Posts Tagged ‘james joyce’

There But For The

July 13, 2011

In an essay I wrote for Pretty Queer over here a little while ago, I accused my friend Red of hating fun, when the reality is actually that I am the one who hates fun. The thing I like best in movies is when they are kind of sadistic; I just watched this movie Insidious and except for the demon in blackface, I was like “this tale of a young man being tortured by demons just warms the cockles of my dead heart.” And the writer I always come back to, Kathy Acker, is confrontational as hell. I think it’s funny and exciting how confrontational she is, without taking away from how intense she is. It’s like a combination of bluntness and a different kind of bluntness. Even with music, most of the time when I listen to stuff other people like I’m like “why isn’t anyone shrieking.”

That might be an overstatement.

My point is just, I can’t figure out why I like Ali Smith. I mean, I know why I like her, but I have no idea where she fits into the body of stuff that I like, because her stuff is so relentlessly charming. It’s an intellectually rigorous kind of charming- she definitely confronts serious things, but it’s always in the context of puns and witticisms and, like, prose that exults in the joy of being prose, or whatever.

So like, this book was great. It didn’t have the melancholy that I remember characterizing her last novel, The Accidental, which means it doesn’t feel to me like it’s got the weight of that last one, which’ll go down as one of her major works. Did it win an award? I think it probably did. I forget. Or was nominated for one.

Anyway, I guess all I’m trying to say here is that Ali Smith is great and I really enjoy reading her and maybe somebody else can tell me why because I don’t have anything smart to say about her except the Joyce thing but honestly all you have to do is even allude to Joyce and lots of people will think you’re smart.


There But For The

July 7, 2011

New Ali Smith! I don’t know what to say about Ali Smith except that the feeling I get in my belly when I read her is the same “I’m really smart and I’m fucking with you because I like you” feeling that I get from James Joyce. I am halfway through this and it’s half Joyce, half a stage play set at a dinner party, and half some other stuff.

Full Dark No Stars

May 1, 2011

A used copy of Stephen King’s last collection, Full Dark No Stars, showed up at the book store a couple weeks ago, so I decided to read it. ‘Cause I like Stephen King! I think. I started reading him when I was little- I don’t think Needful Things was the first of his book that I read, but I distinctly remember asking for a big ol’ hardcover copy of it either for Christmas or my birthday when it was new, when I was twelve or thirteen. Which puts me in, what, sixth or seventh grade?

Not to digress, but since it’s totally my blog, I remember that by sixth grade I was already really into the Stand. I would draw pictures of the characters from that weighty tome instead of taking notes in math class; there were so many characters that I’d have to use more than one page. I remember feeling very sophisticated that I could keep track of so many characters in a novel that dealt with such weighty matters, especially since I was an enormous Dean Koontz fan- by this point I’d read every Dean Koontz book the Clinton Public Library had, at least once, mostly instead of paying attention to little league or community athletics basketball games my brother was playing (until my parents decided I was old enough to stay home by myself, when I could spend that time wearing my mom’s clothes instead of reading)- and Deaner seemed all straightforward and easy to follow in comparison. I was like, ‘this is grownup shit.’ I remembered this terrifying book cover bumping around my house when I was even littler and being all OMFG TERROR and knowing I wasn’t tough enough to open it up-YET- so when I got around to reading the Stand (which didn’t have monsters in it, except for people, who are the REAL monsters, just like in the most BORING horror movies), I was like, I am maturing to the point of reading the great books of western civilization, and it feels good.

This is the impulse that eight years later would culminate in a semester-long independent study on Ulysses.

Anyway yeah I was like “I’m smarter than all you other sixth grade idiots, and better at Mario 3, and the ‘French rolls’ on my jeans are tighter than yours, I have a pair of Z. Cavariccis and two pairs of Skidz, and a vague understanding about sex and relationships and mortality and gender and other grownup things that I learned from Stephen King which is going to take years to unravel unpack make sense of and replace with something that’s not a classic-rock listenin’ Mainer dad’s idea of plain-talkin’ about the world,” except I probably couldn’t have put it into words.

But so yeah basically I know that Stockholm syndrome has been my go-to metaphor lately- “we internalize busted beauty standards, sick relationship models and patriarchy,” I keep saying, “because we’ve been held prisoner by a totally gross culture for so long that it’s stopped seeming gross”- but I feel like I’ve had a little bit of Stockholm syndrome with Mr. King for a while now. Like, I think it’s unfair the way he gets dismissed for being a genre writer, ’cause obviously it’s snobby to dismiss somebody for writing about monsters. But I also feel like I’ve been giving him too much credit for too long. Like, in Duma Key, when his normal dude protagonist related the name of every song and every band that was playing on THE BONE, the classic rock station he listened to- or all the dad-rock allusions everywhere all over mid-world and end-world and in-world in the metaverse of the Dark Tower books- I keep being like, ‘haha, aw Steve, you doofy ol’ dude,’ and indulging him like he was my grandpa or something. When actually there’s a pretty evil underside to his het white dudeness. Not to get all intriguing jacket flap or anything.

But yeah okay so I read the first story in Full Dark No Stars and I was like, ‘okay, sure, that was good enough to read the whole thing, but if I am being honest with myself, what I like is monsters, and rats are kind of a boring monster, if they don’t even share a hive mind.’ I mean, I guess they kind of do in that story, but not really; it’s a story about its protagonist’s guilt and how it eats at him for a bunch of decades. BORING. (This was why I wasn’t super into Under The Dome, too: the monster was man’s inhumanity to man, who cares. That’s everywhere, and monsters aren’t, and monsters are what I like. But I know I don’t get to demand monsters in everything, and maybe ironically, I’m not even interested in monster lit like Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.) But not so boring I couldn’t read it, although I read it on a mountain trail near a river made up of melting snow just as it was getting warm enough to hang out outside, while my dog ran around, so I think I was probably in a “forgiving stuff for not having monsters in it” mood.

But the second story is like rape culture incarnate- and please, don’t read any further if you don’t want to read about rape culture, because it’s pretty intense.

So like, okay. It’s told from the perspective of a woman who lives alone except for her cat, who makes a living writing cozy mysteries, who at one point refers to her junk as her “snatch.” First of all, do you want to know who calls cunts “snatches?” Stephen King, ten year old boys and maybe drunk hicks? I don’t even know. I guess I don’t know any but I am assuming: not middle-aged cozy mystery writers. I mean, we can talk about Stephen King’s lack of a gift at writing female characters, but I don’t even care, really; he does other things well, right? Or something. Anyway she gets bad directions from a dykey librarian, gets redirected to a trap where an enormous idiot brown-skinned monster dude rapes her, and then she wanders around dazed and making dirty old man jokes about her “snatch,” past a bar where people are playing classic rock, reliving her sexual assault over and over for the reader… it’s pretty gross. I didn’t make it much further than that before I was like ‘I guess I am going to have to break out the rape culture tag again over at KYBB’ and wandered off to… I don’t even remember what I did. I think I was reading The Brain That Changes Itself, which doesn’t have much rape in it, if I recall correctly- I probably read that instead. (Unlike Love’s Executioner, MR YALOM)

My point is just that this story is basically Stephen King’s lowest point, as far as I’m concerned, and I’ve been reading the fucker for like twenty-five years. But the annoying, frustrating streak that’s always there in Mr. King’s writing- the thing where boring misogyny, privilege dressed up like tolerance, and stale dad-isms are all painted to look like common wisdom or telling it like it is- is pretty much all there was in this story. I mean, the female protagonist was a cardboard cutout without any internal consistency. The rapist was- ironically, considering- literally a monster (tall; stupid; and brown-skinned, although I guess here it’s important to distinguish between ‘monster’ and ‘other,’ not that I’d believe Steve is), meaning there didn’t have to be any kind of three-dimensionality to the character, or to the event; rape as something that happens to get the plot moving is a possible definition of rape culture.

So yeah I couldn’t read any more but I felt like I needed to know what happened so I knew how mad to be so I was gonna keep going but Alex pointed out that I could just ask wikipedia what happened so I did and the rest of the story is the cozy mystery writer getting revenge, killing the monster guy and then the dykey librarian. It’s basically I Spit On Your Grave, which I’ve never seen ’cause while I am tough I don’t think I’m that tough, and which also is a story that’s been told. And probably doesn’t need to be retold: a story in which rape is something that monsters do to women who are barely recognizable as women, in which it then becomes the women’s job to get revenge, in order to move past it.

So this story failed utterly for me. I couldn’t read the rest of the book and I’ve said it before, but I’m afraid to open up the Stand or even the first… I don’t know, six? Dark Tower books any more, just ’cause now that I’m old and bitter and jaded and I hate everything, looking all that stuff in the eye kinda feels like pushing my sixth grade self out a window.

Whatever. Zero stars. Or: five pairs of off-white y-fronts.