Chad Bearden's Reviews > Gates of Eden

Gates of Eden by Ethan Coen
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Aug 23, 2008

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bookshelves: short-story-collections
Read in January, 2008

I've been a fan of the Coen Brothers since that anonymous day long ago when I saw, for the first time, "Raising Arizona" on HBO. My sister and I would hunker down in the dingy carpet of my grandpa's living room and watch in gleeful horror at the grotesque weirdness of H.I. and Ed and the strange yodeling soundtrack and a satanic Randall "Tex" Cobb on his motorcycle and that horrific (yet sneakily comic) sequence where the muddy earth somehow gives birth to John Goodman and William Forsythe. Even at the age of ten, I was always greatly moved by the sad sad symbol of pathetic nihilism created by Nic Cage,

When I was young, this wasn't a Coen Brothers movie; I wasn't paying attention to the great performances by Cage or Hunter; I wasn't being amused by the clever script from the Coens. The movie was like Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, and hopes for World Peace: it was a strange world that totally existed despite being completely artificial. I was genuinly moved by the people in the T.V.: frightened, in a deep primal way, by Leonard Smalls, Lone Biker of the Apocalypse! Annoyed at the vapid emptiness of Dot and Glenn. Touched, almost to the point of tears, at the pitiful attempt to steal just a little sliver of happiness by two hopeless, yet persistent, losers.

No Coen Brothers movie has ever gotten under my skin as "Raising Arizona" did. I've enjoyed most of thier films since then, but experience has equipped me with a clinical eye that sometimes gets in the way of that magical spark my ssiter and I felt back in 1987, when a great movie was something that washed over you like a flood rather than an event that you stood back and witnessed and admired.

Okay, I think I was supposed to be reviewing a book. Oh yes. "Gates of Eden". So my problem with "Gates of Eden" isn't so much that it is a bad book. On the contrary. Ethan Coen puts together a pretty nifty, if slight, little collection of stories, most of which are soaked in the tenents of noir. There is, to the book's benefit, a nice touch of the Coen quirkiness, sadsack characters stumbling into thuggish situations where they are in over their heads. They're enjoyable.

But ultimately, the spark is missing. When I picked the book up, it was not because I was itching to read some dark, oddball, noirish stories. It was because the Coen name was on the cover. That name carries with it a certain expectation: if not a life-changing experience that you can feel in the core of your soul, at least somethat that pops off the page (or screen) and leaves a distinct impression.

"Gates of Eden" is good. I couldn't have written any of these stories. But it doesn't necessarily pop, and the impression is slight. When it was over, it went in "THE PILE", which is my special name for the stack of volumes waiting to be taken back to HalfPrice Books. And just so you know, I collect books like that crazy woman who collects cats. When I grow attached to a book, I can't bare to part with it; I keep it forever. I couldn't find anything to get attached to, so "Gates of Eden" was sent away to find someone else's bookshelf to occupy.
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