is mentioned by name on page 612 (at least in the Vintage paperback edition) of Thomas Pynchon’s novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, one of the truly great American classics of literature of the 20th Century. Bit bizarre, yes.

 She’s there because she and her husband knew Pynchon from Cornell University. They were close. They, plus Richard Farina and maybe others, formed the “Cornell school” of literature.

Before Twitter, authors “blurbed.” They wrote blurbs for each other’s books and dedicated them to each other. Pynchon wrote blurbs for both of David’s books, Heckletooth 3 and Deford, and he also wrote one for Beal’s unique book, Amazon One.

Sad to say, both David and Mary were two-book authors.

Who knows why, but it seems they sort of just stopped writing. I won’t speculate.

As for Beal, she wrote with a machete clenched between her teeth, ready to take on the entire corporate/military complex of this imperialistic country. She could see a lot of shit before anyone else even smelled it.

Amazon One is a terrific novel. Notice I didn’t use the word, great, as in great novel. It is a great novel, of course (and don’t you dare even think of differing until you not only read and study the novel, but thoroughly analyze and assimilate the Revolutionary undercurrent that pooled and eddied in the lives of many during the ‘60’s and early ‘70’s. Unless you have practically memorized books like Soul on Ice, The Strawberry Statement, Howl (precursor), the major feminist tracts of the time,  and know extensive passages from the Port Huron Statement, don’t even come sniffing), but its greatness lies almost completely outside what people think is “great” now.

Writers won’t even touch this stuff now.  Maybe it’s the namby pamby publishers. They’ve gone blind in this country. You can’t even utter the word “left,” any more. You gotta  use something like it’s virginal baby sister, “progressive,” or worse.

Radical or revolutionary? Not unless you’re having surgery or selling a car.

Beal was political. I’m not talking about moronic tea baggers and the pale progressives and name calling and Fox News whining. Think of what’s going on in the Middle East. That’s real politics, and that’s what she wrote about.

Amazon One is about Revolution. A  revolutionary (no not terrorist!) “cell”  in Berkeley accidentally detonates a bomb. The three men die, and the women of the “cell” go on the run – from the law and from themselves psychologically. To?  The novel takes place within a month. You know day by day, sometimes hour by hour what’s happening. It’s a harsh and brutally honest book.

The best writer in our class was Bill Fossett, and sadly I’m not sure of the spelling. He composed beautiful prose. His first story shamed what I was doing.  He had a story about a guy in Vietnam who’s on funeral duty and gets a call to report. While he’s dressing for the funeral General Eisenhower comes in to chat with him. Jesus!! At one point Ike asks the guy “What did this young man believe in, soldier?” “Nothing that kept him alive,” was the response. Sadder, I lost touch with Bill long time ago.

Anyway, Bill and I visited Beal and her husband once. They lived on a place in the foothills of Fresno. We drove up and spent an afternoon. Met David, their kids.  It was great. I enjoyed it. We sat outside on a patio. One time I went into the house to go to the bathroom. Guy in the living room watching TV and talking to one of the kids turns and says hi, sort of. Maybe just a nod. Which I returned.

Yeah, years later when I finally saw a photo of Pynchon . . . maybe.

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