This book was one of the first books to make realize that I'm kinda dumb. If I had listened to an audio version of Interrupting Derrida read jointly b...moreThis book was one of the first books to make realize that I'm kinda dumb. If I had listened to an audio version of Interrupting Derrida read jointly by Ozzy Osbourne, Charo, and Charlie Brown's teacher, I might have actually understood it more, aided by the cues of intonation and a few contextual cuchi cuchis. As it was, this might as well have been an ancient stone covered with weathered cuneiform. (less)
Yay, karen brissette got me this, um, Valentine! I'm not sure exactly what it means or whether it is an intimation of my hobbies, but I am prepared to...moreYay, karen brissette got me this, um, Valentine! I'm not sure exactly what it means or whether it is an intimation of my hobbies, but I am prepared to enjoy the hell out of it, no matter what. Thank you, brissy, for this wonderful (also: strange, in a good way) gift. I hope you didn't pay anything nearing the cover price of this book because wow. You've got to be wealthy, apparently, to look at snuffy pics of sturdy women in droopy PVC. Some of these outfits need to be tightened up just a bit. Or inflated. I don't know which, being but a novice in this sartorial realm.
Review: coming soon.
Did I tell you that I got to see karen again recently? No? Well, I got to see karen again recently. And Greg too, but you probably already assumed that because they're fucking all the time. It's hard (get it???) to locate karen at a time when Greg's helpful and amiable phallus is not inserted into her mysterious ladyparts. I should know. I've tried. Anyway, a few weeks ago, it was about fourteen days ago, and I happened to be in New York City, looking for baubles at De Beers for my high-priced, heart-of-gold call girl, and thought I should pop in (not the same way Greg does though) to see karen because maybe she's doing something I can scold her for. Like enjoying Canadians or eating animal flesh. I'd actually prefer it if she ate Canadians. Starting with Nickelback. With my longtime companion brian, who was being a terrible bitch that day, I went to this much-ballyhooed Barnes & Noble Union Square Flagship Store. I know I get in trouble for building up my expectations, but the store itself left me unwowed. I was anticipating -- I don't know -- the Taj Mafuckinghal of Barneses and Nobles, but it was the same dreary sort of corporate affair with scuffed farmhouse tables and sub-IKEA shelving that you can find in any B&N, in any city. Okay, so maybe there's more of it. More dreariness. But jeezus... B&N needs a makeover. They've worn that beaten-down New England college library look down to the nubbin. How about some pizzazz? But I digress. So whilst brian, the aforementioned bitch, was busy distracting karen -- she knew he was coming to visit and was suitably unexcited -- I went up the escalator and barged into their conversation with an intemperate question about the quality of the B&N house edition of Little Women. Well, so much for knowledgeable; karen had little opinion on the subject. But then Greg sidled over. It was probably time for him to fornicate with karen again in the self-help section. Those two! When they aren't fucking, they're eating rice pudding. But who says the activities are mutually exclusive, right? Anyway, Greg says that he thought I might show up. As if he sensed some disturbance in the force, like when Darth Vader is moping around the Death Star in Star Wars (retroactively rebranded Star Wars: A New Hope) and all of a sudden he seems to smell a mega-fart, like Grand Moff baked an air biscuit in the corridor -- but what really happened is that he sensed, through his forcefulness, that Obi-Wan 'Ben' Kenobi was somewhere nearby. That's the way it was with Greg and me apparently. Even though I live in Indiana and have vowed a lifelong vendetta against the B&N Flagship Store, he somehow sensed that I would be there. I asked karen to find me a Charles Portis book, and -- hey! -- she actually did. She wasn't nearly as inept at her job as Eh said she was. So... points for brissy! But then I got distracted and itchy and decided I didn't want the book at all. I am impulsive. I asked Greg some questions about books that were on display, but he was ignorant and unhelpful. I could tell he wanted me to leave so he could get back to all that fucking he does with karen all the time. Of course, I criticized karen's tables because the books were at sixes and sevens, in uneven piles. It was a very poor recovery. She dished out some excuse about it being late in the day, blah, blah, blah, but a truly competent bookseller wouldn't allow her tables to become so disheveled. But despite karen's incompetence and Greg's ignorance, I love them both very much in an inappropriate way, and it was great to see them in their native habitat. No, I don't mean behind a dumpster, fucking up a dust storm. I mean, pretending to be useful, efficient, and industrious. (less)
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the toy company Kenner produced Star Wars action figures (a.k.a. plastic dolls, with guns). Kenner therefore is res...more
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the toy company Kenner produced Star Wars action figures (a.k.a. plastic dolls, with guns). Kenner therefore is responsible in many ways for developing my imagination. For example, many a languorous August afternoon, I had the Walrus Man action figure give it to the Princess Leia (Bespin Gown) action figure straight up the butt. Of course, I didn't really know or understand the precise mechanics of what they were supposed to be doing, but I was sure it was very, very Cinemax After Dark. The juxtaposition of that firm plastic booty and those vague amphibious frontals was enough to allude to all sorts of well-lubed mortal sins. The whole idea of it, foggy as it was to me, was sufficient to give me a good little stiffy.
Have I digressed?
Anyway, the action figures (see the images of the Sand Person, also known as Tuskan Raider, above) had holes in the bottoms of their feet into which little pegs on the playsets would fit. You'd stick Bossk's feet holes on the pegs on the Millennium Falcon so that when it did all kinds of dangerous air show maneuvers around your bedroom, Bossk would stay put. He'd remain in his designated area.
Thank you, Kenner. This is a great solution for the Arab-Jew 'problem.' We could sort of divvy up the land*, you know, and then put these pegs in the ground. Then we'd drill holes in the Jews' and Arabs' feet and snap them onto a peg so that they can't move. See how easy? No more bombings at Sbarro's or malls or Tel Aviv 'discotheques' because nobody can move.
Stage two: Implementation. (That's somebody else's job. I'm the idea man.)
* Have you seen that land, by the way? It's about a hundred square feet of postapocalyptic charred earth. Who wants it? Blech. If the Jews and Arabs had half-a-brain between 'em, they'd join forces and attack Tahiti or something. But no. They apparently wanna inhabit a soundstage from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.(less)
1. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul 2. Martha 3. Veronika Voss 4. The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant 5. Whity 6. The Merchant of Four Seasons 7. Satan's Brew 8. Bewar...more1. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul 2. Martha 3. Veronika Voss 4. The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant 5. Whity 6. The Merchant of Four Seasons 7. Satan's Brew 8. Beware of a Holy Whore 9. Chinese Roulette 10. Berlin Alexanderplatz 11. In a Year of 13 Moons 12. Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (co-directed w/Michael Fengler) 13. Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven 14. Fox and His Friends 15. Lola 16. The Third Generation 17. Effi Briest 18. Love Is Colder Than Death 19. Gods of the Plague 20. The American Soldier 21. Fear of Fear 22. The Stationmaster's Wife 23. Katzelmacher 24. The Marriage of Maria Braun (OVERRATED!) 25. Pioneers in Ingolstadt 26. The Niklashausen Journey (co-directed w/Michael Fengler)
Disclaimer: The views expressed hereafter by Mr. God's-Love concerning Evelyn Waugh's novel are exclusively his own and should not be interpreted as a...moreDisclaimer: The views expressed hereafter by Mr. God's-Love concerning Evelyn Waugh's novel are exclusively his own and should not be interpreted as a disguised or fictionalized representation of my own views. The following, you must understand, is merely an act of reportage. Having not previously read the novel in question, I am ill-equipped to make judgments with respect to the reasonableness of Mr. God's-Love's opinion, although I might point out, relevantly or not, that he has been twice diagnosed by ruddy-faced country physicians as suffering from a terminal case of dementia praecox, as well as from herpes of course and from a rural affliction known colloquially as the Spirit of the Dark One Writhing in the Cerebral Cortex. Nevertheless, I present his views, such as they are and without authorial interference, as a service to the community which currently appears exceptionally in need of servicing.
I had not laid eyes upon Mr. God's-Love since the Winter Solstice festivities, when we supped on dainty fried gristle fingerlings and pickled chestnuts under the most silvery and garish moonlight in which I can ever recall bathing my erect nipples. (But my memory, they say, has grown feeble and occasionally delusional.) Yet... you must try to imagine my surprise when a bearded fellow accosted me -- goosing me suddenly, as if he were nary an apparition suddenly given weight and matter to supply me with that very gluteal rousing which delivered me a good metre up and out of my own flesh! He resembled no one so much as Merlin Olsen -- only just recently snatched by the hand of the creator like a limp anchovy and stuffed into his gob, whole. Still, if this were a Father Murphy whose jointy fingers tasted the inflection of my buttocks in that onion field, it was surely a revised, semitic version, with a glint of avarice -- outshining, I daresay, the North Star -- and a genetic aptitude for entertainment law practice. 'Good heavens!' said I, quivering and crumpling like an iced hooker. 'Can it truly be that you are the one who, as well as I can rightly remember, did go by the name that I know as nearly and tenderly as mine own mother's who did die from lead poisoning (so much did she enjoy the taste of vintage paint!) and who (now I'm speaking of you and not my mum) has ever earned my greatest esteem -- and not only mine but that of vagrants and filthmongerers the world over -- and is called, so well as I can recall... Mr. God's Love!' 'Yup,' said he. He was on occasion, you see, given to fits of reticence and needed of coaxing, or booze -- whichever was ready-to-hand. 'Check it thusly. I have only just this very moment finished Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. That chick wrote one fucked-up book, but it's verily as problematic as it is joysome.' Repulsing his kneading palm from my pert derriere, I then endeavored to inform him that Evelyn Waugh was not so much a bird as a half-gay gentleman who bethought his feces weren't malodorous and that 'joysome' was not by the strictest accounts an actual word. But Mr. God's-Love, an extremist in the most moderate sense of the term, would have none of it. ''Tis so, fucko,' he rebutted. 'But never mind. This book: Oh, it longs to be beautiful and exceptional, but in the end it takes a good spill in the muck of conservatism and glib generational arrogance. In its finer moments, it ascends to the heights that Proust only dared dream of (so suck it, Proustlover!), but at its lowliest, it's cheap and swindling.' 'Oh, so you're set on three stars -- or perhaps two then?' I inquired of him, stuffing my crested cravat into my glen check vestment dicky which did so ride up on me. 'Four or three,' said he, crushing corn tortilla chips in the elongated central pocket of his zippered and hooded sweatshirt. 'Prolly three. But 'tis a right monstrous thing to decide upon a rating for a tome which is, disparately, abysmal and fucking amazing. I would that one could perform such a thing as a crappendectomy on Brideshead Revisited, and then would I clutch it to my bosom, weep with it, dress it in a tiny sailor uniform, and take it 'round town in a souped-up pram. I would think so much of it then, you understand. But as it is, it evens out somewhere around middling...' Then did he look up into the night sky and sigh -- once, desperately, longingly -- and he took leave of me, muttering as he did so -- saying, as nearly as I can gather, 'Let me go now, fucko. I am needful presently of a little Steve Miller...' Thus did it pass.(less)
I'm convinced that there is a discrete outpost within the southern climes of my stomach— approximately the size of an average avocado pit—where my loa...moreI'm convinced that there is a discrete outpost within the southern climes of my stomach— approximately the size of an average avocado pit—where my loathing resides. In this theory, my loathing, in its neutral state, is a congealed knob of greenish wax-like substance which radiates a faint, mostly evenly-distributed rancor throughout my body. It isn't an assertive affect—just a general disposition which can be given in to or overcome (with effort) as one wishes.
But certain stimuli have the power, it would seem, to activate this usually semi-dormant nugget of bilious hatred. When activated, the globule softens and then melts into a highly acidic solution that sloshes within and throughout the gastrointestinal system, corroding its protective walls and debilitating its normal functions. The deleterious effect of this substance cannot be overstated. Historically, it has incited wars, occasioned crimes of passion, and precipitated unmanageable bouts of diarrhea. Its direst symptom, of course, is the impairment of rational judgment—that fragile mechanism which maintains (however precariously) an ordered society. If the substance remains activated and in its liquefied form indefinitely, profound and irreversible mental dysfunction can occur—which is why aromatherapy and meditation have become so popular, I guess.
To get to the point: Ride a Cockhorse by Raymond Kennedy liquefied (and boiled) my globule. It is such an astoundingly inept novel that I'm not sure exactly how to approach it. It's as if somebody asked me what the main problem with the movie 2012 was. How does one answer that? I want to tell you what's wrong with this novel, but I think I would have to set aside two weeks at a writer's retreat to get it all out.
Do you like novels that are populated only by two-dimensional characters who never change or evolve in any way over the course of three hundred pages—but who instead act in the same (ridiculous, undermotivated) way over and over and over and over again? Do you like when completely implausible events comprise almost the entirety of a novel's plot? Do you like it when a novelist satirizes things (e.g., the banking industry, power trips, the cult of personality) that are, for all practical purposes, self-satirizing and require no exaggeration whatsoever to illustrate their failings and absurdities? Do you like funny novels that aren't funny—I mean, novels that try so fucking hard to be biting and hilarious but fail almost uniformly to be anything but tepid and obvious? Do you like novels about unlikable characters whose unlikability (its genesis, its motivation) is never explored in any real way and never used to make any point whatsoever?
WELL, HAVE I GOT A NOVEL FOR YOU, SUCKER!
Ride a Cockhorse is about a fortysomething woman named Frances 'Frankie' Fitzsimmons, who at the very outset of the novel has changed. She was once a sweet, helpful, milquetoast kind of gal (we are told, anyway), but suddenly she is now a megalomaniacal asshole who seduces a high school boy, ruthlessly forces her way up the corporate ladder, and loses all grasp of reality. We aren't told why she changed. Raymond Kennedy has simply told us that she has changed, and we shouldn't question it. If Frankie Fitzsimmons were an actual character, maybe Kennedy would have offered up a little insight, a little shading, but she's not. She's a cartoon. A cardboard cut-out. A one-note idea dressed up in a skirt. Although Frankie generally acts like a freak and engages in the most ridiculous behavior, she is constantly rewarded by fate (or she reaps the benefits of having weak and ineffectual enemies).
Oh. And I hope you like reading monotonous ravings... (You made it this far into this monotonous raving, so I suppose you do.) Because Frankie goes on and on and on about how great she is. She's like Muhammed Ali in three-inch heels.
You know how I said she's an asshole at the beginning of the novel? Well... SPOILER ALERT! She's an asshole at the end of the novel too! Nothing has changed. She hasn't grown or learned anything or been developed by the author in any way. I guess Kennedy didn't really have a choice though—because when a character is defined only by one characteristic, you can only tinker around with that characteristic at the risk of losing the character altogether.
ARGH! My globule is so melted right now that I need to go listen to some sitar music or visit a Japanese garden to re-coagulate it. So if you'll excuse me...(less)
1. I wanted you to love me, ________________ (nation-state), and to that end I bought compact discs (at least ten of them) which when played on a conv...more1. I wanted you to love me, ________________ (nation-state), and to that end I bought compact discs (at least ten of them) which when played on a conventional jam-box or ghetto-blaster amplify, into the enclosure between tall incarceratory concrete walls, the voice of a ________________ (nation-state's Proper Adjective) woman and a fast-talking _______________ (ibid) man discussing where and/or when to have lunch. Watching two or three ants descend into a medium-large crack in the pavement -- which to them must have seemed like a hazardous canyon or gorge -- I also watched my dreams die, like the fizzle of a flame between spittled fingertips. My dreams of philosophical and political discussions disintegrated into a halting request for a cheese sandwich. Do they even serve cheese sandwiches? I cannot give myself over fully to any nation, democratic or otherwise, which doesn't.
2. We can learn a lot from grain yields. First of all we can learn how much grain is, for instance, yielded in a specific locality during a specific period. From this we can deduce other things perhaps, like the average duration of foreplay among the regressively feudal classes of Western Europse. Clothing was often loose and practical and did not lend itself to fumblings and the tired workings of buttons, you understand; in more fashionably complex societies, foreplay -- as a function of grain yields -- was a pastime during uncorsettings and sock suspender unfastenings. Another thing we can learn from grain yields is the availability of historical data from a given era. If grain yields are reliable, this implies that historical data is largely unavailable because why would we notice grain yields if we could talk about the war of the gnome-people from Lyon or the history of the queen's underthings or be generally pacified by capitalist faerie tales of unicorns and gumdrops and... I can't remember what I was talking about.
3. This book is the worst book of all books. Other books may be worse, but this book is by far worse than those other books. If you don't believe me, you are a horrible person and no one at all in the universe is worse than you are. Please don't take this personally. It's just that you're despicable and this can be scientifically proven, but I'm not interested in doing the experiments right now, so I will merely allude to your despicableness as if it were previously and always understood as being true because of course it has been. I don't have the charts and data at my fingertips. They are in a manilla file folder under some grain yield pie charts (for the 1700s) in my black Honda Civic, which could use a wash. It could really use a wash. Wash it for me, lackey, if you don't believe this book is worse than all other books, even this one. You have nothing better to do because everything you 'know' and understand stands upon a dry, crumbly fecal edifice which threatens to deliver you unto your despicable nature and expose you as a horrible person for believing untrue things which have no scientific support, including but not limited to grain yields. What is your grain yield, if you think this book is so great? Why are you so argumentative? It's like placing a strobe light right above the nucleus of your profound ignorance. Do you want the concise history of France? Is it a thing you really want or have you been watching those wretched Truffaut films again imagining that this knowledge (purportedly contained herein) is of a piece with your taste for all things cultural? I am tempted to call you a fraud as well as a despicable and horrible person and (provisionally) the worst person on the face of this poor planet, but I am many things and one of them is tactful. I will not tell you what you are because you are so horrible that you have not earned the right even to that meager knowledge. I will smile at you and pat your ass, demeaningly, and that's all I have to say.
4. The price of Roger Price is too much. It is expensive and worthless at the same time. Roger, you have no price because you have no value. You are a thing found along the roadside smelling of canned yams and the mold that grows in my armpits when I don't leave my house and I don't leave my house and I don't leave my house and I don't leave my house and I don't leave my house and I don't leave my house and I don't leave my house which I don't leave, not now, not tomorrow, not for any price, you Roger, you Price without price because you're unwanted. You're a dirty maxi pad in the heavy shadows of the underpass. Yes, I think you deserved that comment. And I am tactful. And I don't leave my house because of the mold in my armpits, but it's interesting -- because the mold in my armpits happens because I never leave my house. It is a house with tall concrete walls which are incarceratory because I don't have the key to the door between them. Now I'll never be able to order a cheese sandwich in the local dialect. But I am slowly coming to terms with that new reality.
5. Don't bother with:
(a) dreams. (b) ironing your underthings. Even queens. Even incarceratory walls. (c) the concrete industry, wherever you work. It is men in golf shirts and sexy women who look retarded and not at all sexy. Orange-tanned and freckled leather. (d) histories, concise or of France or long-winded or of other countries. It's best not to know. Grain yields are okay, but other things should generally be avoided as much as possible. (e) hope. (f) keeping things in order. You can write up timelines, and I have done so as often as I am able to but then you forget the order of the years and remember the order again and then you have to reorient history to align it with your new numerology: the one you invented in your head. (g) reality television. It has made a sham of you. It is not beneath you. You are (now) beneath it. It spits at you and winks at the other genres behind your back. (h) grain yields. I've rethought the matter (carefully) and these, above all, should not be bothered with. (i) point (b) above. Everything should be ironed and ironed properly, even time and hope, if you have any stockpiled, and you should for emergencies, which do happen. (j) preparing for emergencies. They prepare for you and defeat you. Even if you are historical. (k) everything else, mostly. Except that. Except that. Except that. (l) even that. (less)
I totally lied! Mea maxima culpa! I bare my tender flesh to the lashing of your angry whips.
When I originally reviewed this book however-long-ago, I g...moreI totally lied! Mea maxima culpa! I bare my tender flesh to the lashing of your angry whips.
When I originally reviewed this book however-long-ago, I gave it a fairly glowing review because back then I still cared about other people's feelings. But thankfully I've grown out of that annoying quirk (or, as you prefer, affliction) of my late adolescence. You see, I was 'friends' with David David Katzman, the author, and even met him in the real-life flesh a couple of times, and therefore I didn't feel comfortable publicly ridiculing this self-published ego trip as the printed-and-bound Scheiße that it truly was. But now I have been liberated from my moralistic inhibitions by the author himself, who -- on another review thread, in response to an abusive Goodreads author -- writes...
I've gotten shitty reviews. I have a really snarky insulting one on my book page right now. I offered to give the guy his money back, but i didn't ask him to take the review down. It's the price of writing a book. It shows guts to roll with the punches.
Admittedly the Mr. Katzman who celebrates expression on that thread isn't exactly the same one who privately groused to me about some chick having the nerve to give him two stars, but never mind. Maybe he's matured since then, acquired some of those guts of which he speaks.
But on to the book... so that I might finally purge myself of this deception that has haunted my Goodreads past and (quietly) undermined the integrity of any review I've since posted...
One of the major problems with Death by Zamboni (and there are many major problems) is that there are no rules. The author imagines he can spurn all the laws of the universe, physics and logic included, in order to score some absurdist jokes. Well, it doesn't work that way. In order for absurdism to truly work as humor it must have some stable, rational base to 'bounce' off. For example, the Marx Brothers' absurdity works because it's contrasted with a fairly straight-laced world. Kafka's absurdism works because it's filtered through a 'normal' subjectivity (the main character). Early Woody Allen absurdity works because, even though he may be transplanted into the future [Sleeper] or the Napoleonic era [Love and Death], Woody Allen remains the neurotic everyman through whom and against whom the absurdity is measured.
Or as I said, absurdity needs something to bounce off. If there are absolutely no rules in your universe, then how is anything that happens within it remarkable, interesting, or funny? The Answer: It isn't. It just isn't. Humor is usually the result of some sort of stress, contortion, or dissonance in language or action. If everything in the book can be thrown out the window at any moment for the sake of a very, very, very bad pun, it isn't funny because the author is (for lack of a better word) cheating and furthermore, and even worse, exposing his profound weakness as a writer. Humor is hard work! You can't just string together a bunch of half-baked jokes using the framework of a tortured, unengaging plot and call it a novel. Or I guess you can -- but you'll have to self-publish. Like David David Katzman did.
This book reminded me of a fourth-rate, late-period Robin Williams. You know how Robin Williams appears on late night talk shows (or wherever anybody will have him anymore) and does his tired schtick with the rapid-fire dated impressions (John Wayne anyone?), caffeinated tics, pop culture free association, and lame improv -- and you wish you could suddenly emerge from behind the fake plants on the talk show set to hit him with a tranquilizer dart? That's what this book is like. But much, much, much, much, much worse.
If you're gonna be a real hardass about it, this book probably deserves two stars (if you round up), but I feel very strongly that Brady, Brady, Brady...moreIf you're gonna be a real hardass about it, this book probably deserves two stars (if you round up), but I feel very strongly that Brady, Brady, Brady needs to be made an example of. It should be stripped to the waist, lashed with barbed strips of stiff leather, and forced to drag heavy, rusty chains through the streets; it should be pelted with peach pits, walnut shells, and dense wads of viscous spittle by an angry, bloodthirsty mob; and it should be left for a day or two in the stocks to redden in the pitiless August sun. There is no excuse for books like these, and likewise there is no excuse for us consumerist dupes who shell out twenty-five bucks for them in hardcover, hoping for scandal, Schadenfreude, or at least a prurient thrill, but who instead merely empower a mindless media machine so in love with itself that it would eat itself out and then devour itself whole -- if only it could. In other words, expect to see this book on sale for $3.99 on Amazon within twelve months. And twelve months is a generous prognosis for this swill. And I am truly ashamed to admit that I couldn't stop reading said swill because I was hoping, waiting for something -- some tidbit, some tantalizing morsel -- that would earn my twenty-five hard-earned dollars. That something never materialized. As I closed the book last night, slowly, ruefully, I kept punishing myself by thinking, 'Twenty-five dollars could probably feed a family of eighteen in Sudan for twelve years.' But was twenty-five dollars quite enough to feed the ravenous egos of Sherwood Schwartz and Lloyd Schwartz, the father-son creator and producer of The Brady Bunch, respectively? Unlikely. I think I hear the stomach of their self-regard growling all the way across this frivolous nation...
If you are roundabout my age and your parents weren't crazy, TV-hating communists, then it's likely that you were raised (wholly or in part) by the sitcom The Brady Bunch. During the late 1970s and 1980s, the show was ubiquitous in syndication. When I was young, I remember that there were periods when you could catch episodes four or five times a day. TBS, then WTBS, would air one or two episodes a day; 32 WFLD out of Chicago maybe would add another airing; and one of the local channels might contribute a couple more back-to-back episodes. I’m almost tempted to refer to it as syndicated terrorism, but that would be unfair and revisionist because I loved the show. I’d watch each and every episode that I could, even the egregiously shitty ones, like the episode that was a pilot for Kelly’s Kids or the one where Florence Henderson sings in church for Christmas -- which was just WASP overload for me. I’ll never understand Protestants. Maybe because their churches resemble wood-paneled basements. Where’s the razzle-dazzle? But I digress.
The Brady Bunch is undoubtedly the most influential television series of my life, both because of its frequent airings and because I watched it primarily when I was young and impressionable. I was never one of these kids who compared the Brady household, wistfully, to my own and wondered what was wrong with my family that we didn’t build a concrete block stage in our backyard to put on plays or that we weren’t incarcerated in a ghost town jail by a man with borderline personality disorder or that we didn’t do the Charleston together, or even aspire to. The Brady world was always unreal and not entirely appealing to me. I mean, it was appealing to watch, as one watched the lion maul to death the heretic in ancient Rome, but there was never any wish fulfillment bullshit going on for me. First of all, I detested the father Mike Brady (Robert Reed), who was a bit too much a father in the classicist vein: authoritarian, moralistic, humorless, and conservative – which is another way of saying that he was very similar to the father I was already saddled with. The only Brady child who had any real resonance for me was, occasionally, Jan (Eve Plumb) because she was super-neurotic and she did amazing things like invent imaginary love interests and stage fake telephone calls with them. (Remember ‘George Glass’? Mike and Carol should have grabbed Jan by the ear right then and there and dragged her to a licensed clinical therapist.) The only character I really loved on The Brady Bunch was the housekeeper Alice (Ann B. Davis, who, you may be surprised to know, as of this writing, is still alive) -- which is why I could never watch the episode where the Brady kids were mean to Alice and called her (unjustifiably) a snitch. They emotionally harassed her to such an extent that she actually resigned as the Bradys’ housekeeper. Can you believe what horrible fucking shits those kids were? I wish Jesse James (in Bobby’s dream sequence in another episode) had really shot them all dead. So after Alice quits, a new housekeeper named Kay is hired, and she’s a real stick-in-the-mud. No corny jokes, no making facings, no silly hijinks from Kay. She’s all business. Probably never had an orgasm in her sad, oven-scrubbing life. When the kids try to engage Kay -- in effect, to turn her into Alice Version 2.0 -- she balks and serves up her withering rejoinder, ‘That was Alice. I’m Kay.’ The problem with this whole piece of fuckery is that if Kay were actually ‘fun’ (in the limited Brady definition of fun) they would have gotten away with treating Alice like shit and forcing her out -- with no moral retribution whatsoever! That’s bullshit! They only received their comeuppance on the basis of a technicality. Whenever I saw that this galling episode was being aired, I didn’t watch it. If those ungrateful fucks didn’t want Alice living in their house and mugging for the camera, I sure the hell did.
Why am I telling you all this? I’m glad you asked. I’m telling you all this because I’m trying to establish in your mind an understanding of how high (and misguided) my hopes were when I purchased this book. I’m not just a casual, fair-weather Brady Bunch fan; I like to consider myself a minor Brady Bunch authority. If Nova does a documentary on Brady Bunch scholarship, I hope that I would be asked to be one of the talking heads who sits in front of a bookcase filled with leatherbound books, has a well-clipped beard, and peers at the camera, condescendingly, through his bifocals. Consequently, since this was a book about The Brady Bunch written by Sherwood Schwartz, the creator and executive producer of the show, and Lloyd Schwartz, his son, and later associate producer, producer, and one-time director of the show, my hopes were soaring higher than the green midget-piloted UFO that landed in the Bradys’ backyard. (Don’t worry about the limits of your disbelief suspension. It was another dream sequence.)
First of all… the format? Dumb. Sherwood writes the first portion of the book independently of the son. Did they even bother to read each other’s parts? I doubt it because there’s actually duplication. Sherwood spends the first part basically discussing the creation and casting process, which is mostly uninteresting. Also, you should probably know that Sherwood Schwartz is probably in his nineties, and from his book jacket photo, he looks like someone that you’d have to hold up a mirror to in order to be certain if he’s still alive. He’s very pre-post-mortem. As such, his section of the book feels like listening to a very old relative who is completely out-of-touch with the modern world and who rambles on about his own life mercilessly in a doddering, audience-ignoring style. Lloyd, meanwhile, is arrogant and self-important. He addresses the day-to-day production of the show, and often peppers his account with the generally oxymoronic clause, ‘I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but [my italics]…’ It’s hard to know whether to pity Lloyd or to hate him, although the two are not mutually exclusive. He really, really, really believes that The Brady Bunch is great television and enjoys celebrating his and his father’s contributions in making it so great. He seems to have no awareness that much of the show’s success is attributable to nostalgia and the enduring (ironic) appeal of kitsch.
Secondly, most of the content of this book fall into one or more of the following categories: (1) uninteresting, (2) repetitive, (3) previously known/publicized, or (4) irrelevant. I mean, really, what authentic Brady Bunch aficionado is not aware (at this point) that Robert Reed, who played the father Mike Brady, was gay or, unrelatedly, was a total asshole? He was under contract with Paramount, which produced the show, and since they were paying him anyway, they wanted him to work for it, so they basically ‘assigned’ him to The Brady Bunch, which he loathed. He was familiar with Sherwood Schwartz’s work with Gilligan’s Island, which symbolized for him everything that was wrong with popular television entertainment. He arrived on the set with a bad attitude from the beginning -- which only worsened over time until he refused to participate in the final episode of season five, in which a cheap hair tonic turns Greg’s hair orange. (He objected to the shoddy science of the episode, even though Sherwood consulted Clairol who confirmed that incorrectly formulated tonics could actually turn hair orange. So you can basically see that, if this is true, Robert Reed was batshit crazy. He was actually obsessed about the plausibility of The Brady Bunch!) As a consequence of his refusal to appear, the Schwartzes actually fired Reed; this turned out to be meaningless because the show was later canceled by the network anyway. But it would have been interesting to see the sixth season in which Sherwood was debating whether to kill off the character of Mike Brady or send him away indefinitely ‘on business.’
Both Sherwood and Lloyd trash Robert Reed in their sections of the book, but he is the only person connected with the show who is disparaged in any way. And -- oh! -- conveniently enough, Robert Reed is dead and cannot rebut any of this. There are a few subtle intimations about Eve Plumb (who played Jan). Both Sherwood and Lloyd seem to be insinuating, very tentatively, that she was irritable or difficult or something else that they won’t specify, but since Eve Plumb is enduringly alive, tact wins the day.
In summation, I hated this book. These Schwartzes are fucking in love with themselves and their contributions to ‘television history.’ It’s really almost embarrassing, like when you walk in on somebody masturbating. And some of the anecdotes have the feeling of being manufactured or exaggerated. Sherwood Schwartz, for instance, claims that when he was casting the part of Carol Brady one actress grabbed his dick when he held out his hand to her. Maybe this really did happen, but when I turn back to look at the corpse-like man in the jacket photo, I’d really prefer that it didn’t. I’d also prefer that this book were never written because it pollutes the memory of the show a little for me. Whenever I see Marcia Brady being clocked in the nose with that football, I’ll remember that I read about that jackass Lloyd Schwartz congratulating himself on being the one to throw the football. He literally goes on about it for half a page. You’d think he invented penicillin or something. (less)
As of the writing of this review, I am the only person to give The Lifespan of a Fact fewer than three stars. This, I think, is clearly a case of a bo...moreAs of the writing of this review, I am the only person to give The Lifespan of a Fact fewer than three stars. This, I think, is clearly a case of a book preaching to its choir. Those who choose to read a (windy) transcript of a dispute between an essayist (John D'Agata) and a fact-checker (Jim Fingal) on the struggle between fact and truth are perhaps predisposed to 'enjoy' it. It isn't a book likely to be discovered by an audience uninterested in its themes.
Accurately or not, I would tend to count myself as a constituent of this book's target audience. I am, after all, a writer (of sorts). I am often embarrassingly passionate about esoteric, philosophical topics. I'm intrigued by, if not entirely won over by the trickery of literary postmodernism. I am concerned, ambivalently, with pure aesthetics—that is, art divested of moral responsibility. And I am a nerd who enjoys eavesdropping on a hifalutin discourse.
But... The Lifespan of a Fact, overall, strikes me as a failure. First of all—and despite Maggie Nelson's back cover blurb—it is monotonous and not 'compulsively readable.' (If priggish fact-checker Jim Fingal were analyzing the phrase 'compulsively readable,' he would probably write two or more long paragraphs on the distinction between literal readability [i.e., being able to be read] versus the connotation of being enjoyable to read. He would ultimately give the phrase a pass, although he would be bothered by the figurative use of the adverb compulsively.)
What The Lifespan of a Fact is comprised of is the reprint of an essay by John D'Agata about suicide in Las Vegas accompanied by Fingal's scrupulous (and tedious) fact-checking notes—as well as D'Agata's snide responses to these notes. I am not faulting a fact-checker for being tedious. It's certainly his job, in a sense. But I am faulting the publishing powers-that-be for imagining this might be an interesting or enlightening read.
I would estimate that the detailing of factual quibbles make up 80% (or more) of the book. Only the remaining scraps of the book engage in spirited discourse about the goals and responsibility of essays/'non-fiction' (which is a contentious genre for D'Agata). Once the reader gets the feel for the pattern—Fingal increasingly nitpicks in retaliation to D'Agata's perceived ethical failures—it's just a matter of riding out the book, with its droning barrage of fact corrections.
D'Agata and Fingal, as represented in the book, are both extremely unlikeable. D'Agata is sniping and petulant. His grandiose formulas for the essay are as moralistic and childish as Fingal's needling scrutiny. Once Fingal realizes what he's dealing with, he spitefully extends his fact-checking authority to the sources cited by D'Agata. In other words, he not only checks to see whether people said what they were quoted as saying, but he also judges the truth-claims of their quotes. Clearly, he is a fact-checker run amok.
D'Agata's position that essayists are not beholden to facts and may change them liberally to arrive at 'truth' is nothing but postmodernist nonsense, in my opinion. The essay (as it exists today) is a culturally established exchange between writer and audience endowed with certain expectations. D'Agata's prickly response is essentially, if I may paraphrase, that the audience is wrong—or as he puts it 'ignorant.' I would question how the audience is expected to arrive at D'Agata's understanding of the rules of the essay if they aren't edified in some way—if there isn't some 'opening' onto this knowledge. Readers will leave the essay on Levi Presley's suicide believing that it is factually accurate. If they never come to understand the essay otherwise, how will they be enlightened and come to appreciate D'Agata's use of the genre? As Fingal, I think, correctly diagnoses, D'Agata is contemptuous of his readers—looking down on them from the rarefied temple of 'art.'
More to the point, perhaps, D'Agata's liberties do not make for a compelling essay! In the end, he falsified and distorted the facts to arrive at an entirely mundane 'truth.' If only his writing were as exalted as his theories...(less)