In the intro to the movie Fargo, the words "Based on a True Story" flash across the screen. The movie, however, is not actually based on a true story.In the intro to the movie Fargo, the words "Based on a True Story" flash across the screen. The movie, however, is not actually based on a true story. Much has been written about the effect on the viewer of believing that the events of the film actually happened (vs. knowing that they are fictional). A similar dissonance is raised in The Stalin Epigram, which is a historical novel that hinges on the conceit of the author actually having recorded the stories his narrators tell.
I have mixed feelings about The Stalin Epigram. The subject matter (Russian poets and the Stalin terror) is unassailably interesting. The novel's conceit of a story told by multiple voices (Akhmatova, Nadezhda Mandelstam, Osip Mandelstam, Boris Pasternak, a circus strongman cellmate of Mandelstam's, some government officials) that have been "recorded" by the author at Nadezhda's behest wears thin quickly. I'm not sure that it adds anything to the experience of the novel. As I was reading, I kept wondering if the story wouldn't be just as good (maybe even better) if it was simply told by its various narrators without revealing the occasion of the telling.
The sheer drama is also an issue. Much of the dialogue is overly expository and the heightened language with which the characters speak to each other may be a little hard for some readers to swallow. I'm not questioning its authenticity, necessarily. It is just such a contrast to our particular moment. It's very difficult as an American poet to imagine a circumstance where so much could be at stake, or poets could talk to each other with such passion, or lovers might commit one's poetry to memory rather than simply glancing at it, shrugging, and turning back to the TV. Perhaps that's just my baggage. The idea of such comraderie, loyalty, and depth of feeling around a poet's work is also undeniably attractive, refreshing, and heart-pang-y.
I think my time might have been better spent reading the poems of the book's characters, but despite all of my qualifications The Stalin Epigram was interesting enough to hold my attention to the end.
I read American Gods over the course of an across-town move during which I had no cable and no Internet. It was kind of the perfect fluffy entertainmeI read American Gods over the course of an across-town move during which I had no cable and no Internet. It was kind of the perfect fluffy entertainment substitute--enough plot twists to keep you interested, but not enough development to require a lot of thought or investment. I couldn't help but think, though, that maybe the story would have been more effective as a graphic novel. It needed something (like, say, the depth-inducing rhetoric of visual storytelling) to round out what was otherwise a loosely held-together set of scenarios and commentaries on American godlessness. I never quite bought into the refrain that this land is not conducive to worship. Gaiman's arguments (what few there were) in favor of this position just weren't that convincing. The portrayal of intangibles like new media as modern gods was also suspect. I didn't see much of a parallel drawn between the kind and quality of attention Americans give their media and the worship of Pagan gods.
Which I guess is a long way of saying that this novel presents a complex structure that the author doesn't take the time to support. And that's hard for me to say, because I've really loved Gaiman's other works--particularly Stardust, The Sandman graphic novels, and Neverwhere....more
Well, it certainly was a page turner, in that it kept me interested. For some reason, though, I was expecting more. Away began like a tragedy, turnedWell, it certainly was a page turner, in that it kept me interested. For some reason, though, I was expecting more. Away began like a tragedy, turned into a cheesy romance novel with the formula of a devastated woman who is picked up from the gutter by an unlikely hero, then shifted into an Odyssean journey only to give up on that journey mere moments from its climax and turn into a cheesy romance again.
Does it count if I listened to the book on tape? Anyway, I did. While driving between Seattle and Montana. It's the only book on tape I've ever listenDoes it count if I listened to the book on tape? Anyway, I did. While driving between Seattle and Montana. It's the only book on tape I've ever listened to that didn't put me to sleep. And of course, being a romance, it made me weepy. The story wasn't at all what I'd expected, given the trailers for the movie that I'd seen as my only introduction to what the book might be about. There's actually a lot more to it than the chemistry (or lack thereof) between Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz. The ending drags on quite a while longer than it should, but if you're stuck on the highway in Idaho, what else have you got to do?...more
I found this at the cabin what I stayed in this weekend. I'd previously only heard of Ford Maddox Ford in terms of his friendships with other modernisI found this at the cabin what I stayed in this weekend. I'd previously only heard of Ford Maddox Ford in terms of his friendships with other modernist writers. The book itself is pretty good in that bystander-recounting-melodramatic-events-in-which-he's-only-tangentially-involved-emotionally-and-otherwise sort of way. Sort of like Gatsby at a Prussian spa....more
This book was extremely hard to jump into. The sentences are convoluted with all sorts of subordinate clauses and whackiness. For instance:
"Over and aThis book was extremely hard to jump into. The sentences are convoluted with all sorts of subordinate clauses and whackiness. For instance:
"Over and above the various prejudices I acknowledge, the affinities I feel, the attractions I succumb to, the events which occur to me and to me alone--over and above a sum of movements I am conscious of making, of emotions I alone experience--I strive, in relation to other men, to discover the nature, if not the necessity, of my difference from them." (12-13)
I felt like I was hacking through the lines with a machete, to no avail. Or like I was being given a grammar puzzle to diagram.
Luckily, around page 60, when Nadja is actually introduced as a character, the form became more straight-forwardly narrative and, thus, more enjoyable to my taxed mind. The descriptions of Nadja's mental deterioration were wonderful and creepy. Plus points for the word "chimera". And the weird little photo/visual artifacts are little inspirations all by themselves. ...more
I've categorized this under fiction, but I'm not sure that's an entirely accurate designation. But whatevs.
Of Note: The False Dmitry (also treated in TI've categorized this under fiction, but I'm not sure that's an entirely accurate designation. But whatevs.
Of Note: The False Dmitry (also treated in Tsvetaeva's poem "Marina") Gaspara Stampa (doesn't another poet refer to her, or is it just Rilke?)
I found that I was most interested in the telling of the familial ghost stories and least interested in the meditative, declamatory passages. The historical references were fun (at least the ones I had time to Google).
Also worth noting are the many shifts in perspective; from first person to second person (reflexive) to second person (nonreflexive) to third person and everywhere in between. At times intimate and very much internal to expansive and public, the book held my interest through its narrative variety....more
**spoiler alert** Having given themselves fully over to the new religion, the Black Death hits and everybody dies. A thoroughly satisfying closure tha**spoiler alert** Having given themselves fully over to the new religion, the Black Death hits and everybody dies. A thoroughly satisfying closure that somehow redeems its misfit sinners in bubo-laden glory....more
Lots of children are born. Lots of marital strife occurs. Much like the Emperor Strikes Back, this middle episode of the epic trilogy is a dark and twLots of children are born. Lots of marital strife occurs. Much like the Emperor Strikes Back, this middle episode of the epic trilogy is a dark and twisty coming of age for the central character, biding time until the cycle reaches it's nadir with the Black Death....more
Set in newly Christian medieval Norway, it's the story of a wayward daughter. What's not to love? The title character is tremendously flawed and whinySet in newly Christian medieval Norway, it's the story of a wayward daughter. What's not to love? The title character is tremendously flawed and whiny--just shy of being an intolerable twit. Her decisions ruin everything for everyone. Her story is a beautiful, epic trainwreck and I love it so....more
I got off the bus from Bumbershoot around 1 AM, exhausted. Convinced that even the cars speeding past my window couldn’t keep me from this night’s resI got off the bus from Bumbershoot around 1 AM, exhausted. Convinced that even the cars speeding past my window couldn’t keep me from this night’s rest, I opened the door to a stench of exceptional vileness. Not a dead stench, or a spoiled food stench. This was the stench of sewage. From a spot in the center of the living room I surveyed the apartment and discovered the source: the commode and the area around it were covered in yuck. I dialed up the landlord. The exchange went something like this:
“There’s shit on my floor.” Why mince words?
“What do you want me to do about it?”
“I want you to fix my toilet, so there won’t be shit on my floor.”
“Have you tried a plunger?”
“What do you think?”
“And that didn’t work?”
After 20 minutes of this verbal badminton, I realized the man wasn’t going to get out of bed without a signed act of congress. He told me there was an all night Denny’s down the street should I need a toilet during the night.
So it was that at 2 AM, after multiple rounds of cleaning and yakking, I found myself seated in the kitchen on a kibble-filled bucket, a can of beer in one hand and Middlesex in the other.
“There was a place halfway between consciousness and unconsciousness where Tessie did her best thinking.”
I’d had two weeks to kill awaiting the arrival of all my worldly possessions. Plenty of time to determine that the kibble bucket was ergonomically preferable to the floor or my sleeping bag. With my front door situated not five feet from a four-lane road and one block from a strip bar whose patrons seemed to enjoy loitering in front of my building, the noise was like steel wool on my nerves, which were already shot from a marathon cross country drive with three cats, a dog, and a friend who was hitching a ride to her father’s funeral in St. Louis all crammed into my car. With no job, no friends, no furniture and now, apparently, no plumbing, this move was beginning to look like a profound error in judgment. The story of a 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodite proved a likely escape.
“When you travel like I did, vague about destination and with an open-ended itinerary, a holy-seeming openness takes over your character.”
I’d only brought one book on my trip west. Considerable thought went into the choice—it had to be an author with a proven ability to hold my interest. It had to be long enough to cover the duration of the journey. And it would need to stand up to multiple readings in the event of the delay of the moving truck or my inability to obtain a library card. As a creative writing major, I’d read The Virgin Suicides and marveled at the rotating first person narrative, the subtlety of the prose, and the fine edge between humor and poignance. Middlesex seemed a safe bet.
The book was my constant companion. After a day of fruitless job interviews, I could go home to Callie Stephanides and her family, safe in the knowledge that there were over 200 pages to go before I’d need to find a new distraction. But the new distraction had already found me. I hadn’t written anything longer than a grocery list in 8 years. With all the time in the world and a good book as your muse, aspirations can get pretty lofty.
“Even back then, the Great Books were working on me, silently urging me to pursue the most futile human dream of all, the dream of writing a book worthy of joining their number…”
I won’t say that Middlesex turned me into a writer or anything lofty like that. The first time I saw Singin’ in the Rain, I nearly concussed myself trying run up a wall. When I reached the last word, I closed the book. Waited five minutes. Began again:
“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” ...more