Thursday, May 28, 2009

Oh S**t!

Here's an idea for an English major thesis: "Scatological Motifs in First/Breakout Novels by Male Authors." I came up with this idea while reading The Floating Opera, John Barth's first novel. There is a whole subplot about a crazy old man who stored his own waste in pickle jars. Which reminded me of a similar storyline in John Franzen's novel The Corrections (not his first, but definitely his breakout novel). Booker Prize winners Life of Pi by Yann Martel and Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre also have excrement-related scenes, as does, I seem to recall, The River Why by David James Duncan. What gives? Why do writers -- and it seems to be male writers -- feel a need to write about this subject? Does the freedom to write anything they want prompt some need to be naughty, like a teenager left home alone with the liquor cabinet? Or is there some deeper, Freudian connection between first novels and toilet training? It is not that I didn't enjoy the books mentioned (well, I could have skipped Vernon God Little), but I would be happy to never read another passage discussing bodily waste. Please let me know of other books that should be included on my list, so I will know what to avoid. And you never know -- there could be a lit major out there looking for a thesis idea who would appreciate the extra titles. THE S**T LIST The Floating Opera y John Barth The Corrections by Jonathon Franzen Life of Pi by Yann Martel Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre The River Why by David James Duncan

11 comments :

Amateur Reader said...

Key scenes in Gravity's Rainbow and Ulysses qualify those novels - although they are neither first nor breakout, which disqualifies them.

Joyce's scene with Leopold Bloom on the toilet is the beginning of this sort of thing (in English).

Lezlie said...

Amateur Reader beat me to it. I was going to say Ulysses, and that was exactly the scene I was thinking of.

Lezlie

Colleen said...

You can also add Yann Martel's first novel, Self, to your list. It begins with the narrator recounting a childhood crap.

Shelley said...

I'm not sure if this was a breakout novel or not, but I remember a diarrhea scene in Wicked by Gregory Maguire, among many other perverse and disturbing things. Not one of my favorites...

C.S. said...

With the possible exception of the eye-gouging scene from Tree of Smoke, the s**t scene from Gravity's Rainbow sticks with me as much as any other from my National Book Award readings.

Book Psmith said...

I can't remember coming across anything having to do with you-know-what in a book before but I can say I cringe every time I see Everybody Poops in the kid's section. I never read it to either of my kids. As a say to my youngest when we come across something gross...that's yuckus!

Laura said...

Though not what I had in mind, it lends new meaning to my motto: Changing the literary landscape one jar of pickles at a time.

Rose City Reader said...

Thanks for all the warnings!

I confess that I do not remember the scene in Ulysses -- but maybe I just didn't get it. Like much of the book.

CS -- Why why why did you make me remember the spoon scene in Tree of Smoke?????

Laura said...

"Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me," by Richard Farina, Joan Baez's brother-in-law, who went to meet his maker shortly after the lauded release of his first novel.(Motorcycle acccident, if I remember right.) I believe it was his very first scene in which the lead character, who seemed lot like Mr. Farina himself, marveled ovr the passing from his bowels of wht he believed must be the largest and most magnificent toilet-plopping of all time. Even as a shaggy-haired late teen in 1966 or 67 or whenever it was, I found this, shall we say, less than literarily impressive. By comparison, Terry Southern's "Candy" was Dosteovsky.

-- Bob, writing on Laura's computer, so it's gonna give her name.

Rose City Reader said...

Bob -- That one is going on the list. I will be sure to avoid it!

J.T. Oldfield said...

How's about Love in the Time of Cholera? Not a first or breakout novel, but certainly one of Garcia Marquez's most famous.

Others that come to mind include Trainspotting and half of Chuck Palahniuk's oeuvre.

I was really trying to think of women, but seriously, the only instances I came up with involve babies.

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