For a man who wanted nothing more than to be left alone, the hoopla around JD Salinger’s death would surely frustrate the reclusive author. A local DJ here in Atlanta not known for his love of literature was breathless wondering aloud if now – finally! – unfinished manuscripts would be discovered in his home and published. If only he had died sooner! Groannnn…
Best of all the million headlines so far: Bunch of Phonies Mourn J.D. Salinger.
Yesterday I glowlingy reviewed Michael FitzGerald’s excellent debut novel, Radiant Days. The author graciously consented to subject himself for a little Q&A from the likes of us, which will endear him to us forever. Onward…
Baby Got Books interview with Michael FitzGerald, author of Radiant Days
Baby Got Books: I found out about your book over beers with an author that I met through my blog. I read your book, loved it, and then was able to meet up with you via Goodreads. What’s your take on this crazy web 2.0 world? It must be nice to have these avenues for getting word out about your book and to interact directly with readers, but does it take away from time that you would have spent writing if a global corporate marketing department was doing the work for you?
Michael FitzGerald: Many cool things happened with the book because of these avenues, but communicating with people on Goodreads, while somewhat rewarding, just sort of wasn’t writing. As it’s been said, the web is a 2-inch deep ocean, going on in all directions indefinitely, but nothing really under the surface. I guess to extend that flimsy metaphor: marketing your book on the internet is like wading through this massive puddle. No real danger, but not a rewarding as swimming across something big and deep.
Sort of along these line… my own process with this book…I’m not connected to any sort of writing community or the publishing world in any real way. I don’t teach regularly. (I’m a software developer to pay the bills—although I was laid off last Friday!) I had two boys under the age of 3 when the book came out. So I really had no idea what I should be doing for promotion. The best I could come up with is to treat it like writing, which is to just show up. My writing process—if you could call it that—is to wake early and write for 2-3 hours before my day job. When the book came out, I did the same thing with promotion. Just made sure I spent 30 minutes every day doing something, anything, toward getting it read. The Web 2.0 world certainly made this easier to do from Boise, ID than it would have been 5 or 10 years earlier.
BGB: The reviews that I’ve seen for your book focus on Anthony, your protagonist, as a prototype of the disconnected American youth living abroad. Yet by and large the European characters seem to be as morally bankrupt, if not more so, than Anthony (perhaps for different reasons). Do you think that this emotional disconnection among young people is just part of the modern condition?
MF: I did when I was in my 20s, when most of the book was written. Now I think it’s just how we are in our 20s. And the European characters were a bit extreme… they were forged by war or 50 years of Communism.
On a personal level—and I think each of us has some distinct thing like this that we use—but I had a strict Catholic upbringing. All-boys Benedictine uniform-wearing boarding school. And while in that structured environment, I experienced all the normal stuff high school kids do: a bit too much LSD, awkward desperate attempts at sex, humiliating social life. But because the Catholic part was so unbending, there was a feeling that once the rules have been broken, just get hurly-burly. You’re going to hell anyway, etc… It all felt very dramatic but cool, since we were in bowties.
BGB: I read Radiant Days after reading “genius grant”-winner Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project and couldn’t help but notice that the two books work well together as companion pieces. In Hemon’s book, a young Bosnian finds himself disconnected and adrift in the US. (Some literature class somewhere will be assigned both books.) I’ve read an interview where you were quoted as saying that you have read all of Hemon’s work. Do you know if Hemon has read your book? Is your genius grant on its way?
MF: Yeah, Hemon is so amazing. I read The Question of Bruno just as I’d finished the first draft of Radiant Day and immediately felt like a fraud. I don’t know if he’s read it. I think my ears would fall off.
BGB: Marsh, the British war correspondent, was an especially interesting character. He was one of the few people that seemed to have some purpose (and a real job) in his life and there are hints in the book that suggest that his aloof attitude may have been a front to some extent. In many ways he seems out of place with the motley group in Bucharest. I kept wondering what he was doing with those people. (There’s a question here somewhere – I’ll go with this:) Does the expatriot scene lend itself to this type of strange bedfellow scenario?
MF: Yes and no. Common language, especially someplace like Hungary where expats are pretty isolated from the natives, creates bonds between people that wouldn’t normally exist. But at the same time, the young journalists I know tend to be game for anything. Marsh was accomplished, but he was also just sort of finding his way. He was educated, but he really couldn’t drive a car. And there’s a tradition of witty Brits who have little utility outside cocktail conversation.
I don’t how I feel about revealing this… but Marsh is based on two close friends, both journalists. He’ll vigorously deny this, but Owen Matthews was a main inspiration for Marsh. (Read his Amazon review.) He’s brilliant and a lot of fun. He’s presently the Moscow bureau chief for Newsweek and the author of the astonishing, Stalin’s Children. The other is Charlie Graeber, who writes for Wired, National Geographic’s Adventure, and others. He has a book coming out about the compliance of New Jersey hospitals with a serial killer nurse. He’s a dear friend.
BGB: It is unclear from Anthony’s account whether Anthony’s “girlfriend” Gisela’s activities in Hungary and Croatia were on the level, and he may not have cared one way or the other. Did you purposely keep her actions vague to keep Anthony on the hook for his apparent lack of concern?
MF: I’d like to say there was something purposeful behind this. But mostly I just felt it was true. I dated Hungarians when I was over there, and I never had any idea what was going on with them. Once, I thought we were going to church, and we ended up a pig slaughter (family ritual) which involved a four-wheeler and palinka.
BGB: The travels in the book kept me running to my laptop to fire up Google Earth to follow the trail and check out the locales via maps and the user-posted pictures there. Some of the war torn areas you describe in Croatia are among the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and they appear (from here) to have recovered well. I’ve read that you visited the area extensively before the war broke out, have you been back since writing the book? If so, how has it changed from your memories?
MF: No, unfortunately, I haven’t been back. I was pretty delusional about how a book gets published. Specifically, I thought there would be a step where I got a massive advance and could return to the Croatia for some fact checking. Whoops.
BGB: Radiant Days was nominated for a Henry Miller Award by Nerve.com for best literary sex scene. I went and re-read the passage that they cited. What’s wrong with those people?
MF: Intern with a wicked sense of humor?
Sometimes this blog thing pays off. For instance, I never would have learned about the amazing debut novel Radiant Days by Michael FitzGerald without it. I was talking about books over beers with author and all-around cool guy Ben Tanzer (who I first “met” through these virtual pages). We were tossing out the titles of books that we thought had been criminally overlooked. I forget what I said, but Ben was fairly insistent that I drop everything else that I was doing so that I could run, not walk, to the nearest bookseller and grab a copy of Radiant Days. I owe Ben a huge debt of gratitude for steering me toward this stellar novel (which is on my favorite books read in 2009 list).
The globe-trotting book begins in San Francisco in the midst of the dot-com boom. Anthony Sinclair is a twenty something who is getting paid very well for doing very little, and he feels like a bit of a fraud. After an unfortunate incident, he becomes awash in guilt and need of a change. Anthony is wallowing in a self-destructive haze when a beautiful and mysterious bartender, Gisela, invites him to travel with her back home to Budapest. Sensing an opportunity for something positive, a fresh start and the potential for a relationship with someone seemingly way out of his league, he agrees. But what starts out with so much possibility, rapidly falls down a rabbit hole of what one of my literature professors would call “moral bankruptcy.”
In Budapest, Anthony finds himself with little to do. Gisela come and goes irregularly and on her on her own schedule – and without feeling the need to explain herself later. Anthony is left to fall in with a group of expatriots and English speakers led by Marsh, a cocky and enigmatic British journalist. Instead of finding a renewed sense of purpose, Anthony finds himself ever more disconnected from the world around him. The Europeans that he encounters are in many ways even more morally adrift than Anthony. Where his remove seems to have evolved from a life of relative affluence and ease that seems undeserved, Anthony’s acquaintances on the continent seem to operate on a different moral plane altogether. Their lives bear the permanent imprint and emotional distance brought on by generations of constant war and international conflict.
Things come to a head when Marsh, Gisela, and Anthony set out together for Croatia during the last days of war in the Balkans. Marsh is going to cover the war, and Gisela is setting out on a vague mission that may be of a dubious moral/legal nature. Anthony is more or less tagging along without really questioning his motives for continuing on with people whose acceptance he craves and yet is becoming increasingly more disenchanted with. It is made clear to Anthony on this journey that Americans have no history (relatively speaking) and no real understanding of the history of the broader world. When Marsh calls Anthony out on this point, it is really an indictment of all of us (Americans):
“Didn’t you say you went to college?” he asked.
“European history? World history? What did they teach you?”
“I didn’t really take any history.”
“How did you graduate?”
“I only had to take classes in my major.”
“You didn’t read Bridge on the Drina? Ivo Andric won the Nobel Prize.”
“Missed that one.”
“Not Balkan history.”
“This isn’t Balkan history. This is the history of Western civilization…our civilization..wouldn’t exist if places like Croatia and the greater Balkans hadn’t so generously taken it up the arse for the past one thousand years.”
During the journey from Budapest to Croatia, the novel had me scrambling to Google Earth to figure out where exactly the travelers were (which further served to highlight my own ignorance of this part of the world). I was surprised to learn that many of the places mentioned are stunningly beautiful (Exhibit A and Exhibit B), at least as viewed form here and after the war. Helpfully, someone has compiled a Google map of all of the places mentioned in Radiant Days (with page numbers and reference!). If you plan on reading the book, bookmark the map already.
Radiant Days is a tremendous novel. For me, it raised many interesting questions. How far are you willing to follow that really hot girl that you know is no good for you and how much are you willing to put up with? What are the limits of moral relativism? Is it possible to be more emotionally insulated and self-absorbed than when you are in your twenties? What does it take to snap out of that deadening torpor? Where do you fit into the world as a North American? What responsibilities (if any) come along with the geographic accident of birth? Simply put this is a novel that sticks with you when you’re done.
So. Many thanks to Ben Tanzer for sending this gem my way. And now I share the love and heartily recommend it to you.
Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of the death of John Updike. Fittingly I just finished Rabbit at Rest, the fourth and final installment in the life of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. And for any of you who’ve found yourself intrigued by fictional accounts of the American male condition, you’d be well-served to delve into these books if you haven’t already (a dare to anyone who read Independence Day, regardless of whether you liked it or not).
As I’ve said in posts about the earlier Rabbit books, our main character is a pretty despicable person in many respects. I don’t relate to a lot of things he does or to a lot of the things he feels. Yet I couldn’t turn away from watching his life unfold.
Rabbit at Rest opens with Rabbit and his wife Janice living in their Summer home in Deleon, Florida, and heading to the airport to pick up their son Nelson, his wife Pru, and their two children, who are coming to visit. Rabbit is in his mid-fifties and is still trying to figure out his place in the world now that he’s the father of a grown son and the grandfather of two small children. As he balances life in a retirement community in Florida for half of each year with his roots and history in Brewer, Pennsylvania, we learn more and more about things he’s done and things he’s thought about and continues to think about. And when Rabbit suffers a heart attack while coming in from a rough ride on a Sunfish with his granddaughter, he is confronted with a need to re-examine his life and what he should do with the rest of it. And his inherent selfish and arrogant nature get in the way of his doing all of the things that would be best not only for those around him, but for himself. Sort of ironic to me.
When Rabbit makes one particular decision that comes back to haunt him, he is once again thrust into a battle for control of his life — a theme that has surfaced throughout this series. And once again, Rabbit attempts to take control of his life by throwing away the life that he has, both metaphorically and in a way literally.
This final book in the Rabbit series finishes much like Rabbit, Run (the first book in the series) started, with Rabbit re-living his glory days as a high-school basketball star by intruding on a youngster shooting around at a pick-up court.
Updike is without a doubt a master of the English language, and a master storyteller as well. And while I feel that Rabbit at Rest is the best of the four Rabbit books, I can’t be sure that I feel that way only because of the closure it brings to our main character, or because the specific events that take place with Rabbit are best told to us by Updike in this book. Regardless, if you are going to read one sentence from this series, you owe it to yourself to read every sentence in the series, starting with the first. Only then can you truly and fully appreciate the characters that Updike has created.
How does that saying go? Singing about punctuation is like dancing about blog posts? Something like that.
Between diaper changes, I received this book tip from my friend Anne:
Not one to normally pick up non-fiction, I felt I needed to give When Everything Changed by Gail Collins a chance when I saw her on The Colbert Report (below). I thought maybe it would shed some light on the whole Women’s Rights movement that happened while I was a kid. Well, I LOVED this book! Going to high school and college in the 1980’s I had no other goal, or frankly choice, than to go to college and get a job. I now have a much greater appreciation for the women who really did fight for women’s rights to choose on so many issues – from career choices and family planning down to the simplest right to wear pants in public.
There’s a fabulous review of the book at Slate. It’s long but does the book justice.
|The Colbert Report||Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
Update: The New York Review of Books has this podcast of Cathleen Schine speaking with Sasha Weiss about Gail Collins’s book
My brand new son, Finn, was born on January 15th, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. This is interesting to me, because my daughter was born the day before MLK’s death day. She discovered this fact while watching a short kids’ oriented MLK documentary in pre-school. She reported back to us, “We learned about Martinluffaking today. He wanted everybody to be nice to each other so a mean man killed him.” She has been grilling us about Martinluffaking regularly in the years since. More or less non-stop. (“Mommy, tell me another non-fiction story about Martinluffaking.”) Having exhausted our own version of events, we turned to children’s books on the subject.
Martin’s Big Words byDoreen Rappaport with illustrations by Bryan Collier came highly recommended. It’s a beautiful book and a great starting point for providing information to curious youngsters. As you can see from the cover, it has also won many awards. The book gives a nice overview of MLK’s life, and while it doesn’t shy away from the facts, it doesn’t go into a lot of detail either. It left my 5 year old asking more questions, so I turned to the “additional reading” list at the end of Martin’s Big Words for guidance on where to turn next.
If You Lived at the Time of Martin Luther King by Ellen Levine with illustrations by Beth Peck is where things get real. This book, while geared towards children, does not pull any punches. It is guaranteed to raise questions that may be difficult to answer if you’re not ready- so be prepared. (“Why did people get killed over silly rules?”- i.e., segregation laws.) You will find yourself having to explain details on slavery, segregation, the Klan, lynching, and other delightful bedtime topics. If You Lived is probably geared towards slightly older children, but it is answering my daughter’s many, many questions while raising many, many more.
The heartening thing about this experience is that Civil Rights seem to be self-evident to five year olds. Most of our conversations are centered on how things are no longer as they were in MLK’s time and why that’s a good thing. My daughter is in a very diverse kindergarten class, and I can see that it doesn’t make any sense to her that grown-ups would have once told her that she couldn’t be friends or even go to school with some of her classmates. Maybe that’s why this all so fascinating to her. I’m sure there are more excellent books on the topic, but that’s as far as we’ve made it in our readings. Let me know if you have recommendations for our sure to be growing Civil Rights bookshelf.
I am informed that Tim and Jen have successfully completed a collaborative project: a healthy baby boy. They haven’t named him yet, so I’m sure they’ll appreciate seeing your suggestions in the Comments.
I’ll put in a plug for Inman: not only does the name evoke one of Atlanta’s nicest neighborhoods, it’s the handle of one of the most memorable literary characters of the past twenty or so years, the protagonist of Cold Mountain.
Mazel tov, y’all.
The short story collection Dead Boys by Richard Lange was one of the best that I’ve ever read. A San Francisco Times reviewer called the book one of the best story collections of the last fifty years. It was pretty damn good. (Check out my review here.) Richard Lange also had the lack of judgement to be among the first authors to subject himself to a BGB interview. It should come as no surprise then, that I was eager to get my hands on Lange’s first novel, This Wicked World. I picked it up right when it came out, but then a funny thing happened. I couldn’t read it. It sat on my shelf for months because I was sure that I would be disappointed when it didn’t live up to the promise of Dead Boys. Eventually I got over it and gave it a shot..
One of the things that I really enjoyed about Dead Boys is Lange’s ability to bring the various neighborhoods of Los Angeles (a place that I’ve never been) to sharp and crackling life. In Wicked World, Lange has the room to explore Los Angeles from the faux glitz of Hollywood Boulevard to the tenements of illegal workers and almost everywhere in between. Similarly, all manner of Angelinos find their way onto these pages.
Jimmy Boone is an ex-con and former bodyguard to the stars. He’s stuck bar tending and working for an abusive boss who exploits Jimmy’s limited options for his own needs. A a friend calls on Jimmy to help out with a private investigation job, mostly by standing around looking like a cop. He is hesitant to join in at first, but it seems like a way to briefly escape the tedium of his life. Which naturally becomes quite the understatement. The seemingly innocuous gig quickly pulls Jimmy into a hidden world of crime, violence, and mayhem. Forget keeping on the right side of his parole officer, he’ll be lucky to get out alive.
Lange is an excellent writer. This is a very good, gritty, crime novel that packs a punch while keeping it real. Lange excels in creating a palpable sense of place and that skill is on full display here. However, the narrative was not as tightly wound as the short stories in Dead Boys which left me a little disappointed, but I suppose that is to be expected.
My biggest gripe with the novel though is an epilogue that feels as though some suit at the publisher coerced Lange to tack it on the end. The novel ends as it should, with some ambiguity about what might happen next. The kind of ending that keeps you thinking about a novel when you’re done. And then, suddenly, there’s an epilogue that spells out exactly how everything turns out down the road. Bummed me out. Check out the novel, but carefully remove the epilogue first.
Initially I was hesitant to check out The Awakener: A Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties by Helen Weaver. I was sure that it would amount to a hagiography. Weaver had dated Kerouac for a short time in the fifties, and a lightly disguised version of the author appears as a character in one of Kerouac’s novels. However, the novel is published by City Lights in San Francisco, which is owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. This fact seems to amount to an official “Beats Seal of Approval”, so I decided to check it out.
Weaver tells an interesting story of the escape of a young woman from the Leave it to Beaver 50′s of Scarsdale, NY to the happening scene of Greenwich Village. One day, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and friends end up on her doorstep looking for a place to crash. Kerouac and Weaver begin a brief and tumultuous relationship. Ultimately, she must turn out the alcoholic and seemingly rudderless Kerouac. With the value added of hindsight, Weaver comes up with this eulogy of the relationship:
I rejected him for the same reason America rejected him. He woke us up in the middle of the night in the long dream of the fifties. He interfered with our sleep.
Naturally she means this literally for herself and figuratively for America. Weaver’s memoir also discusses her dalliances in religion and psychotherapy. She draws on these experiences to explain how the French-Canadian Kerouac’s Catholic upbringing informed his Buddhism, and how both philosophies made him who he was.
Weaver’s story also sheds light on the publishing business, in which she was employed, as it existed in the 1950′s. It sounds like little has changed since then:
It was here that I first learned that from a publisher’s point of view the author is a necessary evil: a sort of un-housebroken, hypersensitive enfant terrible who needs to be nursed along, ignores deadlines, and makes impossible demands, and that it would be a whole lot easier and more efficient to publish books without having to deal with them–except for the inconvenient fact that you need then in order to have books to publish. When an author was actually physically present in the house there was a sense of excitement in the air…as if a wild animal were loose in the halls.
The subtitle of the book, A Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties, seems to lose its focus later in the book as Weaver begins to talk about the sixties and that time that she hooked up with Lenny Bruce. (She had a thing for doomed young men, apparently.) Ultimately she comes back to Jack and the changing perceptions of the Beats and their place in the world of Letters.
Weaver now lives in Woodstock and has embraced some new age ideas. She has written books about communicating with animals and astrology. She has also helpfully included complete astrology charts for the main players discussed in her memoir. I admit, she lost me completely there. In the end, Weaver’s memoir, though uneven and occasionally a little too new age-y for my tastes, is a fascinating look at the private side of Jack Kerouac and other luminaries, the Beat’s scene in 1950′s New York, and the legacy of the Beat Generation.
For more on The Awakener (including an excerpt), see City Lights’ web site.
Today we’re celebrating the conclusion of five years of BGB-ness. As we begin our sixth year, we’ve put a fresh coat of paint on the old blog. Let us know what you think and/or what seems to have gone horribly wrong.
It’s a snow day here in Atlanta. Not much snow, but we’re completely unequipped to deal with it. Our Nordic-like conditions this morning reminded me of Robert Goolrick’s excellent novel A Reliable Wife. And then I remembered that I forgot to write about it after reading it last winter. Mea culpa. Well, better late than never.
A Reliable Wife takes place in the frozen wilds of Wisconsin. A wealthy industrialist has separated himself from everyone who lives and works near him. They are essentially his employees. He waits in the cold for his new wife to arrive by train. A wife that he has never met that has responded to his advertisement in the Chicago papers for “a reliable wife.” As one might expect, a person who answers such an add must be looking to escape to a better place. This wife brings with her secrets of an unexpected past.
A Reliable Wife reads like a classic – not a “modern classic” but a 19th Century literary classic. It’s a neat trick that Goolrick pulls off here, and he does it with a light touch. I highly recommend this novel (just out in paperback) for your winter reading needs. BGB’s Russ also named it to his Top 3 Books of ’09 list.
Big in Japan by M. Thomas Gammarino is yet another book where the literary and the musical converge. Have I mentioned that I tend to enjoy when that happens? No? It’s true. And it only seems like these are the only kinds of books that I’ve been reading lately. I’m reading other stuff, too. Really. Anyway…
Big in Japan begins with a going-nowhere-fast prog rock band called Agenbite plotting their next big move. Agenbite take their name from a passage in James Joyce’s Ulysses: “Speaking to me. They wash and tub and scrub. Agenbite of inwit. Conscience.” I’ll admit that I had to look up “agenbite” even with the context. ”Agenbite of inwit” sounds like a Hobbit’s name, and even though that would fit very well with the prog rock ethos, it is not. It means remorse (and is my new favorite word). And if there were ever to be an embodiment of remorse, it would be Agenbite’s leader, Brain.
Brain is an ironic nickname that stuck when Brian misspelled his name in grade school. He’s a nerdy guy and a perfectionist in his craft as a technical guitarist and Agenbite’s songwriter. He seems a little despondent to note that most of his band’s fans are dudes, which is doing nothing to help him land his first real live girlfriend. When the band decides to go to Japan in an attempt to boost their lackluster record sales, Brain is the last to get on board with the plan.
Once in Japan, Brain promptly falls down the rabbit hole. An encounter with a Japanese sex worker is the catalyst that sends Brain’s life directly off the rails. Like the Chinese idea of yin and yang, from there on out the novel explores the opposing forces at work in Brain (and by extension – us). East versus West. Love and lust. Sacred and profane. Intellect (or Brain!) versus the body. Striving versus slacking. And so on. These dualities lead to some questionable behavior in Brain, which of course leads to the agenbite of inwit – the nagging of conscience.
Remember the questionable essay in the New York Times Book Review last weekend, the one where the author noted that modern American male writers no longer write about sex as a conquest or means of redemption/salvation or whatever? I had this novel in mind when I was reading that essay and immediately thought “bullshit!” Big In Japan is all about sex as conquest and a possible means of temporary redemption/salvation. The novel places these ideas in Japan, questioning the cultural imperialism of the conquest and the human cost of the redemption/salvation. The novel also highlights some of the cultural differences between Americans and Japanese in attitudes about sex.
The subtitle of the book, “A Ghost Story”, baffled me until the very end. This isn’t a horror novel nor are then any phantasms rattling chains on the fringes. However, a jarring vision does come to Brain in his most desperate hour that explodes his conceptions of where things stand in the world and his place in it. The stunning denouement arrives at a conclusion – a very Eastern conclusion – that puts all of Brain’s internal deliberations and waywardness into the ultimate context.
As I often mention here, I’m a big fan of the intersection of music and books. Knowing that interest, David Zweig’s novel Swimming Inside the Sun came to me highly recommended. I’m glad it did. Its an insightful look at the creation of art and the emotional wreckage that can come from putting all of yourself into something.
Swimming Inside the Sun is the story of Daniel Green, a New York musician. He has an affordable Manhattan apartment, and he’s received a nice advance to go along with his major label recording contract. Sounds great. There is a rub – and it is a big one. After fighting every step of the way to make the album that he wanted to create, the way he wanted it created, things change at the label. The suits no longer want to release, promote, market or otherwise spend another moment (or dollar) more on his creation. They’ve canned his album and contract. Also: they won’t let him have the recordings, because they paid for them.
With money enough to live on – for a while anyway – and having been royally screwed on his big break, Daniel’s ambitions to do much of anything dry up. Thus begins a cycle of destructive inward reflection and emotional/creative paralysis. Daniel begins to jot ever increasingly complex notes to himself on yellow post-it notes that he begins to affix to his walls. He can’t bring himself to touch his guitar – or do much of anything else really – except think, watch TV, and write notes to himself.
The novel features a brilliant scene that was funny in a humorous train wreck sort of way. Daniel becomes so inward looking that the “noise” of the outside world finally makes him snap. He makes a sign that says “shut up!” He then walks around New York City holding the sign up to random people on the street, cell phone users, Apple advertisements – the noise of the modern world. This experiment does not end well for Daniel. Whether or not Daniel can pull himself out of this downward spiral creates the tension of the novel, and I’m not telling.
Getting inside someone like Daniel’s mind can make for challenging reading at times. There are more than a few authorial asides, expository bursts, and extended internal dialogues. Daniel, at least, seems aware of this:
You f*cking bastards. You demand action. You protest: When are things going to happen? Where’s the thrust, the suspense, the plot unfurling like a red carpet unrolling for the Queen? No more thoughts! No more authorial asides, expository bursts, extended internal dialogues!
Some may be put off by Daniel’s endless introspection, but I think it is a necessary part of the story. One other minor quibble: I lost an afternoon after a reference to the Mandolin Bros. music store on Staten Island left me browsing their “how-much-are-you-willing-to-spend” web site at length. Who walks in and buys this?
But I digress… Swimming Inside the Sun is an immersive view of the demons of creativity. I found it to be an engrossing and ultimately rewarding novel. I’d recommend it for the “Shut Up” piece alone.
Welcome back, everyone. I hope that your New Year is off to a wonderful beginning. Things have never been better on this end, however… my sinuses are about to crush my optic nerves and what is left of my brain. So we’re starting the New Year off with a look back at some of the things that we all may have missed over the past few weeks:
The Guardian lists the books to look out for in 2010 (through June).
Motoko Rich (in the NYT) says these are the books you should look out for in January.
Did you read this essay in the NYT Book Review yesterday? The one about old American novelists being virile perverts and younger American novelists being wimpy snugglers? Is it me or this a case of cherry-picking examples to support a pre-conceived idea?
Have you worked up your reading resolutions for 2010 yet? Me neither. Wayne Gooderham at The Guardian book blog provides his five reading resolutions for the New Year. OK. Put me down for a 1, 4, and a 5 (but different authors on that last one).
The Ultimate Hipster Reading List…and “we mean hipster in the good way (this time).”
Gary Levine, illustrator of The New York Review of Books, passed on over the holidays at the age of 83. He drew this picture of young American snuggler author Dave Eggers, which does not portray him in an especially manly light:
Speaking of remembrances, I received a note the other day along the lines of, “hey, you’re in Georgia, why no post on the passing of Athens legend Vic Chestnut?” Good question. The last time I saw Vic Chestnut play was almost a year ago in New York City. A man whose life bore its share of pain and suffering almost turned himself inside-out singing R.E.M.’s anthem about finding redemption through pain and suffering. It was an incredibly moving performance made only more poignant by recent events. I just found this video on YouTube of the show. The sound is poor, but you can get the gist: