Before I post a review, I pre-ordered a copy of this book to keep in my crime fiction library, so if anyone from the US would like my ARC copy, I'll b...moreBefore I post a review, I pre-ordered a copy of this book to keep in my crime fiction library, so if anyone from the US would like my ARC copy, I'll be happy to mail it to you -- I'll pay postage!
First -- thanks to LT early reviewers and to the publisher for my copy. Some time ago I read this author's Lost...more"...the play is different every time."
First -- thanks to LT early reviewers and to the publisher for my copy. Some time ago I read this author's Lost City Radio, and loved it. Absolutely. Now he's back with At Night We Walk in Circles, and I loved this one even more. The blurb describing what's on the inside doesn't even come close to describing what actually happens in this character-based novel, which I would say focuses largely on identity, how past events come to be re-imagined, and the effects of blurring the line between reality and artificiality.
Without going into plot so much, (if you want more on the plot, you can read it here) the main thread of this story focuses on a journalist narrator who is trying to "decipher the mystery" around a "brief encounter" between himself and the main character Nelson, by interviewing
"his confidantes, his lovers, his classmates, people who'd seen fit to trust me, as if by sharing their various recollections, we could together accomplish something on his behalf. Re-create him. Reanimate him. Bring him back into the world."
Using these interviews and words from Nelson's journals, he tries to piece together the chain of events that started with Nelson going on a tour for a play with two other actors. The thing is though, that each person he interviews knows Nelson from a different vantage point, from different situations in which Nelson has played different parts, so that eventually we find that there are a number of different Nelsons. How then is it possible to know the true Nelson? Is it possible at all? Even he is aware of himself as an actor -- at the last drink he had with his brother he came to the realization that everyone, including himself, is always acting. When all is said and done, and as you come to the end of the story, you start to wonder if even Nelson really knows who he is any longer. What I find striking about this book is that there is so much in here about actors, their roles, performances, scripts and improvisations -- and all of this illusion works to mask what lies underneath. And the same might be said about how people of Nelson's generation in this South American country are supposed to understand themselves and their cultural past in a country where nightmarish times that once existed have now been re-imagined, where the powers that be have tried to condition people to ignore the reality underneath.
Re the title: As Henry asks earlier, when he talks to the narrator about walking in circles while in prison, "how do you set a play in a world that denies your characters any agency?" I'm not exactly sure, but I think this statement may provide some clue.
As I'm fond of saying, I'm not a lit major, so I could be totally off the mark here, but it makes sense to me. However, this book is one better experienced on your own. At Night We Walk in Circles is definitely not easygoing as far as the reading, and I know I definitely haven't skimmed the surface of the novel in this discussion. This book could be the easily be included in a literary or history course, one that spends most of the semester analyzing it. All the same, I love this writer's work and this one I can only describe as hypnotic and haunting, mixed with a touch of very dark humor at times. Highly recommended -- take it very slow, though. It's not a book you want to rush through.(less)
There's some terrible things talked about in this book, but god help me, I couldn't help but laugh.
Survivor is the story of Tender Branson, who, when...more There's some terrible things talked about in this book, but god help me, I couldn't help but laugh.
Survivor is the story of Tender Branson, who, when we first meet him, is on an airplane minus passengers and pilot, the former having been deplaned shortly after takeoff and the latter having parachuted after giving tips to Branson about how to keep the plane in the air after the pilot jumps, the amount of time before all four engines flame out, etc. Branson is the sole occupant of the plane, and is now telling his true life story to the airplane's black box which will survive the inevitable plane crash. He wants to get it clear right away that he is no murderer; getting from the beginning to the end when he finally reveals the reasons behind clearing his name is the journey the reader makes through the novel.
And what a story it is. Prior to sitting in the cockpit, Branson's adult life was one as a "full-time drudge," and part-time god." His day job was slaving away at housecleaning for wealthy employers, guided by a day planner, so that at any given hour of his workday, he and his employers know what he's doing. He's interrupted periodically by calls from his boss, who asks him questions about such topics as how to eat lobster correctly at an upcoming dinner, which forks to use, that sort of thing. Tender Branson is a whiz at home economics; he spent his life being schooled in running the perfect home. He is also, as we discover shortly after meeting him, a member of the federal Survivor Retention Program, which affords him a caseworker with whom he meets each week, a tiny apartment with a shared hallway bathroom, free government cheese and a bus pass. Branson grew up in the Nebraska church district colony of the Creedish; at age 17 he was baptized and sent out as a labor missionary. This was the common practice of the Creedish; all boys but the first-born sons (all named Adam) went out into the world to work and shared the name of Tender. The girls who were not chosen as wives for the first-born sons went out to work as well, sharing the name of Biddy. Back home, the Adams and their wives had children, children and more children, and the children spent their lives learning a particular trade. There were rules for living on the outside, though -- no dancing, no listening to broadcast media, and the biggest one of all was this one:
"If the members of the church district colony felt summoned by God, rejoice. When the apocalypse was imminent, celebrate, and all Creedish must deliver themselves unto God, amen."
While Tender Branson is cleaning grout and getting bloodstains out of leather, the word comes that the Creedish in Nebraska have been delivered; he is taken into the Survival Retention program so that he doesn't off himself. There are rashes of suicides among the survivors, and at some point, Tender becomes the only surviving member of the cult (well, as far as the authorities know), and thanks to a savvy agent whose job it is to make cult suicide look "fresh and exciting every time around," is turned into a new messiah for the people.
As Tender's lifestory is recorded for posterity, the author takes potshots at different facets of American culture that blend into Tender's experience. For example, while being refitted as a "new guru" for people who need to "make sense of their risk-free boredom of a lifestyle," he climbs the "stairmaster to heaven," and is wardrobed, told what to say, and pumped full of botox, steroids, drugs etc in order to make him media perfect. As his agent tells him,
"Nobody wants to worship you if you have the same problems, the same bad breath and messy hair and hangnails as a regular person."
Sitting in the cockpit, Branson reflects that "Reality means you live until you die...The real truth is nobody wants reality."
There are also riffs on diagnosing yourself via the DSM with the disorders of the day, things people pray for here combined into his "Book of Very Common Prayer," people being so busy with working and making money that they don't have time to enjoy their gardens, but one of the biggest ideas that comes out of this story is based on how to find salvation in the face of boredom that comes from sameness and having no control over your own life.
As I said earlier, it's not all funny, because there are some pretty tragic things described in here, but I defy anyone not to laugh while reading this book. Fantastic novel -- if you haven't read it, go and get yourself a copy soon. I love Chuck Palahniuk because he's such a great satirist, expressing questions about life in terms everyone can understand and recognize. Another one not to be missed. (less)