Posts Tagged ‘the boy detective fails’

Tree of Codes

August 17, 2011

Y’know, I have pretty fond memories of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but as I read it I think I might have been convincing myself that I liked his first novel more than I actually did. (I was living in New York, drunk or hung over most of the time, and reading in half-hour chunks on subway trains. Nobody knows what I was thinking about anything at that point.) But this thing… I dunno.

So okay: I didn’t read it. I opened it up, read the few words printed on each of the first ten or twenty pages, realized I wasn’t comprehending anything, and put it down. So maybe it is fantastic. But it’s hard for me to separate the reading experience- the cover, the smell, the margins, the font, the author and book’s back stories in my head- from the actual words on the page. And so maybe that is the point? The reading experience, in combination with the ethereal semi-sentence incidental poetry or whatever. But it wasn’t enough to make me care.

Two minutes of internet research make it look like what this book is is a book from the early twentieth century, translated into English from Polish, which was not titled “The Street of Crocodiles,” which JSF decided to pretend WAS titled The Street of Crocodiles, and then he cut most of most of the passages out of all of the pages, so each page is literally made primarily up of holes- like if you gave Salvador Plascencia’s “The People of Paper” acid. So it’s this beautiful art object made mostly of holes. It’s striking to open up. I can see why he went for it this way. But at the same time, I think Plascencia and the self-conscious updated magical realism thing he was (or at least to me appeared to be) a part of- which I thought was so cool, although in retrospect I think I might have been trying to make myself be more into than I actually was- is a good reference point for this, because this book, with its holes and its poetry and its ephemeral summer nights or whatever the fuck, seems like something out of a more wistful Aimee Bender story, or something the boy detective would find in The Boy Detective Fails (which I am afraid to re-read, because I liked it so much half a decade ago when I was a tiny baby without a shell except for the permeable one I wore made of booze and appropriative New York City toughness), or even maybe something I’d think a little more highly of than that stuff, like Isabel Allende. But it doesn’t read like a book. And while I will admit that I just got accepted to graduate school and am panicking about how I’m going to pay for it, I don’t think it would seem worth forty dollars to me even under normal circumstances.

I didn’t read Only Revolutions because I didn’t want to have to go back and reassess House of Leaves, so I think I’m just gonna go “man yeah that thing is pretty” when somebody brings up the Tree of Codes and leave it at that. I don’t think it’s quite as unexciting a prospect as Only Revolutions, because JSF did publish a book made up entirely of black words on white paper before this one (which I didn’t hate), but this is three of his four books now that have significant gimmicry. Or… I guess Everything is Illuminated was made out of words, too. I don’t know. Whatever about that- maybe rich people in New York can appreciate the fragile beauty of an objet d’art[e?] like this and that fragile beauty is worth forty dollars to them and their extremely skinny jeans and face bones and their incredibly long, thick chestnut bangs, but I don’t think I can. And Chris was so stoked about it! Maybe my heart is just dead. He was showing it to this girl and she was like “whoa, cool,” and I was like “scoff scoff” which I feel kind of bad about.

[At Powell’s]

The Boy Detective Fails

January 1, 2007

I can’t believe I never wrote a review of this! This book haunts me, I swear to god. Before I read this one, Joe Meno was just this guy who wrote some sweet short stories and a popcorn book about being a teenage punker. The Boy Detective Fails, though, is some next level. Y’know? It shouldn’t work- it should be precious and cloying and teenage writing excercisey, instead of maybe the best book since 2000. Which I guess probably it is.

It’s a cultural moment, for starters: do kids in 2009 read Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown or Nancy Drew books? I bet some of ’em do, I don’t know. I guess nobody else really did in 1987, when I was reading them, which is why it feels like something so personal to revisit: I never really talked to anybody about Nancy Drew, y’know? I consumed about a gross of garage sale Hardy Boys books in first grade, but so quickly that I definitely didn’t discuss them with anybody. They felt totally disposable, or more specifically inconsequential- like something that yes I enjoyed but so who cared. I felt affectionate toward them and a little bit embarrassed FOR them because of how outdated they were.

Which is kind of the crux of this, right? “But so who cared,” “I felt affectionate toward their outdatedness.” It’s dressed up in a cartoon of pathos, and if the core of it weren’t so, ah, gravityful? Full of gravity? Dense with … something? I don’t know, I guess just that this would be a pretty easy concept to do a bad job with, and to pull it off at all is pretty amazing; to pull it off this well, to sustain the a tone this sad for so long, it’s a goddam feat.

So yeah. I consistently sell copies of this from the staff-recommends shelf at my store, and people consistently DON’T sell them back to the store. I think I saw a used one once. Everybody reads this and then holds onto it and then replaces their sad heart with it. Amazering.