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My Review of Bill by Vern Myers
Bill: A Novella. Vern Myers. NY: Pelican Publishing. 102 pp. Cloth, $17.95. Reviewed by Gerald Bass
To start, I would like you to know that I am writing this book review on an old fashioned manual typewriter, an Olympia Model 9 in fact, that I purchased at a consignment antique store. I think this machine dates back to the early 1970s. It makes a nostalgic clack-clack-clack sound. I am not writing this book review in solidarity with author Vern Myers (who refuses to use a computer and composes his work on a 1968 Underwood-Miller, and before that a 1909 Corona 3, the same Ernest Hemingway employed for his early works), no; I am afraid my reason is pedestrian in nature: my girlfriend, Michèle, deep-sixed my Sony Vaio laptop into the back end of the toilet, where the water rises after you flush, after what one would call “a heated argument.” She locked herself in the shitter (which she hates me to call the commode), after having grabbed my laptop, stating that I loved my machine more than her; that she was jealous of the attention I gave to my novel-in-progress. Needless to say, my laptop will not start up. A friend told me to let it dry out. I will probably have to take it to a shop and pray that they can recover my data—most importantly: my unfinished novel, which I have been laboring at for three years now.
It’s an opus, this novel of mine, 850 pages and three-fourths done, so I would say it will be 1,000 manuscript pages when finished, or around 250,000 words. It began as a short story, and then I thought it would be a novella, 80 pages at best, but the thing took on a life of its own. I hear that is what happened to Vern Myers’ 23,000-word masterpiece, Bill. Talking grapes around the New York literati have it that Myers worked on the project for nearly five years and had 600 pages of rambling text, some typewritten, some hand-written, and his editor, Stanley Flint, pulled a Max Perkins (to Myers’ Thomas Wolfe) or Gordon Lish (Raymond Carver) and hacked away, jumbled and tossed like the proverbial salad of sentences, and came up with this current 102 page book.
I read Bill in one sitting, or a single bath soak, an hour and a half’s worth of water: after Michèle destroyed my computer and possibly my novel (which, by the way, is titled Lunch on the Grass), I drew a hot bath (I own a claw foot tub, talk about antediluvian delights!) to calm my nerves, opened a bottle of cognac, and slipped into the water with the ARC of Bill that I had received in the mail from the book editor of the newspaper you are reading this review in.
For Vern Myers, 102 pages (23,000 words, the margins generous) is War and Peace. Myers, the past decade, has been known as King of 3,000 Words or Less. Your typical Myers story is 1,500 to 2,000 words, each with the epic impact of a Shakespearian tragedy and the emotional complexities of a Chekovian triptych of 5-act plays. Some say it is his life-long friend and editor, Flint, who has fine-tuned the 5,000 words of new story Myers sends in to a magnificent 3,000 word slice of American Literature; Flint published many of these in Dapper Magazine, a slick where he was fiction editor for a decade. Critics are certain to debate over this decades after Myers is gone.
Myers was often asked, at readings and lectures and interviews (the few he has granted): “Are you ever going to write a novel?” and his jovial answer was (with a stiff Long Island Iced Tea in hand): “I’m working on said novel now, something I call Bill: A Life, but the real question is: Will I ever finish it? The second real question being: Will I ever publish it?” (I know this because I attended a reading of his at the UCSD campus four years ago where such Q&A took place.)
I read Bill: A Novella (what happened to a life?)...
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