Book Review: A Wedding In Hell

A Wedding In Hell, by Charles Simic

The title of this book is not particularly appealing.  But those who are familiar with the author’s work [1] will understand that this title captures the author’s familiar wrestling with matters of sexual intimacy and spirituality.  The author cannot in any sense be considered a traditional Christian, but at the same time he is clearly someone who thinks and reflects often on matters of spirituality and appears to have a strong sense of divine judgment even if he does not presume to consider himself on the side of the angels.  Indeed, some of the poems in this collection, including the moving and gloomy “Awaiting Judgment” explicitly show the poet as someone who is anticipating a harsh judgment but seemingly unable to turn towards God and avoid the unpleasant end he fears.  It is as if the author is too caught up in the negativity of his melancholy gloom and the addictive lusts of the flesh to wholeheartedly repent, and at the same time he cannot pretend that God and His judgment do not exist, as so many do, and so he is left in between, a state that this book of poetry captures rather well.

This poetry collection, like Gaul, is divided into three parts.  And like the author’s work in general, the book is united by common preoccupations and themes and approaches.  A great deal of this work appears to be deeply informed by different aspects of history.  For example, “Mad Business” shows the author aware of biblical history, World War II history, and ancient history and myth, all told from the point of view of a friendly shopgirl offering wares to unwary customers.  “Via Del Tritone” shows the author in Rome dealing with a sense of isolation and loneliness.  “The Beggar On Houston Street” even manages to conjure up an obscure reference to the Spanish Civil War, something that many of the readers would likely not be very aware of.  As might be expected, many of the poems also comment on matters of sex, predictably in ways that are not glamorous but are rather dark and unpleasant, whether one is engaged in lovemaking with someone who is worried that she is getting fat even if one is “Crazy About Her Shrimp” or one is going into battle not fully clothed and invoking the sort of curses that hindered the Greek attack on ancient Troy.

It is easy to see that one could get rather irritated with the author after a while.  Unless one was the same sort of person the author was, both appreciative of history while also haunted by it, knowledgeable about God but not a devout believer in Him, it would be easy to be irritated by the fact that in book after book–and I have read half a dozen books of his by now (reviews forthcoming)–the author goes over the same territory over and over again without any sense of humor.  The author’s writings appear to move in very characteristic and familiar ruts, but when one reads book after book by someone who focuses on a familiar set of problems and never seems to advance beyond one’s initial ponderings, it is easy to get frustrated at the lack of progress over the years and decades.  Even so, although the author does not appear to be one who made significant progress over the course of his writings, at least not that I have been able to tell at any rate, the author at least invokes sympathy because of his combination of self-awareness with frustration over matters of communication with God and others, problems that others can relate to all too easily.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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