Friday, June 25, 2010

Review of : Point Omega by Don DeLillo

Don DeLillo is melting into himself while some other author slowly emerges from the melty DeLillo puddle. He is delirious with his own talent. He seems to be caught in a metaphysical fever dream in which he imagines himself to be a scribe of thin, existential novel-like things. So there's been The Body Artist. And Cosmopolis. And Falling Man. And Point Omega. Now, where the hell can he go from here? This is where it gets interesting: what will the next DeLillo book look like? Because I'm not sure he can keep dragging us along on this weird trip.


"In the time it took for Anthony Perkins to turn his head, there seemed to flow an array of ideas involving science and philosophy and nameless other things, or maybe he was seeing too much. But it was impossible to see too much. The less there was to see, the harder he looked, the more he saw...To see what's here, finally to look and to know you're looking, to feel time passing, to be alive to what is happening in the smallest registers of motion." pg.5

"It takes close attention to see what is happening in front of you. It takes work, pious effort, to see what you are looking at. He was mesmerized by this, the depths that were possible in the slowing of motion, the things to see, the depths of things so easy to miss in the shallow habit of seeing." pg.13

"...we become ourselves beneath the running thoughts and dim images, wondering idly when we'll die." pg.17

"I'll tell you this much. War creates a closed world and not only for those in combat but for the plotters, the strategists. Except their war is acronyms, projections, contingencies, methodologies." pg.28

"Human perception is a saga of created reality." pg.28

"Consciousness is exhausted. Back now to inorganic matter. This is what we want. We want to be stones in a field." pg.53

"Why is it so hard to be serious, so easy to be too serious?" pg.55

"I know about your marriage. You had the kind of marriage where you tell each other everything. You told her everything. I look at you and see this in your face. It's the worst thing you can do in a marriage. Tell her everything you feel, tell her everything you do. That's why she thinks you're crazy. You understand it's not a matter of strategy. I'm not talking about secrets or deceptions. I'm talking about being yourself. If you reveal everything, bare every feeling, ask for understanding, you lose something crucial to your sense of yourself. You need to know things the others don't know. It's what no one knows about you that allows you to know yourself." pg.66

Review of : Aberration of Starlight by Gilbert Sorrentino

This is my first Sorrentino book and I have to say, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I usually have a hard time getting into period novels (this story taking place in 1939 New Jersey) but this one didn't feel like a period novel. Well, it did and it didn't.

Mostly, Sorrentino is just a master storyteller, employing all the tricks of the trade, but not in a hokey or gimmickry way. The story is told through letters, bits of question and answer type exposition, inner dialogue, and other modes that might feel disingenuous but I never once felt like his techniques were interfering with the narrative. I think that Sorrentino wanted to tell the lives of these four characters and he felt the best way to do that would be from these multiple angles. And he succeeded.

This quote below is great mostly because his father ends of leaving the mother for his secretary and throughout most of the book, you come to understand how much that effected both Billy and the mother, and they pretty much hate the father beyond all measure and this one scene seems to be the only happy moment Billy can manage to conjure up regarding the way things used to be.

"His mother and father turned toward him as he entered and his mother said, 'Your father broke the bed.' At this she began to laugh, putting her hand over her mouth. His father, wagging his finger at her, got up, grabbed Billy in his arms and sat down again with him on his lap. 'Don't believe Mama,' he said. 'She's the one who broke the bed!' Then he began to laugh. Then he shouted, in mock anger that made Billy giggle, 'Pancakes! Bacon! Gallons of coffee! Eggs! Rolls!' His mother reached over and put her hand on his father's shoulder with a tenderness that gave Billy a chill of intense delight. There was, he considered, nothing more wonderful and funny than breaking a bed if you were a mother and father." pg. 17

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review of : The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

A teacher has an ambiguous relationship with a student and the high school is thrown into a vortex of uncertainty, reinvention, and sexual awakening. And the local drama school, simply the Institute, chooses to use the scandal as the basis for its end of the year production. As the novel progresses, you as the reader begin to realize that you're never really sure when you're reading a re-enactment at the Institute or whether it's the real life narrative. And would it matter? And as the Institute drama students hone their acting craft, the students of the near by all girls school begin to realize they have acting abilities of their own, feigning concern and sympathy and compassion in wake of the scandal. Catton's got skills, no doubt about it.

Sloppy or complex? I'm going to bet complex. Upon the first reading, I felt a bit befuddled but all the while, I could see certain patterns emerging and I knew that a second reading would make everything more clear. Though not completely clear because I think Catton wants their to be some measure of blending, a murkiness between the stage and the audience, leaving the reader to question where the play ends and reality begins. Of course that is a technique as old as Shakespeare, the play within a play type scenario, but it never fails to captivate my attention. I guess I just like the disorienting puzzle-like qualities of it all.

"Later Stanley would arrive at the opinion that girls were naturally more duplicitous, more artful, better at falsely sheathing their true selves; boys’ personalities simply shone through the clearer. It was that female art of multi-tasking, he would conclude, that witchy capacity that girls possessed, that allowed them to retain dual and triple threads of attention at once. Girls could distinguish constantly and consciously between themselves and the performance of themselves, between the form and the substance. This double-handed knack, this perpetual duality, meant that any one girl was both an advertisement and a product at any one time. Girls were always acting. Girls could reinvent themselves, he later thought, with a sour twist to his mouth and his free hand flattening his hair on his crown, and boys could not." pg 71

"At high school they expect answers, but at university all you're supposed to do is dispute the wording of the question. It's what they want. Ask anyone." pg 99

"But if she doesn't know she's lying and nobody else knows that she's lying, and she's got this real memory in her head...then it might as well be true." pg 101

"The other students all said, 'Esther is so funny!' and 'Michael is so bad!,' and just like that each won the double security of becoming both a person and a type." pg 114

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Review of : The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley


I had a vague understanding of what went down in New Orleans after Katrina hit, but after finishing this powerhouse history lesson by Brinkley, I realize I didn't know shit. I mean, what the fuck. Every other page filled me with disbelief. I can't even begin to establish all of the factors that led to all the destruction, mismanagement, neglect, and chaos. Factors such as the lack of preservation of Louisiana's wetlands, which used to serve as a natural buffer for hurricanes coming off the Gulf, but have all since disappeared due to their lucrative natural resources (think natural gas, oil companies, etc). Ya know what, I can't even list the stuff. It's just too much. Brinkley has done a great service to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to present this astonishing piece of American history. As angry and disgusted as Brinkley can come off at times (understandably), he gives equal parts of the narrative over to the first responders and citizen heroes of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. Brinkley's beef is clearly with Mayor Nagin, Gov. Blanco, Michael Brown and Michael Chertoff of FEMA, some of the NOPD, and the Bush Administration. Basically, everyone who should have done something, were trusted to do something, and failed. I look forward to when Brinkley to turns his angry tongue on BP.

Please, please, don't be scared of this book. I know it's long and you might be tempted to label it as 'depressing' or maybe you've had enough of Hurricane Katrina, but The Great Deluge highlights a crucial moment in American history, and five years later, it's still worth examining. Also, God, if you can hear me, Please leave the Gulf Coast alone. We get it. You're not a fan. Now just knock it off. You know who has had it easy for a long time? Vermont. Nothing bad ever happens to Vermont. Go pick on them.


"The fact that the federal response could have been better, starting at the moment the hurricane struck, begs the questions: Under what circumstances could it have been better? If the victims were white? If they were rich? If they had not been members of a voting bloc that the Republican Party had a motive to disperse? The one that rings truest, though, is that cronyism riddled FEMA and its contractors in the Bush administration, making incompetence and not racism the key to the response." pg. 618

"Too much bureaucracy can be a big, big problem in a catastrophe." pg. 578,
Lt. Jimmy Duckworth of the Coast Guard

"A political lesson had been learned [in 2004:], one that unfortunately wouldn't help the Gulf South in 2005: it's best to have a natural disaster in the heat of campaign season, when your state [Florida:] is up for grabs during a presidential election year...'Partisan politics were certainly in the air during the busy 2004 hurricane season.'" pg. 249

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Review of : AD (After the Deluge) by Josh Neufeld

It could have been way better. A missed opportunity.

Review of : Remainder by Tom McCarthy


About half way through, I'm thinking to myself, "Wait, this is pretty much like Synecdoche, New York by Charlie Kaufman." And so I did a little research and in an interview, Kaufman is asked about Remainder and says he had never read it and in fact, wrote his screenplay well before the book was published. Weird.

So the main characters comes into some money (about 8 1/2 million pound, so that's like what? $16 million USD?) after a lawsuit involving him being injured by something falling from the sky. He decides to use the money to try and re-create and re-enact certain moments from his life, both past and present, moments that he feels are "pure" and "true" and in turn, give him a sense of happiness. He feels that everyday life has become too staged and stilted and is tainted with people posing and being aware that they're naturally, in order to get around this, he hires "re-enactors" to help him stage these moments. He creates "sets", down to the most minimal detail. Obviously, to the reader, this feels a little contradictory in terms: dissatisfied with the posed feeling of "real" life, one decides to instead stage moments from "real" life and replay them on a near continuous loop, so as to achieve a sort of truth (or maybe Truth).

I'm not saying this negatively, it's just something I noticed. I thought all the loopy logic, that as the novel goes on, just basically turns into a fun house hall of mirrors, was great. I love that kind of stuff. It was repetitious at times but in a way that was oddly comforting. Like you're right there with him, watching him build this world, construct his own version of joy. These re-enactments become a sort of religion to him:

"I and the other re-enactors were like a set of devotees to a religion not yet founded: patient, waiting for our deity to appear, to manifest himself to us, redeem us; and our gestures were all votive ones, acts of anticipation." pg. 282

And this too:

"To be real- to become fluent, natural, to cut out the detour that sweeps us around what's fundamental to events, preventing us from touching their core: the detour that makes us all second-hand and second-rate." p. 264

I usually don't like British writers, well, just the ones I've tried to read I guess, but McCarthy won me over. I hope you're proud of yourself Sir. And also the ending kicks ass.

Review of : Nine Lives by Dan Baum

I've been kinda obsessed with New Orleans lately, in particular, Hurricane Katrina and life post storm. I just finished The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley before reading Nine Lives and it was a great primer. While The Great Deluge has plenty of harrowing, courageous stories, it is more fact based, as it should be. Nine Lives is far more character based, with Baum's prose reading almost like fiction. It deals largely with life in New Orleans, pre-Katrina, following the story lines of nine i...more I've been kinda obsessed with New Orleans lately, in particular, Hurricane Katrina and life post storm. I just finished The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley before reading Nine Lives and it was a great primer. While The Great Deluge has plenty of harrowing, courageous stories, it is more fact based, as it should be. Nine Lives is far more character based, with Baum's prose reading almost like fiction. It deals largely with life in New Orleans, pre-Katrina, following the story lines of nine individuals from varying backgrounds. A wealthy coroner/doctor. A police officer. A high school band teacher. A transexual barkeep. And so on.

Baum's overall push is to establish that New Orleans is not like the rest of America. It lives life at a different pace, not consumed with "the clock" or "chasing the dollar". Baum insists that New Orleanians are slow to accept change, and really don't want change. The city comes off as almost other worldly and time seems to linger in its streets a little longer than other cities. Though New Orleans comes off as mysterious and magical, it seems to come at a price. In order to have this slow moving, metropolitan paradise, it seems that it must have a yin to its yang: the crime, the corruption, etc etc etc. Can New Orleans, as it has been known, with all its history and eccentric culture, exist without its underbelly? Who knows. But Baum gives us a little glimpse into why people make New Orleans their home, regardless

Review of : Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra

Touches upon the complexies (and quirkiness!) of sustaining young love. Recommended? Sure. Not certain if Zambra's voice could flesh out an entire novel though.