Pop psychology was a big item in 1974, the year that I conceived my son Michael. There were several highly publicized beliefs circulating, some bizarre and some only mildly weird. Talking to houseplants was a 'must do' . Another was reading aloud to a fetus starting at the 9th week after gestation. Fortunately there was no such timetable for the Dieffenbachia, which in my care seldom lasted that long. For a reason I do not recall, I began reading to the little quiver in my belly, and I chose a book given to me in college that I had misplaced before I finished and had located in a stationery box with a pile of letters from my mother telling me how to live my life. It was The Eighth Day of the Week by Poland's angry young man of the late 50's Marek Hlasko. It is best classified as a novella and I am a fast reader, so I read it once for overview, once for appreciation, and a final time, for love. Thirty-two years later Michael called me from Malta where he was living to tell me about his newest literary discovery--something written by an incredibly talented angry Polish expatriate writer who died young. "The Eighth Day of the Week," I said.
This morning Michael sent me the cover of his fourth book, this one not yet in bookstores or on the web. It is called The Mischief of Robert Kyd, and yes, the cover photo is indeed taken from a playbill for This Sporting Life, with Richard Harris, and yes, he paid a bundle to license it. i have read the manuscript and I find a touch of Marek Hlasko in its style. Like Hlasko, Michael Marsh is an expatriate, but not quite the iconoclast that Hlasko came to be, and not as angry because his lovely wife Dr. Christina Bocklisch will not permit it. Appreciating angry Eastern European writers is not the only link between us. We both love single malt from the River Spey, the road to Amboy Crater (if you've heard of it, you have been seriously lost in the Mohave on the way back from Las Vegas at least once in your life ) and the film artistry of Stanley Kubrick. And he has given me a hunger for the works of the generation of activist eastern European writers like Bohumil Hrabel (Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age) whose imagery is poetry in prose.
Why do I share this? Because I am looking back at life now that I am way too old to call myself middle-aged and paying more attention to the books I skimmed when Michael was young - the works of Joseph Campbell come to mind. I am also foregoing the sin of throwing live things into pots of boiling water because now when I listen I can hear them scream. And when I received a lovely basket of houseplants from my daughter Jolie and her family for my 74th birthday Wednesday, I rushed to put them somewhere near the shower so I could sing to them. But remembering what my singing voice is like (I am now too profoundly deaf to suffer) I moved them to my little stereo system in the library and bombarded them with MacArthur Park from my digitally remastered CD A Tramp Shining, sung of course by Richard Harris. And while I was sitting there I realized that I no longer had a copy of Eighth Day of the Week. I have no unborn children as my captive audience, but my malamutes will humor me and let me read. And from a used bookseller, I have received the comforting email message, 'Your order is acknowledge and the book is on its way.'
What did Michael give me for my birthday? -- The Yale Press edition of The Richard Burton Diaries edited by Chris Williams. But when Eighth Day arrives next week, I shall put Richard and Liz aside long enough to raise a glass and turn a page in tribute to Marek Hlasko, Bohumil Hrabel, Yael Dayan (Envy the Frightened) David Brin (The Postman, Darwin's Radio) and the other writers of the last half of the 20th Century who were searching for the elusive promise of a better world.