brothercyst: January 2007

Sunday, January 28, 2007

genre novel

It's a good idea to be more reclusive. I won't be going out socially as much in the coming months. There are too many books to read. The pleasures to be had from these books will probably be more intense and diverse than the pleasures to be had from "going out."

Last night I read the first "genre" thriller I've read in a while. Michael Connelly's The Poet. It's engaging. I read the last 400 pages in one stretch. Mostly the prose consists of what Martin Amis calls "dead sentences"--sentences that are purely utilitarian, that exist only to convey information. But from time to time there are pleasing moments, like when the narrator says of his parents:

I am also sure that since that time I have continued to disappoint them in the choices I have made. I think of these as small disappointments accruing over time like interest in a bank account until it was enough for them to comfortably retire on. We are strangers.
The plot--concerning a serial killer of cops--is deviously structured (I am sometimes amazed by the intricacy of narrative that thriller writers are able to devise...I cannot imagine, say, Salman Rushdie or Martin Amis or James Salter or Norman Mailer or almost any other esteemed "literary" writer except James Ellroy, if he counts, building machines that work so's a skill that goes underappreciated) and Connelly switches pleasingly from first person to third person, quietly going all "meta" so subtly that the undiscriminating reader will not be jarred. I like that. It's like a long take in a thriller film that's incredibly difficult to pull off yet doesn't call attention to itself.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Fires got free of customs and is in the hands of the publisher, finally. Copies ordered on the Impetus website will be shipped today, I think. Amazon copies will ship shortly.


The manuscript I've just finished touching up, formerly titled both The Graves and Love Misery, is now called something else. This will be the final title.


Last night, I had staggeringly good sushi. Otoro, at its best the most delicious food on planet earth. Uni, absurd and delightful. Like eating a giant cat tongue made of orange cream.


Remington, my classmate from college, wrote some stuff about Fires on his blog. This is cool. It's the most comprehensive thing that's publically available about the book.


EJ took me to Les Miserables last night. Neither of us knows the first thing about musical theater. I have never been to any play/production of any kind in New York. It was time, for life-checklist purposes, to see one. Five minutes before it started, I said, "So what is this thing?" She said, "It's like a love story set during the Vietnam war." I said, "It is? I thought it was in the about a guy who steals some bread." Her eyes widened a bit. "Maybe it is," she said carefully.

Monday, January 22, 2007

they made a movie out of the Likens murder?

Fires came from two seeds. When I was eighteen, I saw a newspaper article about a forest fire that had come down from the hills and was eating through a suburb, and the image of fire fighters fleeing through a landscape of inflatable pools and playground slides stuck with me. Also, I read Kate Millett's The Basement, which is about the Sylvia Likens murder. It is one of the most disturbing stories you'll ever hear. In retrospect, I'm sure that is where the image of a kid locked in a basement came from.

I think of this now because it was just pointed out to me that someone has made a movie based on the Likens murder. It is called An American Crime. Here is the trailer. I know I will see it eventually. But I recoil--I had trouble watching the whole preview.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

I saw a reading last night by Gael Green, an elderly woman who slept with Elvis and Clint Eastwood and probably many other men too. She was hilarious. Marty Beckerman read a story that made me feel ill, in a good way, and he offended the crowd in a way that just made me feel good. I ran into my old agent, the second one who had Fires, and he was cool about everything.


Amazon is doing something fucked up with Fires for the moment and saying it's not available, so I thought it'd be an opportune time to remind blog-readers that the best place to order it from is the Impetus website.


Martin Amis has some great answers to readers' questions.*

How do you think you might have ended up spending your working life if your father hadn't been a famous writer? JOHN GORDON, Eastleigh

Well, John, that would depend on what my father had chosen to do instead. If he had been a postman, then I would have been a postman. If he had been a travel agent, then I would have been a travel agent. Do you get the idea?

*bizarrely, it looks like one of the "readers" might be the brilliant novelist Alasdair Gray...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

a vivid, unbalanced first novel

Here's another blurb-length review of Fires, this one for The L Magazine by Mark Asch. I just read it twice and I can't tell if it's positive or negative. It's mostly content description and discussion of my age, which is annoying but not exactly out of left field. And he says, also not unreasonably, that I'm no David Lynch. Which is true. And oddly appropriate, because Lynch was reading down the street last Thursday when Kate Hunter and I read at Housing Works. In fact, if I hadn't been reading, I'd have gone to see him.


Impetus tells me the first printing shipment is, at last, on its way from Canada (where hundreds and hundreds of books have been sitting in a warehouse for weeks--sorry buyers, this is indie publishing). People who ordered from the Impetus website, your books should be shipped by Friday or Saturday. People who ordered from Amazon, your books should be shipped next week, but I'm hesitant to say that given Amazon's lumbering slowness.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

today, review, painting

Going to the MoMA tonight with EJ to see the Brice Marden and Manet exhibitions. Must spend the afternoon in the dark with the shades down, working on both Midnight Picnic and the other, basically finished novel.


Time Out Chicago just ran a negative review by Lauren Viera. I'm annoyed by it for obvious reasons, but mostly because it is a lazy review by someone who seems not to have grasped the basic principles of book criticism*. More on this later, though.

*though i have no attachment to updike's fiction, i think his guidelines for fair book criticism are essential reading for any would-be reviewer.


Early last year I went to a book party that was also a pool party. I had fun and it was surreal. Someone told me yesterday that an artist named Rebecca Schiffman did a painting from that party. That's me at the top, wearing a tie in the water. No idea who the girl is--the guy who sent me the image thinks it's someone named (really) "Jezebel." But I don't remember, you know, carrying any Jezebel anywhere.

Friday, January 12, 2007


Last night's reading at Housing Works with Kate Hunter went well. I had been largely unprepared and only invited a few friends, so was pleasantly surprised when a good number of people, almost none of whom I knew, showed up. EJ came, and then we ate duck and some sort of fish at a restaurant nearby. Late at night, I tried to think of new titles for the novel formerly known as Love Misery.

[update: Oh, I see why people showed. Time Out New York featured us (not online, far as I can tell) and so did The L Magazine here and Paper here. That was cool of them.]

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Children of Men; a variation on the idea

I saw Children of Men again today, and I am as amazed as I was the first time, if not more so. (Go see it.)

Seated in the theater before the film began, an alternate version of the film's premise occured to me and has been bothersome in my mind all evening. As you probably know, Children of Men imagines a world where women have inexplicably become infertile and humanity seems doomed to extinction after extant generations have passed. A nightmarish scenario, but here's what occured to me: what if the human female population did not become infertile but instead inexplicably began giving birth only to babies of one sex?* This would also render humanity incapable of perpetuation, but it would mean there'd be one last generation composed either exclusively of males or exclusively of females.

I can hardly imagine anything more unpleasant than being a member of the last generation of males. I'd rather die. At best it would be a world of douchebags, competition for the (rapidly aging) females rising to feverish levels until they all died out and only males remained for a few final decades. At worst, human civilization would just quickly descend into an orgy of mass murder. I really believe that.

But what would a final generation composed exclusively of women be like?

*surely this premise must have been treated before somewhere in a book or film. i haven't encountered it; has anyone? and don't say Y: The Last Man. that's not the same premise.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

writing... 2 movies... food question

Laboring on fresh work. This always gives rise to frustration, long periods of "flat affect" punctuated by bursts of anger, and nights spent sort of staring at the wall. I have to sit in the dark in my bedroom from the hours of midnight to 3 a.m. and try to do something that feels like sculpting a fog.


Last night I saw two movies. One admirable but flawed, one a masterpiece.

The former was Pan's Labyrinth. It is exceptionally well made, but it is a movie for children, with simple and obvious moral delineations, a cute youthful protagonist, fauns, fairies, and an evil stepfather. We meet characters and we know exactly what's up with them. Ivana Baquero (playing the 11-year-old heroine) and Sergi Lopez give excellent performances, and above all, Guillermo del Toro knows how to direct scenes of horror and the grotesque. At one point, the side of Lopez's mouth has been slashed open into a nightmarish grin, and he stolidly takes a needle and sews it back up. Then there's a child-hungry being called Pale Male, whose brief scene is totally delightful. But there are too many problems. (Spoilers...) A woman stabs Lopez, a fascist military captain, repeatedly after he has tortured her--then leaves him alive. After that, I never really came back to the movie. Plus the obnoxious sound design (in this world, merely touching a knife blade with your finger causes a sharp metallic scchhhhink! sound, and every time a pocket watch appears, there's loud ticking) and the fake baby she toted around throughout the film's final act...

And then there is Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men. Just extraordinary. It takes place in a future which is, like that of A Clockwork Orange, similar to ours but wasted, squandered. There are no flying cars here. Technology has advanced a bit but humans are still human, just as idealistic/cowardly/murderous/loving/disloyal/complicated as ever. Except they can no longer procreate. Cuaron's script literalizes the warning that the excess and indifference of one generation will be its legacy to the next. Everybody involved with this film gives five hundred percent, both in front of and behind the camera. The long takes (the car attack, the incredible refugee camp scene at the end) demand repeat viewings. All the actors, particularly Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Peter Mullan (a hilarious/scary prison administrator), and Claire-Hope Ashitey, are awesome. So is the soundtrack. So are the special effects. And this is a profound, scary, intelligent movie. I'm serious, if it opens near you, go see it.

[random update: interesting. this is the only best-movies-of-the-year list I've seen whose top 3 I agree with. i might switch 2 & 3 though.]


What is your favorite restaurant in New York, if you have one? I need some good, and if possible unusual, recommendations.