Sep. 27, 2010

The Return of Odysseus

by George Bilgere

When Odysseus finally does get home
he is understandably upset about the suitors,
who have been mooching off his wife for twenty years,
drinking his wine, eating his mutton, etc.

In a similar situation today he would seek legal counsel.
But those were different times. With the help
of his son Telemachus he slaughters roughly
one hundred and ten suitors
and quite a number of young ladies,
although in view of their behavior
I use the term loosely. Rivers of blood
course across the palace floor.

I too have come home in a bad mood.
Yesterday, for instance, after the department meeting,
when I ended up losing my choice parking spot
behind the library to the new provost.

I slammed the door. I threw down my book bag
in this particular way I have perfected over the years
that lets my wife understand
the contempt I have for my enemies,
which is prodigious. And then with great skill
she built a gin and tonic
that would have pleased the very gods,
and with epic patience she listened
as I told her of my wrath, and of what I intended to do
to so-and-so, and also to what's-his-name.

And then there was another gin and tonic
and presently my wrath abated and was forgotten,
and peace came to reign once more
in the great halls and courtyards of my house.

"The Return of Odysseus" by George Bilgere. Reprinted with permission of the author. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Scottish writer Irvine Welsh, (books by this author) born in Leith, Edinburgh, in 1958. He's best known for his first novel, Trainspotting, which became a cult hit after it was published in 1993. A few years later, the book was adapted into a movie directed by Danny Boyle and starring Ewan McGregor. By the end of the decade, Irvine Welsh was one of Scotland's highest-earning writers.

Welsh grew up in the Leith, Edinburgh, housing projects, hanging out with folks who used their dole money to support their heroin addictions. He trained as a TV repairman, but after receiving a big electrical jolt, he decided to quit. He moved to London, joined the punk scene, played guitar in some bands, and was arrested for a bunch of different petty crimes. After one judge decided to suspend Welsh's sentence rather than making him serve, Welsh decided he'd take the chance to reform his ways.

He enrolled in a computer skills program, worked in real estate, and completed an MBA degree. And he found an old diary of his, from 1982, about druggie life in the Edinburgh projects. His diary, along with a journal full of notes he'd taken on a Greyhound bus ride from Los Angeles to New York, became the basis for his book Trainspotting. It's full of obscene language and vulgarity, and many critics found it offensive, but the book was still longlisted for the Booker Prize. And it was a huge best-seller.

It's a story about heroin addicts in the Edinburgh projects in the 1980s, and it features characters like bumbling scam artist Simon "Sick Boy" Williamson, sociopath Francis "Franco" Begbie, and drug dealer Mother Superior, who has had a long habit. When Welsh returned to visit his old neighborhood after Trainspotting came out, one junkie after another would come up and swear that he must have been Welsh's muse. The book is written in phonetic Scots dialect, in a mostly stream-of-consciousness style. It begins:

"The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling. Ah wis jist sitting thair, focusing oan the telly, tryin no tae notice [him]. He wis bringing me doon. Ah tried ta keep ma attention oan the Jean-Claude Van Damme video."
Welsh is also the author of the novels Marabou Stork Nightmares (1995), Filth (1998), and The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs (2006). And he wrote the short-story collections The Acid House (1994), Ecstasy (1996), If You Liked School You'll Love Work (2007), and — published just last year — Reheated Cabbage (2009).

He lives in Dublin and spends winters in Miami Beach. His most recent book, a novel called Skagboys, is due out this year.

From the archives:

It's the birthday of statesman and patriot Samuel Adams, (books by this author) born in Boston, Massachusetts (1722), who was a failed businessman and a not-very-effective tax collector when the British passed the Sugar Act of 1764, and Adams finally found his purpose in life. He was one of the first members of the colonies to speak out against taxation without representation and one of the first people to argue for the Colonies' independence from Great Britain. He had a genius for agitating people. He organized riots and wrote propaganda, describing the British as murderers and slave drivers. He went on to become one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and participated in the Continental Congress. It was Samuel Adams, who said, "It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds."

It's the birthday of lawyer and novelist Louis Auchincloss, (books by this author) born in Lawrence, New York (1917), who grew up in one of the most prestigious families in New York City and spent his childhood in private schools and private clubs, surrounded by debutants and servants, and went on to write about the New York City upper class in books like Portrait in Brownstone (1962), A World of Profit (1968), and Diary of a Yuppie (1987).

It's the birthday of poet and critic Sir William Empson, (books by this author) born in East Yorkshire, England (1906), who wrote about how great literature makes us think and feel conflicting things at the same time. He wrote, "All those large dreams by which men long live well / Are magic-lanterned on the smoke of hell."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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