Monday, December 22, 2008

Lush life by Richard Price


Lush Life by Richard Price has been very highly praised. Michiko Kakutani has it in her New York Times top ten books of the year. In the UK, it has featured heavily in the broadsheets’ reviews of the year. In particular, it is widely praised for the sharpness and veracity of its dialogue, the way it picks up the sounds of the streets.

And very true, too. The dialogue is outstandingly good. It feels like a realistic slice of New York life and I, who have never visited it, feel I have gleaned some vicarious understanding of the place. It is tight, well written, the characters realistically and consistently drawn, the plot credible and satisfactory. But does that make it a good novel? To be honest, no.

Lush life is a cold, soulless exercise in mimetics. It is a polaroid snapshot of a city and a time. It is a stark representation of the surface of daily life in America in 2008. In that, it is superb. In one hundred years people will read this novel to discover what it was like to live in the old days. Indeed, it will make a far better historical document than it does a contemporary novel. The problem is that it is shallow. In trying so hard to depict the reality, it says nothing. I guess, going back to the old show and tell debate, what I’m saying is that on a macro level this novel is all tell. There is nothing beneath the surface. There is no depth. Ultimately, there is no point. None of the characters change and I am not changed after having read it.

I feel myself teetering on my usual tightrope above Coetzee Falls here. Although I consistently decry Coetzee and his ilk for the tricksiness of their writing, the way they weave every plotline and reference into an ever tighter, ever dense mass of meaning, I do accept that, to be a genuine novel, it does have to have some meaning. And that’s what seems to me to be missing in Lush Life. It has nothing to say. It’s like a parrot, cleverly repeating the words of its master. You can admire the skill of its mimicry, but you aren’t persuaded to engage it in conversation.

It actually puts me in mind of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street. Admittedly, the connection may not be immediately obvious: Lush Life is, as I say, all in the dialogue, while Main Street is famous mainly for its lengthy descriptive passages. But, although they are approaching it in different ways, each author is straining primarily for verisimilitude. Each is trying to portray a precise moment, evoke a time and a place. And each, to my mind, takes the process of exactitude too far. And so, while in Lush Life we have endless witty and acute conversations between the characters which combine to change precisely nothing, in Main Street we have description after description which, again, reveals what it was like to live in 1910s America but which does nothing to peer into the souls of the people who inhabited it. Take this passage, for example:

Under the rolling clouds of the prairie a moving mass of steel. An irritable clank and rattle beneath a prolonged roar. The sharp scent of oranges cutting the soggy smell of unbathed people and ancient baggage.

Towns as planless as a scattering of pasteboard boxes on an attic floor. The stretch of faded gold stubble broken only by clumps of willows encircling white houses and red barns.

No. 7, the way train, grumbling through Minnesota, imperceptibly climbing the giant tableland that slopes in a thousand-mile rise from hot Mississippi bottoms to the Rockies.

It is September, hot, very dusty.

Now that is lovely. The first sentence in particular captures that eternal American conflict between the pioneering spirit and the march of progress. It says so much in so little. You immediately understand time and place, you know that this is a society undergoing the growing pains of industrial expansion and you sense the ambivalence of the author and, by definition, American society in general. It is a superb piece of writing.

But then it goes on, for page after page, describing in ever denser detail the occupants of the train carriage and the landscape through which they are travelling. Every description is, in itself, interesting enough, but the layering of more and more detail becomes, in the end, self-defeating: the reader stops paying attention. And this is what I found with Lush Life too: lots and lots of dialogue, but in the end it goes nowhere and I find I have stopped listening. Ultimately, I realise, it has nothing interesting to say. A mirror only reflects; it does not allow for deeper understanding. It is akin to those austere Dutch paintings of the sixteenth century – portraits of large groups of men, all looking sombre and worthy: wonderful historic records, but not especially appealing, and they don’t linger in the memory. Compare them to Vermeer or Fabricius or Steen, who teased us with stories untold – a woman reading a letter, a glimpse of another world through an open doorway – and challenged us to enter into their world, the reader as participant. Richard Price, in Lush Life, seems to me to care so little about his characters that he is barely participating in the story himself, far less inviting the reader to do so.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Sinclair Lewis said:

...in America most of us — not readers alone, but even writers — are still afraid of any literature which is not a glorification of everything American, a glorification of our faults as well as our virtues.

It strikes me that this is even more telling of American writers today than it was in 1930, and that the ‘glorification of faults’ is becoming something of a national pastime. It is a curiosity of the age that America gives the impression of being brashly, even arrogantly self-confident while, at the same time, demonstrating a curious but destructive lack of love for itself. I’m not talking about Rousseau’s amour-propre, a sense of vanity which America demonstrates in spades, but amour de soi, that tender self-love which is, or should be, innate and which informs humanity’s dealings with itself. I read novels like Lush Life and wonder where that love has gone.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The voice of Flannery O'Connor

Now here's a fascinating historical record. This is Flannery O'Connor herself, reading A Good Man Is Hard To Find, probably her most famous short story, and one of her famous essays on Southern literature and the grotesque. This is actually the essay I've quoted before, here and here. It sounds as barking mad as it reads.

She has pretty much the voice I expected - perhaps a little softer and younger, but with that rich, fascinating southern accent. It definitely adds something to A Good man.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Nephew by James Purdy


The Nephew was James Purdy’s follow-up to Malcolm, but the two novels are radically different in style. Where Malcolm was eerily surreal, with an uncanny edge to it, The Nephew is almost pastoral, a slow, reflective look at small-town America and the pain of living in a world that moves too fast. ‘Exits and entrances’, a character tells us, that’s what mid-century America has brought, resulting in people ‘never being anywhere’.

But while, stylistically, the two novels are very different, this theme of life runing too fast reveals a definite commonality between them – and, indeed, it appears to be a theme which runs through Purdy’s entire oeuvre: we are again in the territory of disconnection, of a crucifying inability to communicate, of silent suffering and mutual incomprehension. These are people who understand each other not at all, and who struggle even to recognise their own stunted emotions. They are greatly to be pitied. In the hands of a lesser writer than Purdy, they would be self-indulgent, or bathetic, or ugly, or unpleasant. The characters Purdy creates in this novel, particularly the mains, Alma and her brother Boyd, are real people suffering real pain, being destroyed by real grief.

This was a controversial novel in its day (published in 1961), telling as it does the story of a (possible, never explicitly proven) homosexual love affair between a young man, Cliff, who subsequently goes to war in Korea and is posted missing in action, and another young man from his home town, Vernon. What makes it astonishingly powerful is that this is not the principal theme of the novel; indeed, it is only late in the novel that this theme emerges. There is no didacticism here; the homosexuality is not being written about as an “issue” with the characters only existing because they are homosexual and the novel only existing for the reason of debating it. Nearly fifty years later, writers still cannot routinely create characters who just happen to be gay (or black, or Muslim), and which state is not the crucial element of the plot. It is the same problem Percival Everett bemoans when he says he wishes to be read as a writer, not as an African-American. Purdy recognised this and dealt with it as early as 1961. He is a writer to be admired, for this alone.

And for much more. This is a powerful novel of loss and pain. At its centre is the inability of the main characters, Alma and Boyd, who are Cliff’s aunt and uncle and who looked after him as a child when his parents were killed, to deal with the depth of emotion they feel when he is posted missing in action. They cannot communicate. They sit in the darkness in silence. Alma refuses to accept that he is probably dead. Boyd cannot talk to her about it. Their neighbours learn quickly not to raise the subject.

Purdy uses tears as a powerful metaphor for communication in the novel. Throughout, in conversations with the stoic Alma, characters are reduced to tears. Her friend Faye’s tears fall ‘ostentatiously to her cheeks and lips’ while Anna ‘dry-eyed’, looks away. Professor Mannheim weeps in ‘short almost animal-like sobs’. When news finally arrives of Cliff’s death, we are told:

As if to make up for Alma, who would not cry, the short controlled weeping of Mrs. Van Tassel broke the silence which had come after Alma’s speech, and then came the sudden broken sobs of Faye, and the quiet tears of Clara Himbaugh.

It would be easy to feel no sympathy for such a character, but she is deftly handled by Purdy. She understands her weaknesses:

Since Alma had retired from teaching and no longer spent most of her day with children, she had become increasingly dissatisfied with her understanding and knowledge of adult problems and lives. She did not understand, she supposed, as she had heard her mother say many years before, “the main things about life”, and she had come to attribute this to her being an old-maid schoolteacher.

She imagines a horrible conversation with her friend Mrs Barrington, in which she attributes to the older woman a cruel opinion about herself. From this, a level of self-loathing is revealed. We can only feel sympathy later, when Faye’s mother, troubled by Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, tells the unvarnished truth about Alma, who has ‘made a mess’ of her life, and her brother’s too, and her nephew’s who got himself killed in order to escape. It may have been the truth, but it is a painful truth. And so Almas is a woman whose frosty exterior becomes increasingly fragile. ‘You have so much composure, Alma,’ she is told. ‘No,’ she replies, ‘I’m afraid to let go is all.’

Thus, when Alma finally cracks, while relaying to her brother the truth about Cliff, it is heartbreaking:

“There was nothing of our Cliff left.”

Violent sobs, long suppressed, of almost inhuman grief broke from her breast, then quickly subsided into the stunned silence of accustomed pain and, as she had so often remarked in herself, old age.

In this way, Alma slowly comes to understand about herself and about her pain. She learns to communicate it. She becomes human, joins the band of humanity who manage their emotions as best they can by expressing them. Her final salvation comes, near the end, in a moving scene with her old friend, Mrs Barrington, who is confiding in her some long-held and painful secrets of her own. ‘Alma wept now, silently, not for the nephew and herself this time, but for someone else.’

And in so doing she become alives. The truth she has uncovered about Cliff’s homosexuality no longer matters. Nor, in a sense, does his death. What matters is that he lived and that he loved her, and that she loved him.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Learning to learn

Haven't had a quote from Mr V for a while, so here goes:

There is this thing calle the university, and everybody goes there now. And there are these things called teachers who make students read this book with good ideas or that book with good ideas until that's where we get our ideas. We don't think them; we read them in books.
Kurt Vonnegut


Of course, John Stuart Mill was warning of this a hundred plus years ago. And even before him, I suppose, Rousseau was saying the same thing. Plus ca change.

But it's an interesting time. Learning is changing. Young people are changing. They don't learn in the way we learned. We haven't come to terms with that yet. We just assume they are wrong because they are not approaching learning in the same way we did. But experts all the way back through Mill to Rousseau have been telling us that our way is wrong anyway, so maybe we should cut the kids some slack and let them learn in their own way?

Davy Graham 1940-2008

Davy Graham (and Bert) are the reasons why I stopped playing the guitar. With genius like that, what was the point of me trying to play? Much better to spend my time just listening.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Malcolm by James Purdy


Malcolm is a novel which, because of its measured simplicity, is extraordinarily complex. It is a highly stylised fable in which the surreal is presented as entirely conventional. There is an extreme sense of disconnection, of alienation. This is a depiction of a society where the individual has lost his sense of belonging and where meaning has become arbitrary. It is also extremely funny.

The story begins in picaresque fashion, with Malcolm being introduced in successive chapters to a range of unusual individuals. Malcolm is first presented to us sitting on a bench day after day, waiting. Just waiting. He has lost his father – literally so, as he doesn’t appear to have died, he simply isn’t there – which one would ordinarily take to be symbolic of the end of childhood or reaching maturity, but this clearly isn’t the case with Malcolm. Paradox is at the heart of this novel. Malcolm is an innocent who cannot engage with the world. He is taken in hand by the peculiar Mr Cox, who arranges for him to meet, in turn, a range of his acquaintances. First there is Estel Blanc, a mortician who seems unaware that he is black. Then there is Kermit, who does not realise that he is a midget, and who is married to a prostitute, Laureen, who subsequently runs off with a Japanese wrestler. Girard Girard and his wife are billionaires. Eloisa and Jerome Brace are an artist and a jazz musician respectively. Each of these extraordinary characters is introduced as coolly as though they were merely a range of everyday functionaries.

Malcolm orbits these people’s worlds and everything shifts. Everything, that is, except Malcolm, who remains throughout impervious to the dramas building around him. Marriages disintegrate. Feuds and fights emerge. People fall out, break down. Yet all of this is told in a deliberately flat style, almost banal, and the characterisation is strictly two-dimensional. The characters are established as stereotypes representing different aspects of American culture – philistines and aesthetes, revealing greed, neuroticism, irreality – and through their responses and lack of responses the hopelessness at the heart of American society is revealed. To each of them, Malcolm displays a lack of tact that could either be described as na├»ve guilelessness or downright rudeness. He calls Blanc an Abyssinian, repeatedly refers to Kermit as a midget even when it is clear that he hates this. He accuses Mme Girard of being drunk. He rebuffs offers of friendship. And so we have another paradox in this highly paradoxical novel: this child, this symbol of innocence who is bamboozled by adult society, is in every respect as discourteous and problematical than it.

And yet each of them becomes besotted by Malcolm. He is described as royalty. Girard Girard seeks to assume the mantle of his father. Kermit sees him as a kindred spirit. Eloisa paints him, Mme Gerard adores him. Only Blanc the mortician repels him, finding him too immature and telling him to return ‘in twenty years’. The adoration of Malcolm reaches its zenith with the introduction of Melba, the world-famous chanteuse, who immediately decides she must marry him. And so Malcolm, the innocent, the child who has remained impervious to the adult machinations around him, is thrust into marriage and adulthood. It is a disaster. The novel ends with him dying of ‘alcoholism and sexual exhaustion’. Life, Purdy is telling us, is meaningless. Existence is absurd. It consists of events and happenings, all unavoidable, all simultaneously significant and meaningless. They touch you, wound even, ultimately kill, yet somehow existence appears to obtain in a bubble outside of the self. As Thomas M. Lorch describes it, ‘the novel portays humanity revolving about an abyss’.[1] What is real is not real, and what is not real becomes real. Malcolm describes himself as a ‘cypher’ and, in the end, his death affects no-one, least of all him.

Yet, through this, Purdy presents us with the final, and greatest, paradox. In presenting us with nothingness, and in deliberately describing the action in such bland and emotionless language, Purdy actually creates a sense of loss: there is nothing to lose, he is telling us, and yet we feel the loss greatly. What he does is to create a world of genuine nihilism, where nobody communicates, nobody connects, so that we can, in negative, imagine what a world in harmony might be like.

[1] Thomas M. Lorch. Purdy's "Malcolm": A Unique Vision of Radical Emptiness. Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Summer, 1965), p. 212.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Why write when you could fritter your time away


Go on, be honest - how often have you said 'I'd love to write/paint/read/anything but I don't have the time.' And how often have you heard others say it, especially aspiring writers? You know as well as I do that it's bullshit. We all have the same twenty-four hours in every day, and we make time for anything we want. We just don't bother, and we hide behind this pretence that we're phenomenally busy.

I was prompted to write this by the following quote:

Being genuinely close to death, seeing death, wondering about death, changes one's attitude to the use of one's life.
For that reason I hate waste, hypocrisy. I hate the way we cruise, wasting time. I believe that most of us only LIVE for 1% of our time. That's a tragedy.

This is taken from an interview on Vanessa Gebbie's blog with Alex Keegan. AK taught me everything I know about creative writing. This quote refers to the Clapham rail crash, which happened 20 years ago today. Alex was injured in it and it completely reshaped his life, as you can read in Vanessa's excellent interview. The interview goes into more weighty matters but I was struck by this quote because it sums Alex up so well. Through him, I learned the philosophy of write, write, write. Get the words down. Keep practicing, keep trying. That is why I get irritated with aspiring writers who produce maybe three stories a year and waste their time re- and re-writing them, or talking about writing or being a writer, or complaining about how little time they have. And I haven't got a fraction of Alex's passion. Reading the interview, you can see why, and you can understand why he is so driven to create.

His new collection, Ballistics, is out from Salt Publishing soon. Do yourself a favour and buy it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Erasure by Percival Everett


Erasure, published in 2001, is a wildly funny novel that works on a number of levels and is so playful that one feels constantly there are little jokes and references that are sliding by and will need a second reading. But much, much more than that, it is an immensely brave novel that is challenging some of the shibboleths of American culture and literature.

At its heart is a biting satire on the way race is handled in the US and, in particular, the constant stereotyping of black people that obtains – not only by white people but by black people themselves. The narrator, loosely based on the author himself, is Thelonius “Monk” Ellison a writer of avant-garde novels that even his agent thinks are challenging, brave, but ultimately unreadable. Monk despairs of a modern culture that puts his novels in the African-American section in bookshops, even when they are about Greek myths. In particular, he despairs about a culture that celebrates novels like We’s lives in da ghetto by Juanita Mae Jenkins, with its stereotyped depiction of black culture, hackneyed plots and over the top use of black idioms. This is false, he rails, it perpetuates the myths that black men are either sportsmen, musicians or drug dealers. And yet it is feted. Jenkins is interviewed gushingly on the Kenya Dunston Show, in a hilarious parody of Oprah Winfrey. Its paperback and movie rights sell for six figure sums. Meanwhile, Monk cannot find a publisher for his latest novel. ‘The line is,’ his agent tells him, ‘you’re not black enough’.

In a rage, Monk thrashes out a novella, My Pafology, into which he crams all the stereotypes he can muster. The protagonist has fo’ children by four different mothers, to none of whom he pays any maintenance. We see him indulge in casual sex that borders on rape. He turns quickly to violence. When a helping hand is offered to him by a wealthy individual who takes him on, he spurns the opportunity, and ends up raping the man’s daughter. The violence spirals into murder and he flees in an OJ Simpson type car chase, live on national television. My Pafology is included in its entirety in Erasure, running to 70 plus pages, and such is Everett’s skill that, while laughing at the parody, one still becomes caught up in the drama.

And this, of course, is exactly what happens in the novel. Monk pitches it to his agent who pitches to a publisher under the pseudonym of Stagg R. Leigh, and Monk is astonished – and appalled – to discover that his angry parody is immediately snapped up. He changes the name to Fuck in an attempt to put the publishers off, but they agree. It becomes a bestseller. It is nominated for a national award. It becomes the talk of the literary world and Stagg R. Leigh is the most sought after author in the country. This, naturally, causes Everett considerable difficulty, particularly when, under his own name, he is asked to be a judge for the award for which Stagg’s novel is nominated. He is the only judge to argue against it. ‘I should think as an African-American you’d be happy to see one of your own people get an award like this,’ one of the other judges says to him.

All of this is brilliantly handled, and through the wonderful humour there are still uncomfortable truths about race and perceptions of race in America today. Much of the stereotyping is perpetuated by black people themselves and, at the very least, they are complicit in perpetuating those stereotypes. In a culture where African-American writers from Alice Walker and Toni Morrison onwards have been celebrating blackness as something to celebrate in itself, Everett is brave in standing aside and saying ‘no, the mark of the person resides not in his or her skin colour, but in their morality.’ Through Monk, he expresses his exasperation at being defined by the colour of his skin. Monk is asked by a taxi driver, ‘Are you Ethiopian?’ ‘No,’ he replies. ‘I’m just Washingtonian.’ But as the novel progresses he is in danger of being swallowed by his own stereotyped invention and becoming that which he despises.

There is much more at play in this novel. Everett pokes playful fun at the American publishing scene, with the crazy deals being offered to flavour of the month writers, the outrageous promotion of junk novels and the mutual back-scratching of award judges. Erasure also memorably takes on academia, with a brave and funny parody of Barthes’ S/Z in the second chapter (if I hadn’t been warned about it in advance I would have been completely flummoxed by it) and deliciously cruel pen pictures of those postmodernist authors who subsist by publishing each other often enough in their journals to qualify themselves for professorships. That Everett himself plays some delightful postmodern tricks in the novel – for example conversations between, amongst others, Rothko, Hitler, de Kooning and Rauschenberg – merely adds to the sense of enjoyment.

At the novel’s heart, and this is what transforms it from a good into a great novel, is a series of erasures from which it gains its title. Monk’s mother, suffering from Alzheimer’s, is slowly having her mind erased; Monk himself is being erased by his alter ego. His sister, who works in an abortion clinic – itself another form of erasure – is killed, erased, by pro-lifers. His brother, a married man with children, comes out as gay and is thrown out by his family, his past erased. And so on. In this way, Everett takes on many of the issues that form the faultlines of current American society and offers a humanist response. Take me as I am, he says. Reward ability. Do not judge by appearances. Do not take a binary, yes-no, black-white approach to life. In the deliberately ambivalent ending, we are left wondering which way Monk will turn. I have no doubt, though, that he will turn to the good, to the moral. A flawed character, for sure, but a good man.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Excess baggage

This is an American writer called Percival Everett, writing in Callaloo journal:

I was invited to Charleston's Spoleto Festival [in South Carolina] by my dear friend Josephine Humphreys to participate in a writers' protest over the Confederate flag [flying in the State Legislature], but I could no longer generate enough concern. There were two things at work. First, the flag probably ought to be there - in the same way that a big sign saying "Land Mines!" ought to be set at the edge of a field containing land mines. If it is so hard for the government of the stte to decide to remove the stupid thing, then there must be a reason and that reason can't be good. Second, who gives a rat's ass. It's a waste of energy to fight over it. It's an ugly flag with an ugly history...

Excellent! I know I bang on about Nietzsche's need to be able to let go of the past and release all bitterness, seek an accommodation with history in order to embrace the future, but this is a lovely example of doing just that. The inability to do this has blighted my country, Scotland and, to an even greater extent, Ireland over the course of our recent histories. Such a level-headed, pragmatic response as Everett displays here is clearly the way to deal with the problems of history. He wrote this in 2001. Seven years later, Obama has been elected President. Has something been happening, quietly and unnoticed, in the American spirit? It would be good to think so.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Feeding Ducks

Feeding Ducks by Norman MacCaig

One duck stood on my toes.
The others made watery rushes after bread
Thrown by my momentary hand; instead,
She stood duck-still and got far more than those.

An invisible drone boomed by
With a beetle in it; the neighbour’s yearning bull
Bugled across five fields. And an evening full
Of other evenings quietly began to die.

And my everlasting hand
Dropped on my hypocrite duck her grace of bread.
And I thought, ‘The first to be fattened, the first to be dead’,
Till my gestures enlarged, wide over the darkening land.



Lovely. It feels a typically Scottish poem. Partly, it is in the way it conflates the personal and the global - from a duck standing on his toes in the first line to his enlarged gestures wide over the land in the last line. Also the turn from quaint, almost cute observation of nature into cold reality. There is no silly anthropomorphism here - the duck is going to be eaten. Scots practicality.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The age of the individual

This is John Barth, in conversation with Joe David Bellamy in around 1972:

One of Robbe-Grillet's points, which I believe he borrows from Roland Barthes, is that the novel of character, such as Madame Bovary, for example, or Tolstoy's work, belongs to the age of character, to the age of the individual. And in mass society, for example, when individualism as a philosophy is historically discredited, the novel of character is a kind of anachronism.


So, in 2008, is individualism still discredited as a philosophy? I don't know what philosophers would say on that subject, but for my part I think we are living in a curious world, decidedly split, where there is a terrible homogenisation going on, but also where people are thinking on such an individual basis it is almost solipsistic. I suspect Barth may have been premature in killing off the age of the individual. It's an important point, in terms of literature, because one of my complaints about current literary trends is that there is a peculiar emphasis on the personal over the global. The war on terror, or 9/11, for example, can only be seen through the prism of an individual's experience.

But if we are back in a Tolstoyian era of character then that may not be entirely unexpected.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Richard Price

I'm reading Lush Life at present - review to follow - and came across this neat comment on the writing process, in an interview he did for the New York Times:

Another reason the book took so long is that Mr. Price felt obligated to the neighborhood — he wanted to get it right, all the chaos, all the texture — and wound up writing far too much. “I threw out 300 pages,” he said. “Not voluntarily.”

When he finally, reluctantly, showed the manuscript to his editor, he explained, it felt less like a submission than an intervention. “There was just so much here,” he said, “and I fell in love with everything. I had two novels. It was as if my novel had had a novel. Congratulations, you’ve just had a nine-and-a-half-pound novel!” He shook his head and added, “You never really learn how to write a book, because every one is different.”


It's hard enough excising a sentence from a short story. I can feel for the man, having to cut 300 pages...

Even so, it's a bloody long book. Americans write a lot of words, I find.

Monday, December 01, 2008

If I was an inventor

If I was an inventor I would invent a food supplement that turns dog shit fluorescent so you can see it in the dark and not step in it - a mishap, you won't be surprised to learn, that happened to me this evening.