Saturday, January 20, 2018

An extremely important musical interlude

Can we talk for a moment about the Depeche Mode song "World Full of Nothing?" The allmusic review characterizes it as "hyper-nihilistic," and given the title, you would probably presume that Martin Gore would agree with this assesment. But...I mean, is it? Really? I feel like the actual song is at odds with the writer's intention. The lyrics are actually rather brief. Here is the first verse:

Skin on skin
Tears are falling
Tears of joy
Her first boy
His first girl
Makes a change

Okay, so far that doesn't seem nihilistic. But the second verse:

She's lonely
And he says
It's for her only
That he lusts
She doesn't trust him
Nothing is true
But he will do

I mean...really? A certain amount of teenage self-deception, and this is "a world full of nothing?" Don't you think you're overdramatizing a little, or a lot? And those are the only verses there are. And then the refrain: "though it's not love/it means something." Seriously, man. That sounds hopeful to me. The song is asserting that regardless of whether this is "love," it's not nothing. I mean, I don't know. Is this whole thing meant to be ironic? It sure doesn't seem very good at it if so. Part of the confusion comes from the fact that the album, Black Celebration, does include a fair few over-the-top grim songs. But I feel like this one just doesn't know what it wants to be. And that is all I have to say about that.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Steve Erickson, Rubicon Beach (1986)

The fact that I took so long to read this novel should be attributed to me having being somewhat preoccupied with other things. It says nothing about the novel one way or the other.

But Christ, man, it could. So the novel is in three parts. The first is a first-person narrative by a name named Cale who, in some dream-like alt-American went to jail for being accidentally involved in subversive political activity. While there, he accidentally reveals the leader of this political movement and gets him executed and himself released. He's taken to an apocalyptic Los Angeles where radios are outlawed and put under a semi-house arrest for unclear reasons. He witnesses, or possibly has a vision of, a woman on a boat beheading a man and becomes obsessed with finding her.

The second part of the novel switches over to the third person and concerns the woman in question, a South American Indian, and her eventual journey north. Midway through, it more or less switches over to being about the family of the screenwriter which takes her in as a maid.

The third part is about a young man growing up in Depression-era America and beyond. It is at first not at all obvious what this has to do with either of the first two parts, though it later becomes apparent, or as apparent as anything is in this novel.

So. The thing is. Erickson's talent is obvious, and there are parts of this novel that are really gripping. Mainly the first and second sections, but even the third has its moments. But I have to say, put together, they are decidedly indigestible, and the conclusion is one of these things where you just want to say, for fuck's sake, Erickson, we get the picture: you're extremely good at being abstruse. Congratulations. But do you have anything else for us? Maybe an author deserves praise for pursuing such an uncompromising vision, but I left this book feeling more exasperated than anything else. I still plan on reading more of Erickson at some point--his vision is too singular not to--but not at this exact moment.   

Thursday, January 11, 2018

This is too obscure for most people to get...

...but I wanted to put it out there anyway: Donald Trump is TOTALLY Pokey from Mother 3, and it is SUPER EASY to imagine that, given the right circumstances, he would gladly consign himself to the same horrific fate.  That is all.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Steve Erickson, Days Between Stations (1985)

Steve Erickson, not to be confused with Stephen Erikson (note that C-less surname) who writes interminable fantasy series. Easy mistake to make. I bet people have ordered books by the former while looking for the latter and been confused as hell. Well. Erickson's interesting in that he's published ten novels, and every single one has an amazon description that makes me think WOW THAT SOUNDS COOL. Also, his first novel, this one, has a quite good blurb from Thomas Pynchon. However, I suspect Foul Play: go to Erickson's website and look under "contact," and you'll be directed to his literary agent, the Melanie Jackson agency. Huh. Why do I know the name Melanie Jackson? BECAUSE SHE'S PYNCHON'S WIFE, THAT'S WHY. What kind of sneaky quid pro quo is going on here, anyway? It'll disqualify him from running for President, if nothing else.
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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Grace Krilanovich, The Orange Eats Creeps (2010)

This is a novel I'd considered for my year of reading women, but for whatever reason I never got around to it until now. So let's get right into it. The protagonist and her compatriots are what she repeatedly characterizes as "Slutty Teenage Hobo Vampire Junkies," capital letters in original, though it's not really clear if they're actual vampires or not. They run amok in the Pacific Northwest (which has to be hinting that the novel is in part a profane response to Twilight, doesn't it? I mean, there's no other particular reason it couldn't be set in Ohio), having sex and doing drugs and robbing convenience stores and generally just kind of dicking around. The narrator pines for her lost sister. The narrative becomes less and less coherent. And...that's it, really. Being plotless isn't any sort of crime.

No, it's not. But I'm afraid I really didn't care for this. It feels very college-writing-workshop-y; a bit more polished, I suppose, but still. This is going to sound bitchy, but I think it's a reasonable thing to say: I was utterly unsurprised when I glanced at Krilanovich's wikipedia page and saw that she has an MFA. Not that that necessarily makes for a bad writer, and I'm not even saying that this book is bad, exactly. But in spite of its efforts to break away from narrative conventions, it still has that bloodless, overly-mannered style that you associate with MFAs. Paradoxically, even though it's not actually especially transgressive (I've read a lot more extreme than this), it still somehow feels like it's trying too hard. Steve Erickson's enthusiastic introduction is not enough to make me think I'm wrong about this (although I still need to read him, sooner rather than later). I suppose she's not a terrible stylist, but it's not good enough to overcome the fact that, to my mind, she's not really saying or doing anything all that interesting. And that's really all I feel the need to say.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Christine Brooke-Rose, Such (1966)

...and so, I narrowly avoid getting through the year having read only books by dudes. To be clear, it's not that I specifically read this with an eye towards getting a token woman on the list; it was quite random. I just thought reading more Brooke-Rose would be a good thing. I dunno, man. I don't feel sexist. But here we are. Well, I think I've probably already hashed this out as much as needs must.
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Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Paul West, Caliban's Filibuster (1971)

God, that title! Whatever else you may say about this book, it doesn't get much better than this, titlewise. Damn.

West (1930-2015) was a prolific novelist. His books are inconsistently in-print; some have been reprinted in recent years, and others remain resolutely out-of. This particular title was published by this great small press I discovered called Verbivoracious, that's devoted to publishing mainly reprints of avant-garde and experimental fiction that lacks the commercial wherewithal to remain available on economic grounds. So a (much) smaller Dalkey Archive with a more limited focus. They've reprinted all kinds of cool stuff that I'd like to explore. Earlier this year, they reprinted The Exagggerations of Peter Prince, which--when I read it, I expressed surprise hadn't happened already. Though I note that their version appears to be in a normal rectangular format, which makes one wonder--given how much that book relied on its square shape for so much of its typographical devilment, it's hard to see how this works. Anyway. I should probably shut up. It's not very disciplined of me to have inserted this barely-relevant tangent in this review. But I did!  I think in a review of this--of all books--a lack of discipline can be forgiven and is in fact thematically relevant.
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