Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Choke


            If you’re looking for a one-way ticket to Depravity, check out Choke by Chuck Palahniuk. Palahniuk labels his work “transgressive fiction”, a genre featuring characters who feel oppressed by society’s norms, so they renounce expectations in radical, illicit ways. Think American Psycho.
Think Fight Club
 
            And while you’re thinking of Fight Club, you’re basically thinking of Choke. Although the plot is wildly different, the basic sentiment and writing style is very similar. You have characters proclaiming emptiness of the soul and vapidity of their fellow man; they want to feel something meaningful by any means necessary. In Choke, the main character turns to a convoluted performance: choking on a regular basis, claiming that by doing so, he gives the people who save him purpose and strength. He also turns to sex, which leads to an addiction, graphically described. He also turns to his love-hate relationship with a mom who is an abusive schizophrenic on her deathbed. There’s a lot of weird shit going on. He’s “Alive and unwell” (Palahniuk, 14).

            When I first read Fight Club, I thought Woah, this guy really has some things to get off his chest. It is funny but also genuine in its critiques of society; his writing style conveys the amusing absurdity in a way that I had never read before. When I got to Choke, the funny critiques were still there but the newness had worn off. Palahniuk sort of sabotaged his own work—perhaps his own contribution to Project Mayhem. That being said, it isn’t bad; it has its own unique moments of satire and its own unique insights into a messy, vulgar world. Choke receives 3 out of 5 camel humps.

*Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. New York: First Anchor Books, 2002. Print.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction


            As we celebrate America, let’s also celebrate an American hero: Jerome David Salinger, aka J.D. Salinger. I mean, this mug looks like it could have settled the frontier for sure...
            Most people know him as the author of The Catcher in the Rye; however, we’re going to focus on the fictional Glass family, which he almost exclusively wrote about following the success of his first novel. I reviewed a Glass family banger, Franny and Zooey, a couple of years ago. Now, we’ll turn to Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction*, two novellas that were featured in The New Yorker in 1955 and 1959, respectively.

            Both stories are written from the point of view of Buddy Glass, the second oldest out of seven children. The Glass family is full of precocious little nuggets but somehow Salinger manages to tow the line and prevent his characters from reading like pretentious assholes. Instead, they write straight to your soul. Buddy addresses readers directly, brings us along for a story, and vulnerably lets us peek into his psyche. Having read multiple Glass family stories now, I can conclude that Salinger is the original Seinfeld in that he makes books about nothing. He captures the idiosyncrasies of daily life and mundane dialogue and brings them to our attention. Side effect: entertainment, insight, empathy.

SERENITY NOW!!

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction receives 4 out of 5 camel humps.


*Salinger, J.D. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1955. Print.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Fates and Furies


           Lauren Groff: Do less. Her third novel, Fates and Furies*, a National Book Award for Fiction finalist, is hype, hype city.

            Here comes a very minor spoiler—honestly, I’m doing you a favor: the main character is floundering career-wise. He gets hammered at a party and instead of passing out like he usually does, he stays up and tries writing for the first time. He wakes up to an ecstatic wife who discovered he miraculously wrote a brilliant play overnight. He doesn’t remember. He has drunkenly stumbled into a lucrative career path like most people stumble into a 24-hour diner.

            Full stop. This is lazy, unrealistic writing. This is The Art of Fielding all over again.

            Unfortunately, the book thinks very highly of itself. She builds tension but the payoff isn’t worth it. The whole thing reads like there’s some giant reveal, but the surprises are improbable or uninteresting. Fates and Furies has Gone Girl vibes with less of an outright, singular twist. It follows two people who get married in spite of their secrets and complex backgrounds. Love knows no bounds blah blah blah.

            So, I don’t like the plot, but I do like aspects of the writing. Groff does some cool things with brackets and, as an omniscient third-person narrator, she paints a full picture and has some creative leeway with the disclosure of information (what we know vs. what various characters know). However, I quickly grew weary of the characters and came to the conclusion that I don’t care who knows what.

            Another redeeming factor (and perhaps the most surprising feature of the novel): it’s borderline erotica!
Okurrr, don’t hate it. But seriously, she doesn’t shy from the juicy bits. Fates and Furies levels out at 2 out of 5 camel humps.

*Groff, Lauren. Fates and Furies. New York: Riverhead Books, 2015. Print.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Go Set a Watchman


            Oh my, how the tables have turned. OR rather

        Yall want some hot book publishing goss? Let me lay it on you.

            Go Set a Watchman* was originally thought to be To Kill a Mockingbird's sequel. Wrong. Harper Lee finished writing Watchman in the mid-1950s; her publisher rejected the manuscript as it was and encouraged her to hone in on Scout’s childhood instead. She complied, wrote and published Mockingbird, and seemingly forgot about Watchman. Fast-forward over 50 years. Harper Lee was 89 years old and her health was failing her. Her sister and primary caregiver died. Harper’s lawyer and trustee of her estate, Tonja Carter, took over and conveniently found the Watchman manuscript, which she published. Eight days before Harper Lee’s death, her will was redone to transfer the bulk of Lee’s assets to Carter’s control as executor.

            Some of Lee’s friends claim that she was sufficiently healthy and aware when Go Set a Watchman landed in HarperCollins’ fingertips. Others fervently assert the exact opposite. One thing is for sure: home girl had been vocally adamant over the years that To Kill a Mockingbird was her one and only novel.

            So, was the manuscript published against her will? It’s a sad sitch either way. Either she was fully on board; in which case Tonja Carter is unnecessarily demonized for helping a woman she cared about deeply. Or she was taken advantage of; in which case her legacy is tainted. Because the thing is—it’s a bad book. It’s a first draft and it reads like one.

            The novel is written in third person (as opposed to the first person account in To Kill a Mockingbird—part of the novel’s appeal IMO).  It follows the disillusionment of Scout in her mid-twenties as she realizes that Atticus’ racial beliefs are more complicated (read: more racist) than she once thought. Since Atticus is considered a “watchman” of her hometown, his beliefs don’t bode well for Maycomb, Alabama, and Scout is morally horrified.

            Having a racist character in your book doesn’t automatically make the book racist. I think that Harper Lee started somewhere (with this manuscript) and listened to her editors (rightfully so) to make a more fully fleshed out novel of complex empathy and racial tension (To Kill a Mockingbird). Reading this honestly does a disservice to the author’s vulnerable writing process, and I don’t recommend picking it up unless you really want to thoroughly study the progression of a renowned literary figure (and feel uncomfortable that you’re maybe contributing monetarily to the exploitation of an undeserving elderly woman). Go Set a Watchman receives 1 out of 5 camel humps.


*Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. Print.