Kathleen Heil: The Last Book I Loved, Out of Sheer Rage

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It seems only appropriate that I put off writing this essay for several months despite the fact that sitting down to write it sooner really wouldn’t have been that hard, not coal mining-hard as writers always say, and here am I spooling out one of those awkwardly long sentences that only Romance-language writers can really get away with, and I’ve lit a cigarette and started to smoke it and I notice that the cup I am using as an ashtray—since I have no ashtray out of sheer denial that I actually smoke—has the word LOVE written on each side, which would be a metaphor if this were bad short story not unlike a bad short story I have already written, but in reality I use the LOVE cup as an ashtray because it is the size of a cup of coffee you take with milk and in casa I drink my café solo, and here I haven’t even gotten to the point, the point, really, is to tell you why I love Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage, a book about the difficulty of ever actually getting there. To the point, that is.

This summer, faced with the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to remain in my current job here in Madrid I decided I would move to Rio de Janeiro, then I changed my mind and decided I had to live in Barcelona, then I changed my mind again and decided I had to stay in Madrid.  Now that I have decided I have to stay in Madrid I have decided that I should give up my apartment and find one where there refrigerator doesn’t make so much noise and where the electric bills are cheaper, then I thought that I should sub-let the place and travel for the summer, then that I should stay put, but then I start thinking of subletting again, and maybe spending a month in France, or just giving up the apartment altogether. As Dyer notes, in Life you are supposed to Give Notice but how can you Give Notice if it is impossible to know how you will be feeling when the moment arrives when Notice has been Given and Your Time Is Up.  He writes about the maddening ways we create our own problems and the even more maddening incapability we posses to adequately resolve them, whether the problem is not wanting to write, not knowing what one wants, or knowing what one wants but then changing one’s mind because what one knows is left wanting.  Out of Sheer Rage is about Dyer’s “failure” to write an academic study of D.H. Lawrence, although he and we both know that he never wanted to write a dry academic study of Lawrence in the first place.  What Dyer does in this book is confront the consequences the existential demand to choose his own adventure generate, as he is constantly obligated to define and question what that adventure is while the adventure itself constantly changes.

The important thing was to avoid awful paralyzing uncertainty and indecision.  Anything was better than that.  In practice, however, ‘throwing myself wholeheartedly’ into my study of Lawrence meant making notes, meant throwing myself half-heartedly’ into the Lawrence book. In any case, ‘throwing myself wholeheartedly into my study of Lawrence’ —another phrase which became drain of meaning as it spun round my head —was actually impossible because, in addition to deciding whether or not I was going to write my study of Lawrence, I had to decide where I was going to write it—if I was going to write it.

Out of Sheer Rage is the kind of book you can read in three days and then resent the writer because the experience of reading it is over and yet you still feel remarkably satisfied; it is not unlike the experience we all have at some point in our life in some kind of romantic relationship. Now I am trying to type with the cigarette still in my hand since I won’t buy an ashtray and if I rest the cigarette in the Love cup the cigarette will be covered in ashes and I still want to smoke it even as it expires so I can’t lay the damn thing to rest. (Ah, Love. Death. Damn this tacky taza.)  If I am going to extend the already tedious metaphor of falling in love with a book being like falling in love with another person, perhaps we look to fall in love with books because they offer us the possibility of finding the human connections we so often unsuccessfully achieve in the physical world and yet good books offer us real connections without sacrificing any the complexities of human interaction.

What Dyer does in this book, and does remarkably, hilariously well, is document inertia, frustration, boredom, indecision, insecurity, loneliness, despair, and a host of other shitty, very human emotions which we are almost always too proud or scared to admit to feeling to other people, or even to ourselves. He lays them out on the page and, rather than seeming the way they usually feel inside our scattered synapses, which is pathetic, embarrassing, shameful, or terrifying, he makes them, well, funny. Really, fucking, hilariously funny. Dyer makes comedy of the various ways we torment ourselves with our doubts and failures big and small. If I were French I would probably try to argue that the heart of Dyer’s comic touch is the very darkness we suffer in our saddest hours, but I am not, so I’ll just say I’d much rather be laughing with Dyer than crying alone.

Dyer gets into the human condition at its hairiest and is so forthright and funny as to the way he goes about it it makes me want to press this book into the hand of everyone I know, which I have more or less tried to do, which is what I am more or less trying to do now. You could put off buying the book to put off reading it or buy it because you wanted to read it after reading Reality Hunger or some other such manifesto but not get around to it because thinking about reading it is more satisfying then having the book start and thus, ultimately, end, but putting off reading Dyer is really, we know, a step in reading Dyer, which is what you want to do, not because what he writes is “Real,” but because what he writes is what we live.


Kathleen Heil writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, in English and Spanish. She has published in Hermano Cerdo, PANK, The Barcelona Review, and elimae, among others. When not spending time as a ‘Funny Woman,’ she can be heard speaking Spanish with a funny accent. Her website is http://kathleenheil.wordpress.com. More from this author →