After reading this book I'm left with the sneaking suspicion that all talking points about race areReview #20 of "Year of the Review all Read Books"
After reading this book I'm left with the sneaking suspicion that all talking points about race are somehow a native advertisement for this book. Rachel Dolezal is a method actor employed by Paul Beatty. Freddie Gray's not dead, he's smoking a joint on the steps of the Supreme Court while the white breads all toast under racial pressure of mistreatment. The Sellout has that kind of artificiality to it that feels truer than life, if that makes any sense. You know, that feeling when you go through life expecting the directors of the Truman Show to say "cut" and "don't break character." That feeling that things are too outrageous to take seriously but then, have you looked at the world recently it really is that outrageous. The kind where a cop can kill a guy on camera and get away with it. THAT kind of artificiality.
The narrator is a wounded guinea pig of his Psychologist father's experiments. His father is so smart and so well-educated that he ends up borderline torturing his son in truly cruel and unusual forms. Race is simultaneously something so stupid and asinine while also being extremely important and distressing to talk about. Turn back again to the last year: From Ferguson to Dolezal. It seems stupid that we have to talk about race issues when the issue seems so black and white: Racism=bad. But that's precisely the point in our world and in the Sellout's.
I'm high as hell, but not high enough not to know that race is hard to "talk about" because it's hard to talk about. The prevalence of child abuse in this country is hard to talk about, too, but you never hear people complaining about it. They just don't talk about it. And when's the last time you had a calm, measured conversation about the joys of consensual incest? Sometimes things are simply difficult to discuss, but I actually think the country does a decent job of addressing race, and when folks say, "Why can't we talk about race more honestly?" What they really mean is "Why can't you niggers be reasonable?" or "Fuck you, white boy. If I said what I really wanted to say, I'd get fired even faster than you'd fire me if race were any easier to talk about.
The form in which the Black intellectuals in the book fight back against racism: rewriting classic literature so that Huck Finn becomes "The Pejorative-Free Adventures and Intellectual and Spiritual Journeys of African-American Jim and His Young Protégé, White Brother Huckleberry Finn as They Go in Search of the Lost Black Family Unit" and the protagonist's father conducting experiments into "the bystander effect as it applies to the black community" become so silly and laughable. Perhaps it's because race can't be talked about or solved intellectually. Because on a daily basis people aren't being racist with their intellect, they're being racist with their hearts and memory and unconscious.
Beatty abandons the idea of putting forth a plain-English discussion about race and instead has a pop-culture packed romp around Dickens, Southern California as Bonbon goes about trying to re-establish his city's literal identity (it's been whitewashed from all maps) while enslaving and segregating at whatever turn fate asks him to. He grows citrus so tasty that people consume it like crack. Rubbing their gums and having near post-coital hazes after consumption. His weed is just as good, always named something incredibly self-conscious and applicable. His slave Hominy Jenkins sucks at being a slave but loves being degraded. All the dude wants is a little institutional racism and a couple of lost Little Rascal tapes he starred in.
In Bonbon's world not every stereotype is a sin. Or perhaps all stereotypes are sins. And now that you point that out why don't you get up there on the cross with Christ too? After all if you don't sin Christ died for nothing. So make 'em good ones. Good humor reminds us that cruel and unusual can, and probably should, be funny...emphasis on the unusual. ...more
The Set-Up Not that there's a tremendous sample size but Miles Klee is probably a better short story writer than novelist. Even Ivyland was a kind of confluence of various vignettes, shorts and broken novellas. I've followed Klee's career closely. I think I'm mostly waiting for him to revive his Hate the Future blog. It's not happening, I'm not accepting it, circle of life. Along the way I've read a bunch of his weird stories that appear in True False.
I Heard He Had A Style In a general sense it's always compact. He seems allergic to reuse verbs more than a self-prescribed amount of time so the reader's brain is always exercising to see the weird impressions he's smudging on the page. Much of the information exists in implication, the margins, subtle hints as it does in the actual storytelling. Probably he gets beat up for it, how else to explain the fact that Ivyland is under 3 stars right now? He's underexposed and overly talented. But given that novel, it's understandable that True False would be better. His pacing is quick. Stories like Drone sprint along at a cardiac pace. His microfictions are written like jokes, sometimes hovering in a weird not-quite-fictional-not-wholly-social-commentary/blogpost haze.
While there's still a fair amount of "dystopia" (crude word) in the collection, it's not something that can umbrella the whole collection. Stories about Pythagoras, Depression era bank robbers, turn of the century suburbia, a milkman, Ben Franklin's illegitimate son have none of the jazz hands that cool tech and Big Pharma have. And that's not to mention the more metafictional and story-errata (Ibid is a half-gallon can of energy drink for literary nerds). If there's a unity to it, it's the Compactness (with Disunity running a close second). We typically associate this kind of claustrophobia and senselessness with the modern age ("hyperurban" as William Gibson blurbs), but regardless I think most attention will be paid to the stories that have a definitive future/dystopia bent. That said...
What Of The Future? A permanent blackout in New York City A company trying to perfectly engineer the emotion of love Comatose president and suicidal VP A man-made island in the middle of the ocean (A Whites Only kind of establishment) "Cures" for defecation and waste in the human body.
The Punchline Klee's at his most appealing when he's being funny. The book reminds me a lot of the Barthelme I've read. Conversation tends very quickly to the acerbic, cynical and cutting. Vonnegut's Rule 6: Be a Sadist is in fool effect. If there's empathy with characters it's often with their anxieties, the things that make them jumpy, annoyed, exhausted. Again reiterating something that seems quintessentially authentic to the Now and About To Come. The stories really are wide-ranging, but the humor is graciously ever-present.
The story reads like a detective novel. Except without all the loquacious descriptions of trench coatReview #13 of "Year of the Review All Read Books"
The story reads like a detective novel. Except without all the loquacious descriptions of trench coats, rainy nights and damsels in distress (IT DOESN'T EVEN PASS THE BECHDEL TEST OMG!). Lewis designs the book in tributaries so that one thread or character will all eventually funnel into the protagonist Brad Katsuyama. Brad, a Wall Street Investor, discovers one day, when trying to execute a trade according to prices that he sees on his screen, is suddenly unable. Once he hits "Enter" to make a trade, the prices move away from the prices he intended to buy at. (If he's buying they go up, if he's selling they go down). This happens to several investors he talks with and he attempts to figure out exactly why.
Lewis does his best job to describe what is going on, but for an economics simpleton like me I had to keep an open tab on investopedia for some fairly simple terms. Perhaps this is best, if not intentional. It takes diligence to be aware and to correct moral wrongdoings. My best attempt to explain would be this: There are several stock exchanges. When an investor makes a trade s/he is buying on several different exchanges. You buy 1,000 stocks of Gummy Bears but not one person is selling all the Gummy Bears to you. Several people are across all 13 markets. It takes time to fill these orders (milliseconds, microseconds, nanoseconds) and the time differs based on where you are physically located in relation to the stock exchanges. So an HFT offers to sell the first 100 shares on an Exchange. When these are bought there are algorithms in place that say, here is a guy trying to buy all the Gummy Bears, let's go buy Gummy Bears on all the other Exchanges at the price he's just entered before his order can get completed. So Brad ends up getting 100 Gummy Bears at the price he wanted (let's call it $1.00) but doesn't buy any more because in the fractional seconds the HFT goes out and buys all other Gummy Bears at $1.00 and then turns around to offer them at $1.01. Thus, if Brad wants to buy Gummy Bears he has to pay an extra penny for each.
This is an extremely dumbed down version. I haven't even mentioned dark pools or kickbacks or queue jumping. Like I said I'm an economic simpleton. The initial reaction is "there ought to be a law against this." But one of the Flash Boys that Brad meets along the way argues that every time a new rule is introduced that creates opportunity for a new loophole. The Flash Boys develop the idea that the correction needs to come not from government imposed regulation but from the market. So they attempt to create their own exchange which disables any advantage speed might give to HFTs.
The Flash Boys are an odd bunch who come from distinctly different parts, each their own tributary bringing a unique talent to the river. Usually in detective stories we get the thrill of the law winning out in the end, but if the law arrests these people, catches them and imposes new strict rules the characters believe this will create only more villains. The solution is to make the "villains" power, or advantages, impotent. Which is hard to do when the evil side is profitable and your industry has a history of getting away with these things. I'm a little wary of the story, probably because I want to believe simply that the Flash Boys really are the "good guys" in a relative term and that what they're attempting to do is ethical as well as practical for the market. But in an industry so native to double-crossing it feels as though you're playing the stock market, betting on the reputation of a guy like Michael Lewis to tell you the real story and that the information he gives you is fair and accurate. ...more
So I have this chronic problem of reserving just about any interesting new fiction book at the librarReview #10 of "Year of the Review All Read Books"
So I have this chronic problem of reserving just about any interesting new fiction book at the library that might be by a new author or the subject of a well-received NPR review or New York Times blurb or whatever. This includes Haruki Murakami's "Colorless Tsukuru..." just a few weeks ago. I read about twenty pages but chose some other books to pay attention to, returned it and a few days later I had this on hold already. So I read it, just to see what it was. Ordinarily this wouldn't solicit a review from me, I'd mark and move on, but I set a goal for myself this year and I must provide some commentary/review on what I read.
It's a short story. Now I could have an ontological discussion on what a short story is vs. a novel vs. a "short novel/novella" or whatever. But it's a short story (my basic litmus test for a novel is, as a standalone piece would I let a high school student do a book report on it? In this case, hell no) with flashy, bright pictures and printed in book form. And it's also a kid's book. At best it's low level YA fiction. I'm not a fan of Murakami (so far) and a lot of what he writes does in fact feel like a kind of YA with characters constantly lonely and unable to articulate their feelings except in the most bland cliches.
Even if I were a Murakami fan there's no way this book would be for me so I don't have an impassioned stance on taking it down despite the one-star rating. If, when I read 1Q84 later this year, that book is just as bad as Sputnik Sweetheart and After Dark, I'm probably going to go full-on Bret Easton Ellis on David Foster Wallace and complain about how overrated he is. But with this...I mean what can I do with this? When there are passages like:
The tricky thing about mazes is that you don't know if you've chosen the right path until the very end. If it turns out you were wrong, it's usually too late to go back and start again. That's the problem with mazes.
If Murakami wants to write a kids book, I got no problem, but can my library and his publisher at least be honest about it? This is no Samsa in Love. George Saunders wrote a kids book and I'm fine with that. And I'm okay with reading a short story in big letters over the course of a book if it's a good short story. There's no complexity of language, inventive metaphors or even that much that's visceral. I know that sheep-men have appeared in other Murakami, but what, am I supposed to give points for him being self-referential?
The word "gimmick" was originally used to mean a piece of a magician's apparatus. And how much you reReview #18 of "Year of the Review All Read Books"
The word "gimmick" was originally used to mean a piece of a magician's apparatus. And how much you respect magic and magicians may depend on the kind of connotation you associate with gimmicks. I'm sure the oddest for me and most people is the choice of fonts and margins. This isn't 800ish words of novel but, like, maybe 300? Reading House of Leaves it often made sense because the reader is dealing with the emptiness of a house and hallway where words would clatter through the cavernous emptiness. But it is used much more liberally here. The Marfa scientists' sections are geometrically designed around the shape of semi and whole circles and that makes sense given their mysteriously powerful sphere. But too often it feels like the margins are there just to feel unfamiliar (the gang scenes, the Singapore scenes, especially the Isadorno scenes).
Back to the gimmickry. I can't help but think of the classroom scene from Dead Poet's Society where the Introduction visually graphs the supposed "greatness" of poets. In that way I don't want to say "o well this gimmick/device doesn't work but this one does" in an objective sense. In reflecting on it maybe I'm overthinking it and ruining it because I just tried to absorb what I read. My gut feeling was one of excess. 27 volumes sounds fun but there's that sneaking cynicism where I think of the fact that this would be a 10 volume project max if it were normal writing. Perhaps I'm a curmudgeon at heart but I think that the disorienting texts takes away from what the story actually is. That maybe Danielewski is trying to impress or show off or experiment or whatever word not in an artistically practical way but for the simple fact that it gets people like me talking.
There are some enjoyable uses of it, particularly Xanther's raindrops. In fact, the Xanther, Anwar, Astair sections read almost something like David Foster Wallace might have written. The deployment of excessive parentheses (necessary?) (to the overall plot no but in terms of digression(s) they provide a kind of side-stepping (as well as two- forward- and back-) to the overall progression (digression?) of the narrative) provide a familiar odor of footnotes. The interior lives and thoughts of each character are plumbed so deeply, and yet at a still engrossing level, that I enjoyed them. It seemed that I was waiting and waiting to get back to these sections throughout the book. The nice reward is that the family takes up over half the narrative.
The book had a distinctly Crash (2004) feel to it. Excepting of course Crash's characters all clearly tied together. There's an explicit link with the Marfa scientists and Anwar. Is the Singapore billionaire is related to the funding of his game engine? I can't remember anything that connected the gang to the others outside of maybe the indistinct sounds/mewling that Luther and the Armenian cabdriver hear. This may be what the next 26 volumes are for. The problem is that ever since it won the Academy Award, Crash has had a ridicule problem largely over how contrived and soap opera-y it gets. That film like this book has a highs and lows and so my rating of both end up coming somewhere in the middle. ...more