Saturday, June 11, 2016

Lafferty's 80s novels

Academia and family have obviously kept me far too busy to keep up with this blog over the past many months.  (The last post was in late February!)  I've got so much to share on various fronts, but I always find myself tucking away a blog post idea that gets buried into the deep geological layers of ye ol' To Do list.  Today, I'm going to try to break that trend by posting here a comment I just made on a thread in the Lafferty Facebook group (East of Laughter: An Appreciation of R. A. Lafferty).  I really want to write about LaffCon1, which I just attended in New Jersey last weekend, but that too will have to wait.  (Spoiler: it was wonderful.)

Someone in the FB group asked when Lafferty's novel Sindbad: The 13th Voyage, published in 1989, was actually written by Lafferty.  Here's my rather hearsay and anecdotal response:

I once saw Andrew Ferguson write that all of Lafferty's 80s/90s novels were written sometime in the early 80s - 80 to 82 I think. Possibly some as early as 79. I remember Andrew writing that this was Lafferty's second wind sort of period where he landed on a newfound inspiration and approach and became very productive for a while in some quite new directions. Andrew argues that these later novels are not the incoherent mess that some readers have thought them, but are rather Lafferty's maturation as a writer where he finally broke into the new ground that all his earlier novels were urging readers to break into. I.e. think of the 'cliff hanger' endings of Past Master (1968) and Fourth Mansions (1969). Lafferty's novels written in the early 80s are the next and continuing chapters as it were. These late novels are the new worlds that were birthed through the struggles of his earlier novels. These new worlds are, admittedly, just as embattled and yet-to-be-finished as those of the earlier novels, but there are definitely new levels of perception and narrative experimentation happening. I think this groundbreaking creative aspect is also why the late novels remain somewhat 'choppy' (as Lafferty said in an interview) in style. Sometimes even knottier than the earlier novels. Even less commercially viable. But I'm pretty convinced it was because Lafferty had entered uncharted territory, even for him! And as a trailblazer he was bound to look rather 'primitive' (nay, primordial) in his slashing and hacking at the undergrowth he'd entered with this fresh spate of novels. I know Andrew's gonna cover this period in his biography of Laff (due out late 2017 perhaps?) and I hope to pick up his argument after it's published, developing the idea that Lafferty's late novels represent some of his best and most important work, at least as regards their groundbreaking aspect.

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'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it.'
(R. A. Lafferty, The Devil is Dead)