Plexus, the second book in Henry Miller’s Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, is a handsome sequal. The novel’s narrative follows Miller’s typical structure by chronicling his misadventures about the world. Like Sexus, the story is centers on Miller’s life in New York in the three years before his trip to France. The same trip where he would compose his most famous novel Tropic of Cancer.
Unlike the first book’s gratuitous amount of sexual anecdotes, Plexus focuses on Miller’s struggle as a young writer. Quitting his day job at the ‘Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company’, Miller places himself at the typewriter while Mona, his wife, collects the rent money from her many suitors. This emphasis on his craft rewards the reader with some of the author’s best writing.
This passage describing a performance by Italian opera singer Mimi Arugula particularly struck me:
Only a few moments ago my head was seething with thought; now all is still, the great swarm gathered in a honeycomb at the base of my skull. Not even a buzz issue from the hive. My senses, sharpened to a diamond point, are fully concentrated on the strange creature with the oracular voice. Even were she to speak a language I know, I doubt I could follow her. It is the sounds she makes, the immense gaunt of sound, which enthralls me. Her throat is like an ancient lyre. So very, very ancient. It has the ring of a man before he ate the Tree of Knowledge. Her gestures and movements are mere accompaniment to the voice. The features, monolithic in repose, express the most subtle modulations with her ceaseless changes of mood. When she throws her head back, the oracular music from her throat plays over her features like lightening playing over a bed of mica. She seems to express with ease emotions which can only simulate in dream.
What’s so redeemable about the second volume of the Rosy Crucifixion is the unlimited optimism. Plexus finds Miller at the worse he’s been since his marriage to Mona(or maybe ever), but his smile never wavers. After one of their evictions(there are 3 or 4 in the novel), the couple is forced to shack up with one of Miller’s friends. An extremely messy one at that.
“We cleared the bed of medical books and scraps of food, pulled back the grey sheet, noticed the blood stains, but said nothing, and crawled in.”
As an young writer, I may be biased to the novel, but it is difficult to ignore the beauty in Plexus. Vividly disgusting or not. With the man vs. environment story, Miller emerges as a Robinson Crusoe of of the city. (I also played with name Streets Family Robinson)
After reading Plexus, I’m still undecided if the work is Miller’s most accessible or personal. His afternoons adventures to childhood haunts and old neighborhoods create a very vintage image of Miller. An image, I fear, may only be enjoyable to avid readers of the author. Nevertheless, Plexus was so delightful and entertaining that moved the final book in the trilogy, Nexus, to the top of my reading list.