Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Our Lady of the Assassins (1994) by Fernando Vallejo

Book Review
Our Lady of the Assassins (1994)
by Fernando Vallejo

Replaces: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

  Replaces by Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates?!?!  Her best-selling 2000 novel about Marilyn Monroe which is probably the best fictional AND non-fictional book about that august personage?  Blonde is the first cut from the original edition of the 1001 Books list that I've actually mourned.   Blonde is replaced by Our Lady of the Assassins by Colombian (by birth)- Mexican (by choice) author Fernando Vallejo.  I would put Vallejo at the top of any "add" list by virtue of the combination of Latin American and LGBT (Vallejo is gay) material, and it doesn't hurt that you find Our Lady of the Assassins at the top of any list devoted to the intriguing Spanish language literary genre narcoliteratura

   Our Lady of the Assassins centers around a narrator-protagonist similar to the author: Fernando,  a 50ish writer-teacher (he calls himself a grammarian at several points) who is into young gay guys who kill for the cartels.  Specifically, two different guys, the second of which kills the first.  A reader expecting a contentious-conventionally moral-ethical approach to the numerous casual murders of innocent bystanders by the teen lovers of Fernando.  If you look into author Fernando Vallejo, you can see that he espouses some unusual positions, including being antinatalism, basically being against reproduction, which seems like it shouldn't even exist as a philosophy given the importance of reproduction to the human race, but there you go.   That attitude is present in Our Lady of the Assassins, in a moment of violence so shocking that I stopped to figure out whether there was anything strange going on with this author. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Hollywood's Eve : Eve Babitz and the Secret History of Los Angeles(2018) by Lili Anolik

Image result for eve babitz young
Eve Babitz plays chess with Marcel Duchamp

Book Review
Hollywood's Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of Los Angeles( (2018)
by Lili Anolik
Published by Scribner, January 8th, 2019 (AMAZON)

    Angeleno author Eve Babitz has been having a real cultural moment over the last couple years.  Up to this point, the major highlights have included her books being reissued by the New York Review of Books, laudatory national press and now, this biography, written by Lili Anolik, who wrote the Vanity Fair profile that some might argue (Anolik, for one) got the Eve Babitz revival rolling.   The reissue of  Eve's Hollywood has been sitting in my house for half a year, but I was more excited about the prospect of this new biography.

   Apparently, I'm not the only one.  The Amazon listing for Hollywood's Eve announces it as a best seller and it was recently announced that Hulu, of all places, has bought the rights to her books for a television show.   Babitz herself is still alive, living in semi-obscurity in Hollywood.  As the book reveals, she's been through a rough several decades- basically from the mid 1970's on, with monumental substance abuse issues capped with an accidental self immolation that covered most of her body with third degree burns.   Babitz is also a bit of a hoarder.

  The Babitz revival must surely come as a surprise to any critics left from the original publication of her series of roman a clef style books, which were basically panned and dismissed when they came out.   Prior to this recent revival, Babitz was essentially forgotten, or at the very most, relegated to a footnote of the halcyon days of rock and roll in the 1960's and 70's.   However, as Anolik ably argues in a book that veers between serious literary biography and anecdotal magazine article,  Babitz was present at many of the most important moments of Los Angeles music culture at a time when that culture was conquering the world, and dismissing her as a mere groupie is both sexist and ignorant.

  It goes without saying that were Babitz a man her sexual exploits would have made her a legendary lothario instead of relegating her to being dismissed as a glorified groupie.  Babitz hasn't done herself any favors by disappearing from public life for the past four decades- and her presence in Hollywood's Eve is that of a wraith, a shadow of her legendary former self.  Nothing is more emblematic of Babitz's absence from her own biography than a chapter of this already thin book where Anolik writes about her sister in an attempt to get more background on her upbringing.

  Indeed, it is the subject's own reticence to participate that dooms Hollywood's Eve to being something less than perfect.  If only she would speak for herself, regrettably, she chooses a tactic of half-hearted cooperation that leaves the reader with the thought that Babitz is no longer herself, protestations by the author that her absence is as Babitz-esque as her active period aside.  Still, despite the flaws there is no arguing that Hollywood's Eve is the revelatory literary biography of  early 2019, miss it at your peril.  

Indignation (2008) by Philip Roth

Book Review
Indignation (2008)
by Philip Roth

  Philip Roth is another post-1001 Books project author I've singled out for further investigation, both because I like his books and because his work is readily available in Audiobook format on the Libby library app.  I selected Indignation more or less at random, seeing that it was available immediately and that it was only four hours long.   Published in 2008, near the end of Roth's active period, it is narrated from the hospital bed of Marcus Messner, who has just been fatally wounded in Vietnam, after being expelled from the Midwestern college where he had sought escape from his overbearing Kosher butcher father.

  The title refers to the attitude of Messner himself, who is perpetually aggrieved.  Initially,  due to Messner's position as a quasi-unreliable narrator,  at first we sympathize with the striving young student who is overwhelmed by his father's rapid descent into an aggressively paranoid mental illness that causes him to fixate on the potential for Marcus to come to a bad end.   By the end of the book, we realize that Messner himself is not the most stable tool in the shed.  I actually ended up rooting against Messner, and felt that he deserved his fate.

  In true Rothian style, much of Indignation is devoted to Messner's complicated reaction to receiving a blowjob from a mentally unbalanced (female) classmate.   You could say that the blowjob literally blows Messner's mind, and he simply can't recover.  Indignation was an ideal Audiobook, with only the single narrator's voice and an uninterrupted time line.  The content of the book at times makes for uncomfortable listening.  For example,   I wouldn't have wanted the parking lot attendant to hear Messner going on and on about the blowjob he received.  Also, there was a movie version of this book in 2016- I simply can't imagine sitting down to watch it.

No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories (1961) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Book Review
No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories (1961)
 by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

  Despite appearances, I'm not a completest. I'm not the type of reader who has to read every book by a particular author.   The idea between the 1001 Books project was to broaden my horizons, not to complete a list for the sake of completing a list.   However, now that I've basically completed that project, I'm back to the day to day struggle of finding good books to read and or listen to, and it would be dumb to overlook the lesser works of canonical authors, authors like Marquez.  As an added benefit, Marquez doesn't have that many titles in his bibliography making the goal of reading all of his works feasible, if not important.

   No One Writes to the Colonel is a novella that the author often called the favorite story he had written.  He was known to joke that he wrote Love in the Time of Cholera so more people would No One Writes to the Colonel.  The English translation was published  with a handful of short stories.  No One Writes to the Colonel is different from his most famous works in that is not "magical realism," rather it is a straight forward story about a retired Colonel desperately awaiting (and never receiving) a pension that has been long promised him.

  Marquez said in his biography that the figure of the Colonel was based on the experience of his grandfather, who like the Colonel in the story, never received his promised pension.   Many of the other stories share a thematic sensibility and what I think is a physical setting- that of Macondo, the fictionalized version of Marquez's childhood home in Columbia, made famous by One Hundred Years of Solitude.  It's possible to view the collection of stories as a kind of back-drop for his bigger books, telling the tales of the town people who only figure in passing in Solitude.

  I listened to the Audiobook version, which was good- with a variety of narrators- but which lacked internal chapters so that it was impossible to know when one story was going to end and the next was to begin.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Santa Evita (1996) by Tomás Eloy Martínez

Book Review
Santa Evita (1996)
by Tomás Eloy Martínez

Replaces: After the Quake by Haruki Murakami

  Argentinian writer Tomás Eloy Martínez is another member of the Spanish/Latin American wave that arrived in the first revision of the 1001 Books list.  I can't fault the move to diversify the 1001 Books list, but I wasn't impressed by this particular book, which blends fact and fiction in pursuit of the strange after-life of the corpse of Evita Peron after she died from cancer at 33.    Most of Santa Evita is narrated by the Colonel, an officer charged with keep tracking of the corpse (although there also two wax copies of the corpse after Peron's fall from power. 

 There is also a fair amount of biographical detail about Evita: her childhood, her upbringing, her rise to power- even her sojourn as a struggling actress in pre World War II Rome- narrated oral history style by a variety of interviewees.   The blending of fact/fiction is of course, very au courant, as is the idea that one can write serious literary fiction about Evita Peron without being cheesy.

  Santa Evita replaces After the Quake by Haruki Murakami- an over represented author, though Japanese literature is over all underrepresented on the list.  I wouldn't have picked Santa Evita is I was in charge of the 1001 Books list- perhaps another book by Martinez, but it seems to me that most of the Latin America/Spanish language books score an absolute zero on a hypothetical diversity index- except for the fact that they are written in Spanish.  In other words, most of the selected authors come directly out of the mainstream of European literary fiction.  Most of the perspectives are that of the well educated and male narrator.

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