Paul Auster's Invisible, a novel told in four parts, flirts with ideas of authorial mutability and the blurred lines between fiction and reality, betw...morePaul Auster's Invisible, a novel told in four parts, flirts with ideas of authorial mutability and the blurred lines between fiction and reality, between fantasy and truth, all the while maintaining a strong narrative within this experimentation.
Largely character driven, Invisible mainly focuses on an autobiographical interpretation of events by American student Adam Walker of how his life changed upon meeting an eccentric French professor, Rudolf Born, at a party in 1967. This memoir is then given to an old college friend, now a successful writer himself, who encourages Walker to write the second part. Though shocked by the revelations of this continuation of Walker's story, mainly due to Walker's detailed descriptions of an incestuous sexual relationship with his sister, the writer is moved to rewrite from Walker's brief sketching the third part of the story after Walker's death. Finally the writer confers with the other individuals who played a significant role in Walker's story to try and get to some element of what was truth and was elaborate fantasy in his story. It is, at times, a rather convoluted structure, but one that Auster effortlessly guides the reader through.
Invisible, for all its incestuous fantasies, becomes genuinely suspenseful in the second half, where the truth, well maybe the truth, of Rudolf Born's life and his deceitful, retributive behaviour comes to light. Intriguingly complex characters - especially the conflicted Walker and the possibly dangerous Born - and an engaging structure make for a compelling, though often disturbing, read. (less)
Ann Eliza and Evelina Bunner live and work in their dress shop toward the dilapidated end of New York. Their lives are insular, quietly productive but...moreAnn Eliza and Evelina Bunner live and work in their dress shop toward the dilapidated end of New York. Their lives are insular, quietly productive but not without small joys. It is such a small joy, a birthday gift of a clock, that sets in motion the events that will become their undoing. The purchase of the clock puts them in social contact with a lonely clockmaker, Herman Ramy, and for all his friendliness, good conversation and affection, he is not, as they say, what he seems. Alas, the sisters discover this fact much too late, and their downfall has already begun. Bunner Sisters is a quietly affecting novella, though not without melodramatic momentum as it moves toward certain tragedy.
Though the characters in Bunner Sisters are at the opposite scale of society as the characters in The Age of Innocence, their sensibilities are no less fragile. Where Newland Archer's melancholic lament over Madame Olenska weighs heavily on the heart, his position in society, his access to money and opportunity, are never at risk. The opposite holds true for the titular sisters, two aging spinsters whose personal choices leave them in spiritual isolation and desperate poverty. Again, Wharton delves into the minutiae of social behaviour where words are never quite expressive enough, and the simplest of actions speaks volumes. (less)
Only a short review, as I'm kind of angry that I wasted so much of my reading time on this novel. Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake follows the Ganguli fam...moreOnly a short review, as I'm kind of angry that I wasted so much of my reading time on this novel. Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake follows the Ganguli family from an arranged marriage in India to the experiences of being an immigrant caught between two different cultures in a foreign country. Gogol Ganguli, the son, is named after his father's favourite writer, which he views as something of an impediment. He distances himself from his parents' culture as he grows up in the USA, only, eventually, to return to the gift of a unique and meaningful name that he received from his father.
Some may say that The Namesake is a sprawling family saga, but for me it just felt unfocused. The third person present tense is distracting and keeps the reader at a remove from the characters themselves. Nothing much happens, which is not a complaint I make often when it comes to fiction, but here story is neglected in favour of an endless inventory of inane details. Details which add nothing to our understanding of these people. What little there is that actually explores the idea of feeling alienated between the culture of one's parents and the culture of one's homeland is crushed under the weight of the trivial specifics.(less)
Michael Cunningham's By Nightfall is told entirely through the thoughts and viewpoint of middle-aged art dealer, Peter Harris. Peter is, it seems, hap...moreMichael Cunningham's By Nightfall is told entirely through the thoughts and viewpoint of middle-aged art dealer, Peter Harris. Peter is, it seems, happily married to editor Rebecca and has an estranged relationship with his daughter Bea. His comfortable middle-class existence is shattered upon the arrival of Rebecca's much younger brother, Ethan, or Mizzy, short for "The Mistake." Peter finds himself harbouring homosexual desire for the troubled young man, which slowly becomes a distracting obsession.
Peter, who has worked with upcoming artists in his mid-range gallery for decades, seems to equate beauty and art with his desire for Mizzy. They all seem to exist on the same plane for him, with beauty and art offering an almost transcendental experience that Peter can only otherwise find in his desire. It's an interesting thought, but the inherent family and personal drama of the situation takes precedence.
Peter has a horrible relationship with and attitude toward his daughter Bea - he is concerned about her plainness, about her broadness in comparison to his slimness, of her willingness to disassociate from him - which links back to his own obsession with art and beauty. But, the question remains, at what point does seeking beauty interfere with his very real relationship with others? There are even moments when he is observing Mizzy where he seems taken aback by elements of his personality, as though Peter is surprised that Mizzy doesn't exist merely as a blank portrait of male beauty. Though Bea's needy blaming of his failed role of father does seem a little precious coming from someone who had, by all accounts, quite a privileged childhood, Peter's unwillingness to see his own shortcomings in his attitude toward her surely plays a part in their rift. It's one of the more complex relationships in the novel, and probably the one I wish was expanded upon a little further, existing outside of Peter's desire of beauty equated with desire for Mizzy.
One of the undeniable pleasures of the novel is the unique ability it gives us to exist in someone else's head for a brief period of time, however unappealing they may be, by understanding the minutiae of their lives, their quirks of thinking, their desires, their relationships. By the end of By Nightfall, it's clear that Cunningham's stylistic choice, by immersing the reader so completely into Peter's conscious mind, proves the major thematic point: to take notice of others, to be compassionate, to be sensitive to their preoccupations, in short, to care for those around us.(less)
Frank Owen's Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture offers a far more objective version of the same events in James St. James'...moreFrank Owen's Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture offers a far more objective version of the same events in James St. James' Party Monster. Though St. James had the benefit of having intimate involvement with Alig and company, Owen takes a more measured, journalistic tone. Beginning with an investigation into the drug Special K, Owen moves through the subculture to offer a broader context of the 1990s New York nightlife scene, with corruption and criminality evident at all levels of management of the clubs and entertainment, as personified by the four spotlighted here: Michael Alig, Peter Gatien, Lord Michael Caruso and Chris Paciello. All four were key figures in the nightclub scene, and each in their own unique way, deeply involved with the more criminal aspects that would eventually destroy the utopian club kids ideals. From drug dealing and taking, to mob connections, to robbery and ultimately murder, it's all here, albeit set against a colourful and glittering nocturnal backdrop.
Despite the journalistic approach Clubland is, mostly thanks to the behaviour of the people involved and those within their orbit, far from boring. It is more than a look at a particular subculture, instead delving into institutional corruption and wider cultural issues. But the main heartbreak, the crux of the drama is the descent from the possibility offered by such an open, accepting, creative and proud community to becoming one riddled by drug addiction and serious crimes. It's more than mainstream co-option of subcultural ideals, which is often disheartening enough, but here it is like the subculture is unable to handle what it offers and devours itself in the pursuit of these self-created ideals. This was a really fascinating book, and one that works well read in tandem with James St. James' memoir of the same era.
One minor quibble? For an exploration of a scene that was so garish, bright and visually interesting, Clubland could have benefited greatly from a photo insert. (less)
In the late 80s and mid 90s a group of outrageously dressed young people dominated the nightlife of New York City, including the so-called "celebutant...moreIn the late 80s and mid 90s a group of outrageously dressed young people dominated the nightlife of New York City, including the so-called "celebutante" James St. James. He befriended and guided newcomer Michael Alig through the world of clubs, drugs and self-promotion. Their friendship wasn't strong, built mainly on a friendly rivalry, but it all began to shatter when in 1996 Alig and another cohort, Freeze, murdered a drug dealer named Angel. It was to be the swan song of the brightly coloured, heavily intoxicated Club Kids, and James St. James follows the story of the scene and the horrendous crime in his engaging memoir Party Monster (previously released as Disco Bloodbath).
Although parts of the book are about the various retellings of the crime by those involved, how Alig started rumours of the murder himself to the press and within the subculture, and the contradictions evident in statements made, for the most part it is an exploration of the joys of participating in a subculture that is deemed as subversive and how dangerous a lack of regulation can become. It works to set the context in which Alig & Freeze committed and almost got away with their crime - a life of rampant drugs, little to no self-regulation, ambition and a desire for the extreme. It is also an ugly, but honest, look at the highs and lows of drug addiction.
For all his barbed wit aimed at the behaviour and habits of those around him, St. James seems astonishingly unaware of his own maliciousness and manipulation of others, especially Mavis. It seems that St. James convincing Mavis to use her life savings to become a drug dealer, mainly for the purpose of supplying him with endless amounts of free drugs, is all just a laugh, innocent compared to the crimes Alig committed. I'm just not sure if I buy that. Yes, he does come to something resembling a moral awakening by the end of the book, but never in relation to his own blatant cruelty and mistreatment.
Nonetheless, St. James has a narrative style that is uniquely his, distinctive, sharp, witty and colourful. His tales of clubland, socializing and heavy drug use are engaging and mostly told with a candid honesty. Somehow, Party Monster is horrifying, but also a lot of fun to read. His insights into the behaviour of his fellow clubbers are sharp, but I just wish that he had applied that same rigorous approach to his own conduct. Perhaps a more objective view will be found in Frank Owen's Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture. (less)