Still a work in progress, this book page. Hopefully when I get the kinks worked out of the 2.0 version of Lobster Land,I'll have more than a few snippets and a long list of book recommendations.
Since everyone wants to know what a Lobster's reading, right now I'm taking a break from Stephen Graham Jones' 'Glory Dog' a.k.a. 'Fast Red Road.' It was slow going, though fun, but Florida State wanted their doctoral dissertation back ('Glory Dog: A Plainsong' was SGJ's dissertation when he got his PhD in Creative Writing). K.C.K. Community College wanted 'Fast Red Road: A Plainsong' back, the trade paperback FC2 published, which is identical in content to the Glory Dog version, plus or minus some capitalization quirks (I think, intentional ones that a copy-editor at FC2 must have overruled). I'd have kept going with it, but until I cough up about $250 to the Johnson County Library, I can't have any more loans, interlibrary or otherwise. Sucks.
Meanwhile, still picking away at Amy Hempel's new collection, and making side forays into Bauman's 'Beautiful Girls,' as well as the 'Paris Review' back issues I never quite catch up on.
Had a pleasant surprise in the most recent Playboy, a story called 'The Fall' by Bill Roorbach, who I've never read before. Definitely piqued my curiosity to read more of him.
The biggest discovery of late, Barry Hannah. Notice his entry into the recommended reading list. Hempel mentions him in her 'Paris Review' interview, but I missed it before. Hannah was interviews in #172, and I got curious. Especially when he started talking about Gordon Lish as a 'genius editor,' and I know Lish is a big factor for Mark Richard, Amy Hempel and Tom Spanbauer. I'm in the home stretch of 'Ray' (very short, more a novella than a novel), and will likely jump into 'Geronimo Rex' right after.
Also been exploring Chabon's world again, in 'Wonder Boys.' He's breaking one of my rules for novel writing, don't put a novelist in as protagonist or even major character. So far he hasn't pissed me off with it, but John Irving just barely gets away with it in 'A Widow for One Year.' 'Garp' maybe a little more successfully, but as a rule, the writer protagonist tends to be a turn-off for me.
Why would this be, if I'm supposedly a writer myself? Because writing is solitary and sedentary. Writer's lives are generally boring in terms of something you'd want to read. Plus, when I tell someone I'm working on a novel, the reaction is often bewilderment. Why would anyone do that? There's no money in it for the most part, it takes a lot of effort and time, and it's not like most people read a lot. It's somewhere between jazz and folk art dinosaurs made from old car parts as a profitable and appreciated medium.
Also high on my to-read stack is the ten chapter teaser that Vigorous Puppy sent me of Craig Clevenger's next novel, 'Dermorphia.'
Well, The Lobster recommends everything really. You simply will not go wrong with any of the four collections, even if you pay the outrageous fortunes people charge for 'At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom,' the sadly out of print second collection.'Reasons to Live,' The first of the four, is possibly the strongest, though the degree is minor. "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried" is one of the most famous, probably the single most well-known from that first collection.
If you can track down 'Animal Kingdom,' and can part with the coin for it, do so. Fortunately, so far my local library has avoided having all their copies stolen and sold on eBay as 'ex-library' editions. In fact, I'd counsel against bidding on any copy of this book listed as such without a written letter of release from the library in question. Having copies in fair condition sell for $100+ has brought out the fiends, and even if they pay the 'replacement' price to the library they stand to make a handsome profit. This only deprives hard-working taxpayers who already sprung for it when it was in print of the riches contained in its covers.
'Tumble Home,' includes (the title track, so to speak), the longest single work by Hempel, a novella. It also contains "Housewife," which some claim to be the shortest story ever published. The Lobster has to differ with that assessment, because back before Hempel was meeting Steve Martin back stage at The Boarding House, I'd written "The Three Turtles." It's so short, I can put it here:
Once upontime, there were three turtles.
That's it, the whole story, ©1973 by Rod McBride.
But I digress. While "The Three Turtles" is an excellent example of minimalism, it's an unfair comparison without examples of what Amy Hempel was writing at age four. And yes, 'upontime' is one word, at least in this context.I shall petition the OED when I find four other examples in print.
Most recently, 'The Dog of Marriage' has been released amidst much secrecy. The first collection in eight years from an author who has an OOP bringing astronomical sums, and who is listed by (among others) Chuck Palahniuk as a major influence, but no one noticed. Amazon has it ranked (as of this writing) at #7,413, which isn't too shabby if you compare it to Beth Ann Bauman's 'Beautiful Girls' collection, which is way down at #778,361. And Oprah's magazine did do a short write-up of it prior to release of 'The Dog of Marriage.'
The term 'Minimalism' gets thrown around a lot, but Hempel is the real deal. She isn't the sort of writer you blast through. All four collections of her work could fit in a small trade paperback if one publisher held the rights to them. But even "Daylight Come" which is barely a two pager, is the kind of thing I read, and think and then read again. It borders on poetry, because there is so much for the reader to fill in.
And then too, part of the thing with Hempel's stories is they are so confessional. It's the stuff of pillow-talk, and that intimacy makes her incredibly sexy to read. It probably goes a long ways to explaining her very private life: she's confessed so much on the printed page, she doesn't necessarily want to be confronted with what is autobiographical and what is maybe exaggerated for effect. Even in a story like "The Harvest," where there is a section explaining all the exaggerations made for effect, there's still elements of mystery.
The first rule of...
The problem with Palahniuk is where to begin.
'Fight Club' was the first book, and the only one so far to be adapted for screen, but in many ways it may be fairly considered his weakest effort. While there are segments of the book I'd love to see on the screen, such as the perfume incident, many of the things Jim Uhls dropped or condensed for the screenplay are improvements. To take nothing away from Pitt and Norton's performances, I would have cast either the same actor in both Jack and Tyler's roles OR cast a pair of identical twins. You'd start out with differentiation based on makeup, and they would gradually appear more similar, as in the book.
In any case, Palahniuk's second novel, 'Survivor' is funny, fast paced and a a furious social satire on so many levels. It was published in the nick of time, too. One of the reasons it hasn't seen the big screen is too much of it rubs the post-9/11 audience wrong. Airplane hijackings, mass suicide by a religious cult, Americans lost their sense of humor about that shit when the Trade Center came down. Plus, hijacked passengers are not likely to be sheep in the foreseeable future. And while some critics have a problem with Palahniuk's more recent turn to the gothic in 'Lullaby,' 'Diary' and 'Haunted,' there's elements of that in 'Survivor.' Fertility Hollis' visions definitely go beyond the rational world.
For that matter the climactic scene at the Denny's confession in stone takes 'Choke' slightly into the supernatural. 'Fight Club,' probably has the least claim to otherworldly influences, particularly the book version of the ending. Still, there is the deus ex machina factor, since Tyler would know as well as Jack that paraffin isn't going to work.
So the 'turn' to the gothic isn't inorganic to Palahniuk's overall output. Even his non-fiction 'Stranger Than Fiction;' even his 'Fugitives and Refugees,' which is a travel guide, includes ghost stories and hints at an 'other side.'
There are some interviews with Palahniuk after 9/11 where he talks about the 'death of transgressive fiction.' He hints in the 'Postcards From the Future' DVD that the political climate of the 1950s forced authors to be more clever with their metaphors, to bury social criticism in science fiction and horror so as to avoid censorship. But as far as the move from 'transgressive' fiction (a nebulous genre if ever there was) to more straightforward horror), I don't think fear of censorship drove it.
I would have thought this decision was like Elmore Leonard abandoning the Western for crime stories. But Palahniuk has pointed out even more recently that you can say whatever you want in a book. No one bothers trying to censor books in modern America.
Which is true up to a point, and sad when you consider its implications. A pro-Palestinian book might draw some heat from the Establishment. But books are so irrelevant to most Americans that you could string together any lurid combination of sex, scatological references, violence, etc., and no one will notice. Even Robert Lasner's 'For Fucks Sake' fails to show up on radar. People are much more concerned about wardrobe malfunctions, Ludacris, internet pornography. Super Bowl commercials generate more outrage than 'Tropic of Cancer.'
This is because people know their kids aren't reading books. That's the last thing they need to worry about.
As if to prove this point, last fall MacAdam/Cage was street teaming Will Christopher Baer's third book, 'Hell's Half Acre.' They sent free Advance Press Proofs of 'Kiss Me Judas,' which they were reprinting along with 'Penny Dreadful' after Viking/Penguin decided WCB didn't move enough books. At least one kid on the street team had the books confiscated by his school, including his copy of 'Hell's Half Acre' that he wasn't even trying to give away. I know from experience that schools like to maintain control over handing out literature in schools. If you let a teenager hand out copies of a novel, next thing you know it's the 'Book of Mormon' or Robert B. DePugh's 'Blueprint for Victory.' Inevitably a parent will complain.
After all, we must protect our children from religion at all cost. And political writings, well, really, if you let these kids start thinking...
So schools stick to handing out misleading literature from Planned Parenthood and busting students who hand out anything not approved by the Administration. The street teamer in question might even have been able to get 'Kiss Me Judas' approved for distribution in his school if he'd gone through channels, I really doubt the authorities taking the books away had any idea of their content. In fact, the APPs looked a little like the 'Book of Mormon,' so maybe they meant well...
But wait, this section is supposed to be about Chuck Palahniuk.
There are common threads running through Palahniuk's work, whether 'transgressive,' 'gothic,' or, you could say in the case of 'Lullaby' BOTH.
Class warfare is a popular thing with Chuck. He particularly likes to take on the extremely wealthy: the banquet crowd of 'Fight Club;' the employers who can't figure out how to eat lobster or heart of palm salad in 'Survivor;' the exploitative population of Waytansea; Helen Boyle (and her clients, both in real estate and in hired killing). The downtrodden service-industry worker of Orwell's 'Down and Out in Paris and London' is present and accounted for in Jack and Tyler's service-industry terrorism; in Colonial Dunsboro, in Misty Wilmot's hotel job, in the labor missionary job Tender Branson is sent to by the Creedish elders.
For that matter, my least favorite of Palahniuk's books, 'Invisible Monsters,' features the real estate of the wealthy and the world of the super model. The scam for getting prescription painkillers is to get shown the houses of the fabulously wealthy.
The 'transgressive' element is obvious in 'Fight Club' and 'Survivor,' but it really stays with us well past Palahniuk's eulogy of it. Victor Mancini crosses bridge after bridge in his sexual compulsion and the scam he runs to support his once wayward mother. And in 'Lullaby,' the more people die, the more things stay the same is a common chorus, not to mention Oyster's rants. And the latest, 'Haunted,' made up of nested short stories which include a conspiracy to use airplanes as missiles to take out every religious shrine from Mecca to the Vatican to the Dali Lama. If 'transgressive' fiction is dead, it's ghost is putting Palahniuk out of the mid list and into the best-seller category.
The Midwest Rock Lobster book list is still in its larval state. The idea is not to have a bit about a couple of writers. For the time being, content yourself with the following (wholly incomplete) recommended reading list:
Note: authors are listed in alphabetical order. Books are listed in no particular order for the most part. Some of the missing spaces on the list are books I simply haven't gotten to yet. They may be worthy of the Lobster's recommendation, but I won't recommend 'Gravity's Rainbow' or 'Vineland,' for instance, without at least reading them myself. If they're poor books, I'd be surprised, Pynchon hasn't let me down yet. Also, some of the collections of short stories represent more than what I've covered. Having the complete stories of Franz Kafka or John Cheever doesn't mean I've read them through. It does mean there are multiple stories in the collections that are must-reads.
Oh, you might notice I'm not recommending a lot of Stephen King books, but I have him on the list. It's been a decade or so since I've read anything by him, but 'The Shining' sticks with me as being a cut above his work in general. It's the same reason I only recommend Thomas Harris' first two books: I feel he went downhill after that, and sharply in the case of 'Hannibal.' For that matter, some of the books that are listed are books I can find fault with. They all have something that make them worth reading, warts and all. Hasek was in dire need of an editor; I like 'Penny Dreadful' much more than 'Kiss Me Judas' and 'Hell's Half Acre,' and so on.
A David Sedaris
Reading Through a
Writers & WritingAmy Hempel's site is no longer under construction. Not only are all the links live, but there's a pretty thorough author bio.