Friday, May 24, 2019

Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley

   Look Alive Out There contains some truly hilarious moments.  I recall the brat next-door who plays his music too loud, Sloane's meta-appearance on Gossip Girls, the visit to Ecuador...Since these essays rely more on voice than plot points, I can be spoilerific.  You know the moment you start the Ecuadorian essay that she will not successfully climb a mountain.  She and her tour guide appear ill-equipt and mismatched.
   I can't advocate her adventurous nature.  The essays which deal with her apartment life suit me better than the long-distance travel ones.  I wonder nonetheless how any one person can have all these misadventures.  She can be walking down the street and encounter a punchline.
   I don't pick up a book specializing in humor every day.  I laughed out loud several times.  To be so powerless and yet so aware...I believe I'm paraphrasing some crucial comedic formula.
   Sloane also incorporates touchy-feel-good moments.  The Ecuadorian essay (let's face it - at this point if you're gonna read anything out of this collection it should be this one) highlights how hungry for friendship we can be.  In other essays she imparts the sense that life is fleeting, connections scattered, meaning scant.  Yet somehow we look alive?


Read-Alikes:

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life - plenty snark, more reality TV

Feminasty - politically charged yet retains the snark

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Stray City by Chelsey Johnson

   The cat on the cover got my attention.  The subject matter and my personal connection to the author entrapped it.  When I attended William & Mary, Chelsey Johnson was teaching Creative Writing.  Her bio says she still is.  I really wanted to gauge her craftsmanship.  As a frequent Workshop student, I found my classmates' output immensely interesting.  So it, of course, mattered what a teacher made.
   FYI Stray City hardly involves a cat.  Andrea Morales, a quiet Portland lesbian, commits the vile sin of dating a dude.  The Lesbian Mafia must never know.  It cannot stay a secret, though, when Andrea becomes pregnant.  I must stress this novel is, first and foremost, a history.  Come visit nineties era Portland and the lesbian, punk rock scene.  No plot to spoil here...The details enliven this text.  And the characters, I suppose, do as well.  The way Andrea's family excommunicates her resonates particularly strong.  Catholicism can still chill.
   The book's too short, though.  From what I gather her agent obliterated the second part. And the third introduces a whole 'nother cast.  I understand one must make compromises between audience's anticipations and one's ramblings, but I think this novel could have used a heckuvalot more straying.  Nevertheless pick it up, it's a quick and lively read.  Light erotic glances and symbolic karaoke. 

Read-Alikes:

Maggie the Mechanic - this comic gives a nineties feel and features strong lesbian leads

The Powerbook - far more artsy and philosophical a novel, but Jeanette Winterson also stresses history and women's love

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Dog Symphony by Sam Munson

   This thin book was hiding on our New Books cart.  I pulled it out and glimpsed the cover.  It looked intriguing.  Dog Symphony told a very crafty story of Argentinian corruption.  Having previously written novels describing actions above the border, Sam Munson took a trip here.  A surreal, sleepless, shaggy trip.

   The protagonist, a certain Boris Leonidovich, attends an academic conference.  Everything goes wrong weird.  He wanders the vacant streets where most households and businesses set out food and water bowls.  A vast dog pack engulfs him.  He quickly loses his self, although I am humored to relay he never loses his location.  As a specialist in prisons, he makes sure to memorize Buenos Aires's layout before leaving home.  Details such as these humor me.  You may also appreciate his linguistic flourishes.  I don't think I recognized the more arcane choices.  Who utilizes the adjective which describes a dog-headed saint?

   This book supposedly owes a great deal to César Aira.  I have not had the pleasure of reading him.  Unlike Gabriel García Márquez, Aira seems an undiscovered treasure thus far.  For the moment I relish this sample.  Dog Symphony gets a bit violent as it closes, but it nevertheless retains its quirkiness.  It also continues to the bitter end to indict authority.  Viva la Dog Symphony!    

Read-Alikes:

The Bald Soprano and Other Plays by Eugene Ionesco - absurd and wacky, these plays tap the same mystical channel

Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar - experimental Argentinian novel told in hops and skips, highly recommended

Friday, May 17, 2019

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

   This is a rare recommendation.  Unlike most items I spotlight, Killing Commendatore should already be recognized.  A guy like Haruki Murakami, translated into over fifty languages and sold over a million times, seems a Japanese John Grisham.  Yet somehow this blog neglects his surreal masterpiece 1Q84, the quirky magic of Dance Dance Dance, and the electrifying bildungsroman Kafka on the Shore.  I have respected the man's talents a long time.  Not a particularly melodic writer, Murakami, snares you with details.  His characters boil water, crack spaghetti noodles, listen to Vivaldi, and answer the telephone.  Just another day in the life until a two-foot man wearing ancient Japanese garb appears.  He claims he's the embodiment of an Idea.  It only gets weirder; hang on, Dorothy, we're not in Kyushu anymore...
   So, having already spent enough the review playing Murakami Mad Libs, I will say a bit about this one.  Killing Commendatore involves a middle-aged portrait painter and a log cabin.  Those are the more mundane details; the juicy bits introduce a pit in the woods and the aforementioned little Idea.  The prologue kind of neutralizes the novel.  It tells us that despite this time in the cabin the painter went on to love life.  How then are we to treat his depression?  In the end it won't hold; I spoil nothing more than the novel itself does there.  Suspense is not this one's strong point.  Rather a haunting congruity comes together in the final pages.  Symbolism, parallels, concepts, and Ideas make the work remarkable.

Read Alikes:

You can't go wrong with any of the previously mentioned Murakami novels.  1Q84 and Kafka on the Shore are especially monumental.  If you ain't read 'em, then you're missing out on crucial Japanese literature.  Speaking of crucial Japanese literature...

Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima - landmark work by an author whose life may be more interesting than his literature

Persona: a biography of Yukio Mishima - a mammoth exploration of The Big Nihon personality



Thursday, May 16, 2019

Your Duck is My Duck: Stories by Deborah Eisenberg

   I was surprised that two, maybe three weeks after finishing this unassuming book it hailed me.  It then asked, "did you think I was finished?".  Having closed its covers and dropped it in the drop box, I felt confident that, yes, I had finished Your Duck is My Duck.  So why had it come back to address me?  I recalled this book had an elegant, twisty quality like blown glass.  Each story slid down these fine lines, which were a little too small for me.  I was stuck looking on as the blown glass sculpture let tiny people ride it.  What was art for me was play for them.  The stories of these tiny people soon intrigued me.  A billionaire's son, disowned and inexperienced, struggled to find jobs and an apartment.  But was he the center?  He liked this girl who was helping her elderly neighbor.  The three of them alternated perspectives, and their fates became engrossing.  So much so that I wondered when the story finished, What Happens Next.
   In this area the book, perhaps, had not finished.  The characters had become engrossing, however quirky.  And they had vanished only to be replaced by new fellows, like a Midwestern boy who adored the uncle his family never knew, the one who'd gone to Europe.  I liked this story of a country boy growing up and heading East.  It was hard getting a handle on what made this book unique.  Deborah Eisenberg left a distinctive yet gentle touch.  Had she invoked more quirk it would have turned Pynchonesque.  Had she streamlined a story here or there ("Taj Mahal", I'm talking about you; seriously a choppily plotted narrative...) it would have lost its richness.  I came here expecting nuance, charm, and engagement.  No better sign of engagement than the way it haunted me.  It happened next


Read-alikes:

Fight No More by Lydia Millet - features well-developed characters and suburban drama as well but has an interconnected structure

Bark by Lorrie Moore - have not read it, NoveList suggests it, sounds cool, the author plays with the different meanings of "bark"

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Asteroid Made of Dragons by G. Derek Adams

   I like the contradiction Asteroid Made of Dragons suggests.  Fantasy and science fiction deserve a little mixing.  I'm sure it happens other times in our interdisciplinary world.  Gene Wolfe is a frequent genre smasher.  Due to his lavish prose though, you can't really split the difference.  He weaves tightly, and the little keyhole (wordhole? wormhole?) through which one enters his books admits the slightest illumination. But let us forgo the enigma known as Genius Wolf.
   This book features a diverse cast: Rime the Wild Mage, Xenon the goblin archaeologist, Sideways the imp assassin, and Linus the undead hunter.  They all sound cool; however, their names and epithets exude a lot more flavor than their characterizations.  The novel's tone rings flat.  Like Space Opera (link to my review) this book prioritizes screwball description, a big wackadoodle gathering of dragons and doom.  You know that our heroes will bind together.  And you know that the asteroid is coming.  I kept reading because I wanted to see how crazy that final scene featuring an asteroid made of dragons would be.  Sad to say, :( , that Adams could have made it a bigger smash-bang ending...
   Check the book out nevertheless.  You won't forget this distinct world or the songs.

Read-Alikes:

An Evil Guest by Gene Wolfe: confusing novel featuring time travel, werewolves, and gourmet dinners

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente: sing-song sci-fi   
   

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Chamber music: Wu-Tang and America [in 36 pieces] by Will Ashon

1.   This book reminds us that for a brief minute The Wu-Tang Clan conquered the Earth.  It explains all the history undergirding these rap assassins while not really being a tell-all book.  Genealogy is not the project; genius is.  I'm mad vexed / it's what the projects made me

2.  Looks like the work of a master...Only a genius, or set, would dare to compress hip-hop and the Nation of Gods and Earths and kung-fu movie flicks.

3.  I think the book is fu-fu-funky for ya.  It is tempting to utilize only the Clan's lyrics to describe Chamber Music.

4.  Can't help being re-infected by the rhythm.  You know what I wanna hear, right?  Wu-Tang, again and again.  Well, actually, I would be happy if my head were clearer.

5.  Some of these "chambers" aka chapters don't work.  There's this one that's just an extended metaphor involving dates and black unemployment.  An easy one: my clan increase like black unemployment

6.  Can I get a Suuu? I wish the book performed more interpretation.  Lines like be on you like a house on fire, smoke ya or first I'm gonna get ya, once I got ya, I gat ya seem great mysteries to me no matter how many times they've looped my head.

7.  As much as this book attempts to dismantle Wu-Tang's boys' club appearance, it doesn't work.  The Clan remains a battle-oriented entity swinging liquid swordz.  For a brief moment, though, RZA is open like fallopian tubes. 

8.  Yeah, it's a multi-faceted exploration which takes us through Staten Island, jazz history, recording agreements, and the slums of Shaolin. 

9.  All in all, a unique and exciting reading experience.  It treads that awesome line between popular culture and academia.  Because make no mistake this book has cred.

Associates:

Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 chambers - the monster album which started it all

The Tao of Wu - an inside take on the Clan's operations