Something on David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress, Shamelessly Plagiarized and Rearranged from One-Star Amazon Reviews

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This is not a review.

This book was recommended to me.

An experimental, philosophical novel.

I really wanted to like this book.

I had read the reviews & after being unable for a few years to buy it secondhand, I bit the bullet & bought it new.

The beginning is intriguing.

The concept of the book is dead simple.

The idea is this: Kate is a painter; she is the last person on earth, maybe; she is alone in a house on the Long Island beach

Markson picks up Kate’s dialogue in media res and trusts the reader enough to piece together what the heck is going on: she is the last person left on earth and is making her way through it as best she can, telling us her story as she goes.

Short declarative sentences loop feverishly around her brain, repeating themselves, correcting themselves, contradicting themselves, and filling in missing information many pages later.

The narrator’s voice rings true.

It is frustrating, repetitive, and does not offer much in the way of style and language.

No chapter breaks, no real paragraphs even.

Read at random.

This book received 54 rejections before finding a publisher. This I can believe.

Her little apercus are all about observation and remembrance, the real and the false, blah, blah.

(Joyce, Baldwin, Pynchon, Cortazar).

The book was meandering, rambling & jumped all over the place.

Not that oddness is bad.

It never centers on anything.

It’s the type of book best discussed in groups, since it does bring up some interesting themes—the fragility of memory and sanity, the ineffectiveness of language, the impact of philosophy and literature.

There’s nothing for the reader to latch onto and follow, other than the voice.

What about the subtext?

Like Wittgenstein said, “Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent.”

I am mad. I am crazy. Yesterday I died but returned in time to write this.

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Books Acquired, Some Time Last Week (Plus Some Garden Shots)

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Josh Ritter’s Bright’s Passage is out in trade paperback, featuring a Q&A at the end with Ritter and some guy named Neil Gaiman who used to write comic books or something. Here’s my write up from last year, wherein I quote some guy named Stephen King:

Bright’s Passage is the début novel from songwriter/musician Josh Ritter. This slim novel tells the story Henry Bright, a man who returns to the hills of West Virginia after the trauma of World War I only to have his wife (who is also his first cousin) die in childbirth. Bright buries her body and sets fire to their cabin, which sparks a massive forest fire. Bright then takes his infant son and flees, both from the fire and his unstable father-in-law, “The Colonel,” a vet of America’s adventures in the Philippines who still wears his uniform. The Colonel and his crazy sons pursue Bright, who is guided on the lam by the angel who talks to him—yeah, an angel directs Bright; in fact it was the angel’s idea that Bright marry his cousin, burn down his cabin, and run . . . also, the angel swears that Bright’s son is going to be, like, the new Messiah. Also, Bright’s horse talks. Ritter moves the action between Bright’s flight, his ordeal in WWI, and his youth in simple, concrete, declarative prose. There are echoes here of Chris Adrian’s angel stories (The Children’s Hospital and A Better Angel), and perhaps something of a Cormac McCarthy-lite vibe. Here’s an excerpt from obscure author Stephen King’s review in the Times

At its best, “Bright’s Passage” shines with a compressed lyricism that recalls Ray Bradbury in his prime. When Henry, his talking horse — a kind of holy Mr. Ed — and the Future King of Heaven leave the woods and enter a small town, Ritter writes: “It seemed a tidy place of dappled white houses and American flags. . . . Even the trees here seemed to have a kind of deep green and prepossessing prosperity that the trees of the forest could have no share in.” Recalling his mother’s death, Henry remembers “a windstorm that made the trees bow to one another like ballroom dancers.” More striking still are Henry’s memories of life in the trenches, some of which compare favorably to the prose in Mark Helprin’s “Soldier of the Great War”: “Artillery passed high above their heads in singsong trajectories that merged and lifted with one another into strange musical chords, like cats crossing pump organs.”

And here’s a tomato from my spring garden:

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Nice cover on China Airborne, a book about the rise of Chinese industry by James Fallows. Pantheon’s write up:

More than two-thirds of the new airports under construction today are being built in China. Chinese airlines expect to triple their fleet size over the next decade and will account for the fastest-growing market for Boeing and Airbus. But the Chinese are determined to be more than customers. In 2011, China announced its Twelfth Five-Year Plan, which included the commitment to spend a quarter of a trillion dollars to jump-start its aerospace industry. Its goal is to produce the Boeings and Airbuses of the future. Toward that end, it acquired two American companies: Cirrus Aviation, maker of the world’s most popular small propeller plane, and Teledyne Continental, which produces the engines for Cirrus and other small aircraft.

In China Airborne, James Fallows documents, for the first time, the extraordinary scale of this project and explains why it is a crucial test case for China’s hopes for modernization and innovation in other industries. He makes clear how it stands to catalyze the nation’s hyper-growth and hyper- urbanization, revolutionizing China in ways analogous to the building of America’s transcontinental railroad in the nineteenth century. Fallows chronicles life in the city of Xi’an, home to more than 250,000 aerospace engineers and assembly workers, and introduces us to some of the hucksters, visionaries, entrepreneurs, and dreamers who seek to benefit from China’s pursuit of aerospace supremacy. He concludes by examining what this latest demonstration of Chinese ambition means for the United States and the rest of the world—and the right ways to understand it.

Some not-quite-ripe blackberries from my garden:

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 I like the cover on this one too, a historical mystery by Robin Blake called A Dark Anatomy (and I know someone who might like this book for a present). From Blake’s site:

Mid-Georgian Preston was one of England’s ancient self-governing charter towns, pleasantly and strategically located in the heart of Lancashire, with a thriving agricultural market, and a significant concentration of craft workers amongst its stable population of below 5,000. In the 1600s the town gradually became Lancashire’s prime social and legal centre, and remained so until industrialization transformed and disfigured the town at the end of the century, turning it into the grimy and overcrowded manufactory that Charles Dickens called Coketown, the setting for Hard Times.  Today hardly anything pre-Victorian remains except the medieval street-plan around the central area: the three principle streets of Church Gate (now Church Street), Friar Gate and Fisher Gate,  leading away from the focal point of the flagged market and the site of the old timber-framed Moot Hall, where a 1960s office block of remarkable ugliness now stands.

Politically, like most other borough towns, Georgian Preston was an oligarchy. The council’s 24 members (or burgesses) appointed each other and parceled out the senior offices, including the Mayor and two Bailiffs, annually between themselves. Charter towns like this were virtual city-states where (in Tom Paine’s scathing words) a man’s “rights are circumscribed to the town and, in some cases, to the parish of his birth; and all other parts, though in his native land, are to him as a foreign country”.  These communities reserved the right to run their own affairs, and keep outsiders away at all costs.

I take a few liberties with details of local administration, not least in the Coroner’s office. In historical Preston the unusual custom was for the annually appointed  Mayor to sit as Coroner ex officio. But I wanted my investigator to stand apart from local politics, so I have imposed the more usual model whereby the Coroner was a Crown appointment with life-tenure, and independent of the Corporation. My other inventions in A Dark Anatomy include Garlick Hall, the nearby village of Yolland, and most of the cast of characters.

And here’s a white eggplant from my garden:

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Late to Love: Bret Easton Ellis

In high school I bought American Psycho from Barnes & Noble and read it in a few weeks. I knew it was full of awful, horrible stuff that I would never be able to forget but I did it anyways. I was fascinated, revolted; I laughed out loud. I became that one guy that burst everyone’s bubble by telling them that the movie sucked or at least totally missed the point of the book (whatever point there might have been) and that it also left out every one of the funniest scenes, and, oh that the ending was total bullshit. People would ask me if I “liked” the book and I would evasively respond: “I don’t know if it’s a book one can actually like…” or “I don’t know if like is the right word…”—and just generally avoid making any kind of decision about the book, or its author, that prince of darkness Bret Easton Ellis.

But Bret Easton Ellis intrigued me. Later, when the film Rules of Attraction came out I saw it in the theater by myself and purchased the DVD. It was a much better film than AP, and that was satisfying to me in some way. I didn’t read the book, nor was I moved to seek out Less Than Zero, although at some point I found Glamorama at a used store and bought it for the heck of it, but I don’t think I ever even tried to read it. I was interested in BEE but only from afar. He had definitely scarred me with AP. It was a singular experience at the time and (to this day has maybe been matched only by Jerzy Kosinski with my combined readings of Steps and The Painted Bird). I wasn’t really looking to be haunted in that way any time soon.

I can still remember where I was when I heard about Lunar Park. I read about it at The New York Times, on the family computer at a friend’s parents’ house in Rutland Vermont. I saw that Ellis had a new book, skimmed the article, and saw mention of “meta” elements, the use of a character named “Bret Ellis” who was decidedly not intended to be the actual author of the book, but rather a sort of parallel dimension version of BEE who had settled down in the suburbs and had kids. This was all interesting to me and I made the mental note, “Read Lunar Park.” That was in August 2005.

Fast forward to May 2010. In the five years since Lunar Park came out everything about my life has changed. I am living in Los Angeles pursuing a career in screenwriting. I have been married for a year and I have an apartment and two cats. And it is in this apartment that I come across a VICE interview with the man himself, on the eve of the publication of his new novel Imperial Bedrooms. I find myself reading the interview and it dawns on me that I have never read or heard this man speak, I’ve barely seen photographs of him, and that basically everything I think I know about him has been pure conjecture derived from conversations over the years.

My idea of Bret Ellis as this detached, cynical, deviant creature is immediately thrown out the window by seeing pictures of him wearing a hooded sweatshirt and sitting at a desk. In some of the photos green palm trees can be seen behind him and it becomes clear very quickly in the interview that he now lives in Los Angeles as well. I end up reading the entire article and thinking that Ellis is just a guy like anyone else, not especially pretentious or malevolent, as he had been accused of being by people I had spoken with at times. And what’s more he made reference to “the Stephen King part” of Lunar Park.

My mind exploded.

What Stephen King part? I remembered and reinstated my mental note: “Read Lunar Park.”

And a few weeks later, as though on cue a beautiful hardback first edition copy of LP appeared at the used book stand at my neighborhood farmer’s market. I bought it on a Saturday morning and opened as I was cooking lunch, expecting to get a taste and maybe read a page or two while the food cooked. I ended up sitting on the couch for the entire day reading. That night I couldn’t wait for my wife to fall asleep so I could sit up late and maybe finish, and I started to do just that until I became so frightened by the story that I literally had to put it away until it was light outside. I had a little trouble sleeping that night but ultimately it was okay, and the next day I finished the book. Immediately I was on the phone telling friends to read it. I made several of my local friends borrow my copy and one-by-one everyone came back to me with the same positive report, and regardless of their previous experience or lack-there-of with Ellis’s writing, everyone who read it adored it.

My admiration extended past just the book or my experience reading it. It reconciled the past and my memories and suddenly I found myself saying “I like Bret Easton Ellis” or even going so far as to thinking of myself as a fan of his. I slowly started keeping up with his online presence, (going so far as even joining Twitter just to follow him) and I find the experience genuinely rewarding. Don’t get me wrong: he’s obviously a weird guy sometimes (anyone who could write the habitrail scene in AP would have to be I guess) and I don’t always agree with his randomly asserted opinions about books and movies (I disagree in particular with him about music: our tastes are just simply different). But overall, I think he has a valid and useful perspective on culture and entertainment. Perhaps some of the detractors still see him as the austere, decadent, nihilistic provocateur that I feared and resented in high school, but I have an impossible time jiving that notion with the man who tweeted recently that he had been talked into getting really stoned and going to see The Lorax.

And I guess this all ties in with his recent series of tweets that he is considering a pseudosequel to American Psycho. Suddenly, this proposition seemed so appealing. It’s been twelve years since I read AP, and in that time I don’t think I’ve ever opened it again, and now suddenly I find myself wanting more, hoping that Ellis decides to go through with it.

So yesterday in excited anticipation I went down to the farmer’s market and this time the used book guy had two beautiful paperback copies of Rules of Attraction and Less Than Zero. I bought them both. Even if Ellis does convince himself to write the Los Angeles Patrick Bateman story, it will be years before it will be published and in my hands, so I guess I need to relax and catch up on everything I missed out on so far.

Happy Halloween Links

A letter by Poe showcasing his prominent signature.

Make this cool Edgar Allan Poe toy.

Cannibal Man cover praised; plot summarized.

Seven horror novels masquerading in other genres.

H.P. Lovecraft’s creepy little short story “The Outsider.”

“Slicin’ up eyeballs / Oh oh oh oh.”

Excellent gallery of illustrated horror film posters.

Stephen King explains how to make vampires scary again.

Stephen King sucks.

Hot freaks.

28 Weeks Later is a good film, but it hates children.

Harry Clarke illustrates Faust.

The gang from The Office makes a slasher film.

On Michael Jackson’s Ghosts.

Brendon Small (Metalocalypse, Home Movies) schedules 24 hours of horror films.

“You are tearing me apart Lisa!”

Jack Nicholson.

Kate Mosse’s top 10 ghost stories.