Friday, February 25, 2011

When the Killing's Done

Oh boy, my review of When the Killing's Done is up on Newcity Lit. And both my reviews are in the print copy if you happen to see it on the street in Chicago!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is Aimee Bender's latest. It's really typical of her work - beautifully written, full of pathos, very girly (did you write this book just for me, A.B.?) and has an element of magic.

Magic isn't the right word but there's something about her work that's fantastical. It might even be unique. (Gasp!) Like, in Willful Creatures, she tells a story about a woman who has these little potato children, and it's not like it's a metaphor or anything, she just has. potatoes. for. children.

In this book, the young protagonist, Rose, can taste people's emotions in the food they prepare. Mainly she's eating food prepared by her mother (interestingly, she never eats food prepared by her father), whose sadness and other emotions nearly destroy her. She tastes rage, tiredness, guilt, etc., but not just from the cook, but from the farmer or the ground itself. She eventually can tell what state or which factory her food was processed in. She takes to pushing her food around and eating junk food. One of the perks (?) of the state of the food industry is that Rose can rather easily find food that no human has created - that machines mix, process, assemble and package. She saves her money for machine-made food like other children save money for toys.
The bread distributor, the bread factory, the wheat, the farmer. The butter, which had a dreary tang to it. When I checked the package, I read that it came from a big farm in Wisconsin. The cream held a thinness, a kind of metallic bumper aftertaste. The milk - weary. All of those parts distant, crowded, like the far-off sound of an airplane, or a car parking, all hovering in the background, foregrounded by the state of the maker of the food.

This book was almost painful to read because I, like just about every American woman, have my particular food issues (x 1000) and reading about this much emotionality wrapped up around food was a bit overwhelming.

Bender's book isn't a one-trick pony, however nifty that trick might be. The story about Rose's family would have been pretty interesting without her interpretive powers. The first (and only) taste of a sandwich made by her brother reveals a horrifying emptiness, the autistic-like sibling is a mystery. (Here's a hint: Quantum Physics are involved!)

Here's one of my favorite lines:
Several of the girls at the party had had sex, something which sounded appealing but only if it could happen with blindfolds in a time warp plus amnesia.

Brilliant! Just like the rest of the book!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Visit from the Goon Squad

I'm a big fan of Jennifer Egan and have read all of her novels. Look at Me is absolutely brilliant, The Keep is great, and The Invisible Circus... isn't bad either!

Welcome to the Good Squad is her latest, and it's at least as good as my favorite (Look at Me). The main thing I love about Egan is she's soooo theoretical. When I was studying Art History, Look at Me really hit the spot because it's about visual images and definitions. At this point in my life, it turns out, I'm vaguely into quantum physics (in a theoretical, non-mathematical kind of way...) and, you won't believe what theme slips in to A Visit... Ok, I'll tell you: Quantum physics!

I'm working on a theory that we're in a period of Quantum Mechanical Angst right now, like, as a society, so it's no small surprise (according to my working theory) that this idea is popping up lately in art, literature, and theater.*

Egan's quanta explorations have mainly to do with Time. A number of characters slip forward and backward in time as she chooses parts of their stories that create who they are. At one point, one of the characters comes out and nearly quotes this book on quantum physics that I read recently:
Here was the bottom line: if we human beings are information processing machines, reading X's and O's and translating that information into what people oh so breathlessly call "experience," and if I had access to that same information via cable TV and any number of magazines that I browsed through at Hudson news for four- and five-hour stretches on my free days (my record was eight hours, including the half hour I spent manning the register during the lunch break of one of the younger employees, who thought I worked there) -- If I had not only the information but the artistry to shape that information using the computer inside my brain (real computers scared me; if you can find Them, then They can find you, and I didn't want to be found), then, technically speaking, was I not having all the same experiences those other people were having?

Egan employees various story-telling techniques, like a chapter in the form of an article written by a slightly disturbed hipster about a movie star and (guess what?) Quantum Mechanics! Another chapter is famously in the form of a power point presentation - it's surprisingly moving. Like so many authors today, Egan includes some txting language. I think it's interesting how so many artists today are starting to explore this evolution (for better or worse) in language.

Another theme she tackles is music today - its inspiration, creation and distribution. One of the characters, a producer, laments how so much music today is so cleaned up you can't hear its soul any more. I whole-heartedly agree. Egan's fittingly created a playlist on 8Track that's meant to accompany the novel.

Welcome to the Goon Squad incorporates some short stories from over the years - I remember one very clearly from the New Yorker about a publicist who goes to a unnamed country to improve the image of an unnamed dictator. I just stumbled upon another one if you're interested...

There's truly so much to process that I would like to read it again soon. I hope you'll become a Jennifer Egan fan if you're not one already - she's such a terrific writer and she requires an engaged reader.

* And math, for all I know.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

I was inspired...

I was inspired to DRAW (which I'm not very good at, as you can see!) by Super Sad True Love Story. One of the characters was described as wearing a green jumpsuit that read SUK DIK on the front. He's playing with his äppärät.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

XVI - my review!

My review of XVI, a YA novel by Julia Karr, is over on Newcity Lit. They have TONS of book reviews - check it out!