Book Review: How Long Is Now
Reviewed by Nick Rees Gardner
Equal parts family drama, travelogue, and literary mystery, Joshua Corey’s How Long Is Now is a poetic rumination on art and loss.
In How Long Is Now, Joshua Corey’s protagonist, a Jewish-American poet, believes that “every writer works with two intertwining materials, his language and his life.” He wants to write a book about his father, a celebration of New York in the sixties, a place and time exploding with the artists, musicians, and writers that the writer himself admires.
But when his father maims himself in a freak car accident (similarly absurd, the protagonist notes, to Roland Barthes’ fatal run-in with a laundry van), he escapes his role as caretaker and distances himself from his family, traveling to Germany and then Morocco where he will attend a William S. Burroughs conference.
In alternating chapters, the speaker of the book explores his life during his travels, and his father’s life becoming a husband, a father, a man. How Long Is Now is an introspective on the writer’s life but also on Burroughs cut-ups and Borges fabulism (among others); his language and his life.
The result of this merger of language and life is a deep-dive into theory and esoteric art. The unnamed protagonist states: “there is nothing in our experience so foreign that it can’t be metabolized and made a part of ourselves.” And he proceeds to tell, or rather, to relive the idealized lives of his father and mother through delicious prose while physically visiting the shrines of his artistic idols, their lives, their experiences imbued within himself. At a restaurant, the protagonist reflects on the influence of Anthony Bourdain, and in a museum, he comes to terms with his experience through works by Goya. In this way, Corey’s protagonist brilliantly contemplates how past art and artists become a lens through which we can gain a better grasp of our present struggles.
At times, the self can become lost to considerations of art. The narrator is prone to extensive dissertations on history and theory and has a penchant for describing and explaining an artist’s work. While certain terms and styles, such as the oft-mentioned role of Burroughs’ cut-up structure, are revealed slowly through theories emerging in small chunks between pages of story time, other ruminations take on the tone of lectures. But revitalized by Corey’s rhythmic, singing prose, the monologues become odes or poems to works of art and serve as at least an interesting litany of esoteric facts as well as adept characterization. The speaker is, in fact, a lecturer who sometimes becomes lost in his own prose.
Experimental in its waver between past and present, its combination of theory and narrative, and the shifting focus between first, second, and third person narration, How Long Is Now is as strangely beautiful as it is informative. Cities like Munich, Tangiers, and Madrid are limned illustriously, creating an intimate and nuanced sense of place. The scenery and citizens bloom. With its unnamed protagonist in the midst of emotional crisis, How Long Is Now is a quiet novel, but Joshua Corey’s pulsing prose is a force to be reckoned with.
Publisher: Spuyten Duyvil Publishing
Genre: Literary Fiction
Print Length: 380 pages
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