Cover image for Arcade, or, How to write a novel : a novel
Arcade, or, How to write a novel : a novel
Lish, Gordon.
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Publication Information:
New York : Four Walls Eight Windows, [1998]

Physical Description:
172 pages ; 22 cm
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In his forty-third attempt to write a novel, Gordon recalls his childhood and tries to create his own assassin.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

The transcendent quirkiness of Lish's style‘repetitive, meandering, self-referential‘brings to life a series of childhood summers in what may be his most accessible, funniest novel to date. Sore feet up on a pillow, Lish's aged narrator (named Gordon) goes on and on, winningly, about an arcade he visited at a sort of bungalow colony during his youth and about the extended family with whom he spent those long-ago vacations. Tiny memories spin, recurring, collecting resonance: a dirty ceiling grate seen through a hole in some strudel dough; the grapple bucket of an arcade game; an early sexual experience. Of the "cruel" lilies lining a pathway, Gordon recalls: "These tall scared-looking things, like they were going to faint and fall down and, you know, and kill people‘like they were wounded or something or had a fever or something and wanted to kill people or something. It's too complicated. You probably don't have the brains for it." To punch up his comic, curmudgeonly harangues (indebted most obviously to Stein, Beckett's Malone and the cheesy "Americanola" dialect of Lish's late comrade-in-arms, Harold Brodkey), Lish (Dear Mr. Capote, etc.) goes so far as to interpolate blank pages of sheer fury, frustration or elegiac dumbfoundedness; elsewhere he bullies and cajoles the reader into experiencing directly the slippery power of memory and words. Even when he treats his narrator's nostalgia as an absurdity, an exercise in kitsch, the notorious editor and fiction guru brings surprising pathos to his histrionic remembrance of summers past. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Lish (Self-Imitation of Myself, LJ 10/15/97) is a well-known American author and editor, but this "novel," which seems to be more internal monolog and memoir, will add little that is positive to his reputation. The title refers to his memories of being the youngest cousin at family gatherings at Laurel in the Pines, when all the boy cousins left before Aunt Lily brought out her strudel because they wanted to operate the vending machines that allowed them to "dig" for treasures. The reader learns that Lish is small of stature but well endowed with both vocabulary and male genitalia. Aside from that, his achievement is making Woody Allen seem less neurotic and self-absorbed in comparison. In his attempt to be experimental, Lish leaves a section of pages blank; he never sheds the slightest clue as to how to write a novel. Not recommended.‘Ann Irvine, Montgomery Cty. P.L., MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One THEY MADE ME THINK Aunt Lily owned it. They kept making me think it was Aunt Lily who owned it. All the way from Woodmere to Lakewood they kept saying things to me that like sounded like to me like Aunt Lily owned it. But Aunt Lily did not own it. Aunt Lily was not the owner of it. Aunt Lily just worked in the kitchen of it just making dough for the strudel for the families who got themselves into their various different automobiles and came to it. But I would not eat the strudel. I never ate the strudel. They used to bring it out steaming out from the kitchen, the strudel. You could see it, you could see it, the strudel the ladies carried out on trays still steaming out from the kitchen. The ladies used to all come out of it with the strudel on their trays still steaming out from the kitchen. One lady had a tray of it for one family's table and another lady had a tray of it for another family's table. Everybody was a family and there was a certain number of families and there was a certain number of ladies and there was a certain number of tables plus a certain number of cabins the families stayed in. But it was always only Aunt Lily who ever carried any tray of anything to my family's table. Except nobody could ever get me to eat any of the strudel. I was always all finished eating anything by the time of the strudel. All of the boy cousins always said they were always all of them too stuffed for them to get down any of the strudel. I do not remember me ever seeing Cousin Buddy eat any or me ever seeing Cousin Abby eat any--or Cousin Jerry or Cousin Kenny. Did Cousin Big Eugene or did Cousin Little Eugene, did either of them ever eat any of the strudel? Because I do not think any of the boy cousins ever actually had anything good to stand there and say for any of the strudel. But maybe the girl cousins did. Except I can't for a fact say if any of the girl cousins ever actually did, but maybe they actually did and maybe I, you know, maybe I didn't hear anybody ever say anything about it. Myself Gordon, I was only paying attention to anything when it was the time for the arcade. I was always thinking about this thing with various different prizes in it which they had them at the arcade. I only remember waiting to get pennies from the people when it was the time for the arcade. I only remember not being able to stand it one more minute until I could go get up from where I was sitting and go walk around the table and go get pennies from my father or from somebody for when it was the time for the arcade. Did the girl cousins ever come with us when it was the time for the arcade? I don't remember if any of the girl cousins ever came with all of the boy cousins when it was time for us all to get up and go to the arcade. But they had prizes for them as far as the girl cousins. In the thing I was telling you about--in the Treasure Chest or in the Buried Treasure--they had prizes for people like the girl cousins down in the sand. They had a little comb for them, for instance. They had a little tiny toy mirror for them, for instance. They had a ring for them and a necklace for them and like a bracelet and probably a barrette and a ribbon in I think it was cellophane and there was a little tiny toy scissors and a thimble and some needles and I think a spool of maybe different-colored thread. But what about the medal? Wasn't there like, you know, like way over in a corner at the feet of the pirate like a, you know, like a kind of a gold-colored medal? Or was it just for boys, the medal, the medal? It could have been just for boys. It could have been a soldier thing or like that kind of thing. It could have been a sailor thing or a thing like that kind of thing. But I thought it was only for Christians no matter who it was for and that I Gordon better not ask. There were a lot of things I thought to myself in my mind I better not ask. Like I never asked what mere in Woodmere meant. I never asked didn't everyone not actually notice there was wood in Woodmere and there was wood in Lakewood and how come was that or how come was it the flowers in front of it were so lonely-looking standing there as flowers to me? Weren't they just plain yellowish flowers which shouldn't have looked so lonely-looking? And besides which, why would flowers look so lonely-looking to anyone whatever color the flowers were standing there colored? They had these two rows of flowers in front. They had this walkway with like these two rows of flowers going around it in front. You got to the place and everybody got out, the whole family of all of the Lishes got out, and there was this walkway with rows of flowers running all around it along it in front. You walked along it and went up it and it took you to the steps and then you went up the steps and then you were there up on the porch. The walkway which they had out front, it was so beautiful-looking. I think it was really beautiful-looking--but not because of the big white blocks which made up the border of it but because of the flowers looking so pale-looking and looking so lonely-looking down in the ground in between them, like these big white whitewashed blocks. Do you see what I mean? There was a walkway with borders along it--like a path, call it a path. There was a sign on a pole with a lantern on it which said Laurel in the Pines. Then there was, I told you, the path. So you started walking and walking along up the path. I remember walking and walking along up the path. Somebody said to me sweetheart, just keep going until you get to, you know, to the steps. Somebody said to me sweetheart, careful careful not for you to step on any of Aunt Lily's grass on your way along the way to Aunt Lily's steps. But it wasn't Aunt Lily's grass and they weren't Aunt Lily's steps. The grass in front, the steps in front, none of it was Aunt Lily's. Aunt Lily didn't own any of the things in front or own any of Laurel in the Pines or even have the name Lish even. Or even Deutsch even. Aunt Lily just worked in the kitchen. It was just Aunt Lily's job to do what they told her to do in the kitchen. Aunt Lily wasn't any big deal. She was almost as small as I was. She wasn't even the boss of even the kitchen. She just cooked things and baked things and carried trays of it out to your table and picked up what the family was finished with and took it back to the kitchen. There was Uncle Charley. There was Aunt Esther. There was Uncle Sam. There was Aunt Dora. There was Uncle Henry. There was Aunt Miriam. There was my mother and my father--there namely was Philip and namely Regina. I loved them. I love them. I can't love anybody as much as I love the Lishes. They all sat around the table for the family eating. They ate everything. They ate second helpings. There wouldn't be any pennies left, there wouldn't be anybody with anymore pennies left, but there they would all of them all still be all still sitting eating in the eating hall eating second helpings of strudel, the grownups, the grownups. They never asked me how the arcade went. Nobody ever asked me how the arcade went. I was always waiting for them to ask me for me to show us what you got, sweetheart, show us what you got--but if any of the grownups ever asked me about anything, I never heard them do it, did I? I never got anything anyway. There wasn't one prize I ever got out of the tank anyway. Not once was there ever once a prize I got all of the way up out of the sand and then out of the tank anyway. It was like a tank. I can't think of any word for me to say it was like except say tank. The one word in the English language, if you want to know what it is, it's tank, it's tank, this is the one word. The Treasure Chest or the Buried Treasure, it was first of all like a tank of glass. Then on the bottom it stood on a stand. So this is what it was like--it was like a glass tank standing on a stand. Then you had a slot for the penny to go in. There was this slot in it where you stood there in front of it and put your penny in. Then on the top there must have been a cover for it up on the top. Something must have gone over it up on the top--because if nothing did, if there wasn't anything which did, then couldn't people just come and stand there and put their hands in? It was probably iron or steel. The cover they must have had on the top, this and the stand it stood on, they were probably made out of, you know, out of iron or steel. Everything felt so hard in those days. Everything felt like it was iron or steel in those days. Unless it was some thing which was soft-feeling--but I cannot think of anything that was soft-feeling except the flowers if you felt them and the grass. I take it back, I take it back--I felt soft. It felt soft sitting in my mother's lap and it felt soft sitting in my father's lap--but I felt softer-feeling than anything. I felt so weak. I was the youngest one of all the cousins and I was the smallest one of all the cousins and I was the weakest of them and the most scared. When the men on horses came, I was the most scared. When the men on horses with holsters with rags tied around them came, my father was scared and my mother was scared and my sister was scared, but I was the most scared. My father--I don't know, I don't know, but I think he was the second-most-scared. He's dead, my father is dead, but I think if you could ask him, I think he would be only too willing to tell you he was probably the second-most-scared. They're all dead. The whole family is dead. I am the only Lish who isn't dead. I am probably the only Lish who isn't dead--but I have to tell you, it's time I told you, I'm old. There is something else for me to tell you I left out. There is something worse than the men on horses with guns coming. But I have decided for a while to keep leaving it out. It concerns the kitchen. It concerns something which I saw through the dough when I looked up at the dough in the kitchen. You know what it concerns? It concerns when my father took me by the hand and took me to the kitchen. It was when we first got there. It was when the family first got there to Laurel in the Pines for the family's vacation. It was the first thing my father did after I was finished with the walkway and was finished with the steps and was up there on the porch and nobody had done anything else at Laurel in the Pines yet. I don't think my father had even gone to the office before then to tell them the family was there yet. He didn't even first check in with the office to find out from them which cabin we were going to have yet--the one the Laurel in the Pines people wanted our part of the family in, my mother and my father and my sister who was Natalie and me. Her name used to be Lorraine. Somebody changed Natalie's name to Natalie from Lorraine. But it was the same thing with the other girl cousins--Ruth was Reggie and Iris was Wanda. Wait a minute. Do you want for me to explain about Big Eugene and Little Eugene? Because it's just that there were two Eugenes. Uncle Charley and Aunt Esther had a Eugene and Uncle Henry and Aunt Miriam had a Eugene. So people called them like, you know, like Big Eugene and Little Eugene so everybody would know which one was which Eugene. You know what else there was? Because there was a thing like this with my cousin Ruth. Her name got changed from Ruth to Reggie. You remember I said my mother's name was Regina? My mother's name was Regina. But everybody except my father called my mother Reggie. So this made it two Reggies, didn't it? But the family didn't say Big Reggie and say Little Reggie even though there was a big age difference as far as these two different Reggies. Did anybody ever explain this? I don't know why nobody ever explained this. It would not be my way of doing things with people, not explaining things to people. I hate it when people don't go ahead and explain things to you. I hate it when people know things and don't just go ahead and explain them to you. How much trouble is it? It's not a lot of trouble. Everything would be so different for you if people would just explain things to you. The whole world would be a better place for us to live in if people just went ahead and took the time to sit you down and explain things to you. But they don't want to bother, do they? When can you ever find more than one or two of them who will ever take the time to bother? You're lucky if you can find just one or two of them, aren't you? I keep hoping I can find just, you know, just one or two of some people like that. It's what gives me the strength to keep going. It's what keeps me going as far as strength. I keep looking back to the old days and it makes me shake my head. Why did my father call my mother Reg? One of the things I would like to know is why my father called my mother Reg. Nobody else called my mother Reg. I never heard anybody else ever call my mother Reg. It didn't sound nice to my ears to me. It always sounded like there was something wrong to me in it to my way of hearing things. But probably the same thing goes for her calling him Phil. People in the family, they called my father Phillie, but my mother, she called my father Phil. So I suppose it came out even-steven between them. I just probably had not thought it all of it out before, the fact that it really probably worked out pretty even-stevenly between them. It's just that Reg sounds to me worse-sounding to me than Phil does. Doesn't somebody saying Keg sound worse-sounding to you than them saying Phil does? But I suppose it all comes about upon your specific way of thinking. Probably no two people have the same specific way of thinking. When I tell you about what was for instance up in the ceiling, when I tell you about what I for instance could see through the dough when I looked through it and could see, you know, could see up to the ceiling, maybe nobody but me will be able for them to see any reason for anybody to stand there and be scared of it. You might think he is silly. You might think he is making a mountain out of a molehill. You might think he should go get his head examined or go check himself into like an insane asylum, an individual to be so scared of some I'm telling you I had this feeling. I was swept away. We got out of the car and the family was getting all of the luggage out and somebody said to me sweetheart, just keep going to the steps. It was thrilling for me. I never saw such grass as that. I never saw such grass like that. I never felt so good. You, what about you, you would have felt the same way too. There was this walkway you walked along. They had it marked out for you so you couldn't miss it as far as walking along it. It was all arranged for you in advance. They had thought it all out for you in advance. I think the word for this is border or borderline. They had these whitewashed blocks of something. They had these blocks which were whitewashed and were made out of something and then there would be like a space between them and then a flower. They were on both sides of you. You had them going along with you on both sides of you--like a whitewashed block and then a space and then, you know, and then a yellowish flower--so pale-looking and so lonely-looking and so fragile-looking. You just wanted to just lie down and just cry. No, I don't like that. Cry's not the right idea in my mind for that. This is what is so terrible, so terrible with things when you sit down and say to yourself I am going to sit here and go ahead and, you know, and write it up, a thing like this. I mean, your mind is going along and your mind is going along and you just don't stop to give any one particular specific thing enough thought in it. For instance, I should be thinking what did I really feel like doing, was it crying or was it just lying down or was it something else? You can't believe it how good my memory is of the feeling itself but not of what I felt like doing. Because this is the thing, isn't it? It's not what what a human being feels--it is what a human being feels like doing. It's just like I just got out of the rumble seat and I hear them say just keep going until you get to the steps, sweetheart, and there's the grass and there's the path and there's the rows of flowers and these blocks of whitewashed blocks. But where was Natalie? Or, you know, or Lorraine? Because wasn't it both of us, weren't we both of us in the rumble seat? Or hadn't we been? I want to say daffodils. There is this feeling I have which makes me feel I have to say it was daffodils. But I do not know the first thing about flowers. All I know is some of the words for flowers. So when I say daffodils, don't think this means daffodils were the flowers they were. No, I would not go as far as to say they were daffodils as flowers. But the word daffodils, it is the word daffodils which sounds like to me like what they looked like to me. Or I suppose what I better say is how now they do, how now they do--when I look back at it in my mind with my mind's eye. That or dahlias maybe or jonquils. These words sound like what the feeling of them was like to me when I first got out of the rumble seat and starting walking along between them, which is to say like these two winding rows of them--dahlias or jonquils. Maybe sort of like daffodil-feeling flowers. Wait a minute, wait a minute. I think I am going too fast again. Because they were more like gently curving actually and not so winding actually. A pair of rows, you might say, this pair of gently curving rows, you might say, which kept you on--this is a joke I'm making, this is just a little joke to myself which I am making--which kept you on the straight and narrow. With the help of, you know, of the whitewashed blocks, of course. It really marked the whole thing out for you--the walkway you went along to get to the steps and not step on the grass. So that you had to really be a person that would not be paying attention for you to wander off and get lost. Does delphinium fit the bill, do you think? Or would this be a different kettle of fish as far as your feeling for this, delphinium? It first just occurred to me to try out delphinium. But this would be the ear in my mind which is listening to this and not the eye in it seeing. Look, everything I can do for me to keep things going along--here we go again, only not this time so much as a joke this time--on the straight and narrow I am doing. I hope you notice. Because it builds up to our advantage if you notice. There is a definite mutual advantage for us if we keep working together with each other with clarity and candor. So when I say delphinium sounds to me like it might have been the flowers the Laurel in the Pines people had planted in the ground for you so there would be like a borderline made up of blocks and of flowers for you and you, you know, you wouldn't make a mistake and go outside of it, I am just reacting to the feelings I have about things and not to any like specific particular knowledge upon it. It's the same reason I said steel or iron. It's the same reason arcade is like the whole beginning of everything for me--the word arcade or arcade as a word. Abby was the one I first heard first say it. That's what I think, Abby. Remember my cousin, Cousin Abby? His name was actually Abbott. We called him Abby or Abs. Maybe not everybody in the family called him Abby or Abs, but a lot of them did--call him either Abby or Abs and never Abbott. He was the cousin next to me in age. If you go up from the youngest to the oldest--who was Cousin Big Eugene, by the way, who was Cousin Big Eugene--if you count upwards, Abby, or Abs, was the next cousin next up from me. He was sweet. He was so sweet. You know what I remember Abby always saying to me when we would all be running, all of the cousins, or all anyhow all of us boy cousins, when we would all of us boy cousins would all be running from the eating hall to hurry and get to the arcade? Don't fall over anything, Gordie, don't fall! And something else, and something else--Abby was the only one who would. It shows such a sweet nature. Don't you think it shows such a sweet nature? I think it shows the sweetest of human natures. I was the smallest and I thought look at me, look at me--aren't I lucky to have a cousin who has such a sweet nature? Well, I mean I think that's what I must have thought. Because it would be like me for me to think a thing like this. But probably I did not think with words of this kind of character back then in those old days. You know what I'm saying? My words were not the words of now. So how old was I then? I can hear you weighing the question of how old was I personally then. It would be perfectly natural for you as a reader to at this point ponder about this. I'm thinking. I'm pondering over it too! I'm sitting here giving it due consideration. Believe me, I do not want to make the same mistake I made when I said cry. You see what happens? I went too fast and didn't say the right thing and now I can't think of the right thing even though I know the first thing's wrong. This is what happens, this is what happens--now the wrong thing's got the right one down under underneath it. This is why I am taking my time. I'm going to go along and go along very methodically now. I was going too fast. Now I am not going to go along so fast. The only problem with going along like I am going to go now is this problem of running out of time. But look at life, look at life--it's always the problem of running out of time. I had a girlfriend once and this was the problem with her--the factor of running out of time with her. We hardly had any time at all. Hey, is it all right for me to say it was at Abby's place? Okay, it was at Abby's place. But it wasn't where he lived. It was this place which Abs had for when he had girlfriends come around of his own. You know what I mean? You know what I mean. Come on, I probably don't have to spell it out for you, do I? These people are all passed away now, but you have to show respect for the dead. I don't know. Maybe Abs didn't have the place for such a long time for it to represent a family disgrace. You could probably say it was just a passing phase for him, having this place. We all have these passing phases. For instance, didn't I outgrow the thoughts I used to have when my father would stand there and say Reg but everybody else said Reggie? I think it was just a passing phase of me being a human being. Can I tell you something? There was somebody in the family who used to say to somebody else in the family consider yourself kissed whenever people in the family were all getting together and, you know, and kissing hello. (Continues...) Copyright © 1998 GORDON LISH. All rights reserved.