Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Merrier Month of June

This blog has been going for a year. How did you celebrate?

BOOKS

I picked up We Got the Neutron Bomb again and found this gem courtesy of Gerber (a.k.a. Michelle Bell):

“We [Gerber and Darby Crash] were trying to figure out sexually if we were actually human beings. We’d look at ourselves naked in this full-length mirror with Bowie lyrics cut out and glued on it. On acid it was as if I didn’t believe I was a human being.”

I’m making up my summer reading list. Recommend me something.

Other recent reads:

Lowboy by John Wray : This is a very good novel, and having read it close on the heels of Rivka Galchen’s Atmospheric Disturbances and Scott Heim’s We Disappear, I feel that I’ve detected a new trend in science fiction writing. None of these novels are SF per se, but they do seem to indicate that the only relevant SF plots in this modern era of confusion and doubt might be those that exist in the minds of the mentally ill. Galchen’s narrator believes his wife has been replaced by a doppelganger, Heim’s narrator’s mother believes she can save all the missing children of Kansas, and Lowboy believes he can save the world from apocalypse by losing his virginity. I don’t think that the irrational beliefs of the characters in these stories signals a critique of the irrational extrapolations of SF itself (I’ve never known there to be a high incidence of schizophrenia among SF writers). Rather, these writers have a sincere wish to illuminate the way that the human mind creates meaning, and the immense faulty (or true) structures it is capable of sustaining. These are books about characters who peer dangerously beneath the surface of things, who read meaning in every element of their environments—“lit up like fireworks by the ideas inside them,” as Wray puts it—and narrators who don’t question them, who come to accept their hostile view of the world. This approach might be nothing new—Philip K. Dick made a career of it—but these three books together make up a persuasive trilogy for 2009.

It might be worth noting that Lowboy and We Disappear are twinned in another way—their depiction of mother-son relationships. Lowboy is the more psychologically acute novel—We Disappear is an emotional work first and foremost—but both throw out “child is the father of the man” for “mother is the mother of the son.” That’s a clunky phrase that won’t be adopted by the psychiatric community anytime soon, but it’s there from page one in both works, whether or not Lowboy’s ending blindsides you.

Skinwalkers is the ideal mystery: crime in chapter one, motive in chapter two, and if you’re like me, no solution until the very end. That’s satisfying enough, but what’s better is Hillerman’s deep sense of his characters and the way they are defined by their environment. It’s in the details; he even knows what day the mail comes.

The best stories in Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned come at the end, when Wells Tower strays from his comfort zone, away from forty-ish divorced male narrators and blatant metaphors (though I will say that the rotten meat in “Retreat” is important not so much as a metaphor as it is for the way it tests the characters). The eighty-ish single male narrator in “Door in Your Eye,” the spiteful young boy in “Leopard,” and the insecure teenage girl in “Wild America” are all beautiful creations, giving such crystalline shape to their stories that I have to take back what I said earlier: with characters like these, the short story can never exhaust its possibilities. “Wild America” is the standout, so loaded with details of being thirteen and unwanted that you might have to cry. The title story overcomes its own silliness and is crucial to the collection, putting in plain view all the subtle cruelties that simmer through the rest of the book.

MUSIC

1) They played “Baby, I Love Your Way”—the Big Mountain version from the Reality Bites soundtrack, I think—at the CVS in Helena recently and I realized that it’s not often that I haven’t thought about a song since the last time I heard it. I bet I’ve even thought about Lisa Loeb since the last time I heard “Stay.”

2) I was remembering how wonderful Oh, Inverted World is, and how unfair it is that The Shins are often associated with Garden State (decent movie though it is), and how incorrect it is that that movie’s use of their songs is often equated with The Graduate’s Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack. The Shins owe something to Bookends, I suppose, but if the impenetrable and mumbly “New Slang” is this generation’s equivalent of the easily legible “Sound of Silence,” does that mean that life’s meanings are no longer apparent? I choose not to believe it. “New Slang” has nothing to say to you, except that pop music is very beautiful. Nor does it want to be a definitive song, or anything but a chilling lead-in to “The Celibate Life,” the most sublime minute-and-a-half of earphoria since the Television Personalities.

3) The word “dated” doesn’t compute for me, at least not as an indicator of quality. I am pretty good at determining the age of songs, but my favorite old songs aren’t those that have aged the best but those that are the best. Erasure doesn’t have better synths than Spandau Ballet, just better songs.

2 comments:

aaron said...

i got carried away thinking about your dated comment:
http://rockaliser.blogspot.com/2009/06/half-page-of-scribbled-lines.html

Geoff said...

Commenting on your blog is damn near impossible. But...

You’re right. I’m inclined to agree with you, though in my vague comment I did have something specific in mind, which is: I hear 80s synthesizers not in the context of a decade that most people find quaint and ridiculous, but in the context of aural enjoyment and impeccable grooming. Erasure exemplifies that, though I was mostly thinking about Cyndi Lauper (who’s been all over TV recently!).