What do we look for at the end of a trilogy? Is it necessary for an all-encompassing finale or simply a solid third act? If you have visited this site before, my admiration of Henry Miller is no mystery. After the writing of his Obelisk Trilogy, which included Tropic of Cancer & Capricorn, the author began The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy. Having read Sexus and Plexus earlier this year, Miller set the stage for an exciting conclusion. So, what do we expect from Nexus, the last book in the trilogy?
As with the preceding novels, Nexus is a semi-autobiographical retelling of Henry’s topsy-turvy marriage with Mona and struggling years as a writer. We begin with Mona searching for a stable job so Henry can write. This would be fine if he was not stuck with Anatasia, his wife’s live-in friend and possible lover. This domestic strife allows for little working time and further unhappiness in the marriage. As usual, Henry clears his mind with trips around New York City. In the author’s paved paradise, no story is too small. These tales, that usually result in seemingly limitless observations, fill the final chapter of the trilogy:
“Ah, the monotonous thrill that comes of walking the streets on a winter’s morn, when iron girders are frozen to the ground and the milk in the bottle rises like the stem of a mushroom. A setentrional day, let us say, when the most stupid animal would not dare poke a nose out of his hole. To accost a stranger on such a day and ask him for alms would be unthinkable. In that biting, gnawing cold, the icy wind whistling through the glum, canyoned streets, no one in his right mind would stop long enough to reach into his pocket in search of a coin. On a morning like this, which a comfortable banker would describe as ‘clear and brisk’, a beggar has no right to be hungry or in need of carfare. Beggars are for warm, sunny days, when even the sadist at heart stops to throw crumbs at the birds.”
The most discernable difference in Nexus is size. Compared to the combined 1,100 pages of Sexus and Plexus, the final installment barely breaks 300. Thankfully there is no lack of substance. Instead of a colossal volume to climax the trilogy, Miller whittles down a concise style. To follow the rather distant goal of the narrative, a wish to write like his influences, Miller shows he does not need size for success:
“To get back to Feodor…They got me itchy sometimes with their everlasting nonsense about Dostoevski. Myself, I have never pretended to understand Dostoevski. Not all of him, at any rate. (I know him, as one knows a kindred soul.) Nor have I read all of him, even to this day. It has always been my thought to leave the last few morsels for deathbed reading. I am not sure, for instance, whether I read his ‘Dream of the Ridiculous Man’ or heard tell about it. Neither am I at all certain that I know who Marcion was, or what Marcionism is. There are many things about Dostoevski, as about life istelf, which I am content to leave a mystery. I like to think of Dostoevski as one surrounded by an impenetrable aura of mystery. For example, I can never picture him wearing a hat-such as Swedenborg gave his angels to wear. I am, moreover, always fascinated to learn what others have to say about him, even when they views make no sense to me. Only the other day I ran across a note I had jotted down in a notebook. Probably from Berdyaev. Here it is: ‘After Dostoevski, man was no longer what he had been before.’ Cheering thought for an ailing humanity.”
In Nexus, we group ourselves as a ‘kindred soul’ with Miller. Unlike the erotically charged Sexus or surreal pontifications in Plexus, the third novel acts as a synthesis between the two. As readers, we are skeptical to fall off the usual authorial devices; sexual fantasy, surrealism, polemics. Though there are no literary tricks to be discovered, the novel manages to bypass pandering:
(Mona has devised a plan to present Henry’s writings, under her name, to a rich benefactor)
“What element there was of the bizarre and the outlandish intrigued Pop to no end. He had wondered openly-how a young woman, the author, in other words, came by such thoughts, such images. It never occurred to Mona to say: ‘From another incarnation!’ Frankly I would have hardly known what to say myself. Some of the goofiest images had been stolen from almanacs, other were born of wet dreams. What Pop truly enjoyed, it seemed, was the occasional introduction of a dog or a cat. (He couldn’t know, of course, that I was mortally afraid of dogs or that I loathed cats.) But I could make a dog talk. And it was doggy talk, no mistake about it. My true reason for inserting these creatures of a lower order was to show contempt for certain characters in the book who had gotten out of hand. A dog, properly inspired, can make an ass of a queen. Besides, if I wished to ridicule a current idea which was anathema to me all I had to do was to impersonate a mutt, lift my hind legs and piss on it.”
So, does Nexus complete the trilogy and stand alone as a novel? Of course. The final installment of the Rosy Crucifixion is a culmination of the conscious for Miller (and readers). “When Henry stuggles, we struggle”, I say in my review of Sexus, which is why we are elated when our author reaches his goal. Nexus shows a budding writer cease from imitation to become our favorite iconoclast:
“Fleeting though such a love may be, can we say that there had been a loss? The only possible loss-and how well the true lover knows it!- is the lack of that undying affection which the other inspired. What a drab, dismal, fateful day that is when the lover suddenly realizes that he is no longer possessed, that he is cured, so to speak, of his great love! When he refers to it, even unconsciously, as a ‘madness’. The feeling of relief engendered by such an awakening may lead one to believe in all sincerity that he has regained his freedom. But at what a price! What a poverty-stricken sort of freedom with everyday sight, everyday wisdom? Is it not heartbreaking to find oneself surrounded by beings who are familiar and commonplace? Is it not frightening to think that one must carry on, as they say, but with stones in one’s belly and gravel in one’s mouth? To find ashes, nothing but ashes, where once were blazing suns, wonders, glories, wonders up wonders, glory beyond glory, and all freely created as from some magic fount?”
“I have have made extensive use throughout these books of irruptive onslaughts of the unconscious, such as dreams, fantasy, burlesque, Pantagruelian word play, etc., which lend the narrative a chaotic, whimsical, perplexing character.”
The enjoyment of Miller is living vicariously through him. Remembered best for his perversity, I find the author to be provocative in a more lasting nature. The Rosy Crucifixion, and veritably all of Miller’s works, create a canon for crude and cultivated minds.