Archive for the Read This Category

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

Posted in Read This on July 20, 2009 by dvcmann

brightlightsbigcity

“The candor was infectious.  It spread back to the beginning of your life.  You tried to tell her, as well as you could, what it was like being you.  You described the feeling you’d always had of being misplaced, of standing to one side of yourself, of watching yourself in the world even as you were being in the world, and wondering if this was how everyone felt.  That you always believed that other people had a clearer idea of what they were doing, and didn’t worry quite so much about why.  You talked about your first day of school.  You cried and clutched her leg.  You can still remember how her plaid slacks felt, the scratchiness on you cheek.  She sent you off to the bus — She interrupted you here to say she wasn’t much happier than you were — and you hid in the woods until you saw the bus leave and then went home and told her you had missed it.  So Mom drove you to school, and by the time you got there you were an hour late.  Everybody watched you come in with your little note, and heard you explain that you missed the bus.  When you finally sat down you knew that you would never catch up.”

His first novel, you think what a shame it’s so easily dismissed as “brat pack” literature by people who have never even read it.  You also vaguely remember the Michael J Fox movie version you saw once.   You’ll have to rent that again sometime.  You’ve even heard that they’re going to remake it – just like the Karate Kid, Red Dawn, Wall Street and every other memorable movie from that decade.   You fully recognize that the 80’s is a gold mine for every creatively callow dipshit in Hollywood.

You also think he’s writing about you; I mean, so does everybody else, but damned if he hasn’t been watching you.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Posted in Read This on June 19, 2009 by dvcmann

American Psycho

“. . . There is an idea of Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable:  I simply am not there. . .”

It would be too easy to couch Bret Easton Ellis’ classic 80’s tale of yuppie horror as morbid allegory of the Reagan era.  After all, he wouldn’t be the first artist to do so.  John Carpenter flat-out said his cult classic They Live was made as a direct indictment of that administration.  Several symbolic comparisons can be made between Ellis’ story and some of the pressing social issues of the time.  Let’s see what we have to work with:

Poor homeless people with mental illness that find themselves the victim of a cruel and unfeeling elite? Check.  Budget cuts during the Reagan administration were blamed for the closing of public mental hospitals and shelters that didn’t necessarily help what was already a growing homeless problem in the United States.  There are numerous references made to the homeless in American Psycho.  The main character’s disdain for them is clear, and they are a frequent target of his savagery in the novel.

The banal obsession with materialism? Check.  The 1980’s was the dawn of the young, upwardly mobile class in America, yuppies, whose status was maintained by keeping it on constant display.  “He who dies with the most toys wins.”  Pure, cold-filtered narcissism.

Rampant and unchecked corporate greed. Believe it or not, the savings and loan bale-outs of the 1980’s seemed huge at the time, really.  As a side note, I hear They’re going to make a sequel to another famous parable on greed from that period, Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.  Mmmm…smell the irony.

The objectification of women by a callus, misogynistic good ol’ boy system. Glass ceiling anyone?  You don’t get much more objectified than a hollowed-out head on a coffee table.

The decay of the main character, Patrick Bateman’s ability to fake it in his “normal” life as his mask of the Manhattan socialite decomposes to reveal an unabated psychopath can easily be read as a metaphor by an artist that saw the greed, self obsession, and violence of America at the time as an insane slide to impending doom.  The cold war was being forced to a conclusion, one way or another, by a president many considered to be a reckless cowboy.

First Edition Cover

First Edition Cover

As the novel begins, the intensely graphic violence one is expecting from the get-go is merely foreshadowed with creepy glimpses into the main character’s mania.  The reader is lulled into a sense that maybe this guy is just a spoiled-rich douche, so when the first act of actual violence is committed, the naked cruelty of it almost catches you off guard.  The hints that we are dealing with a truly deranged mind are only flashes of insight up to that point.  Did he just really say that, or only think it?

It is difficult to comprehend this level of brutality.  The frequency of violence increases as the story progresses, and the load on the reader gets much heavier to bear.  As Bateman begins to lose his grip, the author uses tricks in his writing to maintain the sense of disconnect.  He switches tenses, for example, from first person to third.  He catches you watching more than once with direct reference to the reader.  Also, I can’t be sure if it’s related, but there are a few noticeable errors in the text as well.  At first I thought they were editing mistakes, but as my copy is a later printing (pictured at top), I can’t help but think they are intentional

Ellis was smart not to overwhelm the reader at first.  But make no mistake, he does overwhelm, and you will eventually be burping up bile of the psyche at some point.  It’s almost as if Ellis is issuing a psychological evaluation to his audience, measuring precisely what level you reach before you stop reading and say out loud, “DUDE… WTF?!?”.  A test of our desensitization to violence from exposure to American culture, issued in private, with the results to be evaluated by us alone.

What is oddly worrisome is how familiar the novel is to today.  Replace the Walkman references with an iPod and American Psycho could have been written last year.  We seem to be surrounded by Patrick Batemans all lining up and waiting patiently for their turn to start their shooting sprees and then disintegrating before us.  But this is not Camus’ The Stranger, or Taxi Driver where we watch a man’s collapse.  No,  Bateman’s soul is long gone.  And it is somewhere between the beginning of the novel when he expresses his empty concern for humanity with politically correct opining on world hunger, AIDS, the homeless; and the ending of the book, when his own deranged personal needs take hold, that we witness an artists expression not simply of an era or political administration but of us as a nation.  What we thought was a book is only a mirror, and what we are really watching is the death of America’s conscience behind our own eyes.  Did we ever have one – or did we just think it?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go return some video tapes.

New Palahniuk Book Due Out In May

Posted in Read This on January 9, 2009 by dvcmann

This place is starting to look like a Palahniuk fanboy site.

Amazon has the pre-order up already.

palahniuk-pygmy-cover

Diary by Charles Palahniuk

Posted in Read This on January 9, 2009 by dvcmann

palahniuk_diary-cover“…an artists job is to make order out of chaos.  You collect details, look for a pattern, and organize.  You make sense out of senseless facts.  You puzzle together bits of everything.  You shuffle and reorganize.  Collage.  Montage.  Assemble.”

“…an artist’s job is to pay attention, collect, organize, archive, preserve, then write a report.  Document.  Make your presentation.  The job of an artist is just not to forget.”  ~ Diary, CP

Part Johnathan Livingston Seagul, part The Shining, Diary is set in the blue-blood confines of an island community similar to Nantucket or Martha’s Vinyard. Diary explores the origins of creativity and the nature of genius.  Is art merely a self portrait of the artist?  Is art a mirror that shows us only ourselves as we filter everything through our experience and perception?

William Blake’s famous quote  “If the doors of perception were cleansed man would see things as they truly are – infinite.” definitely applies in Chuckie’s World.  He asks us what else might be going on if  that muck that is our beliefs, prejudices, superstitions and hang-ups were to be wiped away.  Even if it were all suddenly stripped from us, what would we be willing to believe?  Randian objectivism being put through the wringer.

Meanwhile C reminds us that “what you don’t understand you can make mean anything.” and of the propensity for self delusion and denial.  What are you willing to see, even when the ghastliness of it is too much?  In this case, the main character’s love for her own child is diabolically used to obfuscate; a human shield used as a perception filter to hide the horror of her predicament.

Yungian archetypes are touched on and Palahniuk examines the generational disconnect seen in many of his works.  Much of it will be familiar to anyone having read any two of his books.  He tinges things with the supernatural as he did in Rant with the seemingly mystical ability to reincarnate and and retain knowledge.  He builds tension with a race for one woman to discover the truth in time…

*               *               *

See also:  camera obscura, Plato’s Cave, epistemology, Carl Yungs shadow work

Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

Posted in Read This on November 15, 2008 by dvcmann

suttree-cover“Somewhere in the gray wood by the river is the huntsman and in the brooming corn and in the castellated press of cities.  His work lies all wheres and his hounds tire not.  I have seen them in a dream, slaverous and wild and their eyes crazed with ravening for souls in this world. Fly them.” –Suttree, C.M.

The story of an underachieving southerner, set upon the Tennessee River in Knoxville , Suttree is absolutely packed with the poetically descriptive style that McCarthy fans are so familiar with.  The novel takes place on a street level amongst the shanties, speakeasies and flophouses of skid row that will remind some of Bukowski.  The man, Suttree, lives in a world of his own rendering, befriended by tramps and hustlers, prostitutes and swindlers that paint a stark portrait of a Post-war urban Midsouth.  Suttree the character may not carry around the same fire in his gut as a Henry Chinanski, but they are both stalked by demons and both give the sense of men outside of their surroundings, larger than their predicaments.

Although considered a dark comedy of sorts, the archetypal gore and violent imagery that is part of what defines McCarthy is present, even if in less quantity than his other novels, and the minor characters coalesce from dark and polluted depths to become defined by a sense of familiarity that leaves you knowing them and suspicious of cruel intentions.

His first major novel to be published, it is thick and deep with literary prowess.  In fact, at times it seems that Mr. McCarthy’s first opportunity to flex his prosaic muscle leaves the reader almost cluttered in an artist’s pent thoughts.  So keep a college level, or above, dictionary handy when you read this one.  Seriously, the guy plays with words like a puppy plays with slippers.  He chews them up and spits them out in new self-construed forms and conjugates them to satisfy his will alone.

McCarthy’s is a world of giants and trolls, a haunting echo of ours, hidden under bridges and in dank holes where monsters of the soul do roam and slaverous hounds do pester.  Learn them.

The Brave Cowboy by Edward Abbey

Posted in Cinema, Read This on October 7, 2008 by dvcmann

A “modern day” western parable set in and around a fictionally veiled Albuquerque, The Brave Cowboy is a tale of principle and friendship.  Abbey captures the contrasts between the Old West and the new in a rapidly expanding America during the Eisenhower administration. An incredibly prescient novel, it foreshadows the cultural strife of the coming decade and the Vietnam era.  The author has you cheering for the “anarchist cowboy” the entire time while  masterfully building tension to a full-gallop climax, all of it leading to an ending that will haunt you.

Published in 1956, the novel’s anti-hero theme would later become a staple of 60’s and 70’s cinema that could be seen in Easy Rider, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Kesey’s novel wasn’t published until 1962), and Cool Hand Luke.  There’s even a classic western chase through the mountains very similar to the one in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  In fact, The Brave Cowboy was made into a film in 1962 starring Kirk Douglas titled Lonely Are the Brave.  Douglas reportedly considered it one of his favorite films.  So not only does the book predate all of the movies mentioned, but the movie does too.

More info on Edward Abbey and his work can be found at http://www.abbeyweb.net, including biographies, history, quotes and an Amazon affiliate bookstore.

EDIT TO ADD:  Here is a gnarly piece on a Columbia University website detailing the social-political tie-ins of the movie and novel with McCarthyism, anarchism, french existentialism, Beatniks, Sam Peckinpah and, most shockingly, draws parallels with another story that at times is an almost direct adaptation of Brave Cowboy, the 1982 movie First Blood starring Sylvester Stallone; itself adapted from a novel of the same name published in 1972.

When you factor in all of the many different versions of both the screen play and movie that were and were not used for First Blood, the similarities are even more pronounced.  IMDB trivia and Wiki have details — including the fact that Kirk Douglas was originally cast to play Col. Troutman in Rambo, but quit because of, get this, the divergence of the screen play from the original novel.

Doing a little research, the author of First Blood, David Morrell, cites as his influence British author Geoffrey Household’s 1939 novel Rogue Male when he started writing the book in 1968.

um…we’ve got reading to do.

Rant by Chuck Palahniuk

Posted in Read This on September 25, 2008 by dvcmann

Why do human beings seem to see things more clearly, sense things more keenly, and generally just feel more alive after a shocking event like a fight or a car accident? Essentially a follow-up on some of the themes examined in Fight Club, Palahniuk continues his exploration of why events like these effect people the way they do in his novel Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey.

In Fight Club Palahniuk showed us a generation of men untested.  They fight to gain a sense of their own value.  When they fight they feel charged and invigorated.  This gives them a different sense of being during their daily lives, a new personal strength.

What if the human response to the traumatic isn’t just a psychological or physiological reaction, not simply a cocktail of adrenalin and endorphins with no easy, glandularly secreted explanation?  Maybe it’s more than just therapy to intentionally start a fight with someone, or crash your car up on purpose.  Maybe there is something else there to reach for. Mic Master P asks us to consider that there is actually an almost supernatural explanation.  Maybe we don’t simply “feel” more alive, maybe we are more alive.  “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”  Palahniuk takes Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous words and runs with them in Rant.  He runs with them down the street naked and screaming.

In a way, Rant is basically “Crash Club”  You can see Palahniuk’s fascination with gruesome car accidents in Fight Club through the Narrator who is an accident investigator, as are the parents of a character in Rant.  Both novels deal with a generation that feels dehumanized by society.  In fact, the two novels have so much in common that there are moments in Fight Club where Rant is foreshadowed.  When “Tyler” holds a gun to the store clerk’s head and then lets him go, he explains that the next day will be the most beautiful day of that man’s life.  He isn’t just talking about the freedom that comes when people are forced out of their comfort zone anymore.  He’s added the threat of death as an ingredient.  And Later, after Tyler lets go of the wheel and allows the car they’re in to crash, he laughs and say’s “You just had a near-life experience!”, as if they had come close to achieving something unseen.

It can get a little confusing trying to keep track of the different ways you are supposed to be able to supercharge yourself in Rant, and at least one of them involves some sort of Oedipal ritual.  At times the whole thing is  reminiscent of the movie Primer with its bizarre time-travel overlapping.  But there are always the exciting little possiblities that Chuckles offers to the reader that kind of feels like a stranger handing out candy to kids at the park.

And of course there’s the dildos.  It wouldn’t be a Palahniuk book without incest and dildos.