David Bottoms Review
Shreveport, you’re almost as lucky to have the writer David Bottoms as you are to have the Shreveport Regional Arts Council, and that’s saying something. I don’t know if Shreveport appreciates how good, how versatile a writer it has in Mr. Bottoms. Thanks to the technical wizardry of the SRAC and its incomparable staff, last week I managed to Skype in for Bottoms’ appearance at Shreveport artspace – the kind of showplace for all things creative, by the way, that my hometown (Los Angeles) would kill for.
A few months ago, my childhood friend Robert Pincus, a nationally renowned art critic, had given me the privilege of visiting to judge the literary winners of this year’s Critical Mass, the annual project sponsored by your heroic SRAC. The field was strong, but Bottoms won going away.
Each of Bottoms’ stories is different. A thing I always used to do that drove readers crazy at the San Francisco Chronicle, where I used to work as their full-time book critic, was to try to work every story in a collection or anthology into the review. Pretty soon I figured out that mentioning something about everything in the entire table of contents was tantamount to saying nothing at all. I spread myself too thin, and it didn’t do reader or writer any favors.
With that in mind, let me just spotlight just one of Bottoms’ various stories and chapters, in the hope that you’ll be moved to seek them out. I’m sure the arts council can point you in the right direction.
“Game Day” should give you some idea of Bottoms’ talent. It narrates just a few days in the life of a talk-radio sports jockey well on his way to burnout. For reasons that say a lot about contemporary literature, I don’t get to read too much fiction about sports broadcasting.
Since, sadly, I get most of my information about the world via fiction, the hero’s daily rounds are pretty alien to me. I’ve worked in radio, but mostly as a book correspondent and not, alas, as a Dodger fan.
But even without much underlying fa miliarity with this milieu, I find that Bottoms imparts the sense of an entire world around the edges of his frame. There are minor characters who could easily be major characters in stories of their own.
This story also represents kind of a throwback. There’s no fashionable cynicism to it. Pick up a classy magazine like the Oxford American or Harper’s these days, and you just know that most of the stories will find their characters worse off at the end than at the beginning.
Now, I’m as susceptible to pessimism as the next guy. But here’s a story about a man who gradually, almost unwillingly, comes to the right decision. The way Bottoms writes it, the outcome is believable and refreshing.
Almost everything Bottoms writes – his fiction and his well-informed music journalism, even his short stories set in the past – carries that same ring of authenticity. I don’t know where that comes from, but he has the knack.
A writer’s most precious possession is his time, and Bottoms’ gift deserves as much of it as possible to sustain his imagination over the course of some book-length fiction. The great Italian writer Italo Calvno once wrote a novel consisting solely of first chapters. It’d be a shame if Bottoms fell prey to the same temptation. One last thing: I don’t know Bottoms much at all, but writers can be hard to live with. We’re either busy at our desks or preoccupied at the dinner table. As a result, we all owe Mr. Bottoms’ family agenuine debt of gratitude.
Thanks to their presumed patience, and to SRAC’s marvelous Critical Mass programming, maybe more people will now come to recognize what I have. David Bottoms is, to quote the Anglo-American writer Henry James (long before Coca-Cola plagiarized him), the real thing.
David Kipen is critic at large for the Los Angeles Times and KPCC-FM and founder of the nonprofit lending library, Libros Schmibros.