Two questions. When Witz came out, it felt like a lot of people were obsessed with the length of the book at 700 pages, as if the length were an insurmountable obstacle. Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is about 570 pages long and way heavier because it is an infernal hardcover book, and yet I don’t hear a lot of chatter about the length of the book. Why is that? I hate hardcover books. When I say hate, I mean I react irrationally to them. Holding them makes me want to punch something. It’s uncomfortable especially because I am reading Freedom right now and it literally pains me to hold it. I should have Kindled it. Does anyone else hate hardcover books as much as I do?
Like a sermon described in the novel, the language in “Witz” is “scripted to sound,” designed to capture the verbal distortions of East Coast speech. We hear of “Mortal Beach” and “Soygens General.” But while the scale of the sentences comfortably exceeds the lung capacity of most readers (Cohen isn’t afraid to unfurl a five-page sentence), the prose constantly highlights language’s sonar qualities: “At lot’s edge, last scattered lungs of leaves still hang from the boughs, breathe uneasy.” Cohen’s sentences are fluid, living things: “This lulling, ship’s loll, . . . a remnant, a reminder of the darkness, . . . and, flying across that sky a fish lands on the deck, at the forecastle, the fallen castle.”
Read the full review. And kudos, l’chaim, and cheers.
Be sure to check out the incredible Dalkey Archive Summer Sale, where through June 4 you can get 5 Dalkey titles for $35, 10 for $65, or 20 for $120 (shipping included in the U.S.). These people work my credit card hard at least twice a year, and I love them for it.
This month saw the release of Joshua Cohen‘s latest novel Witz, an 824 page monster of language from Dalkey Archive. The book focuses on the occasion of the plague-death of all the world’s Jews, save one, Benjamin Israelien, who in his newfound cultural superstardom becomes an object of replication, then becomes the hunted. Beyond the plot, Witz is enormously powerful for its invention, its sound, its complex rhythms. Each paragraph and sentence alone is an orchestral thing, which in the larger context, and in the locomotion of the brutal, beautiful and often hilarious plot’s rising, becomes easily one of the more courageous and stunning outfits in the last at least dozen years of publishing.
Last week or so I spent a few days emailing back and forth with Joshua about the book, his process and influences, faith, language, and the like.
I’m reading some books, sure. We’re always reading books, right? But for some reason, right now, I happen to be reading very big books and very small books. And that’s been the case for the past few weeks. Books are either 800+ or -150 pages. That being the case, I wanted to talk about the different experiences in reading big v. small books.
I read the first 60 pages of Joshua Cohen’s 800 page forthcoming Witz last night on my sofa. Holy fuck. Put your pants on. Mark your calendars. More on this later, but I just had to…