Martin Amis calls JG Ballard "a cult writer, the genuine article: extreme, exclusive, almost a one-man genre," and Crash is like nothing else. Its chaMartin Amis calls JG Ballard "a cult writer, the genuine article: extreme, exclusive, almost a one-man genre," and Crash is like nothing else. Its characters - its lead just has Ballard's name, like he can't be bothered to fake anything - are unapologetically amoral, sociopathic, almost automatic: they're into what they're into and they just go after it. Robert Vaughan, "nightmare angel of the expressways," wants to murder Elizabeth Taylor. No one ever mentions that murder is bad; they just wonder if he can make it happen. Humans are disgusting, all fluids and anuses, contrasted with numbing repetitiveness to the gleaming chromium of cars. The book is about their union: it's about smashing them together, human and car, again and again. It's completely mad. The words chromium, anus, diagonal, vulva, mucal, vent, binnacle appear many times; Ballard has created his own vocabulary to describe a fetishistic world that absolutely doesn't exist anywhere except in his head, where it's fully realized and internally consistent. It's like Wuthering Heights in this way: logical in its batshittery.
This is one of the most unique books I've ever read. It's interesting and easy to read, as long as you have the stomach for "elderly pederasts easing their tongues into the simulated anuses of colostomized juveniles." Here is a binnacle:
Is poetry dumb? Yes! Yes, of course poetry is dumb. But what if it's poetry written by my main man Ken, who has been saying super smart things about bIs poetry dumb? Yes! Yes, of course poetry is dumb. But what if it's poetry written by my main man Ken, who has been saying super smart things about books to me for about five years now? Well, that's different, isn't it? ISN'T IT? I don't know, it hasn't arrived yet. But it will! And then I will tell you!
Some of you might know Ken by his former GR name NewEngland. Oh yeah, that guy? That guy! SUCH A COOL DUDE. Although I will say that NewEngland was a way more believable name than "Ken." No one is actually named "Ken." YOU'RE NOT FOOLING ANYONE, NE....more
This guy is sometimes called the British Stephen King; he started writing in the mid 70s, same time as King did. Like King, his books were sortof shocThis guy is sometimes called the British Stephen King; he started writing in the mid 70s, same time as King did. Like King, his books were sortof shocking at the time for their violence. Here's his second and best-known novel, and here's what it's about:
Despite all the technological advances of science, it seemed survival still depended on the action of a man. One man.
Dun dun! The whole thing sounds like that, like the voiceover for the trailer for a shitty movie. But wait I'm not done, I have this sex scene for you:
He ran his fingers downwards through the small, tidy forest of hair until he found her other even more moist cave, silky smooth with its aroused lubricity.
So this book was written by a 13-year-old. The best thing you can say about it is it makes Stephen King look like a master writer. And the thing is it's so boring. The plot - crazy fog makes people into crazy murderers - sounds like it might be lurid fun, right? But it's so lame that it doesn't even make it to slumming fun. It's embarrassingly bad. Even the "shocking" stuff isn't really shocking or imaginative.
There's some creepy gay stuff - like, you know how gay people are usually also pedophiles? haha wait that's not at all true - and some weird hints of incest. Again, not in a fun way. Nothing about this book is any fun. It's a really bad book, guys. Really bad. ...more
Murray's sprawling coming-of-age book about the buildup to and fallout from Skippy's death owes equal deBest postmodern epic about string theory ever.
Murray's sprawling coming-of-age book about the buildup to and fallout from Skippy's death owes equal debts to Infinite Jest and Brian Greene. It's always a page-turner, as heady as some of its ideas are. This is a major book....more
Gillian Flynn is a totally dependable, entertaining author. Her characters are always memorable: living palimpsest Camille from Sharp Objects, Cool GiGillian Flynn is a totally dependable, entertaining author. Her characters are always memorable: living palimpsest Camille from Sharp Objects, Cool Girl Amy from Gone Girl, and here Libby Day, survivor of a notorious family massacre, living like a windup toy on its last wind.
Flynn's a competent author at worst, often better than that; descriptions like "the possum-pissed lawn outside my Aunt Diane's trailer" are perfect. There's a scene set in sortof an emptied above ground pool at night that's terrifically cinematic. The mystery in Sharp Objects wasn't brilliantly laid out, but here (and in Gone Girl) it's done very well. Showing hints of Flynn's forthcoming Wilkie Collinsesque experiment with narrative point of view in Amy's diary in Gone Girl, the story here is told from several perspectives: convicted murderer of his own family Ben; Libby, the one who survived; and their mom. (view spoiler)[I figured there was a good chance one of these people was an unreliable narrator and a murderer; that didn't turn out to be the case, but I felt satisfied by the reveal - a completely different, random person, the serial killer Angel of Debt, who's barely in the story. Sounds like a ripoff but I think she gets away with it. (hide spoiler)]
I think Flynn is the real deal and I dig this book.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Poor Tom Ripley has flip flopped sexual orientations more often than a Republican senator with a drinking problem. After the closeted but ultragay BoyPoor Tom Ripley has flip flopped sexual orientations more often than a Republican senator with a drinking problem. After the closeted but ultragay Boy Who Followed Ripley, he's straighter than he's ever been with this dying whimper of a last Ripley book. The gayest thing he does here is read a biography of Oscar Wilde.
If you were hoping for closure, you can abandon your hopes: Highsmith does nothing to wrap the story up here. She barely provides a plot at all. An American couple shows up to harass Tom over his past sins - way in the rearview mirror, at this point; he hasn't done anything terribly bad since the second book in the series. He's been utterly defanged. In an astonishingly half-assed denouement, (view spoiler)[his antagonists trip and fall into a pond, where they both drown in six feet of water. (hide spoiler)] Tom basically shrugs and goes on his way.
I've slogged through all five of the Ripley books now. In order from most to least worth reading, they are:
1. Talented Mr. Ripley, which is still an amazing book. 2. Nothing else, really. Best pretend no sequels exist at all. If you must, though, Ripley Under Ground (#2) is fine; 3. The Boy Who Followed Ripley (#4) is sortof funny in its whole gay-not-gayness; 4. Ripley's Game (#3) is barely acceptable; 5. This book really has nothing at all going for it.
Highsmith published this in 1991, 11 years after The Boy Who Followed Ripley, a few years before she died at 74. I assume she wanted a paycheck. That's certainly what it feels like.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Nostalgia is death. It rots the present and sanitizes the past. It's the province of people who resist change and fear surprises.
And here's Stephen KiNostalgia is death. It rots the present and sanitizes the past. It's the province of people who resist change and fear surprises.
And here's Stephen King wallowing in nostalgia so abjectly that he resorts to describing one character as a Norman Rockwell painting. He's not an idiot - he acknowledges that it wasn't all rosy - but if you add up his mentions of segregation versus his descriptions of the Lindy hop, you'll get a sense of where his interests lie.
Also boring: the discussion of who shot JFK. King means to lay it to rest - (view spoiler)[he says in an afterword that he's "98%, maybe even 99" sure that there was no conspiracy - (hide spoiler)] but for most of us, there's never been a real debate.
As befits a book about nostalgia, there are no surprises here. Every plot development proceeds in the least surprising way you can imagine. Time travel is rarely interesting, but many stories at least attempt a new twist or two. (That movie "Looper" from a few years back is a good one.) King has no twists in his tank.
A book by and for old people is fine, but I wish it'd come with a warning sticker on it so I'd known it wasn't for me. If I could travel back in time JFK's on his own; I just want to tell myself to skip this dumb fuckin' book.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I was in this Berlin bar the other night called The Glad Ass with my friend the teenaged runaway, and it was so weird, it had only guys in it.* EventuI was in this Berlin bar the other night called The Glad Ass with my friend the teenaged runaway, and it was so weird, it had only guys in it.* Eventually I was like Ohhhh, I get it, it's a gay bar! Totally accidental that I ended up there. So we went to another bar, me and this boy I've decided to gallivant around Europe with for no particular reason,** and the weirdest thing: it turned out that was a gay bar too! Lots of men in drag! I was like lol, are there even any straight bars in Europe? Later on, it's a long story but it turned out that I had no choice but to dress in drag myself!*** Anyway, then I went home to my lovely rich wife, who was perfectly understanding.****
* "Tom himself was an object of envy for having a nice-looking boy of sixteen in his company." ** "'I don't know when I'll see you again' [said the boy]. The words of a lover, Tom thought." *** "Tom sat down again before the mirror, and felt in a fantasy world." **** "The infrequency of their making love didn't seem to bother her at all. Curious...but convenient, for him."
Patricia Highsmith has returned to Tom Ripley, her cash cow, in a plotless and desultory closet-case of a book that uses the word "boring" 32 times. The only fun part is that it's clearly a wish-fulfillment fantasy for gay men who dream of leaving their wives to tour European gay bars with teenaged boys - and yet there isn't a single sentence that admits it. Highsmith is back at home with Tom's wife, cheerfully saying "I like that young friend of yours!" She appears - at least pretends - not to understand the book she's written.
Surely she did understand; she probably knew perfectly well that closeted men were writing her paycheck. But still: this fourth installment was published in 1974, twenty years after The Talented Mr. Ripley. This is the best she could do?
It's all extremely weird, and a little entertaining. This is easily the gayest Ripley book so far, despite its complete lack of on-page sex. (Off-page, those two are boning.) But aside from giggling at how tremendously gay it's pretending not to be, there's frankly nothing to recommend this book. Ripley's sense of fun, like his sexuality, is so far back in the closet that Highsmith has lost it....more
Like two other Medieval landmarks, the Decameron and 1001 Nights, the Canterbury Tales are a collection of short stories drawn together by a framing sLike two other Medieval landmarks, the Decameron and 1001 Nights, the Canterbury Tales are a collection of short stories drawn together by a framing story. In this case it’s a group of pilgrims from all different parts of society, and they’re telling stories to pass the time on their way to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket. Here he is getting killed:
Chaucer only managed to finish 23 of a planned 120 stories, so that’s actually a pretty bad job; his big innovation was that the 23 he did finish created real, distinct characters representing a cross-section of society. The hypocritical religious figure the Pardoner, who’s basically running a protection racket for the soul - and we can see in him how jaded people have gotten about organized religion - the drunken Miller, who tells one of several lengthy fart jokes; and of course the Wife of Bath, Chaucer’s greatest creation.
don't want no scrubs
She’s looking for her sixth husband; she cheerfully admits to using sex to get what she wants; she has a dim view of men except as a means to an end.
By God! if women hadde written stories, As clerkes han withinne hire oratories, They wolde han writen of men moore wikkednesse Than all the mark of Adam may redresse.
What she’s saying is that men control the narrative; when it’s her turn to speak she has a lot to say.
There are also, as mentioned, a number of fart jokes. The Miller's Tale contains perhaps history's first description of analingus as Absalon "kissed [this one lady's] naked arse, most savorously." The Summoner's Tale is an examination of the age-old question of how to divide a fart into twelve parts. Don't worry, they figure it out....more
"Why are you furiously taking notes on the subway?" is what no one asked me. "I just started The Waves," is what I would have replied, "and I'm realiz"Why are you furiously taking notes on the subway?" is what no one asked me. "I just started The Waves," is what I would have replied, "and I'm realizing that it's going to be difficult even for Virginia Woolf. I'll have to get on top of it early if I'm going to get it at all."
"Why is it so difficult?" "Have you read Virginia Woolf before?" My imaginary friend has not. "She was a modernist," I'd say. "What she was about was getting into her characters' heads, their thought processes - the experience of being alive. We call it stream of consciousness, with all its eddies and diversions. That means her writing tends to be scattered and confusing, like you yourself. ('But'--shh.) She refuses to tell you what's happening; she leaves clues, instead, and you have to figure it out."
"That sounds annoying."
Well, yeah, it kinda is. "Why did she do that?" I don't know. The modernists were trying to do something new, and they succeeded in that. They wrote books that the average person, looking to be entertained, might dislike. They're too hard. They're for reading nerds, people who like puzzles. Of the three great modernists - Woolf, Joyce and Faulkner - none of them have ever met a plot point they couldn't obfuscate.
"Why is The Waves particularly difficult?"
As if this stream-of-consciousness writing isn't hard enough, modernists always (for some reason) switch perspectives. In my favorite Woolf book Mrs. Dalloway (1925), there are two main characters - Clarissa Dalloway and the PTSD-afflicted veteran Septimus. Same for James Joyce's Ulysses (1922), which stars Leopold Bloom and Stephen Daedalus. In this later work, though (1931), there are six characters to switch between. William Faulkner, who had by now written his masterpiece The Sound & The Fury (1929), also switched between lots of different characters. So it's even more complicated to keep track of what's happening.
The characters in The Waves are: Louis the ambitious, self-conscious outsider, who will (view spoiler)[have an on, off, on-again relationship with Rhoda (hide spoiler)]; Bernard the likable, loquacious storyteller with a confused sense of self, who will (view spoiler)[fail to seal the deal with his first love and settle for another (hide spoiler)]; Neville the quiet, serious, bisexual (?), snobby poet; Shy, awkward and embarrassed Rhoda, who will (view spoiler)[commit suicide (blink and you'll miss it) (hide spoiler)]; Jinny who loves to be loved; And certain, pastoral Susan.
Unspeaking is a seventh character Percival, named after the knight who went after the Holy Grail, representing maybe youth and idealism, who (view spoiler)[dies off page around the halfway mark and (hide spoiler)] looms over everyone's lives.
The story is anchored by an omniscient narrator who intervenes to describe a day - morning, their childhood; night, old age. The narrator returns to certain themes: waves, birds, snails, assegais. (Assegais? Spears. Whatever, Virginia.) In between, we get monologues by each character in which they continuously describe who they are (and aren't), in a prose-poem style. Part of the confusion is because everyone says what she really means. Where, say, Tolstoy was brilliant at showing the undercurrents of thought beneath what people say, Woolf's characters just speak the undercurrents.
And the frustration is because, in Woolf's hands, these undercurrents are terribly la-di-dah and pretentious.
"Yet these roaring waters," said Neville [at the first of two climactic dinner parties], "upon which we build our crazy platforms are more stable than the wild, the weak and inconsequential cries that we utter when, trying to speak, we rise; when we reason and jerk out these false sayings, 'I am this; I am that!' Speech is false!"
But nobody talks or thinks like that. Obscured is the majesty of To The Lighthouse (1927), the authority of Mrs. Dalloway, certainly the joy of Orlando (1928), sunk under a sort of grim, arch aloofness. It's often beautiful, but always artificial.
Woolf means to convey the confusion of being alive, and she means to abandon novelly efforts to force a life into a storyline. "There is nothing one can fish up in a spoon," says Bernard: "Nothing one can call an event." This is noble but there's no reason it needs to be so opaque.
Life itself is what Woolf was after, and in The Waves - her last great work and her most ambitious - she tries to describe it in all its flavors. "We differ, it may be too profoundly," says Louis, "for explanation. But let us attempt it." But this isn't Woolf's best effort.
All of that is what I would have said, anyway, if anyone had asked me why I was furiously taking notes on the subway. Which is maybe why no one asked.["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"]>...more