Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Somehow David Foster Wallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men was recommended for my book club. I'd never read him before, and was actually little aware of his work. I think this book is surely a terrible introduction to his work, as everyone, including me, largely found it unbearable and nearly unreadable. I had to skip large portions of quite a few stories because I found them simply too depressing and repetitive.

Poor Wallace, now dead, writes about truly hideous men and I think he must have had the worst opinion of humankind anyone's ever had. He's worse than me! And that's bad. Someone at book club said he makes you see the worst side of yourself, and I think that's very true. I'm sorry for him that there will probably be no separating fiction from fact in his work. Even, I, well versed in the perils of associating biography and art, found myself assuming everything I read was an autobiography. Like Sylvia Plath and Van Gogh, that suicide will never go unmentioned.

When I first started reading the book - I kept making ridiculous proclamations like, This guy's a genius! This is the best thing I've ever read! Amazing! Simply Amazing! while my husband looked on, nonplused. Several of the stories in the beginning are really quite remarkable - especially the one about the boy on the diving board - and the interviews really are humorous (the one's that don't make you want to lock yourself in a closet) but largely I found the book to be the most self-indulgent literature I've ever read. And there's not a single person I would recommend it to.

All Other Nights

When I found out Dara Horn had a new novel, I got really excited, then I got sad, because I don't like to buy hardbacks, then I remembered that I work in a library and went and found it.

Horn's other two novels, In the Image and The World to Come are remarkable. They both touch of themes of art, imagery, history, and religion. I would recommend both of them right away to just about anyone.

All Other Nights is quite different than her first two novels. While I liked parts of it, overall, I felt it lacked the intellectualism of her previous books and I had to wonder if this book was a conscientious foray into the world of so-called popular fiction.

The new novel is about a Union soldier fighting during the Civil War and recruited to be a spy behind enemy lines. I generally find All Things Civil War ridiculously boring, so that may be what's clouding my judgment. What is interesting is that Horn's main character is Jewish, and one hears very little about the role of any Jewish persons in that period. Some of the characters and events are apparently inspired by many true stories. There's an "Author's Note" at the end that I'd almost recommend reading before the book.

One of the characters, for instance, is Judah P. Benjamin - the first Jewish Cabinet-member in the US and possibly the first Jewish senator in the US as well (apparently this other guy may or may not have been a Presbyterian?) Benjamin was a high-ranking official in the Confederate (you read that right) - Sec. of War, I believe. A bit incongruous, like a gay Republican... Horn explores the irony of a Jew supporting slavery, but I hate to say it lacks any subtlety.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I wrote about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies back in March before it was released - before I read Pride and Prejudice (full stop.) (And loved it. The real one.)

I'm about 50 pages in and don't think I can read it any further. It's funny and all, but merely silly. Especially after having read quite recently the original, it doesn't have much to offer beyond the original gag - and def. after 50 pages in it's like Yeah, ok. I get it..

The book is something like 85% Austen and 15% zombies (or Seth Grahame-Smith), and he is, admittedly, clever at mixing in the zombies. The Bennet sisters are well trained in the "deadly arts" against the "strange plague" that's overtaken their village.

Compare, please:
... The dinner too was highly admired; and he begged to know which of his fair cousins the excellency of its cookery was owing.

Briefly forgetting her manners, Mary grabbed her fork and leapt from her chair onto the table. Lydia, who was seated nearest her, grabbed her ankle before she could dive at Mr. Collins and, presumably, stab him about the head and neck for such an insult. Jane and Elizabeth turned away so Mr. Collins would not see them laughing.

He was set right by Mrs. Bennet, who assured him with some asperity that they were very well able to keep a good cook, and that her daughters were too busy training to be bothered with the kitchen. He begged pardon for having displeased Mary. In a softened tone she declared herself not at all offended; but he continued to apologize for about a quarter of an hour.
to Austen's original:
The dinner too, in its turn, was highly admired; and he begged to know to which of his fair cousins, the excellence of its cookery was owing. But here he was set right by Mrs. Bennet, who assured him with some asperity that they were very well able to keep a good cook, and that her daughters had nothing to do in the kitchen. He begged pardon for having displeased her. In a softened tone she declared herself not at all offended; but he continued to apologise for about a quarter of an hour.
I often find the word "gimmicky" is over-applied to art and literature, but this is as gimmicky a book as you'll ever read. Honestly I think one or two chapters would have sufficed. Although you kind of have to admire someone who tackles the whole book. (By which I mean, you can momentarily admire it, but you don't have to read the whole damn thing.) One is certainly not impressed by off-shoots like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim: Mark Twain's Classic with Crazy Zombie Goodness, or Mr. Darcy, Vampyre.

Read the first three chapters, that's all you really need.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Watch Your Mouth

Watch Your Mouth is a 2002 novel by Daniel Handler (a.k.a. The Guy Who Wrote the Lemony Snicket books). It's quite a remarkable book and I really enjoyed reading it. Handler writes with an exhilarating tempo - he reminded me, at his best, of JD Salinger, but more generally of Philip Roth or Michael Chabon. Watch Your Mouth has a fascinating story, is crazy sexual, but best of all, is the way he structures the story. The first half is told like an opera (I'll leave the second half for you to discover). Even as he tells the story, he'll indicate this character should be a tenor, that a soprano and so on. He writes:
Because this is, you know, an opera. Fiction, like all operas: a lie, but a lie is sort of a myth, and a myth is sort of a truth. All summer long I was watching things happen with Cynthia Glass and her family that were melodramatic, heart-wrenching, and absurdly—truly—tragic.

The story is that of a young Jewish teenager who lives with his girlfriend, Cyn (read: Sin) and her family for a summer. The horny teenagers try to squeeze in as much sweaty sex as they can while ostensibly working summer jobs and writing papers. The parents and a brother are going through their own melodramas - and - there's a Golom. I love stories with Goloms in them. I'm reticent to say too much - I hope you'll read it yourself...

First chapter is here - let me know if you read/have read it, I'd love to hear your opinion! I'm definitely going to check out his other novels.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Children of Meh

I started reading Children of Men, but, at least for now, I'm not going to finish it. I think I'm about 30 pages in, but I don't like P.D. James's writing style very much. So far it's very on the nose - he's spelled out how no one in the world has been able to procreate for a generation or two, and no one knows why and what the whole world's psychiatric response has been. I find that kind of boring and wish things could unfold a little slower. It ain't no Handmaid's Tale, I'll tell ya that.

Correction: An alert reader informs me that P.D. is a woman! I'm very embarrassed!