Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Anagrams (1986) by Lorrie Moore


Book Review
Anagrams (1986)
 by Lorrie Moore

   I wouldn't call Anagrams a core title on the 1001 Books list, one of the 708 books that have stayed through all editions of the 1001 Books list.  The editors of the 1001 Books list would call Anagrams a core title, because it is a core title on the 1001 Books list.  Moore is an author who has straddled the line between short stories and novels, balancing both with a career in Academia- thirty years at the University of Wisconsin and now at Vanderbilt University.   She is a professional academic, and Anagrams, her first novel, is a prime example of the genre of "professional academic literature."  It's a major trend, still on going, and it concerns itself with the lives of professional and would be professional academics, living and working on or near a university campus, and almost all of them white, from a middle or upper class background (though not happy about it) and straight.

  Brenna Carpenter, the primary protagonist in Anagrams, shares biographical details with the author- both worked as para-legals in New York, both worked in academia.  Moore is a precursor of the manic-pixie dream girl, though one might more appropriately call her a manic-depressive pixie dream girl.  She's quirky! She sleeps with students! She invents an imaginary daughter.  It's this last detail that, I think, is the crux of Anagrams.  The fact that her daughter is imaginary is stated once, baldly, as a fact, then for the rest of the book she might as well be real.  After the initial disclosure, Carpenter makes no reference to the fact that her daughter does not exist.

  Anagrams hasn't aged particularly well, except as a capsule of that mid 1980's, anti-yuppie, professional-academic sub-culture.  Despite the essentially sad subject matter, Moore maintains a light touch that harkens back to her personal history as a prize winner of short story contests from an early age.   The short story is really hard done by within the precincts of the 1001 Books list.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Extinction (1986) by Thomas Bernhard


Book Review
Extinction (1986)
 by Thomas Bernhard

   Within the precincts of the original 1001 Books list, Bernhard is a major 20th century German author, with six novels making the cut.  That number was reduced in half for the first revision in 2008.  Extinction, his last novel, survived the initial reduction, and that makes sense.  Extinction is by far Bernhard's longest work, and it serves as a kind of summation for his entire oeuvre.

  Loosely put, Bernhard's concern is to serve an indictment against the entire world, focused through his perspective as an Austrian national living in the aftermath of World War II.  Although the characters change, they all share a common narrative style: close, cramped, obsessively and repetitively teasing out all the potential consequences of a certain emotion or experience.   It's novelist as OCD sufferer,  While some of his works are divided into parts, chapters and paragraphs are non-existent.  Instead the reader - of any of his books - is forced to follow the narrator through pages and pages of densely written prose.

   Extinction is one of those novels that both infuriates and entralls.  Even though it is only 311 pages, Extinction took me weeks to read, because I could not keep my place.  Eventually I was forced to sit down and read it in 50 to 100 page gulps.  Every time I put Extinction down, upon resuming I would have to re-read the previous few pages.  Each page took me several minutes to read- unusual- since I usually read something more than one page a minute for a typical work of fiction (100 pages an hour).

  I've been bringing up Thomas Bernhard in casual conversation whenever possible- which is tough- but I've yet to find a single other person who has even heard of him.  He's worth checking out if only for that reason, since his books are widely translated and available.  The end of Extinction, where Bernhard tells his readers (via his narrator) that the only way to avoid the catastrophe of modernity is to "kill yourself before the millennium" rings eerily true in 2017.  Thomas Bernhard is not surprised by Donald Trump.  Nothing could be less surprising to him.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Matigari (1987) by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o


Book Review
Matigari (1987)
 by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

  Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o famously abandoned writing in English in favor of developing a literature in his native language, Gikuyu.  Writing a foreword while in exile from Kenya, Thiong'o wryly notes that the Gikuyu language version was banned inside Kenya for years, but that the English translation could still be purchased while the Gikuyu language version was samizdat.

  Matigari is a creation myth, the eponymous hero an allegory of the people who fought for independence but were betrayed by post-independence elites.  Matigari, despite it's allegorical form, is a direct attack on the corruption of the post-independence Kenyan elite.  They are a group that are often singled out for criticism in Thiong'o's fiction.   Thiong'o's style is like the obverse of magical realism, non-magical fantasy.  The symbolic children of Matigari earn a living picking out garbage from the dump. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Lost Language of Cranes (1986) by David Leavitt


Book Review
The Lost Language of Cranes (1986)
by David Leavitt

   The Lost Language of Cranes is a father/son gay coming of age novel set against the back-drop of the AIDS era in New York.  It's a world where the closeted gay father  seeks furtive pleasures in a gay porno theater, while the son  slowly moves into his own gay adulthood while he works as an editor of romance novels.  It is a world permeated with Laura Ashley and Häagen-Dazs ice cream, the 1980's,  It also incorporates an African American lesbian with conservative parents, and the co-op movement in New York real estate.  A heady combination.  You can smell the Laura Ashley pot-por-ri.

 And of course, AIDS, which lurks in the background but never emerges as foreground.  No one gets AIDS, no one dies of AIDS.  No one talks about people dying from AIDS.  It seems a strange thing to say about the novel that represents gay New York culture in the 1980's.  Isn't AIDS THE story from that period?  

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Enigma of Arrival (1987) by V.S. Naipaul

Image result for wiltshire england
Much of the "action" of The Enigma of Arrival takes place in Wiltshire, England.
Book Review
The Enigma of Arrival (1987)
by V.S. Naipaul

  Naipaul's status as the child of an East Indian immigrant who came to an English colony in the Caribbean on an island with a long history as a Spanish colony before it's take-over by the English.  He is a kind of emblem of the British empire, with his DNA containing the entire story of the British conquest in the globe in the 18th and 19th century.  Of course, Naipaul is aware of this history, but it is an inheritance that doesn't control Naipaul and his prose.

  The Enigma of Arrival is an excellent example of the way Naipaul transcends his rich inheritance.  A largely auto-biographical work of fiction that mostly takes place in Wiltshire, England, where Naipaul rented a cottage for several years to work on his writing, after he had made enough headway to afford to work full time on fiction.

   Naipaul alternates between memories tied to his upbringing in Trinidad and subsequent emigration to England and the present of life in Wiltshire, where the decrepit estate which houses his rented cottage is slowly collapsing into ruin. His portraits of the characters in his little rural valley are so convincing that it is difficult to believe that is they who are the fictional element of The Enigma of Arrival.  The close observation of his neighbors is like an inversion of colonialism, the coolie returned to England to get a good look at the sahib,

  At the same time, Naipaul is well aware of the role that this Empire has had in his own education and his own present as someone who could afford to rent a cottage and write all day.  One of the major themes in The Enigma of Arrival is the way that struggling to escape Trinidad shaped his subsequent experience outside of Trinidad.   

Show Review: Sleaford Mods @ The Echoplex



Show Review:
Sleaford Mods
@ The Echoplex
April 9th, 2017

   England's reigning working class talk-rap duo delivered the goods last night to a crowd of predominantly older, male and English non working class fans, their first show in Los Angeles.  The easiest catch phrase to describe Sleaford Mods is "post-Brexit the Streets/Mike Skinner."  That capsule summary doesn't do justice to the magnetism and delivery of rapper/talker/singer Jason Williamson.  Sleaford Mods are a genuinely compelling live act perhaps because of their bare bones aesthetic.

 You can count me as convinced by their performance last night

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