Lost Influence No. 3: The Americans

   Do you like American literature?  I like American literature.  Don’t you like American literature baby?  Ok, I think you get the idea….  The Violent Femmes can have their song back now.  I suppose they’ll want to change the words back too.  I do like American literature, though.  That’s why the Americans have garnered a spot in my lost influences.  When it comes to American literature, three of my favorite authors are Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and Edgar Allan Poe.  Given that my favorite metaphor for writing is entering the dark cave in my mind, I suppose it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that my lost influences involve two writers who included caves in their writing, and one who wrote about dark themes.  From a dark cave along the mighty Mississippi (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer), to a cave tucked away in a Spanish pine forest (For Whom the Bell Tolls), to the dark themes of stories like the “Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” all three authors touched upon some of my favorite topics.

   I like Mark Twain.  He was witty, funny, and like me he didn’t like romanticism very much.  Twain was a realist.  He didn’t believe in noble causes, or looking at the past through romantic lenses.  Many of his most notable works convey this message.  After all, why were the Dark Ages dark, anyway?  I believe there is a Connecticut Yankee who can tell you about that.  In the end, though, I believe Twain was both correct and incorrect at the same time.  No, the past was not romantic.  Instead it was filthy, despicable, and full of ignorance.  Of course, so is the present, and most likely the future will be too.  That’s life, and what is more real than life?  Like most things, a little romanticism won’t hurt you; it’s when it’s overdone that it becomes a problem.  Then, I suppose you knew that….

   When it comes to Hemingway, I really, really like his vivid imagery and details.  His stories feel as though they were first person accounts.  Of course, given Hemingway’s fascinating life, his stories may have been just that.  Perhaps, in a way, he was Robert Jordan and Frederic Henry, and all the other protagonists he wrote about.  Still, though, his ability to describe a setting down to the very last detail is more than what you usually find in, well, most anything that you may happen to read.  The main lesson that can be taken away from Hemingway is write about what you know, and do it in precise detail.

   Then there is Poe.  There’s just something about exploring the dark side of life that is intriguing.  Poe certainly did that.  For whatever reason, I’ve never been able to get the evil “vulture-like” eye of the old man in “The Tell-Tale Heart” out of my mind.  Nor, the imaginary beating heart.  Poe doesn’t overdo his stories with gratuitous violence that in the end becomes a caricature of the things that we fear, as do many modern day horror writers.  No, Poe was much more sinister than that.  Instead, he explored the psychological aspect of darkness.  What is more fascinating, and terrifying, than that?

   So it is, that the first three chairs around the table that represents my lost influences have been filled.  Six chairs still sit empty.  Next month, I’ll fill three more chairs.  After that, well, we’ll see how it goes….  For now, I suppose we should leave it up to the Violent Femmes to take it away….

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