The Zoo Where You're Fed to God (ZWYFTG) features a surgeon who might b...moreA DIVORCED SURGEON GOES TO THE ZOO AND GOES CRAY.
Sort of, not really, kidding.
The Zoo Where You're Fed to God (ZWYFTG) features a surgeon who might be going insane, or possibly having a mid-life crisis, having a spiritual awakening, or having a bad staycation in which he stops being himself. There's a sort of punk pixie girl and she might be manic, but less so than the surgeon. And there is the zoo, the surgeon's ex-wife and his son.
I liked how Ventura poetically explained that the surgeon's existential fear, and that his need to challenge and control the world drove him to study surgery. I admired how the story deftly cut away from surgery to avoid being technical and avoid exposing Ventura as out of his depth.
I liked the chief idea(view spoiler)[: People who hear voices may be spiritual or gently crazy or both. Modern society has a low threshold for sanity, because there are too many of us and no one is really paying much attention to anyone else. Therefore, as long as the spiritual or gently crazy don't get violent or frighten other people, if they pass in society by maintaining a harmless exterior, they should carry on and everyone should let them. They are harmless. And all was well, and all will be well (hide spoiler)].
Ventura has this great passage about how today the boundaries of sanity are defined by a shelf or two of books. Yesterday, they were a different set of books. Tomorrow, they will be a altogether different set of books. Therefore, be yourself, do what you do, read what you read. Speed up the change of those shelves or not, because in the long-run, those boundaries do not matter.
I also like a subsidiary idea that floats through the surgeon's mind(view spoiler)[: Humans are the agency of an extinction event. Humans living longer and continuing to multiply are wiping the world-slate clean instead of an asteroid, an ice age or a pestilence. Whatever we do, we are ruining the environment for ourselves, our fellow animals and insects. But the world will move on and create new beings after this depleted set of creatures is erased by human infestation. Michael Ventura was more melancholy in explaining this thought. I'm giving it a darker spin and not doing him justice. Rather than an excuse to begin pillaging or to stop recycling, I personally find this apocalyptic idea calming (hide spoiler)].
Ventura explores the good and the bad aspects of zoos: People get to see wild animals, but the animals are in cramped cages, but the animals are preserved in zoos while their wild habitats are destroyed, but the captive gene pool is so small that animals no longer resemble their wild counterparts over time, etc.
It's also the first LA book that made me intrigued about the city, which I have not yet seen a point in visiting. In ZWYFTG, LA is a dusty place, wild at its edges, instead of a sprawl filled with Hollywood, porn, violent gangs and violent police.
ZWYFTG is a meditative work. It took me some time to adjust to the book's rhythm. Not much happens for quite a stretch. The author maintains a calm and soothing tone as the protagonist slowly falls out of touch with himself and his family. I had to push myself initially, but I found the novel worthwhile.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This novel gave me zombie nightmares for weeks. Normally I don't remember my dreams, let alone have nightmares. Curiously these zombies had somehow go...moreThis novel gave me zombie nightmares for weeks. Normally I don't remember my dreams, let alone have nightmares. Curiously these zombies had somehow gotten mixed up with the concepts of records management, because in my waking life, I had recently taken a job where I had to refresh my records and information management (RIM) skills. A job where everyone earnestly talked of RIM skills and RIM training, and I did my best to hold my face in an expressionless mask and not giggle ten times a day. Especially when there was an all-day RIM event attended by overly serious RIM specialists, who were pedantic and testy about their RIM knowledge.
So RIM jobs aside, at night, asleep, I was pursued and bitten by recordkeeping zombies. Thanks, Colson Whitehead for that.
What makes this novel so terrifying? It features two sets of zombies: the fast, bites-your-face kind; and inverted ghouls stuck in certain moments, reliving a single banal memory that their bodies listlessly enact. The latter ghoul harmlessly plays with a balloon, tries to fix a toaster or mans a cash register to the exclusion of all else. The human survivors usually attempt to torture these dreamy zombies in misplaced retaliation for having to cope with the plague. Furthermore, when the survivors stop to consider these existential zombies stuck in their zoned-out daily moments, the survivors get existentially depressed, because the zombies were once people, and everyone, including this reader, remembers all the pointless things they had to do in pre-apocalyptic society that was considered working hard, but was actually inimical to remaining sharp and surviving (e.g. buying insurance, paying bills, professional certifications for skills you already have, all aspects of retail environments).
The novel is full of fast biting zombies and existentially horrifying zombies, making Zone One frightening on several levels. It is also unsurprising that the tediousness of records management, which I paradoxically find soothing while also realizing it would never be a consideration in a post-apocalyptic world (Hell, it barely is in this one) was mixed with existential zombie horror: "Hey guys, I know zombies have thrown a wrench into stuff, but in order to get society back up and running, we should probably organize and classify our records for institutional and cultural memory. Should we start with functional classification after we scavenge for cans of beans? Who's with me? I need some RIM apprentices! H0o-rah!"
All this to say, Zone One is great and scary as fuck, and I'm not giving it five stars, because of the emotional toll of waking up scared for two weeks after being bitten awake by specialist librarian zombies in my dreams. I realize I'm being petty, but yikes, Mr. Whitehead, yikes.(less)
Kenneth Fearing takes a first cut at his signature schema. Here this involves a cast of characters from all aspects of a hospital (i.e. surgeons, nurs...moreKenneth Fearing takes a first cut at his signature schema. Here this involves a cast of characters from all aspects of a hospital (i.e. surgeons, nurses, laundry staff, laboratory doctors, ambulance drivers, handymen, patients, visitors, secretaries, social workers). Each of whom speak for a chapter or five from a respective stream-of-consciousness. The characters' interactions accrete, overlapping partially or totally, forming multiple sides of several conversations and events. Tension builds from the information each character holds back from the others, and how their actions complicate or simplify matters for themselves and others throughout the hospital. Even though most of the characters mean well, their slightest actions and conversations directly and indirectly affect people in other rooms, on different floors, and in different jobs. This schema of storytelling is analogous to Gus Van Sant's Elephant, Georges Perec's Life A User's Manual (which I have yet to finish), and Arrested Development season 4. The underlying themes are everyone is connected and life is hideously random.
The Hospital is a solid first novel. (view spoiler)[The plot unfolds over an hour or two in a single work day. Roughly the same span of time, with a few exceptions, is experienced by each character. (hide spoiler)] Some lives are undone and others are bolstered. There are so many perspectives and small dramas democratically at play, it is unclear who the central characters are, and which are the main plot threads, until near the end.
Also, as David noted, the dust cover on the hardback is attractive and coolly Expressionist. If it is even possible, and if anyone figures out the artist's name, please let me know.
Since Fearing's other novels usually have a table of contents, and since I was surprised this one did not, I assembled one below for reference if anyone should feel so inclined:
Table of Contents: (view spoiler)[ Helen Russell I Dr. Clayborn I Dr. Caldwell Helen Russell II Dr. Clayborn II Miss Marmon Helen Russell III Freya Sullivan I Miss Cresswell Freya Sullivan II Dr. Clayborn III Dr. Gavin I Freya Sullivan II Dr. Gavin II Dr. Lauren Helen Russell IV Mr. Chirtz Dr. Gavin III Dr. Schultz Dr. Clayborn IV Helen Russell V Joe Shavaun Steve Sullivan Miss Johnson Class Room - Nurse's School Dr. Clayborn V Dr. Sutphen Helen Russell VI Charmian Scully Dr. Gavin III Marion Kapke Mrs. Donoghue Annual Report I Dr. Clayborn V Mrs. Elizabeth Crane Annual Report II Tom Pharney Helen Russell VII City Tugboat Annual Report III Police Headquarters Miss Siebert Dr. Cavanaugh Annual Report IV Dr. Clayborn VI Annual Report V Helen Russell VIII (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This anthology covers the breadth of Kenneth Fearing's career in poetry. His earlier work relies heavily on pastiche, but Fearing's later work is outs...moreThis anthology covers the breadth of Kenneth Fearing's career in poetry. His earlier work relies heavily on pastiche, but Fearing's later work is outstanding and resonant. He's a world weary lyricist; a gray meek guy whose soul screams fire and rage. Fearing was lamenting the problems of technology mechanizing human interactions, and impersonal media blaring out trivia to the soporific masses in the late 30s and 40s. Examine that: the man was tortured by technology in the 1930s & 1940s! Fearing was pissed about where modern life was headed as the century was about to shift into full gear.
The poems have aged well. For all that his work touches upon, Fearing could easily be a downbeat loner ready to kill a boring co-worker pestering him with an unwanted iPhone demo. Aside from the occasionally obscure pop reference, usually posited as a non-sequitur, Fearing's despair is timeless. Dark alleys, five am. Drunk, sad, work starts at 9, or starve to death kind of despair.
My only beef with this collection isn't with Fearing; it's with the editor, an academic named Robert Polito. He brought this work to light, and did not let it languish in some fly-specked library. Polito has done an invaluable service to Americans letting everyone know about the US's noir heritage, digging up THE NOIR POET. His taste is impeccable; I loved the Library of America selections for the two volume crime novel set. That said, Polito does not belong on the "Kenneth Fearing: Selected Poems" dust jacket looking "rad" and "urban savage" in a black leather jacket while Fearing despondently moons on a title page. Polito did his duty as an editor, but needs to save his glamour shots for his own books.(less)
Pynchon lightens up and stops hitting the thesaurus. He is still the man of neon prose, but Inherent Vice is flickery, not florid. The writing still s...morePynchon lightens up and stops hitting the thesaurus. He is still the man of neon prose, but Inherent Vice is flickery, not florid. The writing still sizzles, thrills, and pops, but is easier on the eyes. Even so, Inherent Vice is still confusing thanks to its nearly 100 one-note characters: stoners, cops, surfers, lawyers, prostitutes, bikers, gamblers, real estate moguls, dentists, and veterans moving through late 60s LA. A conspiracy involving a drug cartel, a boat, a white collar crew, a real estate cabal, cops, Nixon, the FBI, and countersubversives could all be part of a large syndicate. The Pynchonian hallmarks are accounted for: silly songs, mind-bending confusion, goofy paranoia, absurdity, and lowbrow humor.
Pynchon channels Raymond Chandler, instead of his usual trick of fleshing out an ensemble cast around a war or a 20th century event. Philip Marlowe, a whiskey-drinking loner following his own moral code, is replaced by Doc Sportello, a spliff-puffing loser following his own warm heart. Alcoholic, woman-slapping alpha male becomes a heartbroken, stoned beta. The transition from the noir of the 40s to the zany excess of the 60s, within the limits of the hardboiled framework, is seamless and well done.
What isn't kosher is Pynchon ripping off an entire scene from Farewell, My Lovely. I know genre lit contains tropes, but taking an entire scene (i.e. Adrian's house) containing characters, the set up, and background from a classic example is bad form. Clearly, Pynchon is almost taking a seat at the derivative booth in the genre diner, instead of crafting his own hippy hashhouse; he manages the latter but just barely. He hurts his effort with the scene theft and complete citations (with dates) to classic hardboiled novels and films.
The other serious problem is typos.
EX: p.200: "Anydody [sic:] breaking the beam will trigger..."
There were about four in the entire book. Granted, Inherent Vice is in its first printing; but in a novel by a renown, infrequent author, brought out by a major publisher?! These typos weren't caught in the editing, galleys, or reader's copies? One or two is forgivable; but four or five, yikes! I don't pride myself on reading closely. I love Pynchon, and was looking to be carried along by his spastic verbosity, not ready with a no. 2 pencil, tongue poking out of the corner of my mouth, seeking misspellings and misapplied pronouns. They interrupted my read, Penguin! Do a better job!
There is plenty of love on display, love of weed, sex, hardboiled fiction, classic films, LA, the 60s, and the beach. It should be a far out combo, but Inherent Vice is merely good, and one expects more from a master.(less)
Jason's laconic, anthropomorphic beings schlep through multiple genres, wringing tragedy and dark comedy from the oppression they face, be it oppressi...moreJason's laconic, anthropomorphic beings schlep through multiple genres, wringing tragedy and dark comedy from the oppression they face, be it oppression from aliens, nazis, hitmen, lovers, or some combination of thereof. Using cinematographic techniques (closeups, two-shots, exterior intro shots, etc) his nearly expressionless characters methodically work through their often symmetric, downbeat entanglements. In his last few books, Jason had been hyperactively mixing aliens and musketeers, timetravel and nazis, 1920s writers and gangsters. He has also been experimenting with length, doing long (98 page book-length works) and short pieces (3-panel and single page strips).
Jason continues to mix genres in this collection of five medium-length works (30-50 page short stories). Low Moon shows him maturing, content with following the course of a single genre mix to its deadpan conclusion: chess western, caveman noir, divorce-alien-abduction melodrama, etc.
In this collection, the stories' medium length and the patience with which he logically combines genres yields some of his best work to date. The economy of form and expression suits the limits of his genre remixing, avoiding the screwball side-plots of his longer works, most likely done for the sake of padding. Low Moon and I Killed Adolf Hitler are both recommended as starting points for -and the strongest work of- Jason's oeuvre.(less)
**spoiler alert** This novel is The Hustler-lite featuring a young girl chess prodigy, instead of a hungry young pool player. Tevis cops to this in hi...more**spoiler alert** This novel is The Hustler-lite featuring a young girl chess prodigy, instead of a hungry young pool player. Tevis cops to this in his "about the author" statement. At least, he did in the the 1984 edition I checked out of the library. The dustjacket features an icy girl playing chess, as a cat looks over the game, painted in a style reminiscent of Patrick Nagel and containing touches of Art Deco, but softer and creamier.
The novel is a cousin of Tom Petty's "Don't come around here no more" video. Black, white, and astringent all over, and yet Tevis's writing is both dogged and thrilling.
In a rough outline: underdogs scrap toward enlightenment. Eventually, in their respective books, both the girl and the hustler reach a zen state of Matrix-bullet-time, wherein the underdogs conquer their respective games using their innate genius talent honed by poverty.
The girl is an orphan. The hustler is a drifter.
The girl likes barbiturates and chess. The hustler likes scotch and pool.
The girl mechanically kicks ass through many games. The hustler has his ass kicked, until he gets over his self-pity enough to fight back for two games.
The girl consistently wins money, always with the goal of conquering the indomitable Vasily Girov. The hustler has his thumbs broken, heals, and always plays with the goal of conquering the indomitable Minnesota Fats.
Characters win by washing their faces and clearing their minds during the ultimate game. This cleansing, metaphorical and physical, is the tell that a character is going to crush an opponent.
The Queen's Gambit is The Hustler rewritten as a proto-YA novel. Read whichever one conforms to your world view and maturity level, or read based on whichever game appeals to you most: chess or pool. Otherwise, the books are interchangeable. Both teach the same, useful lessons about winning and standing up for yourself in tight spots.(less)