Darn You, Thomas Pynchon...

So, having received a stack of books from the prolific zwolf over the years, I thought I'd comment on some of my recent reading, since some of these choices were actually his. (I assume this cuz he sent em to me... He might've just thought I needed some stuff here at the haus to make people think I'm smart... S-M-R-T!)

Anyway, I started this most recent reading jag with
Jack London's The Jacket (or The Star-Rover)
If you're only familiar with London from his dog-alicious tales of the Great White North, this will certainly be a digression. And a worthy one, as it details the story of a condemned-to-deathrow inmate who learns how to astrally project his consciousness across the very gulfs of time + space... Interspersed with these remembrances of his past lives lived throughout history are his detailed descriptions of the woeful state of the penal system in the U.S. at the end of the 19th Century. Quite a good + enthralling read.

When I finished The Jacket, I grabbed the next book in the stack, which happened to be Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker.

This one was more of a challenge to actually get through, as the language of the novel is that of the post-nuclear-holocaust society that has forgotten almost all of the scientific advances of mankind's relatively recent past and the story hinges on the philosophical question confronting this future: should we even attempt to recreate the technology that destroyed our race? And Punch + Judy show up for the fun, as well. This was a weird book; the expanded edition features some appendices that illuminate some of the more obscure stuff + also help with some of the Anglo-specific stuff that means little to my not-so-worldly frame of reference... A neat read + good, but be up for a little struggle early on to get into the rhythm of the language. The language is so well-crafted that it gets easier soon, in the same way as Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire. I recommend this for those linguistics fans out there, too. (If such things as linguistics fans exist...)

After wading through Riddley Walker's thick, soupy nu-language, I was up for the streamlined narrative of a good hardboiled crime novel. And there, waiting for me, sat David Goodis' Shoot the Piano Player.

This is an incredibly fast-paced novel, which was adapted as Tirez sur le pianiste in 1960 by the legendary Frenchie filmmaker François Truffaut. Ain't seen it, but if it's anything like the novel, it's OK with me. The novel is fast-paced like few others. It's one thing to eagerly anticipate finding out what happens in the next chapter, and totally something else to find your breathing + your pulse have sped up from the on-the-edge-of-yo'-seat tempo of this book, about a talented piano player with 2 brothers, 1 girl, and a whole pile of trouble standing between him + doin' his thing.

After that, I decided to check out an author whose work has come up numerous times in reference to the magical realist movement, Haruki Murakami, starting with his novel Kafka on the Shore. Mind you, when I think of magical realism as a literary movement (and not as my current lifestyle choice...), Japan is not the place that comes to mind. And yet, Murakami has crafted a weirding world that melds the supernatural with the mundane, not unlike Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Jorge Luis Borges (who is - hands down - my favorite writer, period). A teenager runs away from his home - and possibly the long arm of the law - to find a new home of sorts with a pair of very strange characters in the private library that they maintain... and an old man with a very strange talent searches for a missing cat. This was absolutely excellent + inspired me to grab another Murakami novel...

...which would've been no problem normally, but I finished Kafka... late on a Saturday night, after the bookstores here have long closed. So, rather than go bookless til Monday morning or afternoon, I snatched the copy of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon that I bought my wife during her recent jag of Tom Clancy / John Birmingham / Ken Follett / Clive Cussler novels + dug right in.

Stephenson's earlier work was some straight-up science fiction, in the same vein as William Gibson. And I'd just read Gibson's Pattern Recognition + Spook Country prior to starting The Jacket at the beginning of this jag, noting that his recent work was less about the future of a decade or so down the road + more about the day after tomorrow or next week. Stephenson achieves much the same with Cryptonomicon, reaching some conclusions about current technology + the directions it might take very, very soon. At the same time, though, there's another storyline to the novel, focussing on the codebreakers of World War II + spending a lot of time lasing in on the near-future + past of the Phillipines. This is a classic summer read, thick + complicated, with plot twists, good guys, bad guys, some of those gray guys (but no little grey men), and above all, fun.

At which point I turn to my newly-snagged Murakami novel, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. This one is very freaky, and again pairs + juxtaposes the mundane + the sublime, looking upon both as roughly the same. And in this novel, as in Kafka on the Shore, a missing cat figures heavily in the story, which centers on an unemployed man whose wife leaves him just as he meets some very interesting women (including a psychic prostitute - she only sees clients in their dreams - , a cat-findress + a young girl with a limp + a penchant for leaving people at the bottoms of wells) and some odd fellows as well, like a passive-aggressive mob enforcer + a man mute by choice since his youth...

Oddly enough, both Cryptonomicon + The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle detail a good bit of WWII-era "secret" history of the Japanese campaigns in China + Mongolia. That detail, combined with all of the codebreakery in Cryptonomicon, made me certain that I was experiencing some odd synchronicity, almost like I was being steered by some strange force into re-attempting to read Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow... But I remember my last run at that one, + decided to veer off-course for a bit first. And waiting for me at Barnes+Noble that day was...

Chuck Palahniuk's newest novel, Tell-All. Chuck's a great writer, + I thoroughly enjoyed this fast read, which skewers Hollywood nicely. That being said, though, I saw the "Wad A. Tweest" climax coming from the dustjacket. One of my favorite things about Palahniuk is that his narrators are always such unmitigated fucking liars... and that they lie most of all to themselves (+, being privy to their internal dialogues, to us the readers). That makes his characters, like, breathing real. I also wonder how much Palahniuk is screaming "fuck you!" to all of us, since the hardcover of his new one has fucking glitter all over the cover, and, once you touch it, all over you, too... Thanks, Chuck! Here I am, buying a book, trying to expand my mind through literature... and you gotta put glitter all over the covers of your book, so that my wife's gonna think I was staring down the cleavage of some strippers instead! "Honest, honey... it's from a book I was reading..." just doesn't sound too plausible. Unless you were reading a book about strippers...

Then I watched La Jetée, a 28 minute French film...(thank you, IFC!)
It's actually less of a film + more of a photomontage with narration. There is a moving picture shot at one point + some mumbled, barely audible German dialogue, but otherwise it most resembles a short comics story.

In a post-nuke future (seems to be a lot of that going around...), the people who've survived in France live underground. A group of scientists (who mutter in German + look ominous + malevolent) are experimenting with time-travel on subjects that seem at best barely willing. They finally center their efforts around a man who has a vivid half-memory of a beautiful woman + some sort of violent incident. Her face continues to haunt him, making him an ideal candidate for the time-travel-trials. After a bunch of botched attempts to visit the past, it is decided that he should instead be sent into the future, where he meets a race of future-men who send him back to his present, where/when he discovers that he is now a target of the scientists who have been experimenting on him + must escape immediately or be killed... This was extremely reminiscent of classic EC Comics stories + the short speculative fiction of The Planet of the Apes author Pierre Boulle. Wicked good, yo!

Well, then... I've read my way right up to it + should be well-prepared for tackling Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, right? Wrong. Just like before, I got started well, finding some incredible little chunks of verbage that sang off of the page...

"...alienists in black seven button suits..."

...and then it somehow just fell away from me. Again. By somewhere around page 90, I was struggling to even read a full page before going narcoleptic. What the fuck am I gonna do when I go back to re-read Ulysses?!?

Darn you, Thomas Pynchon!!!

So I laid it aside + went for the rural horror of Thomas Tryon's The Other. And what a great choice. The central concept of the novel has been plumbed by subsequent writers + filmmakers, but this early variation still packs a solid wallop. I still need to see the film, but the book - in a lovely new illustrated edition by Millipede Press - is engaging + powerful. As with the new Palahniuk novel above, I saw the twist coming from the git-go, but so what?! Knowing that a boxer won the fight still ain't the same as seeing that fight, even if it's a replay. This one is written in a very no-frills style, almost conversational, and that style lends itself well to the slooooooow reveal that culminates in the novel's climax. Now I have to go find a copy of Tryon's Harvest Home, which is s'posed to be somewhere in the vein of HPL + The Wicker Man (the original, schmucks! Not the shitty remake!), cuz it's reputedly also excellent!

And, because reading scary stories about little kids is a sure recipe for bad dreams, I put The Other aside in the late evening + turned to What If Our World Is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick, a transcript of conversations PKD had with some of his close friends shortly before his terminal stroke. PKD was clearly enthused about the early roughs he'd seen of the then-upcoming film Blade Runner, based on his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, as well as excited about his ideas for an intended but never completed novel. In a nice piece of synchronicity, Blade Runner aired on cable this week, giving me a chance to look at it immediately after reading PKD's excited descriptions of the film's perfect portrayal of the dirty dystopian future he envisioned in the novel, even though some important parts of the novel - like Mercerism + android animals - had to be left out.

The real meat of this book, though, comes when PKD explains the events of 2-3/74, which convinced him that he was being enlightened by an information source from outside himself that informed him of his son's life-threatening illness + the 'fact' that the world as we know it is a complete lie, fabricated to obfuscate the true teachings + meanings of Christ + to mask Jesus' second coming...

(who could do something like that, hmmm? Could it be... Satan?!?)

...cuz none of that'd cause bad dreams, right?

1 comment:

  1. Feckin' great post, boyo! Love the Star Rover. That sent me off to get some more London, like _The Iron Heel_... I haven't read it yet, but I think it's about a religious fascist takeover of the U.S., so I'm not sure it's fiction. :) I've got Ridley Walker but still haven't read it yet... I figured you'd like it 'cuz I know ya like weird _House of Leaves_ type strangeness. And I love all things Goodis and Tryon. Some Palaniuk is also brilliant. I'll have to look into the others... and, more Manowar. :)