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Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D.H. Lawrence Paperback – June 16, 1999
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Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence is the best book about not writing a book about D.H Lawrence ever written. Other people have written untraditional, even loopy tributes to the priest of love before--including boon companions Anais Nin and Henry Miller--but no one has done it with Dyer's chutzpah, or with such fantastic success.
Dyer started out with the intention of writing either a sober academic study of Lawrence or a novel based on his subject's life but couldn't seem to do either. The academic study, he realized, was really just an excuse to read Lawrence's work, and the novel never even acquired a rudimentary shape in his mind. Instead, he somehow convinced his publisher to pick up the tab for his lengthy globetrotting pilgrimage, which took him from Paris to Rome to Greece to Oxford--not to mention such Lawrentian hotspots as Taos and Mexico and San Francisco. The result is an extended, often hilarious, meditation on seafood, English TV, Dyer's own creative impulses, and occasionally even Lawrence.
In Lawrence's seminal prose he finds some justification for his own capricious indulgences: "What Lawrence's life demonstrates so powerfully is that it actually takes a daily effort to be free.... There are intervals of repose but there will never come a state of definitive rest where you can give up because you have turned freedom into a permanent condition. Freedom is always precarious." Yet he refuses to read Lawrence's novels, confining himself to letters, travel reportage, and other casuals. Indeed, "[o]ne gets so weary watching authors' sensations and thoughts get novelised, set into the concrete of fiction, that perhaps it is best to avoid the novel as a medium of expression."
Dyer's fascination with Lawrence's minorabilia suggests not only an oblique criticism of the contemporary novel, but a promising direction for the memoir. Perhaps clean, well-lighted subjectivity is a dead end, and the future lies with eccentric, provisional works along the lines of Flaubert's Parrot and How Proust Can Change Your Life--or Out of Sheer Rage. After all, Dyer's bright (and brilliantly shambolic) book of life reminds us of why we read in the first place: to see the surprising ways one person can be brought to life by another. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Library Journal
There are well over 1000 books on D.H. Lawrence, but this one has an unconventional angle. On the first page, one is disabused of the notion that this will be yet another critical analysis or biography, perhaps brilliant, perhaps jargon-ridden, but destined to join all the others. Instead of his planned academic "Lawrence Book," Dyer (But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz, LJ 11/15/95) gives us a splendid study on procrastination, denial, rationalization, and writer's block. As he travels around Paris, Greece, Oaxaca, and other locales, he agonizes over such things as what books to bring along and which to leave behind; either way, they become excuses for not writing. There is the irony that the self-admittedly undisciplined Dyer did indeed manage to produce this book, even if not the learned tome he had intended. It deserves to be called his "Lawrence Book," and it's probably all the better for the manner in which it was written. Heartily recommended, although libraries need not purchase if they have the 1997 British edition.?Janice E. Braun, Mills Coll., Oakland, CA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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In conversational prose that makes his meandering narrative a fast read, Dyer recounts his experiences while trying to write a serious book about Lawrence. We follow the author as he travels around the world visiting the places Lawrence lived--Sicily, England, New Mexico--and while he pores over Lawrence's preserved correspondence. In the process we learn a little about Lawrence--he paid his bills on time, he is unlikely to have been comfortable naked, he tended to be angry much of the time, he was handy around the house. Mostly we learn about Lawrence's characteristics because they are shared by Dyer, about whom we learn a great deal. (Dyer, too, pays his bills on time, though he is not handy around the house.)
Dyer's defining characteristic is what he describes as his "rheumatism of the will, this chronic inability to see anything through." It is the reason he cannot decide finally where in the world he wants to live (a trait he shares with Lawrence), why he therefore lives "perpetually on the brink of potential departure," not acquiring the "trappings of permanence"--because while he may detest his current living arrangements, he suspects that he would regret at once the decision to give up the sublet he now finds stultifying.
Dyer's paralyzing indecision likewise renders him unable to do the exercises that will repair his knee and save him from continual pain, unable to decide whether or not to pack a particular book in his luggage, unable to write the serious study of Lawrence he originally had in mind, unable to write the book he was postponing writing by beginning the book on Lawrence. It is a wonder, in the end, that Dyer manages to conduct his life at all.
Dyer is also, like Lawrence, an angry man. While Lawrence was allegedly "angry even in his sleep," Dyer describes himself, sometimes amusingly, as cursing and muttering under his breath throughout the day, raging over insignificant annoyances.
"A few days ago the local delicatessen had run out of the luxury doughnuts which I have for my elevenses and on which I depend utterly.... Right, I thought to myself, turning on my heel and walking out, grim-faced and tight-lipped, I will return later in the day and burn the place to the ground with all the staff in it--friendly, charming staff, incidentally, who have often let me owe them money--so that they could experience a fraction of the pain that I had suffered by not being able to have my morning doughnut."
Dyer complains in the book about a lot of things--Italians, children, parents of children, literary criticism. I thought him a bit obnoxious early on in my reading, when he faulted the Greek fellow he'd rented a moped from for refusing to return his deposit on the bike after he (Dyer) had totaled it (through his own fault). His attitude becomes somewhat more forgivable when you come to understand that he recognizes, at least sometimes, how inappropriate his anger is.
There were times that Dyer's writing annoyed me. Particularly in the beginning of the book, he tended to repeat himself. He may have done so in a conscious attempt to add to the informal feel of his prose, but if so I think he went too far. For example:
"The next morning I could not move. I had to be helped out of bed. I couldn't move."
On a number of occasions, too, I was left wondering whether he was getting sloppy with his writing or was achieving some poetic depth I couldn't appreciate:
"The puddles by the roadside offered no reflection: the water was too old for that, was no longer sensitive to light."
But there were also a number of things in Dyer's book that I quite liked. There was the occasional simple, lovely sentence: "Not a great choice [of restaurants] from my point of view since sea-food is vile filth which I will eat under no circumstances." The relationship between Dyer's acquaintances Ciccio and Renata, who phone one another compulsively throughout the day, was priceless. And perhaps my favorite part of the book--the only part I found downright funny--was Dyer's description of his mortifying experience giving a lecture about Lawrence in Denmark. Thoroughly unprepared for the talk and sick with a bad cold, Dyer tried to use his illness and an ill-timed nose bleed to, at the least, gain a measure of sympathy from the audience. Which he failed to do.
As a window into the personality of a writer--Dyer, of course, not Lawrence--Out of Sheer Rage makes good, if not great, reading.
Reviewed by Debra Hamel, author of Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece
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