Readers who only know of Hunter S. Thompson from his acid-washed hunt for the American Dream in one of this countries most deranged metropolitan waste...moreReaders who only know of Hunter S. Thompson from his acid-washed hunt for the American Dream in one of this countries most deranged metropolitan wastes will find a different sort of Hunter here. Given the man's talent for spectacle, pomposity and grand acts of destruction, it's easy for people to forget that before he was a legend, Hunter S. Thompson was a talented and capable journalist- one of those rare souls who was perfectly able to capture the flavor of the 60s zeitgeist, both its rapturous highs and its naive faith that a better world could simply be visualized into existence. Before his image became a caricature to be bandied about by everyone from Doonesbury's Gary Trudeau to Johnny Depp's recent ham-fisted offerings (I take no umbrage with Fear & Loathing, that was Gilliam at his greatest, but rather the execrable adaptation of The Rum Diaries and the animated spoof of Rango) Thompson offered up some truly great pieces of journalism.
The Great Shark Hunt collects many of these lesser known writings of Thompson's. There are some definite retreads of what has been widely available elsewhere- the entirety of Part II was culled primarily from his Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, which is an interesting snapshot of life on the campaign trail with the underdog George McGovern campaign that somehow found itself the Democratic nominee despite the Dem establishment's fiercest protests and then fell apart with supreme gusto, allowing Nixon a landslide re-election. The closest example I can think of from recent elections is how close Howard Dean came to upsetting the staid Democratic platform before an unfortunate moment of exuberance caused the nomination to be handed to John "Do I Have A Pulse?" Kerry.
For the most part, however, much of this material was new to me and featured many fine gems. The book is worth reading if only for Thompson's magnificent reporting from his hometown in "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent & Depraved," which recounts the author's first meeting with his long-time illustrator Ralph Steadman and their liquor-fueled romps during the pinnacle event of white Southern gentry's year. Most interesting for me, Part III features political reports sent North during 1963 while Thompson was covering events in ever-turbulent South America. With his characteristic sneer for all those who would use their power to enrich rather than help, Thompson issues communiques from Puerto Estrella, a lawless city of Colombian smugglers, reports on the Peruvian military's overthrow of the popularly elected APRA party in order to maintain the same 40 family's grip on the nation, and recounts a showdown between the Brazilian military and a Rio nightclub which ends with bullets spraying and grenades being lobbed onto the bustling dance floor all to teach the owner a lesson in respect. All throughout Thompson never fails to shine a critical eye on the American expats and businessmen who never fail to embrace the inherent racism of former colonial masters, despairing about Peruvians inability to realize that the gringos are only trying to help and refusing to realize that riding in on a white horse to save them is just a rebranding of the same paternalism that South Americans have been dealing with since the Conquistadors decided to save by slaughter.
This is by no means a must-read, and I definitely found myself lagging through many of the articles, but for anyone who enjoys Thompson's personal brand of biting rhetoric it is an amusing and informative look at the works of a man who was never afraid to say exactly what he was thinking at a given time and who never failed to be shocked and appalled by the perversion of his American Dream by moneyed interests playing upon a populace's fears. In an era that seems so eerily reminiscent of the times in which Thompson was at the top of his game, reading the words of a man who was always willing to voice his outrage is a useful reminder.(less)
Chaos, wanton destruction, irrational behavior in the face of the massed forces of The Man- it's always been a good bet that if a book has any of thes...moreChaos, wanton destruction, irrational behavior in the face of the massed forces of The Man- it's always been a good bet that if a book has any of these elements then it's a book that I want to read. As such I was incredibly happy to hear that Lance Carbuncle had released his follow-up to Smashed, Squashed, Shattered..., his hilarious first novel- a book hilarious enough to have been banned from my bedroom due to incessant laughter at late-night hours.
The titular Grundish and Askew are a pair of down-on-their-luck losers living among a trailer park of pedophiles. These best friends have never caught a break: Grundish is stalked by the lustful parole officer who wants to get her hands on the strap-on penis that he regularly uses to pass drug tests, Askew's one-lunged Great Aunt Turleen has just been kicked out of a nursing home for strangling a dog. It's a life, sure, but it's up for debate as to whether it's worth living. Regardless, deciding to get back at all of The Fuckers who have been making their lives miserable for so long, the duo find themselves on the run after Askew beats a man to death.
At which point the novel drinks a big tall glass of crazy juice. Now, I mentioned above that I'm a big fan of the wantonly insane in books. I like that mixture of titillation and repulsion that comes with reading about Thalidomide babies or homeless men performing stripteases on street corners. Carbuncle just goes crazy with it, though. Cringe-inducing descriptions of the sweatily obese and the liver-spotted ancient, tonsilliths (Google it- but be ye warned), burros that barf up rancid hair balls, frozen meat sticks- it all gets thrown in the kitchen sink and blended into a fine mess.
I think I'd have been fine with these macabre details had the plot hung together toward the end, but the last 30 pages just read as though the book needed to be rushed to print and an ending hurriedly constructed. Characters did things not keeping with the selves that we've gotten used to over the preceding pages and the surprise twist which we've been gearing up for just left me feeling "meh." Still, this book is an absolute riot for the most part and I'll definitely be first in line to read Carbuncle's next.(less)
I am not a fan of Augusten Burroughs. I think I can specifically remember the moment when I decided this. I was standing behind the counter at the Bor...moreI am not a fan of Augusten Burroughs. I think I can specifically remember the moment when I decided this. I was standing behind the counter at the Borders I was working for at the time reading Dry, Burroughs' retelling of his time as an Ad Exec and alcoholic, when I read a paragraph that struck me as especially odious and, quite literally, hurled the book onto the floor and stomped away. I don't know who it was that decided that people who have had moderately-fucked up lives were deserving of having their tell-alls published, I'm going to blame reality TV with this one(because they haven't been my scapegoat for a few weeks), but it's a distinctly repugnant trend in writing right now.
Most people's lives (and I'm including Dave Eggers, Sean Wilsey, and all those others who know who they are in this rant) are just not that interesting by the time they're in their late twenties to warrant an autobiography. Truthfully, unless your mother was a truck stop whore who dressed you as a girl to turn tricks and got you hooked on smack when you were ten (and, sadly, JT LeRoy was a ruse), your life is not going to be that interesting. Instead you're going to sound like some sort of sniveling twit and I'm not going to be interested in your further works.
Sellevision is Augusten Burroughs' first book, a novel of the standard fictional variety. Set in a fictional home shopping network, Sellevision follows a few months in the lives of the network's lead hosts. Max has just inadvertantly exposed himself during a children's toys segment and is left looking for a new career. Peggy Jean is a tightly wound mother with a stalker fixated on her hairy ear lobes, a husband with eyes only for the nubile teen next door and a burgeoning valium/alcohol abuse problem. Bebe is a compulsive shopper (and the network's highest-rated star) who is dating a man who seems far too good to be true and Leigh is dating a man is who is definitely not good- Howard Toast, the head of programming for Sellevision.
In a fashion that reminds one of no one so much as Douglas Coupland, Burroughs builds the hilarity by slow degrees until the last thirty pages when everything comes together in a gut buster of a belly laugh. In fact, I don't think I've ever laughed harder at the last sentence of a book before; it was like the cherry on top of the proverbial sundae. Still amusing a decade after publication, Sellevision seems like a moment frozen in time. A moment where Augusten Burroughs stood atop a precipice and had to decide whether to keep up the arduous work of actually creating fictional characters or whether he should pillage his semi-interesting adolescence for uncomfortable anecdotes about psychologists finding signs in his morning bowel movements. Oh, what might have been! (less)
Those who know me are well aware that I have an almost visceral love of twisted literature. Books that are the literary equivalent of a car crash; hed...moreThose who know me are well aware that I have an almost visceral love of twisted literature. Books that are the literary equivalent of a car crash; hedonistic revels that fade into subterranean nightmares. In other words, such extreme excess that you can't help but approach them with a mixture of sick curiosity and nearly overwhelming trepidation. For the longest time that has meant the blasted imaginations of my trifecta of favorite authors (Palahniuk, Irvine Welsh and Bret Easton Ellis) and occasional one-offs by up-and-coming writers such as Jeremy Robert Johnson's Angel Dust Apocalypse. Very rarely do I stumble across an author with a well-established body of work of the sort that I like to mainline like a junkie fresh from rehab.
Which is why I'm more than a little excited to have been exposed to Ryu Murakami. Within the first three pages of his Akutagama-winning debut novel, Murakami's disaffected Japanese youth growing up in the shadow of an American military base huff glue, shoot up some heroin and have sex in a flophouse that Burroughs would feel at home in. The next 100-odd pages are packed to the brim with more of the same- violent orgies with American servicemen, madcap mescaline adventures that end with them crashing a car onto a runway, more heroin, flashmobs beating security guards senseless and other signs of impending armageddon.
Murakami's plotless (pointless?) novella pinballs between the restless ennui of Bret Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero and the senseless violence of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. At times extremely disturbing (I could have gone my whole life without reading the scene with the foot), Murakami still manages to paste together an interesting tale of cultureless youth emulating what they see as a stronger people, the servicemen who blow a mean sax, have the best drugs, and that suave intoxicating confidence of knowing you can do no wrong. A phenomenally quick read, not for the faint of heart, that has me excited to finally get to his more well-known books such as In The Miso Soup and Coin Locker Babies.(less)
My love of Chuck Palahniuk is a well documented fact. One need look no further than my other Goodreads reviews to tell that I possess a deep love of t...moreMy love of Chuck Palahniuk is a well documented fact. One need look no further than my other Goodreads reviews to tell that I possess a deep love of the massively fucked up things that come flying from Chuckie P’s pages in every book. From the tongue-in-cheek criticisms of 21st humanity- our love of celebrity, beauty and glamour and the incredibly insane and obscene things we do to maintain these things- to the bitter nihilism that fairly seeps from every page, Palahniuk is an author that speaks to my particular understanding of the insanity of modern living.
So please believe that it is no easy feat for me to say that, in recent books like Snuff and Haunted, Palahniuk has lost his way. Not so much a fully formed tale of desperate people doing macabre things, Snuff seems as though it was built around the odds and ends leftover from research for previous books. As though Chuck looked at his file cabinets at everything he had compiled that had not, for whatever reason, made the cut and thought “you know? I can stretch these to get one, maybe two whole books out of them!” While I can understand the impulse (who wants to let their research/knowledge to go unused), there is a reason why these didn’t make the cut the first time. They’re just not enough to stand alone. As ever, Palahniuk assaults the reader with factoids culled from who-knows-where: details of accidental deaths on movie sets, statistics about what bodily fluids are most commonly found on what household items, the evolution of the vibrator, the history of the gang bang- it goes on and on. Squeezed in between these facts is a tale reminiscent of a daytime soap- the (potential) long lost son of two aging adult film stars signs up to be in his mother’s last film, not to actually have sex with her, but to save her from her the sad state of her life.
Strung out between the two, drooping like hanging icicle Christmas lights, are the most vivid descriptions of every type of bodily fluid imaginable in all of the ick-inducing detail with which Palahniuk has made his name. Now, I’m no neat freak and I definitely don’t get too worked up over a bit of snot, spit or vomit, but there were times when this book had me crying for mercy and, for the first time ever, thinking that Chuckie P had gone too far. Truthfully, I think this book should be read, not for its merits, but as required reading for anyone thinking about going into nursing. If you can read Palahniuk’s descriptions of fountains of semen, intervaginal urination, and sweat pooled in the fingertips of latex gloves without suffering from a mildly queasy stomach, then congratulations- you have a great potential future in the world of sponge baths and catheters. For me? It was just too much gross with not enough commentary. Chuck can do better, and I hope he begins to do so soon. (less)
When you pick up a Chuck Palahniuk book you know that you are going to plunge ever-so-briefly into a raging torrent of absurdity, horror so whimsical...moreWhen you pick up a Chuck Palahniuk book you know that you are going to plunge ever-so-briefly into a raging torrent of absurdity, horror so whimsical that you laugh even as you cringe, and insightful looks at contemporary living. It seems a cheap shot to call his work formulaic, but once you've read through 6 or 7 of his books, the pattern emerges and you have a vague idea of what to expect.
It was Lullaby that finally brought this realization home to me. You have the protagonist, a man who seems like the picture of upstanding normality at first glance but who is eventually revealed to have a dark secret hidden in his past. You have the more experienced secondary character who helps to drive the story forward by slowly revealing some answers to the mystery. Then you have the comical minor characters, the latter-day Rosencratz and Guildenstern (or the R2D2 and C3PO if you want to take it that far) if you will, who play an important roll in the advancement of events but who also provide the brilliant moments of macabre hilarity. At some point they will all go on a roadtrip and Palahniuk will ruminate on the state of human existence at the turn of the 21st Century.
And so it goes for Lullaby. Features reporter Carl Streator is assigned to report on crib death for a mid-size Portland newspaper. As he visits site after site of these tragic deaths, he notices the constant appearance of a book of children's poems all laying open to Page 27. It appears that prior to dying the infants had all been read this particular poem. Being the thorough investigative reporter that he is, Streator traces crib deaths in his area back over 20 years until he comes across Helen Hoover Boyle, a Realtor who specializes in selling (and reselling and reselling again) haunted houses to unsuspecting clients, who may know the reason why this particular poem seems to kill. It's not long before Streator, Helen, her assistant Mona (known as Mulberry in the Wiccan circles in which she travels) and Mona's boyfriend Oyster embark on a roadtrip across the country to track down every copy of this culling poem to protect the sleeping infants of the world from inadvertent death.
Like I said it's formulaic, but this just makes it easier to focus on the odd details that Palahniuk likes to toss into the mix. Oyster's long narrations about the history of invasive foreign plants and how this can be used as a means to understand the cannibalistic psyche of modern man, an EMT who learns the culling poem so that he can kill fashion models and then have sex with their dead bodies, the twisted history of antique furniture- they all add together to form a novel that, while not spectacular, definitely envelops you and reminds you why it is that Palahniuk stands out as one of the best contemporary authors of today.(less)
It's in the running to be my favorite Palahniuk book, but for the time being I'm just going to say it's my second favorite just so none of the other b...moreIt's in the running to be my favorite Palahniuk book, but for the time being I'm just going to say it's my second favorite just so none of the other books get offended. I don't know what it is about death cults but between them and hitching a ride around the country in the back of those prefabricated homes that are always taking up 1.5 lanes on the freeway, this book has nearly everything I like in a story.(less)