How the Mistakes Were Made aims high: document from the inside out two nascent punk scenes--DC hardcore in the early '80s and Seattle grunge in the '9How the Mistakes Were Made aims high: document from the inside out two nascent punk scenes--DC hardcore in the early '80s and Seattle grunge in the '90s--through the lens of a single person who experiences both. Two things stood out: Laura Loss, the main protagonist, is a tough customer. She does a lot of things that make hier difficult to like but she's rendered in a way that it's impossible not to empathize with her. Second, McMahon can flat out write. Band books are hard and McMahon double downs with a look at two very different scenes. While there are probably purists who will complain about the things McMahon "gets wrong," I enjoyed picking out the allusions. For instance, Laura's brother Anthony is cult figure in the DC hardcore scene who spends a summer working at an ice cream shop with one of his bandmates--just like Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye. How the Mistakes Were Made is a fast-paced tale (at times maybe a bit too fast to be credible) of the be-careful-what-you-wish-for variety, but the result is a enjoyable story I was sorry to see end. I really hope HTMWM gets made into a movie because I'd love to hear the songs featured in the book! ...more
I don't think I'd win many arguments trying to convince you that Sarah Manguso's poems are personal. They aren't vignettes or quotidian or breathless.I don't think I'd win many arguments trying to convince you that Sarah Manguso's poems are personal. They aren't vignettes or quotidian or breathless. There isn't much in the way of a persona lurking behind her poems. Quite the opposite, there's an almost airless quality. Like looking up at the heavens in a night filled with stars and this text starts scrolling down like the opening sequence to star wars. That's what Manguso's poetry is like. Not non-sequiturs or quips or even aphorisms. Just these perfect little one sentence broadcasts. Perfect and complete. "The part of the betrayal which wounds the most is hearing that it has already happened." "This is a picture of love: two gondolas in the dark." "It goes slowly, and when the great miracles come you fail to recognize them." I think she might be a seer. I think I need to go on a quest. ...more
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is a remarkable story of a time machine repairman who gets stuck in a time loop. In Yu's universe oHow to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is a remarkable story of a time machine repairman who gets stuck in a time loop. In Yu's universe or, in the particular universe where this story is set, the one unbreakable rule is you can't change the past. You can go back in time, but you can only observe not participate, like Ebeneezer Scrooge in Dickens's Christmas Carol. The protagonist of the novel is named Charles Yu so things get very meta very fast.
Do you recall that scene in Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions where Kilgore Trout and Dwayne Hoover finally meet, and the meeting is so important that Kurt Vonnegut decides to put himself in the scene so he can eavesdrop? The bartender sees through Vonnegut's disguise and begins to recognize him as the novel's author, and so to distract the bartender Vonnegut makes the phone in the back room ring?
Well HTLSIASFU is a lot like that. It's also a little like Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure except where the movie is played for laughs the dominant mode in Yu's debut is the ineffable sadness of a boy discovering that the man he idolizes is just like all the other sad dads in the universe.
Found this little gem during my first visit to Maxwell's House of Books in La Mesa, California.
TLWLCRR's heroine, Jocelyn Jones, is an extraordinaryFound this little gem during my first visit to Maxwell's House of Books in La Mesa, California.
TLWLCRR's heroine, Jocelyn Jones, is an extraordinary character who shares many characteristics with Edward Gorey's protagonists: older, distinguished, in decline. Lines like "The more empty rooms you had to go into to and get depressed the more depressed you got" call Mr. Earbrass of The Unstrung Harp to mind, and coming from me that's no small praise. I'm tempted to call her unforgettable. I can't recall another character from a novel or story I've read in the last few years with a personality as forceful as Ms. Jocelyn "Don't Call Me Joy" Jones. (I suppose it would be prudent to check back in a year and see just how unforgettable she is.)
J.P. Donleavy strikes me as a Gorey-esque figure, an American with Edwardian obsessions. Both are New Yorkers who were clearly born on the wrong continent. Whereas Gorey belongs on the moors, Donleavy would thrive as an extra in James Joyce's milieu, one of of Buck Mulligan's cronies. There's the obligatory overlarge house, an odd neighboor who stands naked in darkened windows shining a flashlight on her sex, and fussily strained social situations with an undercurrent of sex running throughout. All that's missing is a stuffed fantod. However, there's a scene near the end where Jocelyn discovers an Edward Gorey original, so the fantod can't be ruled out.
What sets Jocelyn apart from other high society ladies on the verge of becoming matrons, dames or what have you, is her sailor mouth, overactive libido, and penchant for blowing televisions away with a shotgun. Think John Cheever's The Swimmer with a dash of Molly Bloom. For a character study, TLWLCRR's has a diabolically good plot that just keeps getting better and better with twists I didn't see coming but now seem fairly obvious in retrospect. The less said about these the better.
That said, as much as I admired its protagonist, TLWLCRR is a poorly put together book. Jocelyn's story is told in chronological fashion but at times it reads too much like a character study in which events are summarized and compressed and opportunities for drama or suspense missed. Some of the set pieces sprinkled in go on for far too long, including an exchange with a drunk fellow who makes an unannounced bootie call, which doesn't sit well with Ms. Jocelyn Jones. And then there's the decision to shift from third person close to first person stream of consciousness (and back again) about two-thirds of the way through the book. While the writing is often top-notch ("The sleeping pills were collected"), the storytelling is a mess.
Entertaining and instructive, but flawed. The shame of it is that not only are these lapses easily fixable, but Jocelyn Jones is deserving of a book that showcases her spirit, not detracts from it. This could have been Donleavy's late-career Seize the Day, instead it's like a warty fantod: a stuffed curiosity worthy of dusting off but whose fate is to be hidden away. ...more
A few pages in and I've already learned that Beckett's "More Pricks Than Kicks" comes from the King James Bible's description of Paul's conversion: "IA few pages in and I've already learned that Beckett's "More Pricks Than Kicks" comes from the King James Bible's description of Paul's conversion: "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks."...more
Can a collection of short stories provide a glimpse of how a city sees itself?
That’s what I was left pondering after reading the latest anthology of uCan a collection of short stories provide a glimpse of how a city sees itself?
That’s what I was left pondering after reading the latest anthology of urban crime fiction from Akashic Books: San Diego Noir. Comprising 15 stories of murder and mayhem, the collection takes its readers on a tour of our city’s dark side.
These tales of crime and punishment feature plucky detectives circa WWII, National City vatos and a deranged Iraq war veteran who gets a little too attached to a parking space. In Martha C. Lawrence’s beautifully written “Key Witness,” a psychic investigator helps solve the mystery of a beautiful girl found handcuffed to a chain anchored to the bottom of La Jolla Cove. “For one hopeful moment I thought she might be a mermaid, unencumbered as she was by scuba gear. But mermaids don’t wear bikinis.”
Edited by Maryelizabeth Hart, co-owner of Mysterious Galaxy Books, these stories aren’t shy about cozying up to other genres. The discerning reader will find examples of historical fiction, romance, fantasy and the supernatural. But are they noir?
Not necessarily. Although the plots are packed with double crosses, sleazy crime bosses and hardheaded police detectives, few of the stories exhibit the paranoid hysteria that is the hallmark of a noir landscape, where no one can be trusted and danger lurks around every corner. Lisa Brackmann’s “Don’t Feed the Bums” best captures the feeling of unrelenting dread in her depiction of a woman recovering from an unnamed trauma. As she comes to terms with losing her old life and starting a new one, she discovers that her caretakers may not have her best interest at heart.
Taken as a whole, San Diego Noir seems curiously out of touch with the city’s crime blotter. I live in Paradise Hills, which has provided fodder for noir stories in recent weeks with teenage killers luring a young man to his death via craigslist and a bizarre murder/suicide pact that claimed an entire family of four. To be fair, true crime is not noir. Nor does noir have to be set in a rigidly recognizable world to be successful—Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is a perfect example of noir that collides with other genres.
However, too many of the writers endeavor to expose the “underbelly” of places that don’t have one, places like Del Mar, Mount Soledad and Rancho Santa Fe. And only one story is set south of Downtown: Luis Alberto Urrea’s “The National City Reparation Society,” a humorous romp that veers between satire and camp.
What does it say about San Diegans that a book that professes to explore the city’s dark side ignores the powder keg of crime, corruption and gruesome violence on the other side of the border?
Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect dark stories from a place that gets 300 days of sunshine a year, but San Diego Noir feels like a bad day at the beach: washed out, breezy and gray.
I wanted to like this book more than I did, but despite an interesting hook the story felt artificial. The book employs a peculiar species of realismI wanted to like this book more than I did, but despite an interesting hook the story felt artificial. The book employs a peculiar species of realism that makes use of a lot of repetition and stilted prose. As satisfying as a wax apple i.e. not very....more
If you've read my review of Stories II, you know I'm a fan of Scott McClanahan, and his beautifully surreal reading at Vermin on the Mount at Mie N YuIf you've read my review of Stories II, you know I'm a fan of Scott McClanahan, and his beautifully surreal reading at Vermin on the Mount at Mie N Yu in Washington, D.C. cemented my admiration.
Sean Carswell, my publisher at Gorsky Press, once told me that if he was in charge of an MFA program he'd gather all the applicants in a bar and admit the candidates who told the best stories. Or at least throw at the ones without stories to tell. McClanahan would thrive in Mr. Carswell's program.
McClanahan draws in the same fund of material that inform his other collections: life in Rainelle, West Virginia. There's a darker side to some of these tales. In Stories II, McClanahan seemed to be trying to convince us that Rainelle is a place like any other. But in Stories V! the warts are more prominent, the poverty more systemic, the damage more extreme.
In a recent interview (one of those email deals where the interviewer is oddly out of sync with his subject) McClanahan states "Probably, if was I telling the truth, about 75% of the stuff I write about is just stuff that happened to me. Of course, what’s different with me is I try to live my life like a fiction." These stories feel fresh, vital and alive in a way that seemingly draws on experience rather than the imagination, but don't be bitten. McClanahan's project is anchored in the oral storytelling tradition where the beginnings and endings of stories are loose, almost unfixed, so they can be married to other stories, embroidered to other adventures, depending on the audience, the setting, the storytellers mood. Some of the stories have alternate endings. Some of the stories are endings. The author's voice is so consistent, so strong, that the reader never doubts for a second that it's the same voice telling all of these stories, and that the voice belongs to the author.
At the end of the collection, McClanahan tells us he is done with stories, and will be moving on to larger projects, including a book about his wife, Sarah. I'll miss these quirky Brautiganesque books of stories with their misanthropic covers and charming yet chilling tales of life in Rainelle. One story, however, includes directions to his house, and I imagine driving out there someday, knocking on his door and asking the author for one more story. ...more