It’s like Metropolis meets The Matrix meets Magnolia meets The Road meets Star Trek meets Leprechaun meets yadda yadda yadda…ya dig?
Ahhhh…remember 1999? It was sooooo cool to be a sophomore in college and watching movies, man…movies that spoke to my generation. The old people just didn’t get it. This was our time, and film was right there with us at the turn of the millennium saying, “Hey, ma! Look at us! We’re the first people to ever have these cool ideas!” Of all the trailblazing films that came out that year, there are two that stick out in my mind the most as having been born of the moment – the Wachowskis’ The Matrix and Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run. Both played with film convention while waxing about alternate realities and parallel lives, and at the time….THEY BLEW MY MIND. Unfortunately The Matrix begat two mind-bogglingly awful sequels that tarnished the legacy of the original, and as gimmicky fun as Run Lola Run was, it just never really held up all that well. Though I liked some of Tykwer’s later work (Perfume still has to be one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen and I was one of the few who liked The International), the Wachowskis completely imploded. And as it turns out, all of those cool ideas were just rehashed from previous cool ideas.
Now thirteen years later after they appeared to be the second-coming of cinema only to crash and burn, the three have teamed up and concocted a dazzlingly ambitious adaptation of David Mitchell’s self-proclaimed unfilmable novel, Cloud Atlas - a nearly indescribable film that will infuriate those who allow it to while it should please those desiring to return to the bygone days of 1999. So what do we talk about when we talk about Cloud Atlas? Continue reading →
Frank Money. I can’t think of a better, more ironic, name for the hero of Toni Morrison’s new novel, Home. In only 148 short pages (somehow I picture Toni Morrison on that old game show Name that Tune proudly declaring, “I can name that tune in zero notes!” like she could divine what the song will be; and she herself does not waste a single note, syllable or word when she composes) she takes us Home - to an emotionally and psychologically damaged Korean war vet trying to find his way back to Georgia to rescue his little sister from some deep trouble. More so than any past novels, this one is about as straightforward and accessible as a Morrisonian narrative can get, though there’s a brilliant little conceit where between chapters Frank Money is speaking directly to Morrison and reveals some gut-wrenching secrets.
As she paints for us Frank Money’s journey, Morrison gives us glimpses into the lives and mindsets of people marginalized by society and peppers her tale with those signature Morrison observations, including one passage that playfully argues the only logical response to Truman dropping that atom bomb was for the subculture to create bebop and scat. There’s also a great little episode where Frank Money is taken in for the night by a good Samaritan whose young son (a precocious and determined math wiz) interrogates Frank about his time in Korea and ultimately how if felt to kill a man, and how Frank’s responses color the boy’s view of this strange guest in his house. The boy’s “deep” his father had warned Frank…but when asked what he wants to be when he grows up, the boy responds to Frank succinctly, “A man.” (pg 33) Continue reading →
Our sweet-natured, sad-soul heroine Laurel anticipating her life to begin after a string of bad luck toiling away in the gloaming of the titular cove. Waiting for love to find her.
Hank, Laurel’s brother who has returned home from Europe after losing his hand, newly betrothed and anticipating a fresh life to begin outside of the shadow of his cursed homestead.
The handsome flute-playing mute named Walter who finds his way into the cove and into Laurel’s heart always looking over his shoulder anticipating his good luck to run out and his past (and the authorities) to catch up to him.
A nation anticipating their native sons to return from a war-torn Europe to safer shores.
The reader anticipating something…anything…interesting to happen in Ron Rash’s lukewarm but evocative Southern-spun WWI-era gothic romance. Don’t worry…it does…eventually.
It’s telling that Rash would follow-up his masterpiece, Serena, with a novel drenched in atmosphere and taking place in a gloomy hollow, eternally in the shadows of the Appalachian mountains (the same mountains where in Serena the Pemberton timber empire loomed ominously and supreme) which cast darkness on the hearts of the inhabitants there. It’s almost as if Serena Pemberton is casting the greatest shadow, as Rash will never be able to conjure a character to match her nor can one imagine a follow-up novel that could scale the same mythic heights. Continue reading →
My favorite piece of short fiction to appear in The New Yorker last year was hands-down Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table - a poignant and evocative piece about an eleven year-old Sri Lankan boy’s coming of age on the high seas while sailing on a rowdy cruise ship (The Oronsay) to boarding school in England.
I was overjoyed to discover it was part of a larger novel released in October of last year. I was puzzled to find the story that appeared in The New Yorker was not a straight excerpt and had instead been parsed and elaborated on in long form during the first half of the novel of the same name. In this extended tale, the full twenty-one days of the early 1950′s voyage are realized and a parade of new characters traverses the decks.
The Cat’s Table refers to the not-so-enviable table in the back of the dining room where the young boy (Michael) sat along with two other boys (the wild Cassius and the sickly Ramadhin) and a rag-tag team of adults including a jazzy wisdom-spewing washed-up musician (Mr. Mazappa) and a mysteriously quiet English bird-lady (Miss Lasqueti). The unsupervised trio of rascals have the run of the ship, exploring every nook and cranny and soaking up every story and incident from the revolving door of worldly adults in the their midst. Mystery and adventure, but also misfortune and melancholy soak the ship as it heads half-way across the globe touching on Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Continue reading →
I pride myself on always finishing a book, no matter how arduous it is. There have been plenty of bad juju page-turners I’ve eagerly slogged through over the years…cough cough – The Da Vinci Code -cough cough – The Ruins. Hell, I even got through the vile piece of trash that was Clive Barker’s Mister B Gone. I don’t know if it’s the writer or the masochist in me – but I always finish a book.
Well…almost always. Some books I just can’t seem to pick up after putting them down – those anti page-turners. Some of these may actually be good books but just not my cup of tea, and I struggle to return to them when a Raymond Carver collection is sitting on my shelf or the latest issue of The New Yorker has just arrived.
Right now I’m suffering through a double whammy with two novels that couldn’t be farther apart in theme and style -Steve Earle’s new psychedelic Baby Boomer ode to the 1960′s, I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive; and the uber-classic big thick novel that is Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Despite my most valiant efforts, I can’t seem to finish either one of them, and I fear they may join my short list of dun dun dun…. Continue reading →
After getting caught in an avalanche while on vacation at a French ski resort, Jake and Zoe dig out only to find a world empty and deserted…a silent land where “the laws of physics and the laws of dreaming meet” and where “horses shit rainbows.” No, I’m not kidding.
I don’t know why I always allow myself to be lured into these quasi-fantasy, quasi-apocalyptic, quasi-psychological tales where two people (in this case, a husband and wife) traverse through a mysterious and perhaps dangerous netherworld trying to prove their undying love for each other while struggling to maintain their sanity. This one even comes complete with a twist ending. Continue reading →
Tom Rachman’s debut novel, The Imperfectionists, reads like a collection of short stories, each one focusing on a different character swirling around in the soon to be ashes of an international English-language newspaper based in Rome. At the end of each episode, Rachman reports in brief serialized fashion on the origins of the paper, a noble but doomed-to-fail experiment, and its different near-deaths over the years before instant-globalization and access to news through the internet put the final nail in its coffin. What he achieves is a series of love songs (some better composed than others) serenading a dead media: the newspaper…romantic, archaic, quaint…obsolete. Continue reading →
“But nothing disturbs the feeling of specialness like the presence of other human beings feeling identically special.” – page 444.
Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is an epic piece of self-loathing.
I didn’t read Franzen’s Corrections – the literary cause-de-celebre from a few years back that shot Franzen’s name as a contemporary literary titan into the stratosphere — ahhh…the power of Oprah. When it comes to writers like Franzen, I like to come in through the side door, read their follow-ups first and introduce myself to them when they are perhaps not at their best.
In Freedom, Franzen introduces us to the Berglunds – the on-the-surface, perfect, Mid-West, All-American, upper-middle-class family living the dream. It comes as no surprise that they are anything but, and Franzen paints an epic anti-Norman Rockwell portrait of this family from the parents’ teenage days to their children growing up and flying the coop. Continue reading →
The Proctor Boys are a strange lot – three grizzled old men who have spent their entire lives in stifling isolation on a dairy farm in Upstate New York. When the eldest, Vernon, winds up dead one morning in the bed all three shared, the youngest, Creed, gets swept up into accusation while the emotionally crippled simpleton (and middle brother), Audie, barely grasps the gravity of the situation.
Jon Clinch’s second novel, Kings of the Earth, was inspired by actual events. Clearly fashioning himself a 21st century William Faulkner, Clinch spans his book across generations and voices. Each chapter is titled by a year and a character’s name – with POV’s shifting from 1st person to 2nd person to 3rd person, but never omniscient – eerily reminiscent of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury. Those not familiar with the style may find it a challenge, while fans of Faulkner will probably favor it as a nice homage, but it pales in comparison to the master. This isn’t to say Clinch hasn’t achieved something memorable nearing mythic stature here. Continue reading →
At 554 pages and featuring a sprawling story spanning nearly the entire lifespan of its protagonist, John Irving’s Last Night in Twisted River is the quintessential “big, thick novel.”
This was my first stab at reading Irving, though I was familiar with his storytelling through the excellent film adaptations of his celebrated novels The World According to Garp and The Cider House Rules. Like those works, this latest novel presents itself as an intimate epic, one that looks inwardly at an individual’s entire life amongst an eclectic community of misfits.
The novel opens with a lengthy episode in the titular Twisted River community where a limping cook named Cookie and his young son, Daniel (who grows up to be a best-selling novelist) work for a logging camp. Through a series of unfortunate (and unlikely) events they become the victims of exile. Continue reading →