If Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison had a love child raised by Barry Hannah he would sound something like Bobby Bird, the life story of a washed-up rock...moreIf Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison had a love child raised by Barry Hannah he would sound something like Bobby Bird, the life story of a washed-up rock star named Bobby Bird who embodies every rock and roll cliché.
The novel reads like the most depraved moments from VH1’s “Behind the Music” mashed into one musician (plus an adventure on a satanic cult cruise ship and a fist-fight with Bob Dylan).
Half-way through Bobby Bird warns that “This is a story I’m not too inclined to tell unless you are particularly interested in tales of full grown men turning into worthless assholes.” Bobby Bird is a misogynist, an addict, and a deadbeat whose most redemptive quality is a kind of endearing stupidity. A deeper search than just the limits of excess drives him, though. Be it through lovers, surrogate fathers, or brothers-in-arms, Bird’s real search for companionship keeps him restless, and keeps the plot rocketing forward.(less)
819 pages of immaculate stories that go like this (from halfway through “A Picture of the World”):
" But my wife was sad.
“What’s the matter, darling?...more819 pages of immaculate stories that go like this (from halfway through “A Picture of the World”):
" But my wife was sad.
“What’s the matter, darling?” I asked.
“I just have this terrible feeling that I’m a character in a television situation comedy,” she said. “I mean, I’m nice-looking, I’m well-dressed, I have humorous and attractive children, but I have this terrible feeling that I’m in black-and-white and that I can be turned off by anybody. I just have this terrible feeling I can be turned off.” My wife is often sad because her sadness is not a sad sadness, sorry because her sorrow is not a crushing sorrow. She grieves because her grief is not an acute grief, and when I tell her that this sorrow over the inadequacies of her sorrow may be a new hue in the spectrum, she is not consoled. Oh, I sometimes think of leaving her. "
Who has the gall to start a story this way? Only someone who knows he can pull it off.
Although the Suburban Ennui theme can run a little thick, every now and then you will discover a story like “The Swimmer,” or “Goodbye, My Brother,” or “The Country Husband,” or “Reunion,” any of which could be career-capping masterpieces in their own right. In the collected stories, these are the rule, not the exception.(less)
This book is hard to categorize, or even sum up, which may be why it’s hard to recommend. It’s nearly plotless, and the main character, Ignatious Riel...moreThis book is hard to categorize, or even sum up, which may be why it’s hard to recommend. It’s nearly plotless, and the main character, Ignatious Rielly, is one of the most obnoxious characters in literature. Here’s a brief except from the opening scene, where a police officer asks the conspicuous and elephantine Ignatious for identification at a shopping mall. To which Ignatious replies:
“Is it the part of the police department to harass me when this city is a flagrant vice capitol of the civilized world?” Ignatius bellowed over the crowd in front of the store. “This city is famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, Antichrists, alcoholics, sodomites, drug addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs, and lesbians, all of whom are only too well protected by graft. If you have a moment, I shall discuss the crime problem with you, but don’t make the mistake of bothering me.”
This short exchange tells us everything about the character, and this book. Ignatius has a ready list of “degenerates” -everyone from Antichrists to litterbugs and lesbians- a group in which, although he repeats it moments before beating the same police officer with a roll of sheet music and lute string, he does not recognize himself. It is his arrogance and self-delusion which drive this novel and, ironically, what makes him so sympathetic.
Describing the attraction of watching someone like Reilly is as difficult as describing the novel. A Confederacy of Dunces is a throw-back, the same as its protagonist: There is no real plot-arc, no meta-fictional devices, and it is not tied to any celebrities or historical event (except perhaps, now, the cannon of pre-Katrina New Orleans literature, the same as The Moviegoer, whose author saved this novel from oblivion). Trying to apply the Heroe’s Journey Template to this novel would be as absurd as Ignatious -which, along with the curse, might explain why it has never been filmed. It is a picturesque series of events, loosely connected, involving charters so weird in their own unique ways each seems entirely real. Reilly is the first character we meet, but his supporting cast often steals the show, and upstaging a giant, bellowing, arrogant anachronism is no easy task.
I think anyone who recommends this book does so urgently, as I do, and so the mania can seem off-putting. So here’s a link to the book on Amazon. Please don’t buy it there. Instead, go into the “Look Inside” function and browse the first few pages, then buy it at a local book store when you can’t stop reading. Do it right now. Before you miss out on something cool.(less)
You know how you have one or two stories where something almost goes horribly wrong, like when you woke up behind the wheel in your own driveway with...moreYou know how you have one or two stories where something almost goes horribly wrong, like when you woke up behind the wheel in your own driveway with no memory of driving home, or the night you almost got into a fight with those guys at that seedy bar by the highway, or that time the cop who pulled you over for a broken tail light almost looked inside your glove compartment/pockets/trunk, but didn’t? Denis Johnson’s characters don’t have those stories. These are stories about when things that go terribly, impulsively, wrong. A random overdose, a spontaneous burglary, a car crash on a dark highway late at night, impromptu brain surgery, dead bunnies, voyeurism -these are not subjects for the weak of heart, but the reason they work so well is exactly because Johnson’s narrator, a sensitive dreamer nicknamed “shit-head,” is exactly that, a little too weak for the strange underworld he circulates through. Here is how a typically untypical story begins:
"A salesman who shared his liquor and steered while sleeping…A Cherokee filled with bourbon…A VW no more than a bubble of hashish fumes, captained by a college student…And a family from Marshalltown who head-oned and killed forever a man driving west out of Bethany, Missouri…
…I rose up sopping wet from sleeping under the pouring rain, and something less than conscious thanks to the first three people I’ve already named -the salesman and the Indian and the student- all of whom had given me drugs. At the head of the entrance ramp I waited without hope of a ride. What was the point, even, of rolling up my sleeping bag when I was too wet to be let into anybody’s car? I draped it around me like a cape. The downpour raked the asphalt and gurgled in the ruts. My thoughts zoomed pitifully. The traveling salesman had fed me pills that made the linings of my viens feel scrapped out. My jaw ached. I knew every raindrop by its name. I sensed everything before it happened. I knew a certain Oldsmobile would stop for me even before it slowed, and by the sweet voices of the family inside I knew we’d have an accident in the storm.
I didn’t care. They said they’d take me all the way."(less)