The Unfortunates, B.S. Johnson

The Unfortunates

I was too ghoulish, in wanting to have his voice, the reason I had brought the recorder, though I did genuinely want his help with the article, too.  Ghoulish, but not now, no, I have the man’s voice still, the shakes in it that was not there before, the soppings, the pauses, the long sighs, I remember so clearly, have played it enough times, his voice, or the last vestiges of it, it’s not that clear, a new slur, too, but his voice, his voice I still have, yes, and what he said, what he was.

One day I was in search for a book.  So I walked down to a used book store, just outside Dupont Circle.  I looked and I looked.  And then I found this.  A book in a box.  And I knew I was meant to read it.

The Unfortunates by B.S. Johnson is written in sections with only a first and last section marked, all the others (25 of them!) are separate from each other, unbound and meant to be reshuffled and read in that order.  This is a book that can very seriously be read in a hundred different ways.  It was written in the late 60’s and claimed as a lost gem from that time.  I think it should be brought back.

It follows the unnamed narrator, a sportswriter, on an assignment to another town where he is met by memories of his deceased friend Tony.  The sections follow the relationship of the narrator and Tony until Tony’s death.

I found this story truly very emotionally touching.  Firstly I really liked how it is about the friendship of two men.  Nothing more, nothing less. It’s kind of refreshing (particularly after Fall on Your Knees) that scandalous twists weren’t thrown in.  The narration is very repetitive.  It feels very real, really like a man still dealing with the death of his friend.

My friend Danny, who is Dutch, read from The Unfortunates. I might have had to ask him, because I really really wanted to read this book and nobody else was interested in picking it.  I thought it suited him though – a book doing it’s own thing and not giving a flying f**k what others may think.  I miss his voice, and I read this novel thinking about that when I stumbled on the quote above, how maybe I may have had other motivations in recording all these voices, when I watched all these people leave me back to their other lives lived all over the world, and how much I knew I would miss them and wish to hear them again.

Books read: 17


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