Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lawnboy by Paul Lisicky

by Paul Lisicky

Is it fair to compare one writer to another? Is the comparison ever quite right? Blurbs for Lawnboy compared Paul Lisicky to Michael Cunningham (The Hours, A Home at The End of the World, etc.), and the cover even boasted a blurb from Cunningham himself. While certainly flattering, how does Lawnboy compare?

Non-straight characters? Check.
Coming of age/awakening type plot? Check.
Complicated romance? Checkity-check-check.

But couldn’t one say this about plenty of other books? Francesca Lia Block also had these things, but Wheetzie Bat and Lawnboy and The Hours are three entirely different books. Then again, it’s been a little while since I’ve read Cunningham’s work. Still, there is one clear way that Lisicky and Cunningham reminded me of each other: It took me the first third of the book to really get into it. That’s not to say I spent the first third uninterested; I just questioned how much I would enjoy the whole thing. Lawnboy is divided into three parts, and by Part 2, I became much more engaged in how things turned out.

Evan, seventeen years old and apathetic about school, begins mowing his neighbor William’s lawn. Though they are twenty-four years apart in age, Evan is startled by his attraction to him.

He meant absolutely nothing to me, until he stepped forward, then I started noticing: jaw, eyes, hair, smell, hands, feet, mouth. There was a kind of buzz about him, a field of hissing electricity that jerked with my ions and electrons.

If you want to know how fast the relationship progresses, you should know there’s sex by page ten. There’s no across the yard meandering, no longing glances that go on for pages; these two get straight to business. And in a way, it is business, as William continues to pay Evan thirty dollars each time he mows the lawn.

Eventually, estranged from his family, Evan moves in with William, and the two try to form a household together. William goes to work at one of the Miami news stations while Evan stays home, caring for the two Dobermans, tending to the plants and performing general upkeep. Their relationship moves from steamy to stagnant, and Evan feels like he’s giving more romance than he receives. When William has to work in Key West for a few days, Evan starts to realize that maybe they weren’t meant to be.

Once I stopped resisting my aloneness, I gave myself over to it, relaxing, even cultivating a new privacy.

The novel deals quite a bit with Evan’s relationship to his family, including his brother Peter, and just about every character is fundamentally lonely in some way. They all want to be loved and remembered. Throughout it all, Evan operates with optimistic fatalism — always awaiting doom, but hoping to be proven wrong.

With the story set in early 90s Florida, AIDS is still a somewhat new, ever-present threat. It’s not the main focus, but to ignore it would be ignoring history, and so it influences some portions of the plot. Florida itself is in a period of transition during this time — South Beach is just becoming trendy, moving away from the days when it was mainly populated by old Jewish men and drug dealers. Hurricane Andrew is still fresh in everyone’s minds, and the wreckage of abandoned buildings still haunt the landscape. Like Evan, Florida is torn between the past and an uncertain path ahead.

My only quibble is that events sometimes moved too quickly. While I appreciated the straightforward pace in general, every once in a while I wouldn’t have minded a little dawdling. Also, I couldn’t always relate to the voice of a boy in his late teens, having never been one. I understood from where he came, but when he sounded his age — petulant, selfish, overly worried — I’ll admit I rolled my eyes. Still, that only goes to show his realism. Who hasn’t rolled their eyes at a seventeen-year-old boy?

I enjoyed Lawnboy well enough that I will keep an eye out for Lisicky’s other work. The lingering, awestruck descriptions of physicality, and the unabashed searches for affection were enough to make me want more. It doesn’t matter whether Paul Lisicky writes anything like Michael Cunningham — Let the man stand on his own.


Full disclosure: Graywolf Press sent me this book after I requested it (among two others). I thank them for devoting a marketing write-off to my small blog, and I will continue to be fair regarding my reviews.

This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read challenge, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. The challenge ends October 31, 2010.

This review also appeared on Pajiba.com on July 30th, 2010.

Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life by Steve Almond

Rock n Roll Will Save Your Life by Steve Almond

Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life
by Steve Almond

Early June, my family and I were preparing to move from the Spokane, Washington area back to Great Falls, Montana. Any music fanatic will tell you, the storage and transport of one’s CDs, tapes and vinyl take precedence over supposedly more “vital” things. Ignored clothes, knickknacks, children’s toys that have always annoyed me? Bring on the Goodwill box. Dishes? Ah, grab some newspaper and pack them well enough. But the music? That takes special consideration.

If you’re wondering if you’re a collector, ask yourself two questions.

1. Do I own too many records?

2. Do my friends and family feel I own too many records?

If your respective answers are No and Yes, you’re a Collector.

Because we are staying with my mother while we wait for our Washington house to sell, much of our belongings are in storage. As such, I decided to back up all my CDs onto an external hard drive, then put the majority of them in storage. (Some exceptions: stuff I just bought, anything autographed, rare, Oasis, Bush or Ryan Adams-related. No vinyl in storage either.) One afternoon, I was flipping through the liner notes to Poe’s second album Haunted when I said to my husband, “Did you know that Poe’s real name is Annie Danielewski?”

“Oh,” he said. He was trying to read a Charles DeLint book he’d just bought after we exchanged some unwanted ones at Auntie’s Bookstore.

“She read a lot of Edgar Allen Poe.” I thought about the profile of her I used to have tacked on my bedroom wall when I was in high school. I’d clipped it out of Seventeen magazine, and she was wearing jewelry one of her fans had made. “Oh hey,” I said, pointing to one of the acknowledgments in the booklet. “Says here that Mike Elizondo played on this album. That’s the guitarist from Incubus, right?”

“I know there’s a Mike in Incubus,” my husband said, “but I couldn’t tell you his last name.”

I stared at him, wishing I hadn’t already packed the Incubus CDs. Isn’t he the bigger fan? I thought. And why don’t I already know this?

Collectors have pretty much given up relating to anyone who isn’t a Collector.

Luckily, as I’ve said before, I have an indulgent husband who knows that music and all the accompanying bits of overlapping information are essential to my everyday being. Turns out, the guitarist from Incubus is named Mike Einziger. Mike Elizondo is a bassist, keyboardist, songwriter and producer. He’s worked with Fiona Apple and Dr. Dre, among others.

So it may go without saying that a book called Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life would be required reading for me. I am, to use Steve Almond’s term, a Drooling Fanatic, though perhaps a more specific one. While I may not always be on the hunt for new records with which to fall in love, I am continually swooning over something. I like discovering new music, of course, but I’m often just as happy buying the latest album from someone I’ve loved for years. I’m both a Collector and a Completist.

Steve Almond is also a Collector and Aging Music Geek, and he is dumbfounded by critics who want to make music an intellectual exercise. “The real problem here,” he says, “is emotional. The prose, for all its technical fidelity, conveys almost nothing about what music feels like.”

Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life attempts to articulate those feelings, as well as tell the stories of Almond’s fandom along the way. There is list-making, reluctant admissions of enjoying Styx, and considering whether or not dating a woman with incompatible music tastes is worth the time. He admits that there was a time in his life, employed as a music critic no less, that he had barely any idea who Bob Dylan is. No matter the level of Music Geekery, there are always embarrassing gaps in one’s knowledge.

Particularly amusing and honest is Almond’s interaction with Bob Schneider: “A Frank Discussion of My Mancrush on Bob Schneider.”

I have to start here, because if I don’t my wife will eventually read this and say something like, “Aren’t you going to mention your massive mancrush?” to which I’ll respond, “Shut up! I so totally don’t have a crush on Bob!” to which she’ll respond, “Then why do you talk to the poster of him on your wall?” to which I’ll respond, “I admire him as a musician. Why do you have to make it into something dirty?” Then I’ll slam the door in her face and throw myself down on the bed and stare up at my Bob poster, the one with him looking all yummy and stubbled, and wail, “Don’t listen to her, Bob! She’s just jealous!”

Nobody wants that.

He goes on to talk about trying to not say anything stupid during their conversation, about using Schneider’s bathroom, and what his music meant to him when he discovered it in 2002. He admired both his skill and physical magnetism, how he exuded “Front Man” in his performance. He fell in love with Schneider’s way of paying tribute to all the music that influenced his own.

However, the hard part about meeting your idols/crushes is that sometimes they either disappoint or leave you feeling sad. Bob Schneider now lives on his own, records at home and seems to have no real friends. “It’s a strange feeling, to worship and pity someone simultaneously,” Almond says. Still, he recognizes that desolation is the place where art often flourishes, and perhaps he’d have been better off not witnessing it firsthand.

I can’t imagine the amount of mental rehearsal I’d need to meet Noel Gallagher, though I hear he’s quite good at making people feel at ease. Chances of me turning scarlet, laughing at everything, and saying crap like, “My friend Melanie had a cat named Noelly-Paws. It had extra toes!” — Well, let’s not think about all the dumb things I might say. No, no, I would be the model of confidence, I’d be prepared, stunning, witty...

Of course.

The thing about reviewing a book about musical fandom when I am hopelessly gone myself is that I spent the entire time comparing his thoughts and experiences with my own. When he talks about songs that take him back to a particular time and place, even if the songs aren’t the greatest, I nod in agreement. Any regular readers of this blog know that talking about personal time and place in relation to songs is one of my main activities. For his wife, Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” may take her back to managing the cosmetics section at CVS, but for me, it reminds me of my dad on his day off, blasting the music over the vacuum.

I bought this book after seeing Steve Almond give a reading at Powell’s in Portland. I’d planned on reading it anyway, though maybe seeing if the library had it, until I saw that he’d be there while we were on vacation. During his reading, he punctuated sections of the text with music, and to be honest, reading the same passages at home later wasn’t the same. Though the book is plenty funny, it’s much funnier in person. And any book about music is better with a soundtrack (which is why he provides a “Bitchin’ Soundtrack" on his website). Anyone who has the chance to listen to Almond read should go.

When I had Almond sign the book, I mentioned that I was a drooling fanatic as well.

“Oh yeah? What’s your main thing?” he said.

“Oasis,” I said, watching the look of surprise cross his face. “I know. I see that look a lot.”

“No, no,” he said. “I’m not judging. I have two of their albums on my laptop right now.”

“Most people have the first two albums, if any,” I said, then realized that sounded more snobby than it should.

“She’s Electric, that’s a great song,” he said and immediately I forgive him for any imagined looks because he mentioned a song that isn’t a single, that isn’t “Wonderwall.”

We talked a little bit about British rock, and then moved onto This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey. As I mentioned in that review, I left feeling like I’d squandered explaining myself. But why should I have to? Why should I care?

Inherent in the Drooling Fanatic personality is the desire to inflict our musical obsessions on our friends and loved ones and, well, pretty much anyone who will listen.

Music and the way it makes us feel is a language I will forever be trying to articulate. There is so much to say, and yet, words never do it justice. But we keep on trying — Trying to bring the joy, the depression, the heart-punching moments of truth into our everyday lives and to the people that we adore. The fanatic finds music inseparable from themselves. If you want to know me, we say, look at my collection. Look at the way my face lights up when I talk about a song I love. Everything you want to know can be contained within these moments.


This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read challenge, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. The challenge ends October 31, 2010.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

I regularly refer to Anthony Bourdain as Mr. Bourdain. Not Tony, not Anthony — Mr. Bourdain. Because he’s an attractive older gentleman with whom I regularly schedule TV watching dates so that I can hear him talk about all there is to see in the world. He could go to Antarctica and be bundled up to his eyeballs, but as long as there’s a voice over, my brain melts into happy goo. Girly gushing or not, that’s just the way it is.

So perhaps that’s why his books aren’t as satisfying as the TV show No Reservations — Yes, the books are well-written, and yes, his writing voice is much like his speaking voice, but the words on the page don’t quite do it justice. I plow through the text, enjoying it all, but only 95% of the way. Perhaps I should do the audiobook version instead, but then I don’t have the satisfaction of holding the book. A combo? That seems like an awful lot of work for that 5%.

Still, that shouldn’t deter anyone from picking up Mr. Bourdain’s latest offering Medium Raw. Detailing portions of his life after Kitchen Confidential (and explaining some of what he said in that previous book), he talks about his transition from “the bad old days” of drug addiction into the life of a happily married (and happily employed ) man with a small child. “Life does not suck,” he regularly says.

Like a lot of things in my life, there’s no making it prettier just ‘cause time’s passed. It happened. It was bad. There it is.

In some ways he glosses over his personal life because, while it may inform where he is today, what he’d rather talk about is food and the people who make it, review it, and influence how we consume it. With time passed, he goes into more detail about his issues with Food Network and their culture of mediocrity.

And it’s true — six years ago, I would gladly laze about and watch Sara Moulton chop an onion. Two Fat Ladies? Hilarious. That network partially taught me how to cook. But now? There are so many other things I’d rather do than watch Sandra Lee or Guy Fieri massacre another dish. The Neeleys make my skin crawl, as does Paula Deen’s spackled-on make-up (though she seems like a perfectly nice lady). I will admit to catching Iron Chef America and occasional episodes of Ace of Cakes, but that’s about it. In some cases it’s not just mediocre, but downright terrible, disguised in shinier packaging. Somehow, it still sells. Like Mr. Bourdain, I find it puzzling and disappointing.

He also tackles the changes in the fine dining industry with relation to the economy. People are much less willing to drop hundreds or even thousands of dollars on bottles of wine at dinner, and that’s where the money is. Bills are paid and top of the line ingredients are purchased because of those high markup wine sales. The profit margin is significantly smaller on the food, especially once it’s trimmed to perfection. The business model is changing.

If there’s a new and lasting credo from the Big Shakeout, it’s this: people will continue to pay for quality. They will be less and less inclined, however, to pay for bullshit.

I couldn’t agree more — and that goes for any industry. Make good product and price yourself accordingly. Know your worth and be honest.

And speaking of bullshit, Bourdain does not hesitate to call it out amongst critics. Snobbery, currying unwarranted favor and writing unflattering reviews based on personal agendas are his main complaints.

Shortly before Medium Raw was published, Esquire food writer John Mariani wrote a brutal review online (“Once he was a valuable demolisher of culinary pretension; now he is a fanatic seeking to shore up his own sick TV persona.”), but at no point in his commentary did he mention that he was portrayed unflatteringly in the book. Here’s an excerpt of the passage:

Take John Mariani, the professional junketeer over at Esquire, whose “likes and dislikes” (shower cap in his comped hotel, attractive waitresses, car service) are mysteriously communicated, as if telepathically, to chefs before his arrival. (Motherfucker hands out pre-printed recipe cards on arrival, with instructions on how to prepare his cocktail of choice — a daiquiri.)

Sounds like someone is having trouble with his own culinary pretension being made public.

The book is not all criticism, however. Bourdain offers plenty of praise for the people he sees as heroes in the food world. From big names like Eric Ripert and Mario Batali, who regularly give to charity, to LA Weekly food writer Jonathan Gold, who consistently writes well and with respect. He talks to rising chef David Chang about his various neuroses and aspirations, and finds out just what happens after you lose on Top Chef.

It’s a good book, a funny book, and one that anyone even remotely interested in food should read. Maybe next time, I’ll make a date with the audiobook too.

Book #31/52

This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read challenge, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. The challenge ends October 31, 2010.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Liner Notes #1: Radio Ga Ga

Liner Notes #1: Radio Ga Ga

Liner Notes is my ongoing music column with Electric City Creative. Each month, I post supplementary material to the column’s topic on this site. In Issue #1, I talked about my fondness for radio and the not-yet-extinct Great Falls DJs.

Five Songs Full of Radio Nostalgia

For whatever reason, the peak of my radio nostalgia seems to be centered around the years 1993 and 1994. Perhaps this is because it was before my CD owning years, but these were the first songs that popped into my head when compiling a list. These are not an indicator of albums I compulsively listened to over time, since most of the singles from those were not played on local radio anyway.

Other contenders? “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow (1994), “Stay (I Missed You)” by Lisa Loeb (1994), “Heaven is a Place on Earth” by Belinda Carlisle (well, what do you know – 1987), “The Good Life” by Weezer (1996) ... and probably a bunch more, if I sat here and thought about it.

Radio fondness is a mysterious thing. Sometimes you hear a song and decide you need the whole album. Sometimes that album is great, sometimes the single is the only great thing. In a pre-download age, it could be hard to tell.

Sometimes there are songs heard on the radio that you love, even though they go against your normal musical inclinations. Perhaps we didn’t buy the albums, but later, after hearing it yet again on the radio, we’re off downloading. It’s Nostalgia meeting the Modern Age.

Here, then, is what made the cut:

1. What’s Up? - 4 Non Blondes (1993)

I had trouble falling asleep even as a kid. When other girls were long tuckered out at slumber parties, I’d lie there listening to the creaks in an unfamiliar house, wondering how many hours until morning. Houses without creaks were maddening — I had nothing but my own racing thoughts. At home, before I owned a three disc changer, I’d often let the radio keep me company.

And then one night, I decided I would pass the time by learning how to sign “What’s Up?” The only full words I knew in sign language were “time,” “you,” “and,” “me,” “my,” and “I.” Using almost entirely individual letter signs, I wanted to see if I could spell out the song reasonably in step with the music. The song had heavy airplay then, so I had plenty of opportunity to practice.

I can almost do it still, nearly twenty years later. My sleeplessness probably led directly to my later skills as a cello player, despite having tiny hands.

“What’s Up?” is one of the best songs to come out of the 90s. Linda Perry has a great rock n roll voice, like a more gravelly Anne Wilson. You either want to be her or be with her, and you can be sure that when someone picks this song for karaoke, the crowd sings along.

2. Come to My Window - Melissa Etheridge (1994)

Every Sunday night, K99 would play the Casey Kasem Top 40 Countdown, and I’d listen to part of it in the shower and then later portions once I went to bed. I didn’t necessarily like all the songs played, but I got list-making satisfaction out of the rise and fall of songs. He never really interviewed anyone, but he would quote other interviews with the musicians. During the height of Melissa Etheridge’s post-coming out popularity, he mentioned a joke she’d made about how she was the Queen of the Lesbians and kd lang was the King. Immediately, my list-making brain (trying to fall asleep, still) tried to rank all the non-straight musicians I knew.

I was only around ten years old. My list tapped out not long after Freddie Mercury and Elton John (whose real name, Reginald White, I also learned from Casey Kasem. Young Reggie made a list of names and decided). Surely there are more, I thought.

Of course there were and are more, and of course it shouldn’t be any more notable than hair color, but my burgeoning heart identified. And anyone willing to stand up and blaze a trail, critics be damned, wins some admiration in my book.

“Come to My Window” is a romantic song, a gender neutral song, and I still like it even though I’ve never purchased a Melissa Etheridge album, and I don’t mind when her other songs come on the radio. Apart from the whole “David Crosby’s the babydaddy” news, her life has been like many a straight person’s — longterm relationship, have some kids, divorce, remarry and do it all over again. Is it the ideal? Maybe not, but it’s got nothing to do with the excess of ovaries.

3. Because the Night - 10,000 Maniacs (1993)

Pardon my ignorance at the time, but I didn’t know this was a Patti Smith cover; I just knew that I liked it. Up until recently, I also had no idea that Bruce Springsteen wrote it. That’s quite the pedigree for a song, no matter who sings it. Taken from 10,000 Maniacs MTV Unplugged performance, this song was played nothing short of eleventy-gerbillion times during late 1993 and into 1994. That’s right — eleventy-gerbillion.

I’m a sucker for orchestra-backed songs, and even though Natalie Merchant spent the 80s and early 90s dressing like a dowdy Missoula librarian, there is something about her voice. I’m probably partial to it because it’s more in my range, and I would sing along while pottering around my room at the time. My dad liked 10,000 Maniacs, but he never got around to owning the Unplugged set, so my exposure came entirely from the radio.

K99 used to do a Battle of the Songs in the evening, and I remember this one holding on for weeks and weeks. (Bizarrely, another song that did so was something from Toad the Wet Sprocket. Yeah... I don’t know why, either.)

Really, 10,000 Maniacs became considerably less interesting once Natalie Merchant left for a solo career. They’re a prime example of a band that should have just gone ahead and changed their name when one of their most recognizable elements changed. You’re no longer the same — May as well quit pretending.

4. Loser - Beck (1993/1994)

This isn’t anywhere near my favorite Beck song, but like many, this was my first introduction to the Strangeness That Is One Mr. Beck Hansen. Originally released on vinyl for indie outfit Bong Load, it spread through college and modern rock radio airplay before being picked up by Geffen subsidiary DGC. I assume that when I first heard it, the major record deal had already happened, as our local radio stations were not known for their cutting edge, ahead of the curve tastes.

Filled with seemingly nonsense words and a half-Spanish chorus, it wasn’t like anything else I’d heard before. This song also featured several weeks in a row as the winner of Battle of the Songs, and the memory that sticks out most for me is that I’d often be cleaning my room when it came on the radio.

I went on to own a handful of Beck albums since — Odelay, Midnight Vultures, Mutations and Guero — and while his personality can be a bit grating at times, it’s always interesting to see what musical direction he heads next.

5. Sleeping in My Car - Roxette (1994)

(The original video is here. I couldn't embed it.)

Swedish pop. You know you love it.

It’s true, I have an irrational fondness for Roxette. It began with “It Must Have Been Love” when I was six years old, followed by pleading for (and receiving) The Look! for my eighth birthday. I watched their interviews on MTV and was fascinated by their hair. Even as I grew older and my musical tastes veered sharply into alternative and British rock, I would still sing along when Roxette came on the radio. There’s just something satisfying about their songs, and I can’t quite place what. I don’t care if that’s not hip to admit; that hasn’t stopped me before.

Any song with the word “car” (see also: “drive” or “run”) in the title automatically makes it better while on the road. Sure I was too young to be thinking about getting busy in the backseat of a car, but it sure sounded like a hell of a lot of fun. Also, there’s something nice about the line “The night is so pretty and so young.”

Go on, give Roxette another try. I won’t tell anyone.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Zero by Jess Walter

The Zero
by Jess Walter

Not in recent memory have I read a book so enthralling, heartbreaking and with such deadpan humor. In what he calls his "9/12" novel, Jess Walter’s The Zero follows "hero cop" Brian Remy, who is trying to make sense of the world while also suffering from memory lapses. His journey is at once bewildering and mournful, and though I’m not one to go on about perfect first lines, Walter had me at the outset:

They burst into the sky, every bird in creation, angry and agitated, awakened by the same primary thought, erupting in a white feathered cloudburst, anxious and graceful, angling in ever-tightening circles toward the ground, drifting close enough to touch, and then close enough to see that it wasn’t a flock of birds at all — it was paper.

Is it a long first sentence? Yes. Does it matter? Absolutely not.

Remy also suffers from macular degeneration and vitreous detachment, causing “flashers” and “floaters” to move across his sight, distorting everything he sees. Between the memory loss and his escalating eye problems, he has a hard time understanding his new position. Placed on retirement from the police department, he discovers that he is instead working for a new mysterious government agency. Though he doesn’t know how he came to this point or why, he finds himself the boss of an anti-terrorism squad concerned with finding the whereabouts of key “cell members.”

And through it all, he still can’t shake the feeling of “that day,” even if he can’t recall the specifics:

The smell never left him now. It lived in the lining of his nose and the fibers of his lungs — his whole body seemed to smell, as if the odor were working through his pores, the fine grey dust: pungent, flour of the dead.

Part existential crisis, part satire, The Zero also presents some of the ridiculousness of government during this time. There’s talk of “evildoers” and an entire agency dedicated to collecting all those scraps of paper, The Department of Documentation. “Things will be better when all the paper has been cleaned up.” Cops and firefighters are getting agents and their faces on cereal boxes; tourists pose for photos by the wreckage. Even in the event of a national tragedy, capitalism and consumerism worm their way into the larger discussion.

In an interview with Playboy reprinted at the back of the paperback edition, Walter says, “We have responded to an increasingly serious world by becoming surreally superficial. We live in a world that could have only been dreamed up by Graham Greene and Franz Kafka on a weekend bender, with George Orwell along to write slogans.”

Still, the story isn’t all serious. Occasionally, there are moments of relief and outright comedy. Consider this exchange between Remy and his girlfriend, April, after they’ve holed up in a San Francisco hotel room:

“Were you going for some kind of endurance record? Or just seeing if you could make me taller?”

“I was distracted,” he said. “Sorry.”

“No, it was nice,” she said. “I always wondered what it would be like to have sex with an oil derrick.”

Remy stood next to the bed.

“Go get me a wheelchair and we’ll go to dinner.”

Walter has a gift for description, ways of setting a scene and arranging its contents that never feel forced. Instead of being aware of literary devices — “Oh look. Another grand metaphor.” — the words just fit. Beyond that, the paragraph structure fits the mood. When Remy or anyone else is lost in thought, the sentences and paragraphs become long and fluid, stretching out for half a page or more. Everyone wants to share their story of that day, to feel as though they weren’t alone, and so they talk at length. It never feels like author-preaching or concept-over-character — In short, Jess Walter knows what he is doing.

And it hit me. This is a hard place. God, it’s a hard place. But it wakes up every morning. No matter what you do to it the night before, it wakes up. [ . . . ] You can’t tear this place apart. Not this city. We’ve been doing it to ourselves for three hundred years. The goddamn thing always grows back.

The Zero is more psychological than political, and though politics do inform the story, it’s the sense of “What now?” that propels the action forward. What matters? Will all we’ve worked for be taken away? What if we were never there at all? There are big thoughts to consider here, and it all makes for an immensely satisfying read.

Book #30/52

This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read challenge, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. The challenge ends October 31, 2010.

This review also appeared on The Rumpus on July 16, 2010.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Music MeMe

1. Reply to this post and I'll assign you a letter.
2. List 5 songs that start with that letter.
3. Post them to your blog/journal/whatever with these instructions.

Kriserific (who is on a private LJ, so I won't bother linking) gave me the Letter L. In no particular order (except the first one):

1. Live Forever - Oasis

(This is a version with Noel performing it. I'd never heard this performance before. No actual video to accompany. Sorry.)

2. Let's Go to Bed - The Cure

(Hadn't heard this Unplugged version either.)

3.Let It Ride - Ryan Adams and The Cardinals

(You'll like this song because you like good things, right? Also, Ryan with a beard. File that also under things I hadn't seen.)

4. Lonesome Swan - Glasvegas

(Audio's a little spotty here, but love how the drummer is in a bridal veil, since they're at the Viva Las Vegas Chapel. You may want to watch this one on the actual youtube page because I had to shrink this down to fit my template.)

5. Lumberjack Song - Monty Python

(You're welcome.)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Odds and Ends

If you'll allow me to be indulgent, or you were curious about the ongoing number, I have a label for my book reviews published on Pajiba.com. 9 out of 29 so far. Not too shabby. I've technically read 30 books at this point, but I've been slow about writing that review. Stay tuned for that.

Also, coming up in roughly 2 weeks, Tyson and I will publish our first issue of Electric City Creative, and since I was never too wild about the column title 'Compulsive Chronicles,' my music column will now be called 'Liner Notes.' Stay tuned for that as well.

Onwards and upwards.