I got moves, boy, you don’t know about him. I don’t broadcast them on the gosh dang internet. You’ll hear about them when it’s time to hear about them. When they finished bletting, and whatnot. What follows is May’s playlist, and the books I read and the films I saw last week.
· Billy Woods always kinda kills it
· For droning, maudlin folk music you can’t get much better than Sam Amidon. Wasn’t he Samamidon a while ago?
· Who is this Lord Echo character and why is he straight killing shit? This album is ludicrously upbeat Summer pop.
· Call it shtick if you want to, but CW Stoneking sings a damn good shango.
· I listened to Angel Olsen’s Never Be Mine about 50 times after I heard it, but I listened to Courtney Barnett’s Sunday Roast 100.
Other Men’s Daughters by Richard G. Stern – I don’t know about the rest of you but I learned to read off my father’s bookshelf, a vast-seeming library which consisted more or less exclusively of raw, pulpy fantasy and a lot of heavy, hyper masculine 20th century authors – Hemingway, John Barth, that sort of thing. Some of these guys – Saul Bellow, for instance – I would totally unhesitatingly describe as geniuses. Some of these guys were not. In any event, most of the literature I was exposed to as a youth had magic swords or brilliant, angst-ridden narrators with unhealthy relations towards woman. At 18 I thought like, half of all books were about professors at Ivy league colleges dealing with problems brought on by an exaggerated testosterone and general jackassery. This was probably a lot of the reason I stopped reading fiction between like, 20 and 25, frankly, and in recent years I’ve been kind of gun shy about dipping my toe back into the waters.
But I’m more or less happy I set aside that prejudice for this one, an excellent entry in the Roth/Irving/Updike milieu, about an affair between a professor and a co-ed which ends his marriage. Stern has a pretty extraordinary gift for prose, as well as a real insight into character’s beyond the protagonist, who come across as fully realized and human in a way that the weaker novels in this genre tend to fail it. There is a peculiar lack of tragedy to the story which, one feels, goes hand in hand with Stern’s ability to empathize with his characters If the narrator is an authorial surrogate, than at least Stern has forgiven himself. Which, I mean, depending upon how much of a moralist you are might piss you off, but at least it felt a little new.
Dark Lies the Island by Kevin Barry – Another collection of stories about drunkards in Wests Coast bars, lost children and occasional nightmares. I really like Barry’s style, he has a great ear for dialogue and a fabulous feel for male custom and behavior. It’s dark but not monochromatic, and the handful that verge into horror have fabulous stings.
Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed – Part alternate world fantasy, part meta-critique of the aesthetic values of Western Civilization, Mumbo Jumbo is probably best understood as an evocation, a Working, to use the book’s own vernacular, mockingly(?) supposing itself to herald or call forth a leveling of the white power structure and the birth of a new, multicultural age. This is Crying of Lot 49 meets The Fire Next Time, fascinatingly clever, innovative in a dozen ways. There’s so much great stuff in here that the missteps, in particular an abrupt third act switch in the narrative style, are particularly frustrating, but even still anyone reading it will come away with the certainty that Reed is an absolute original. Between this and the (somewhat superior) Journey to the North I really cannot fathom why he seems to be little read.
Avengers of the New World by Laurent Dubois – A solidly written history of a fascinating period of human history about which I knew relatively little and now want to learn more. There’s nothing particularly striking about the style but it’s a competent overview of a series of extraordinary events. Definitely made me want to pick up something more substantial on the subject.
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor– Right, well, you know what you’re going to get; a lot of Gothic freaks and an advertisement for Catholicism so blisteringly break it might as well be a condemnation. Prose wise, this woman is untouchable, just untouchable, but I will say that the singular focus robs the narrative of much potential for surprise. At any point in any of the stories you can pretty much figure out what’s going to happen by assuming the most miserable and grotesque outcome. I mean she’s still amazing and even when I knew what was coming I still found it pretty howlingly funny.
Salt in the Wound Leonard Sciascia – A historical overview of a semi-imaginary, prototypical Sicilian village – its long legacy of corruption, governmental incompetence, poverty and constant feuding. Sciascia, who became beloved in his native Italy for a brand of crime novels excoriating the real-life brutalities of the mafia, offers a similar vison here. There’s some good lines and Sciascia has a bracing moral weight, but a lot of this did boil down to in-jokes about the Social Democrats that kinda went over my head.
Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow – Gritty LA werewolves, Urban fantasy/modern horror by someone with legit prose chops. The peculiar stylistic conceit is maybe a little on the nose in terms of staking out ground as literature, but basically, I thought Barlow had the skill to pull it off, and anyway apart from that it’s pretty resolutely unpretentious. Top shelf genre stuff, well worth a read.
Third Man – Yeah, I mean, maybe you’ve heard of it, it’s kinda the best movie ever. Couldn’t resist seeing it at a midnight showing even though I know most of the dialogue by heart. Seeing it on the big screen I was struck particularly by the sets which are amazing, all of these shadowy, vertical structures around which Holly always seems to be running. Chills! Chills!