Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Some of the stories were previously published and have now been altered and revised. This one, "Christmas," I liked better in its original form.
Of the chapbook stories I think this one is the most skillfully written and affecting. Wait, or this.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
I saw a movie I liked.
Apparently set in the modern-day rural south (or the sometime-in-the-last-thirty-years rural south). It starts with a boy running away from a killer dog, stepping on a board with a nail sticking through it, then continuing to run with the board nailed to his foot. Then he gets arrested and treated, and then the cops give him his board back. Then he takes the board home and makes it into an airplane for his little brother, who eats paint and mud.
The kid is played by Jamie Bell, who's British but looks, speaks, and acts exactly like the surly backwoods Southern character he's supposed to be here. This guy is a seriously talented actor.
Pretty soon his uncle shows up (fresh from jail), moves in, and in a fit of pique, beats and stabs the boys' father to death. They flee into the woods and he starts chasing them. (He's played by Josh Lucas, who is no Robert Mitchum but does have a certain disgusting good old boy menace.) For the rest of the movie they wander here and there, through junkyards and swamps, while he sort of half-assedly hunts them. It's riveting. The swamps and trees and dirty backyards look sweat-drenched and everything is covered in a film of grime--which, as you know if you've ever been there, is just how the semi-rural landscapes of Louisiana and Mississippi look.
I liked the film because the plot seemed a thing that sort of happened in the background. It's a wandering, dreamy film. It stops to pay attention to minor characters who are deeply fascinating despite appearing only for minutes or seconds. It has an odd, permeating score by Philip Glass that seems to slow down the chase scenes, make them less "exciting" and more sort of arbitrary and ominous. The saturated colors, the grime, the strangeness and aimlessness... it added up to something. Certainly it was aesthetically satisfying.
(And I didn't fast-forward through even a second of it. That's really rare for me.)
David Gordon Green is the director. I saw part of All the Real Girls, another film he made, but it bored me. I'm now inclined to see his first film, George Washington, however.
Speaking of George Washington, The Criterion Collection is a great company. When are they going to release The Conformist on DVD? It's the perfect movie for them.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Monday, August 21, 2006
It's bizarre. All the discussion about whether she got a book deal because she's attractive is totally irrelevant.
Not because her book is allegedly really good (it's getting great reviews... I'll eventually read it) but because she's, uh...well... not actually... attractive.
Her infamous author photo is.
But I saw the real Marisha Pessl--like, the human being, not a B&W, airbrushed, made-up picture--read this spring along with Karen Russell and Robin Hazelwood. And she looked much more like this, except not smiling. Not ugly or anything, just nondescript.
Seriously, this minor controversy-about-the-controversy about her looks is totally surreal.
Good marketing ploy. Release a model-quality author photo so people start talking, then once you've got their attention, put out a book that's actually (allegedly) good.
I want a six-figure book deal. Then I'll look like Johnny Depp in my author photo. When an honest picture would be more like a cross between John Turturro and mid-binge Robert Downey Jr.
Actually I once tried one of those sites that tells you what celebrity/historical figure you resemble if you upload a photo of yourself. The results? Alec Guinness and Ted Bundy. Neither of whom I remotely resemble--but as a college freshman I did once make a puppet film about Ted Bundy.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
I read some of the other stories this morning--they're good. The first story, "My Father's House," by Jeff Faas, is about a one-armed father who fucks up his sons' lives. "Sunset Boulevard," by John Haskell, is about Sunset Boulevard. Haskell's stories sometimes masquerade as film studies essays. Haskell, who was at the party, seems very smart and cool.
If you're interested in buying a copy, you can get one on the website (or possibly in bookstores around NY, I'm not sure what the distribution is like).
Friday, August 18, 2006
I started on The Unbearable Lightness of Being last night.
A few chapters in, it is as good as I remember.
Kundera's pedagogic digressions are somehow endearing. Unlike, say, Melville's.
Someone once told me, "You like [Lightness] because it tries to justify male infidelity by discussing it as a philosophical concern." The implication was that it's a moral concern. And it is, but the two sorts of concern--need this even be said?--are not mutually exclusive.
The putative characters in Lightness are some of my favorites in any novel.
Kundera is the real main character.
Then again, I often feel like the author is the main character of most novels I enjoy. I prefer it that way. An author without a style is weak... light... "his movements as free as they are insignificant."
Or maybe he is leaden, pinned down, his movements as limited as they are useless.
Hard to say.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
I haven't posted any fiction here in a while, mostly because I haven't written anything new in a couple weeks. About a third of Midnight Picnic - the first draft - is written, and it should be finished by the end of the year. But I'm writing it in random segments, totally non-linear, whenever I want and however I want. There are no rules or considerations... no concerns about craft... I'm just writing. I'm enjoying it but there are no plans to publish. Once a complete draft is written I'll read it over from beginning to end, see what I've got, and then consider possibilities.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
(First, a note:
If you have only seen the movie, you have no frame of reference on the book. The movie is excellent, but it has nothing on the breadth and depth of the novel.
Remember the insane shoot-out that ends the movie, where they're trapped in a deserted motel with hordes of dirty cops trying to bust in and blow them away? That's the prologue in the novel. From there it goes in bizarre directions. The film is a noir, a police thriller, set in the real world - LA of the 1950s. The novel verges on gothic horror and seems to take place in this nightmare landscape. The central plot eventually leads to a serial killer who's making a "child" out of the body parts of other children... a plot thread that never even appears in the film. These are entirely different animals.)
Ellroy is a remarkable writer. He writes almost without adjectives; what he gives you is pure information. Information struggling to make sense of itself, to break apart and recombine in startling forms. The novel is a mudslide of information, a torrent of lurid factoids washing over you until suddenly, horrifyingly, they start to make sense in ways you didn't expect and they tell you something not only about what has happened in the novel but about Ellroy himself.
The novel has an aesthetic of information. There is no "elegant" prose here, and no attempt to satisfy demands of a traditional literary aesthetic. Information has its own inherent appeal. The structure and creation of a narrative, an almost unbelievably complex plot, the coalescing of a thousand disparate data fragments. There is an aesthetic appeal in the sculpture of a story. Especially such a story as dense and almost pathologically composed as this one.
Ellroy throws so much incident and information at you. It's like he can't stop. I saw him talk at college once and he said the outlines - the outlines - for some of his later books like American Tabloid ran 400 pages. I am reminded of the Marquis de Sade in 120 Days of Sodom... the pure pathology rising to the surface... after a while de Sade just eschews narrative entirely and the novel just becomes a list of tortures... matter-of-fact, item after item, horror after horror. Pathology. (And yes, I know that de Sade apparently intended the list only to be an outline for the narrative he would later eventually fill in... but he never filled it in. The list was what he really wanted to write.) At times it's like Ellroy can't bother with narrative for a while, he just has to get that fucking information out, so the novel just becomes a list of newspaper clippings describing what happens to the characters over the years. Yes, years. An important character gets put to death as two other major characters watch, and we only read about it in a newspaper clipping.
Also, there's the voice. Ostensibly L.A. Confidential is written in 1950s cops-and-lowlifes slang, but it might be truer to say that Ellroy has taken that voice and chopped it up with cocaine and snorted it in huge gasps. He's created an argot here, almost like the Burgess of A Clockwork Orange. All his characters are fiends for something - power, revenge, sex, heroin, dogs, death - and his prose is an analog of their thoughts - factoids strung together with semi-colons, colons, commas, and dashes, desperately trying to fit into each other in service of getting that character whatever it is that he (it's always a he - Ellroy just doesn't seem to have it in him to write from a female perspective) craves.
And it all comes together at the end. There is hardly one climax to the novel - there are small climaxes, then bigger ones, creating a sort of crescendo of violence and vengeance and revelation that thrills me on levels that are both visceral and cerebral (it feels strange to consider this an "intellectual" novel, but by the definition of "intellectual," I think it is).
Does Ellroy have anything new coming out in the near future? I thought there was a follow-up novel to The Cold Six Thousand pending, but I haven't heard anything. Six Thousand and American Tabloid were good, but not as deeply satisfying as L.A. Confidential or, to a lesser degree, The Black Dahlia.
Friday, August 11, 2006
My cat - an orange cat named Stanley who in real life is dead as of a couple months ago - was there, and he would walk up to the back door like a dog. He would back away from it and charge forward. To him the presence was right there even though we couldn't see it.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
EJ came up with me to see Yale, which she had never seen before.
My old friend Rob made it there.
There were some people I didn't know.
I read a story called "Mammals" which ends with a long, semi-comic scene where a serial killer is cutting a guy up. This older woman in the audience who was maybe kind of nuts but who I liked was totally delighted by this last scene. Sometimes when you do readings, people who seem a little crazy show up and ask strange questions. There is a sort of instinct to take a condescending attitude. But sometimes the strange people really like your writing, specifically, and pay close attention and actually seem to "get it." And then you sort of think to yourself, How dare I condescend, even in my own mind, to this person who's so enthusiastic about what I'm doing here? Anyway, it was nice.
John Crowley hosted the reading - it was great to see him again and catch up. And he took us to dinner. Sushi, delicious.
Later we walked around campus for a little while. So strange to see it again. I have very mixed feelings about Yale, but just physically being there after a year away - from the greenery, from the architecture - was a little overwhelming.
Friday, August 04, 2006
It has an introduction by Reynolds Price.
The cover of the new one is a little sluttier than the old one.
I reread my old copy recently and it was as good as I remembered. It's not for everyone though - it has no plot, it is rambling, it is opaque, and it is about nothing but sex and senses (to which the title refers; it's a quote from the Koran, "Remember that the life of this world is but a sport and a pastime.")...
Thursday, August 03, 2006
I am taking out adverbs.
I am removing a word or two on every page. I don't want to explain too much or hold a reader's hand. The story is strong and so is the writing (is it bad for me to say this about my own work? I don't give a shit) but it is very strange and disconcerting for me to read this.
The first draft I wrote three years ago, and I am making these revisions on what is essentially a short break from the writing of Midnight Picnic, which is a very personal and different book in style, tone, content, intent... everything.
I could never write Fires again. I'm glad I wrote it when I could.
Its publication draws slowly nearer and I am relieved.
New York Tyrant's first issue comes out in something like two weeks. There will be a party in mid/late August. Will be fun.
I am doing a reading in New Haven on August 9th as part of the Summer Writing Program run by John Crowley. That's an honor and I'm looking forward to it.
It's really hot.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Immersive. Obeying internal logic. Eschewing exposition. Exuding fumes, steeped in their own essence, owning a distinct reality. Au jus.
The movies I thought best of last year were War of the Worlds and Last Days. The former is like a true nightmare. Most people hated this movie for some reason, but I loved it. It contains no explanations, no exposition, no scientist, no motive... some people are sitting in their house and aliens attack their planet and there are two hours of terror, and then it's just over. Along the way there are moments of extraordinary dream-horror imagery that have nothing to do with plot and everything to do with mood: a train on fire rushing through a station, bodies floating down a river, and worst of all, the unforgettable moment when the father played by Tom Cruise comes over the crest of a hill and looks out on an entire landscape covered in blood - in lakes of blood. It's one of the eeriest, most disturbing things I've ever seen in a movie (and at this point in my life, I recently realized, I've probably seen almost six or seven thousand movies). Incidentally, War of the Worlds is also a much better movie about terrorism than Spielberg's own Munich, which came out only six months later.
Last Days, too, was like a dream - one of those dreams where you wander and mumble and nothing seems to happen, but the air is suffused with melancholy and everything seems poignant and slumped. Michael Pitt's performance was awesome.
For some reason I often seem to love movies that others just despise. When I told a friend that I thought Miami Vice was great, he looked at me like I was crazy and said, "It was garbage. Worst movie of the year." There were a couple lines of stupid dialogue ("His day will come," and "I'm a fiend for mojitos" come to mind), fair enough. But damn it, my friend didn't get what the movie was about... he didn't want to go into its world. This isn't a regular cop movie. It isn't even Heat, the gold-standard crime drama which like Miami Vice was directed by Michael Mann and which is arguably a better film than Vice, but which I don't quite love as much. Vice doesn't really give a shit about the normal concerns of cop/criminal movies... concerns like discovering the double agents... or bringing the villains to justice. Miami Vice is a purely sensual and experiential thing. It doesn't care about where the characters have been or who they are - it's about what they're feeling and doing right now. It begins without credits or titles, without any explanation of where the characters are or why...and that doesn't matter because after ten or fifteen minutes, you feel like you're living inside this world...
Sex, sweat, fear, heat, sudden violence, the terrible red skies of the city at night - that's what Miami Vice is about. In one scene, the undercover cops played by Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx are negotiating a crucial drug deal with some fearsome drug producers, and suddenly Farrell asks the criminal businesswoman played by gorgeous Gong Li to go get a drink with him - and then the movie takes a radical detour for about ten minutes as they zoom off to Cuba and have steamy sex all over the place. The film didn't really give a shit about that drug deal... it's a lot more interested in the lust that takes these two characters by surprise. I liked that. This isn't a movie made for suburban teenagers, it's for adults, and the sex seems real and consequential and convincing and, for once in Hollywood, actually sensual.
The cinematography seems like something from a fever dream - it's all shot on video, and the night scenes look like the night really looks at 3 a.m. when you're exhausted and on the road and you have strange lights in your eyes... everything smeared, disorienting, eerie.Then, earlier this year, there was United 93, in my opinion by far the best movie of the year to date. This film too is like a dream, or rather a nightmare. Again we are denied helpful exposition. We don't know the characters' names. We don't know where they've been, whether they're kind people, cruel people, whatever. All we know is where they are and what they do now. The terror as they have to decide in literally minutes how to deal with the hijacking of their flight is perhaps the most intense emotion I've felt created by a film since I saw Requiem for a Dream or Irreversible.
What is also perfect and nearly unique about United 93 is its un-movie-like refusal to give the audience cues. Moments that in any other film would be emphasized with musical cues, close-ups, and powerful stares in the camera pass by in United 93 as they would in life - barely remarked upon, their power growing only retrospect. When a plane crashes into the WTC, we don't see it happen. We see a blip on a rader screen, and then the blip disappears, and the air traffic controllers say: "Huh. Weird. I don't see the plane anymore." And in the audience your heart is in your mouth.
I'm at work and now it's time to leave.
Those were some thoughts about films I liked.