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Kenneth Patchen:
Fables & Other Little Tales

Fables & Other Little Tales , by Kenneth Patchen. Karlsruhe/Baden: Jonathan Williams, 1953.

Another prose book by Kenneth Patchen brings up all kinds of memories—dull as that occupation often is. But Patchen was always unclassifiable, his earlier books were an excitement altogether separate from what, say, Henry Miller amounted to. There was a wild kind of purity to them, and a conception few would have dared to attempt.

All this is too simple to say. The old gimmick of breathing heavily about a man's past performance is too often an excuse for ignoring him all the same. In Patchen's case this has been so much the fact, that it is tantamount to insult, finally, to invoke these older things at the expense of what he is now doing.

The new work is not a simple matter. For once, I think, it is legitimate to speak of Patchen himself, i.e., the man writing this book, and the particular problems with which he has been damned through no fault, certainly, of his own. Various appeals for medical help for him have of course appeared from time to time in almost all the magazines—though the response to them has been hardly enough. For a long time Patchen was thought to be suffering from a form of arthritis, until finally it was found that the cause of all the hell he had gone through with his back came from an 'exploded' disc, in the spinal column. An operation partially helped this—but

Black Mountain Review , Spring 1954.


he is far from done with it. And the same need for money, for medical expenses, continues.

What that has to do with this present book may be vague—though I doubt it. We ask a man to tell us what he knows, and what Patchen knows must be pain, constant pain, pain moving, sitting up or trying to, pain walking. Every single day of his life. It's not a question of 'excusing' the flaws, call them, of this book—or even of feeling that, after all, the man we had known, with his incredible tenderness, and gentleness, is at last a victim even of that world he believed in. He still is there, very much there. And if it is, or seems, by inversion—a care turned inside out—I hardly think this can be called the end of it.

The tone in the book is neither very 'funny' nor anything else. It seems to me almost ugly, and almost necessarily so. What else? The punning, the discontinuous sequence, etc.—he is not the first man to call attention to horror, to the horror now on us, by the use of its own methods. It is that things don't 'follow,' not now—that you begin saying this, you end saying that. And who knows why, in time? Perhaps that is very far from either Patchen's intention, or, better, the book's actual point, but it is a sense that comes very strongly from it.

"Never mind that," interjected the impatient Kraken. "Those pleasant little minnows there—" indicating the orphans, who were now contentedly belting one another with planks their steaks had come on, "I know damn well that their shoes will fit me. Only thing is, I wouldn't want to hurt their feelings . . . so I guess I'll have to eat them first."

In defiance of the jacket blurb, the book is anything but "sad, beautiful gaiety." But it may well be the beginning of, and the reasons for, an attack. Toward the end of the book he writes "Every stick points two ways, and people like you and me have either got to get an easy, knowing grip on the dirty end or else let go altogether . . ."


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