Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Stuff I've Been Reading: December

Crazy the latest from William Peter Blatty is a slim, well meaning, allegorical novella. It is perhaps the most personal thing Blatty has written. It’s the kind of book that has a lot of problems but is also the sort of book that makes you want to make allowances.

Crazy follows the nineteen thirties boyhood, and in more scattershot fashion the adulthood of Joey El Bueno (Look no one has ever accused Blatty of being a subtle writer… ever). El Bueno’s life is marked at certain times by the appearance of Jane, a girl with mystical powers who pushes the reticent Bueno towards a spiritual awakening.

The sheer personalness of the book is both it’s central charm and its Achilles Heel. On one hand the writing calling Blatty’s old stomping grounds to life is vivid and heartfelt. On the other hand, the book is unfortunately a comedy (Blatty’s original genre before his talents in horror came about) and the humor of it ranges from bafflingly unparsable to bafflingly scatological.

Still for all of its odd stylistic tics and bludgeoning over writing; I find it difficult to dislike a book as open hearted and sweet natured as this. The fact that it contains the most unexpected tribute to Vonnegut I’ve encountered is a nice bonus. I firmly like Crazy. Like a wheezy old great uncle invited to a holiday supper, the fact that it is strange and occasionally incomprehensible only adds to one’s affection.

Review pending.

I’m of two minds about Deep Focus's initial volume. On one hand, I love the idea and have already purchased the next volume in the series. And I also have to hand it to Jonathan Lethem for engaging a work most would rank beneath him, as well as engaging it for such a small press.

The problem is that Lethem is all too eager to accept such praise. Throughout the book all but waves his arms to show he’s not taking it THAT seriously, like a hipster who drags everyone to a Journey concert then rolls his eyes and “pffts” through it to make sure we know he’s not actually enjoying it.

It’s not entirely Lethem’s fault, it’s just that his particular brand of PoMo academic horseshit happens to be the brand of academia horseshit I have the least amount of tolerance for.

Anyway, the monograph is about 2/3rds astute criticism and about 1/3rd aforementioned academia horseshit. If that’s an acceptable ratio to you, and lord knows you can do a lot worse, then by all means pick up They Live.

This is kind of ridiculous. I consider myself a pretty big Dennis Leary fan, but a book of Tweets? It’s not that they’re not occasionally funny, it’s just that had anyone other then Leary himself written this, Leary would have devoted a chapter to ripping them a new asshole in “Why We Suck 2: The Suckening.”

If you’re going to make your reputation as a world class bullshit calling raconteur, you’d better make sure to keep yourself beyond reproach.

: Inspeaking of cash ins from people who should really no better… It’s not that I’m Dreaming Of A Black Christmas was bad exactly. It certainly has it’s share of funny moments and it sees Black in an unusually introspective mood, which is interesting. On the whole thing though it seems kind of toothless. Like Me Of Little Faith, it demonstrates all too well that Print is not Black’s friend. Apoplectic doesn’t really translate, and the fact that the whole thing ends with a breathless tribute to Kid Rock is as confusing as it is depressing.

I have to hand it to Connolly, I think his prose is pretty flat, his moral dilemmas watered down Lehane and his characters not as interesting as everyone else seems to find them, but the man can plot.

Twice in two books, I’ve found myself completely waylayed by two nasty plot twists buried with all the precision of landmines. I pride myself for having a nose for these things and both times it crept up right past my defenses. So yeah, I might not have loved The Lincoln Lawyer and might have found sections of it bordering on tone deaf. But truth in criticism, I intend to keep reading Connolly, because even though I find him mediocre in some regards, he remains one of the few genre authors genuinely able to surprise me.

Larry McMurtry concludes his trilogy of odd dispassionate memoirs. And it ends up being the most readable of the three.

It would be inaccurate to say that the purposeful aloof detachment that made McMurtry’s previous two memoirs so unenjoyable is gone. But it no longer seems out of place. As it is McMurty’s professed disinterest in the place that has allowed him to operate successfully in Hollywood. Amused by his changing fortunes rather then broken by them.

Just two odd notes. The first is that McMurtry wrote fairly warmly (or at least as warmly as McMurtry seems capbable of) about Peter Bogdanovich in his first two volumes, yet here turns on him and gets pretty nasty. It’s just so blatant it can’t help but make one a bit curious.

The other strange thing is that the book is filled with as many typos and misprints as I have ever seen from a book from a major publisher. I’m no great shakes as catching these myself, as readers of this blog are probably far too aware, but I counted an easy dozen. The sloppiness is puzzling, but some part of me thinks it might just be personal. After all these books have been nothing if not a valentine to book trading, and an old hound like McMurtry knows that nothing drives up the price of an edition like some choice misprints.

I think he might just be crazy enough to have offered it up as some kind of gift.

So many reviews have dedicated themselves to writing about how BIG AND IMPORTANT Freedom is, that I feel as though there’s a risk of driving people off. But don’t let the reputation (or for that matter the Oprah sticker) drive you off.

Here’s the secret, Freedom isn’t just BIG AND IMPORTANT. It’s awful good as well. A razor sharp character study, that knows as all great novels do that what is said about a person in the singular reverberates into humanity in general. Johnathon Franzen is one of America’s finest authors and he’s never written better. It’s stripped down, setting aside the showoffy tendencies that cropped up in his early masterpiece The Corrections. And while in that novel it seemed as though Franzen had to keep reminding himself not to hate to his characters, he has the opposite problem here. Freedom is more despairing and sad in the macro, but hopeful in the micro. The promise of reconciliation seems not merely possible, but inevitable.

Like the albums of Arcade Fire, Freedom is a work of equal parts anxiety and exhilaration. More then anything the sound of an author realizing just how good he really is. I’m kind of in awe of it.

I checked this out, thinking that it was a “Best Of” collection, and while there is a small selection of comics in the back, the book is for the most part a history of the comic and all the unlikely things that have spun off of it..

And if the book has an air of a victory lap. Well who’s to say that the boys don’t deserve it? Penny Arcade is one of those blessed institutions that prove that just because you’re popular doesn’t mean you have to be bad. They are the living proof of FX Feeney’s “Uncommon Denominator”

Yeah once again, this thing is endorsed. Heartily.


AK said...

I love Denis Leary almost as passionately as I loathe Joy Behar,but I watched her show the other night when he was on promoting this book.Damn,is he smart, and he took no crap from her(he may just be my favorite person in the world)! Sorry to hear that the book itself isn't that great.
And Lewis Black...I've seen him doing promos for his book too, but your review echoed what I was already feeling. (BTW, I talked with him briefly when I worked room service a few years ago, and he really isn't all that apoplectic--at least post concert--he's soft spoken and rather sweet). Two smart, funny people I really admire. Thoughtful reviews.

deadlydolls said...

I read The Exorcist and Legion over the summer and will definitely put Crazy on my list. I like that Blatty.

And I finally took in The Corrections a few months back and really loved it, though I totallly agree about some of those 'showoffisms' he uses. I definitely need to check out Freedom when it hits the bargain bin or paperback rack!

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Rob: It's not so much that the book isn't funny, it's just that I can't believe that Dennis Leary of all people expects people to pay 22 dollars for a book of tweets.

That's nice to hear about Black. I'm a bit more conflicted about that book. There are funny bits, and it's appealingly personal. But it also just feels like B material.

@ Emily: Actually Em I'd be more apt to recommend Dimiter to you, the book he published earlier in the year. A strange interesting piece of work.

And don't get me wrong, I really did like The Corrections quite a bit. But I'm recall Ebert's comment that Great Art looks like play, while almost Great Art looks like hard work. You might as well use The Corrections and Freedom to illustrate the difference between the two.

Simon said...

I like Jonathan Lethem...

Bryce Wilson said...

His fiction is just fine. It's his just his non fiction that I find a little... over thought.

Matt Keeley said...

With Lethem's nonfiction, I sometimes feel that he's been stuck in a sort of rut since he was a teenager. He's still writing about cult films and Jack Kirby and PKD and he's in his forties now. As accomplished as his analyses may be, one wishes he would expand his range a bit.

Bryce Wilson said...

True. I think it really comes into sharp relief when you compare him to Chabon. Who A) Has just as much geek cred and B) Can be just as Post Modern. But doesn't come off so relentlessly self satisfied.

I'd have a hard time believing Lethem could have written Manhood For Amateurs.