Posts Tagged ‘Alden Bell’

Zone One

June 6, 2011

Chris was like, 'a proof of the new Colson Whitehead book came in,’ so I took it on the bus and read it. I like Colson Whitehead even though I haven’t read much of his work; I was pretty into the Intuitionist until I lost my copy, is most of what I know.

Well and he has a totally sweet twitter account, brah.

This is a weird entry point into his ouevre; it’s a zombie novel. I mean, y’know, he writes all over the place, it’s not totally mind-blowing that he did a zombie novel, but no matter how speculatively he writes, everybody always shelves his books in General Fiction and my impression is that this is probably his most speculative yet. Blah blah whatever my point is that it is a zombie novel but it doesn’t feel like a stunt, Colson Whitehead diving into a zeitgeist that’s been on its way out for ten years; it’s not Sag Harbor and Zombies. The monsters are called skels- which is short for “skellies,” obviously- and the book is about how lonely it is after the apocalypse, when all your friends are dead and everybody around wants to rip you to pieces out of aggressive indifference.

This is a New York novel dressed as a zombie novel: “He’d always wanted to live in New York” is a line that comes up a couple times. Pseudonymous protagonist Mark Spitz- who is only ever referred to as Mark Spitz- is a thoroughly normal (or: mediocre) straight dude from Long Island, was trying to get his shit together to move to New York and be a big deal, never quite managed to, and then when he eventually got to New York anyway, it sucked. The things that keep him afloat when he gets to New York are the coping mechanisms he learned beforehand: being emotionally dead inside, being good at leaving people behind, keeping his nostalgia for a better time close to his vest. Y’know. A New York novel.

Incidental things: without spoiling anything, I thought it was subtle and perfect the way Whitehead handled/disclosed his protagonist’s race. There is a good locavore joke. Some stuff definitely doesn’t get resolved- which makes sense in the context of pervasive and bleak inevitability: this is a close (not quite claustrophobic) third person narrator, not an omniscient explanation.

What sets Zone One apart is the relentlessly somber tone: when the skellies rip people to bits and gnaw on their organs and stuff, it’s cool, but it’s not really fun. I’m trying to think of a zombie thing with a comparable tone- it’s not really 28 Days Later, because 28 Days later had a bunch of intense headrush sequences, where violins tried to scrape off your face, which Zone One doesn’t really have. Zone One is all about this miserable, gave up world. The violence, when it shows up, is scary and rad and stuff but also feels inevitable. I guess I want to compare it to The Reapers Are the Angels but that book was a different kind of bleak, a gothic, southern, religious overtones kind of bleak zombie picaresque. Zone One is characterized by bleak inevitability, just like the three years I spent working at the Strand. Five Empire State Buildings.

Room

March 20, 2011

OH MY FUCKING GOD I AM SO BORED. This was fine for about a hundred pages, then extremely compelling for about twenty pages, and now I’ve just been waiting for something to happen for the last hundred and forty, but it’s like the least tautly plotted thing I’ve ever read. It just keeps being the slightly out-of-touch five-year-old narrator saying things like

“‘Sit tight, enjoy the sunshine, I’ll be back before you know it.’

But I’m not sitting, I’m standing.”

FOR EVAAAAAR. I don’t want to spoiler it for you or anything but it’s just like… what is this story? Didn’t the story pretty much end a hundred pages ago? I’ve been making myself keep reading it just to see if something’s gonna happen, but like… Stuart really liked this, so I’m just gonna ask him what happens in the last sixty pages, ’cause I don’t think I can read it any more. I guess this is what I get for asking for less plot, talking about The Reapers are the Angels in my last post.

Oh also this is book two in a row where men sexually assaulting women just keeps happening. This is an inauspicious beginning, blog; maybe I’ll read Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and tell you about it next. Two skulls with hearts and knives through the hearts!

The Reapers Are the Angels

March 20, 2011

Well, I finished The Reapers are the Angels. Which is by Alden Bell, not “some guy,” Imogen- way to Google. Anyway I was into it. I’m a pretty slow reader, but I finished it in two days. Very bleak. I guess I haven’t read much of the Southern gothic that people talk about when they talk about this book- I liked As I Lay Dying, but I haven’t read any other Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor or anything- so I couldn’t tell you how right on those comparisons are, but I have read, uh, the first half of Blood Meridian (before I lost the copy I’d borrowed from the library, oops) and I will say that this made me want to pick that one up again, those terse sentences and that fatalist, theist-meaning-we-are-powerless-which-is-kind-of-abjectly-beautiful tone. Like the whole book, the tone was basically the same as the part where Danny Boyle makes you feel all fucked up by playing Godspeed You Black Emperor instead of something obvious like White Zombie in 28 Days Later, because you hadn’t really seen that defeatist bummer vibe in a zombie story before.  And also you didn’t know it was Godspeed You Black Emperor yet because all you liked in 2002 was the Locust and Converge and violins and 25-minute songs seemed kind of wimpy.

Except in the middle of The Reapers are the Angels, it turns from 28 Days Later into those gruesome Dr. Satan scenes toward the end of House of 1,000 Corpses, where you were so totally creeped out and horrified and surprised by how the tone had shifted- from fun to horrifying in House of 1,000 Corpses; from bleak to horrifying in The Reapers Are the Angels- that it kind of felt like the mirror image version of feeling ecstasy come on when you were eighteen, all grinding teeth and vertigo.

So that was nice.

I guess I wish there had been less plot, though, actually. I mean, toward the end there’s a different scene that we also in 28 Days Later- and another toward the middle- and there’s a bunch of stuff we’ve already seen in George Romero; an Amazon reviewer made the point that Bell intentionally went through zombie story tropes so that he could color them in with his own, y’know, lonesome tone, which might be what happened, and which I guess would be fine. I mean, I know I’m in the minority in terms of caring a fuck of a lot more about the tone of what’s going on than I care about the specifics of what’s going on; I was just kind of like “yes, you’ve got a zombie tied up downstairs when you should’ve killed him, whatever; yes, whatever, inside the ostensible safe house, humanity is even more dangerous than zombies, whatever.” Y’know? I didn’t feel like much needed to be happening. I would’ve been fine with a book about a fifteen year old girl wandering around a lonely country talking about how lonely she was and how much she regretted everything all the time. Plus there was an attempted sexual assault I had to skip.

Which isn’t to say I wasn’t super into this. I was. It was a total bummer and it was a meditation on loneliness and it was a not-zombie-story pretending to be a zombie story, which I guess is what all zombie stories are. Five flaming skulls!

Debut

March 20, 2011

When I was younger and less of a boring old person, the first post on a new blog was always the most fun part, and then as my enthusiasm flagged so did the frequency of my posts. (Except on livejournal when I used to be on livejournal, which I calculated had replace television, at least in terms of time spent staring at something while drinking.) But now I’m like, Jesus. I want to have a book blog. I read books. People seemed to like it when I posted things to Goodreads, back before I had three hundred people following my reviews there and I completely choked and stopped posting there.

Anyway whatever. As of today I’m actively in the middle of Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville, and The Reapers Are the Angels, by some dude somewhere; there are also always lots of books around that I’m partway through but about which I’ve forgotten. I’m doing a book club about the China Mieville book at the store where I work, but nobody is buying it so the night the book club meets- the Total Bummer Book Club- it’s probably going to be me, by myself, eyes Sharpied onto my hands so I can have puppets to talk to.

“Check me out,” says my left hand, “I’m a Xenian!”

“I’m a human who doesn’t acknowledge my human privilege,” says my right. For two hours. Of drinking alone in the bookstore.