Sunday, February 10, 2013

Opera Divas and Other Eccentrics

Moe's Villa and Other StoriesMoe's Villa and Other Stories 
by James Purdy

 "I feel that the stories and subjects "come" to me, because when I try to seek them, they elude me. Consequently, I don’t write for anyone. I write for the soul. If you really tell yourself the truth, you’ve told everyone. This doesn’t come easily at all. It’s all a matter of psychic energy, of getting in touch with what you’re looking for."  - James Purdy

James Purdy's writing has been described as archetypal. He commented that "Though my plays are really American myths and the language and characters are very American, they are not only about America. They just happen to take place here." That they happen in America and feel very American on the surface still allows room for depths of meaning that suggest the archetypal. I am reminded of the southern Gothic world of Flannery O'Connor without the religion. His thoroughly idiosyncratic writing leaves trails of peculiar, odd, eccentric characters that make their way through a world that is a skewed version of every town. His every town is usually more akin to David Lynch than Thornton Wilder.
I first encountered Purdy through his mysterious, eerie vision of Eustace Chisholm, but soon graduated to the smaller works like Malcolm and The Nephew where his focus was more acute. This collection includes twelve new stories; from fairy tales about an opera diva whose mega-stardom is managed shrewdly by her talking cat to the little girl who runs off with a fire-breathing dragon to eat turtle soup; from a bizarre account of a desperate husband whose obsession over his wayward ex-wife leads to his fixation on a rare white dove to a visit to Moe’s Villa, a private mansion doubling as a gambling casino where lonely boys are taught the art of poker by the Native American proprietor.
Gore Vidal called him "an authentic American genius". For Vidal, himself given to the fantastic, Purdy's stories contained "lost or losing golden ephebes". This collection is a welcome feast for fans of Purdy, as well as a nice taste for newcomers.

Moe's Villa & Other Stories by James Purdy.  Carrol & Graf Publishers, 2004.

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