In conversation I mentioned to my uncle that Kerouac was often a part of my summer repertoire; his writing having an intersection between adventure, fIn conversation I mentioned to my uncle that Kerouac was often a part of my summer repertoire; his writing having an intersection between adventure, freedom, and loneliness that always seems quintessentially summer. My uncle politely disagreed that Kerouac had aged well, and offered me a novel by one of his contemporary’s; James Baldwin’s Another Country. My fondness for Kerouac remains intact, yet Baldwin offers something on an entirely different level, what I might even call a higher level of literature, given its resounding depth.
Just read the first few pages and you’ll have an inkling of what’s in store. We have the wayward Rufus Scott ambling through New York City’s streets, and Baldwin’s imagery brings every street to life in all it’s vivacity and hostility. All the while consciousness slips between past, present, and different characters in such an effortless way, as if they’re sharing a burden that’s heavy enough to direct their lives, yet small enough to be passed through the window of a taxi cab.
And then you get lines like this where one character is struggling to pull himself back to some form of normality: “Perhaps now, though, he had hit bottom. One thing about the bottom, he told himself, you can’t fall any further. He tried to take comfort from this thought. Yet there knocked in his heart the suspicion that the bottom did not really exist.” and you know this thing will hurt. Each characters is nuanced to the point that the reader can infer personal philosophies, and they all look a little different in each other’s eyes. Baldwin offers an emotional depth that stares into the reader and gets at something I feel that most people couldn’t admit to unless heavily inebriated, and even then, their ‘I love you, man’ wouldn’t be an iota of what Baldwin touches upon.
I’m shelving Another Country with a sense of reverence. Upon closing it had me thinking that yes, this is a real book, a declaration of the emotional, living self. Baldwin will break you, but only to reset the bones that have healed improperly for so long; an effort borne of a complicated love. He stands unabashedly in the eye of the storm that is human emotion and invites us to come along, and it is heartbreaking, and it is beautiful. ...more
I feel like I’m admitting something dirty when I say that I love media that revolves around the end-of-times. It’s like some small, passive signifierI feel like I’m admitting something dirty when I say that I love media that revolves around the end-of-times. It’s like some small, passive signifier that I’m not 100% PRO-AMERICAN-BIRTH-GOD-FUTURE that amounts to a form of teen-angst. But it’s so much more. It’s the danse macabre on a grand scale, leveling all our good and bad, ending all isms, rules, philosophies. It’s beautiful, terrifying, and difficult, all in one. You read The Road and you feel like your soul has been dragged through vile muck, half of you wanting to stock up on canned goods, the other wanting to go scream from a mountaintop till you make some sort of peace with the ugliness.
Edan Lepucki’s California on the other hand is not strictly apocalyptic, but more in the vein of a dying world, bad luck and bad decisions edging the human race into a suicidal spiral. She envisions California’s world incredibly well, invoking a sense of deja vu that you’ve glimpsed these places before; the tired buildings with boarded/barred/kicked-in windows, the cracked sidewalks choking with weeds, and the dust of hopelessness settling on it all.
Lepucki takes a bunch of our really obvious modern concerns and turns them into the end-of-the-world impetuses so as to make this near-future more recognizable to us. It ends up feeling a little like alarmist pandering, and more-so if you can identify with whatever’s mentioned.
The plot is built upon exhaustive secrecy, where, had everyone been more forthright, none of the story would have ever happened. It’s a narrative device I recognize as useful but I need it diluted in some way. Lepucki fluffs the story with those calculated silences, impossibly deep split-second analysis of gestures, and long dialogues of characters milking information. The slowly fed puzzle-piece-in-place realization deflates the finale’s impact.
At the center of California are Frida and Cal, a married couple that go out into the woods, escaping LA as the city collapses, seeking safety in solitude. They’re both interesting characters in the way they oscillate from a good dose of likable and understandable, to mildly repulsive as their flaws surface. This left me impressed with how well Lepucki captured the fickleness of human nature, and justifies the space each character takes on page.
One thing I love about the end-of-the-world-ish genre is that if done well it has an orbiting quality for me, where there’s a lot of bad but it all revolves into something beautiful or awe-ful (pun fully intended), and back again. And I think Lepucki taps into this in a wonderfully sinister way with Cal and Frida struggling to either completely escape the behavioral/historical/political/social/economical, geographical inertia of the human species, or jump in and try to redirect it.
All in all, I enjoyed California. I feel as though Lepucki could have taken it further down into the widening gyre, but she’s a skilled, imaginative writer, and she tells a good story. She’s a writer that will snag you mid-page with the kinds of thoughts that leave us asking ourselves who we are, and if such a thing can ever be escaped. I’m looking forward to whatever she will write next. ...more