The Joyous Muckworm: Rereading ‘Tropic of Cancer’


Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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18 Responses

  1. Avatar dhex says:

    huge miller fan – black spring being my favorite. i was so excited to learn that when i moved to brooklyn in the late 90s i wasn’t too far away from the site of all his family horrors that he tries (and fails) to cover up as just another part of the magical landscape of his childhood.

    it’s interesting that he spent most of his life begging – writing long letters to friends and acquaintances and strangers, asking for money or supplies for painting or even food or clothing for his children. he only gets to stop when his early work is rediscovered decades later, and even then he never seems to quite get a handle on his life. mary dearborn’s biography has a lot of problems with it, but she does do a good job of detailing the trainwreck collision between his public face and his private lives.Report

  2. Avatar Glyph says:

    1.) I’ll say again: I love these, Rufus.

    2.) Hey, someone else who’s been to Eleuthera! Normally people just go to Nassau. I went in the 80’s so it’s probably different now, but it was beautiful then. Did you go land crabbing at night?

    Also, if it’s the rock star I suspect, you should have helped Luis pummel *him*, on general artistic principle.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:


      I did. It was a nice place because there was one tip that was a resort and the rest was left alone. We saw very few tourists.

      I suppose we were lucky about the rock star. We apparently were not gonna go his way.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Yeah, in the 80’s it was very unspoiled – we often had the entire beach to ourselves as far as you could see in either direction. I was a summer camp counselor there a couple times. Those crabs are INSANE. I don’t know if the locals were just messing with us but they said the big ones could take a finger if you weren’t careful.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Oh, cool! I just remember my friend telling me to beware of falling coconuts.Report

  3. Avatar zic says:

    @rufus-f reading this post, I’d read any book you wrote.

    I like the room opened by adjectives, they give the images room to bloom in the mind’s eye. My complaint with much modern writing is that my visual eye can’t keep up.

    If you want to write women, read some Patricia McKillip; try her book of short stories, Harrowing the Dragon.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Thank you very much. That means a great deal to me. Especially if you’re friends with an agent! (Just kidding!)

      I’m about to start on Gertrude Stein for this project. And been reading Dawn Powell lately too. I will look into McKillip too. Always reading anything I can.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I like the way McKillip grounds her women as central to themselves, in environments that we read as somewhat familiarly misogynist, but her characters don’t react as if that were the case; they have a full sense of their own agency; something that, when read her, I’m always surprised other writer’s seem to miss, since people feel, generally, like they have their own agency, not matter how limited it might be by circumstance and culture.

        I sadly don’t know any fiction agents; though I have friends who work with agents. I think I’d go straight to the slush pile of publishers who clearly publish the kind of books you’re writing, and if you catch someone’s attention, then look for an agent. Everyone I know has told me that it’s much easier to land one after you’ve got an interested publisher first time around.

        That said, I think it’s easier to find an agent for non-fiction if you haven’t previously published; and it sounds like you’re writing a non-fiction (or fictionalized?) history? If so, a good submission — 1st chapter, last chapter, a middle sample chapter, and chapter-outline summary may draw interest from an agent who specializes in that field.

        How much of your 1st draft is completed? Do you know if your tale is chronological, or is there some more interesting theme to focus on, so that you can step back and fourth through time?

        My final question has to do with how much you’ve been edited — not just the cut-it-down to a specific size common to short-form publishing, but re-write editing where you have to force yourself to delete or re-do the little things your most proud of? Killing your babies, it’s called, it requires a thick skin.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Thanks for the tips! It sounds less daunting than I believed.

        Okay, so, I’ve really started serious, daily focused work on this project (as opposed to it being an idea floating around in my skull) about a month and a half ago- around the time I posted here about hating my job I decided I’d rather just do this thing and get it done. The research is the big part of it and that’s going well. I did my PhD in history, so I can tell that I have really, really good primary documents for this one. It was a huge relief to find that my great-grandfather was a fairly entertaining and engaging writer, since I’m working with his newspaper articles and letters for the bulk of it. He also knew pretty much everyone and wrote about everyone from Hemingway to Picasso to Mussolini and Emma Goldman.

        Right now, I’ve gotten the outline done and have projected eleven chapters in total, and done very rough drafts of five. The hard part is reading every issue of the newspaper for fifteen years, but that’s what coffee is for! I am fairly certain this will be a great book and bound and determined to finish a full draft in about a year.

        Editing isn’t a problem. I wrote a dissertation and my dissertation director was a very French (Parisian, more accurately) woman, scary smart, and her editing tips tended to be delivered through screaming! Haha! I already had an extremely thick skin from working manual labor jobs for so long and grad students were impressed because they were all scared of her. She’s also the smartest person I’ve ever met. Needless to say, I am good at taking suggestions and criticism.

        I could be stressing out too much about agents. My best friend is an associate editor of some sort at Bust Magazine and she’s made it sound like getting one is as hard as joining the French court in the Ancien Régime- having to know someone who has an agent who can formally introduce you to the agent and then making sure you don’t blow the meeting or any follow-up meetings. She felt like she blew hers, but honestly the book they wanted her to write was beneath her anyway.

        So, I will keep posting bits and pieces here and elsewhere in hopes of drumming up some sort of interest that way and keep working away at it.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @rufus-f did I, perchance, hear your father on Wait Wait Don’t Tell me a few hours ago? Dude just released his 26th album, was David Letterman’s first side kick? Has a son named Rufus, who’s grandmother said, “that’s a dog’s name?”Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Here it is.


      • Avatar zic says:

        Some shorter pieces about your Dad in internet world would be good steps to finding an agent; a portfolio of published work in your voice/style/genre. There’s a strong musical and literary tradition in your family to build upon; your historical research/reporting, your dad’s/granddad’s adventures, and your child’s eye-and-ear witness filtered through your adult insight.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Nope- alas, that’s a different singing Rufus. I love his music and his father’s too, although the father had a song called “Dead Skunk” that is always the first thing that comes to mind when I hear about them.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @rufus-f That is so weird, because the other signing-rufus also has a grandfather who wrote.

        But I stand by the strong literary tradition in your family.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        To me, the Wainwrights bring to mind this one:


  4. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Wonderful piece.

    Is your extended whale metaphor a reference to Orwell’s essay on Miller?Report

  5. Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

    I can’t comment on the post per se because I’ve never read the book, but Tropic of Cancer was the MacGuffin of the Seinfeld episode “The Library” [Season 3, Episode 5, October 16, 1991].Report