1. Zama (1956, Antonio Di Benedetto): 11/19/19-2/8/20 (on-off):
Comparing this with the film is practically unavoidable, seeing as how close to my mind Martel’s work has been during the past few end-of-decade obsessed months, whether while reading this book or not. But what Di Benedetto seems to emphasis above all else is, if not strictly atmosphere in the way that the film would have it, than the impossibility of fully comprehending or understanding it. The odd slips in quotidian time, the overwhelming horniness that possesses Zama, the way in which characters fade in and out of focus, all of this feels explicitly designed to displace the reader, to inhabit the total uncertainty that the main character lives in. All of this is tremendously successful, and the three-part structure serves to highlight the writer’s dexterity: when looked at in pure narrative terms, the three couldn’t be more removed, and yet when placed side-by-side and examined minutely, they proceed with the same purpose.
2. Black Wings Has My Angel (1953, Elliott Chaze): 2/9/20-3/14/20:
Like the best films noir, Black Wings Has My Angel rests upon its strange, resigned fatalism, all in the backwards glance of a man condemned to his vague yet inescapable fate. At the same time, it never feels so irreducibly simple: the details are so exacting that they imprint themselves in the reader’s head; Virginia is a combination of femme fatale tropes that becomes an impossible being, coquettish and proper one moment and ruthless the next; the past of Tim Sunblade/Kenneth is ironclad and thus makes it feel as though anything is possible for him. The result is something that both valorizes and warns against crime, a beautiful set of contradictions that adds up to something even greater than the sum of its parts; in other words, it has the ideal, horrible American spirit at every moment.