1. It took the man 26 years to write this thing. Let’s just get that out of the way now.
2. Semi-autobiographical, with an ornate use of language, penis obsessed, full of stupid limericks about horny nuns. It’s in the vein of Joyce and Pynchon but maybe not as annoying, not as smug–though maybe I’m wrong about that.
3. I did find the book unusually satisfying. Just sitting down and reading Gass’s prose out loud is really enjoyable: rhyming and alliteration are present at all points but Gass weaves the sounds into the thought and plot without being gratuitous. He does it joyously, gallopingly. He moves things along at a decent pace and lets you feel every increment.
4. The narrator William Kohler is a terrible person who you learn to love. He’s a fascist, misogynist, grumpy fat old fuck and you get to see inside his head and understand why he is all of these things. If you are the sort of person whose life can be changed by books this may change you so you can appreciate the shittiest people on this planet.
5. Plot is minimal. If anything “happens” it is the digging of the eponymous tunnel though that whole part is really pretty minor anyways. The majority of the book follows Kohler examining his childhood, his education, his marriage, family, coworkers and anger. Always the anger, the disappointment.
6. Kohler has two kids. Throughout the book he can only remember one of their names. Genius.
7. The descriptions are, without a doubt, beautiful. Candy, flowers, interiors, and people especially. Gass builds the characters up from thousands of scraps, always describing over and over, adding and sticking on and plugging holes. The characters come off as straddling an incredibly thin line between being fully developed and total caricatures. It works because we are inside Kohler’s head the whole time, and don’t you always caricature those you are forced to be around?
8. Degenerative sickness strikes a number of those around Kohler. Those he loves and hates. These depictions are gut wrenching and we get to see the characters before and during, before and during, before and during their declines. Seeing Kohler’s brilliant mentor go through sickness then back to health is particularly rough for we know that soon enough he will be back on the sick bed twitching and jerking. It’s like Gass gives them a reprieve just so he can suck them back through their crumbling one more time.
9. There is this depiction of academic life toward the beginning of the book which (though never having lived it myself) seems entirely appropriate: “Life in a Chair.” Kohler looks back and realizes he’s spent his entire life just sitting, reading, sometimes looking out a window. He never succumbs to sadness or regret, just puts it out as a solid fact and meditates on it to great length. This section should be read by anyone who wants to go into academia I think.
10. There are few people in Kohler’s life who are not totally insane. READ MORE >
May 28th, 2013 / 5:01 pm
A few weeks ago I read The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato, a novella of the “this is why I am so crazy” genre of first-person fiction. After reading it I decided that when it’s done well these kinds of narratives can be really compelling and I started to wonder what other kinds of stories like this are out there.
Then a real-life one surfaced. You might have heard about this story. A psychopathic man walks into his gym, shuts off the lights and starts shooting. Three women died, many others were critically injured including a pregnant 26-year-old aerobics instructor and her husband. Then he killed himself. Turns out the guy kept a journal and a blog and even posted confessional videos on youtube.
I’ve been going back and forth about whether or not I should even post this here. I decided that I would because as creepy and sad and strange as this edited version of his journal (pdf) is, it’s still perversely interesting. Literature it is not, but somehow it makes the case that “this is why I’m crazy” fiction is only that. Only fiction. The minds of the truly deranged, I think, do not make for good reading.