The book does what it says on the cover. It delivers macabre (and gross) tales that are also very ordinary in some manner. It’s a very interesting way...moreThe book does what it says on the cover. It delivers macabre (and gross) tales that are also very ordinary in some manner. It’s a very interesting way to tell stories, to permit the narrative to fall flat in some manner, or to tell a story most people know and do it in such a creepy way you make it your own, or to tell a very simple story that seems like it is telling you everything but is really telling you just enough to ask more questions. At times Mikul denies the reader the catharsis often expected at the end of a tense story because he doesn’t spell things out, and in other instances the narrative ends in a manner that is blunt and horrible. Sometimes the simplest subversions of the traditional story-telling method are the most effective, and each of these stories in some manner are indeed macabre and indeed very ordinary.
The collection has nine stories, and I want briefly to discuss each one. I’ll do my best not to spoil the endings but in a collection like this one, avoiding spoiling endings may well be impossible. Metaphorically, how do you spoil a door slamming in the middle of a sentence? Still, I’ll be careful.
First story, “Dead Spit,” is Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley dropped into the Outback. I don’t think I have spoiled it by describing it this way because, again, the ending will deprive you of the momentum you think the story is gathering. The best part of this story, for me at least, was when I realized that I had created a big mystery clue/red herring due to my own ignorance. I don’t use canola oil because the word canola disgusts me, so I was not aware it comes from plants that collectively are known as canola. I guess I thought canola oil was a mixture of crappier oils and that the trade name for such oil was “canola.” Who knew? Well, evidently everyone else on the planet knew, but that is a detail in this story – working in a canola field and it distracted me from what was really happening.
A couple of people whose opinions I really respect recommended Lowboy to me, saying it was in a similar vein to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the...moreA couple of people whose opinions I really respect recommended Lowboy to me, saying it was in a similar vein to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I think that one really has to be a fan of the recent trend to write in a flat, unemotional, almost neurasthenic manner in order to like this book. I am not a fan of it. This book's tone reminded me a lot of Steve Rasnic Tem's Deadfall Hotel. Both books deal with extraordinary situations involving deep emotion yet felt very similar to reading the back of a cereal box. By the time I was 2/3 finished, I was near desperate with frustration for the book to end already.
Will Heller is a schizophrenic who escaped from psych lockdown in order to complete a mission to save the world. His mission is never made clear in any manner and it's not because of the frenetic, changeable manner of some forms of schizophrenia. It's because Will is an unclear cypher. His interactions with others ring false, especially his interaction with another mentally ill person who lives in the subway system. His mother, Violet, is trying to find him before the worst happens and she is helped by Ali Lateef, who is a "missing persons specialist." Neither character has any meat to them. Violet has a DUN DUN DUN big secret that spurs her on to help find her son and you will know what that secret is very quickly.
The whole book hinges on people doing inexplicable, stupid things. You expect it from Will/Lowboy. He's mentally ill and unmedicated. But Violet behaves inexplicably and in a manner that does not make even the most basic level of sense. For example, she sees two kids walking along the sidewalk and more or less tackles them before she realizes the kids are not her missing son and his ex-girlfriend. The characterization is so shaky and the writing so predictable that it's not even a spoiler to reveal that the two kids are not who Violet thinks they are.
In the most inexplicable part of this book, Ali falls for Violet and I have no idea why. No clue as to what any man could find attractive about Violet. No idea what was going on with that. None.
Interestingly, Emily, Lowboy's ex-girlfriend, was the character who got the fewest lines but was the most realized character in the book. She's a clever teenager, full of bravada, who follows the ill but attractive Will into danger. But when danger comes, she recognizes it. Wray should write a book about Emily. She was awesome.
He may have, in fact, written a book about Emily. I don't know. He has other books out but I don't think I will be reading them any time soon. I just don't like this manner of story-telling. I need more oomph. I need emotions that play out in a tangible manner. I need to understand the decisions of the sane characters. I need more catharsis than this book could offer.
Two stars because I felt a glimmer of excellent story-telling when Emily was on the page.(less)
Bradley R. Smith may be the only Holocaust revisionist who writes about topics that have nothing to do with the Holocaust. And that’s good because whi...more Bradley R. Smith may be the only Holocaust revisionist who writes about topics that have nothing to do with the Holocaust. And that’s good because while I know just enough about the Holocaust to hold my own in such conversations, I also am not invested in the topic enough to want to read books along the lines of what one expects from David Irving and Ernst Zündel. Admittedly, I haven’t read Smith’s book about his journey into Holocaust criticism, so perhaps then he concentrated exclusively on revisionism to the point of minutia, but I don’t think that’s the case. We’ll see when I read it.
Perhaps he has more to write about because Smith has led a far more interesting life than Irving or Zündel, once you remove the legal drama. But then again, Smith has had his own share of law troubles, and not the kind you might think. In 1962, Bradley R. Smith was convicted under California’s obscenity laws for selling a copy of Tropic of Cancer. In 1963, he appealed the verdict and the higher court sent the case back down to the lower courts in light of the California Supreme Court having determined Tropic of Cancer was not, in fact, obscene. Taking this anti-censorship stance bankrupted Smith. Regardless of how you feel about Holocaust revisionism, it’s impossible to deny that Smith is more than the one-topic obsessives who are often attracted to Holocaust studies because such topics feed their antisemitism and loathing for institutional intellectual authority. Smith has suffered financially and socially supporting freedom of speech – even speech liberals respect. He has gone on record as saying:
"I do not believe in thought crimes, in taboos against intellectual freedom."
Perhaps that is what makes this book so odd – Bradley R. Smith is a living intersection of ideas that, on their surface, may seem mutually exclusive. But people and ideas are never wholly black or white. This played out vividly for me in terms of Smith’s personal politics because I generally have little patience for most libertarian ideas yet could see at times where Smith was coming from and could sympathize with his point of view. I think that was because Smith didn’t cloak himself in Randian-superiority. He mostly just wanted to be done with intrusive influences in his life. I can respect that.
This book of vignettes was initially conceived as a one-act play. When you read it as a dramatic piece, it feels much more powerful than a series of remembrances, but the book still carries a lot of power as a series of short stories. Through a proxy narrator called A.K Swift, Smith discusses his life and his ideas in a manner that is confessional, almost Beat-like in style. Though Smith does have this proxy narrator, the details in this book closely mirror his own life enough that I am just going to refer to the narrator as Smith, but that choice is also just to make things easier for me because I tried to refer to the narrator as “Swift” initially and ended up calling him “Smith” so often that I just gave up and switched to Smith.
In the next few sentences, I am taking into account information not shared in this book, but once you know the scope of Smith’s life, if you ignore the time Smith spent serving his country during the Korean war and the time he spent in Vietnam with press credentials documenting the Vietnam war, his peripatetic lifestyle is reminiscent of Kerouac or Burroughs (minus horrifying addictions and uxoricide). He spent time learning to fight bulls, invoking Hemingway. His personal life was complicated, passionate and strange, and one feels a bit of Carver seeping through in his prose. Bradley R. Smith is a sort of holy outsider, a man who has dwelt on the fringes and remained true to his search for truth, no matter the personal and social costs.
Eh, skip the text in this book. The fairy story wore thin very quickly. Instead, absorb and peer over the photographs. In terms of literature, this bo...moreEh, skip the text in this book. The fairy story wore thin very quickly. Instead, absorb and peer over the photographs. In terms of literature, this book is a miss but it is visually gorgeous and interesting. So check out the pictures and manipulations and skip the words unless you are way into fairies.(less)