Thursday, October 4, 2007

junot diaz, leonard michaels, wes anderson

Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao had at first won me. I was wowed by his looks, by his charm, but by the third date, the charm became something else, a grating, trying too hard thing, and the looks not much. The first half of the book has so much promise and the voice it is written in is so great, so full of life, but Diaz's tendency toward footnotes to explain Dominican history and the book's long forays back into familial history in the Dominican Republic sort of turned me off. The rushed, over-dramatized ending turned me off even more. Diaz is a great writer and I should probably read his short story collection, Drown, to see him in a format that would probably suit him better.

I can't remember which critic commented on how immigrant literature, much more so than other contemporary fiction, continues the model of the early novel, tracing a family history's back a few generations. I read someone say this not too long ago, and, yes, there is a Coors Light at my side, perhaps aiding in my inability to recall more details about this argument or its author, but something about this novel and its rewinding back to the history of Oscar's parents and grandparents and their lives in the Dominican Republic turned me off. I am not a fan of these big sweeps through time, tracing connections, seeking them, between stuff that happened to your parents and stuff that happened to you, looking for overlaps and repetitions, seeking something distinctive in your genetic makeup that also appeared in your parents' lives, in your grandparents' lives, and on and on, all the way back to Adam. It just isn't how I think that life works and is a less interesting (though perhaps easier) prism in which to view life and write about it. There are things that repeat themselves in a person's life, themes that rear their head again and again, but I don't like (and don't believe in) the fatalistic qualities some literature wants to attach to families and one's belonging to a certain one. At some point, the novel became a pastiche of so many other novels, striving to be this new American multicultural novel: the Spanglish throughout the book, the overusage of footnotes a la David Foster Wallace, the hot-headed Latina ladies, the hints of magical realism, and the references to comics a la Michael Chabon, opening the book with a Stan Lee quote even - Stan Lee and his creations have been name dropped so much in the past five years in literary fiction, the trend of which is certainly deserving of further commentary, but which I am not capable of mounting right now.

Okay, blame it on the Coors Light and the coffee consumed earlier. The above does very little to convey how much I actually really liked this book and how good a book it actually is. When something I like a lot (people included) disappoints me (even slightly), I take it real hard.

I have started reading Leonard Michaels' Collected Stories, and so far, so great. I had never heard of him until I picked up this book and if I am not too presumptuous I am guessing you haven't heard of him either. He is an amazing short story writer, dead now, and at one point more well known. I hear so much in here - the bleakness of Carver, the urbanness of Salinger, the slight surrealism of Murakami's short stories. It is really great stuff and amazingly well written. It is a bit bleaker than my worldview and often the stories have the subject of an abused woman, presenting surely problems to some, but the writing is fantastic, sentences that I reread and reread, looking at the mechanics of them, at the amazing word choices, and at how perfectly formed they are. I will quote from some of it soon. I am still early in the book and may surely change my opinion by the time I reach the end, but right now I am kind of in love with Leonard Michaels.

This evening I saw The Darjeeling Limited. It, of course, was really good. Wes Anderson has made a Wes Anderson movie and I can't imagine that he can make too many more before it becomes boring, becomes all of his other movies, but he is not there yet, and I really enjoyed this movie a lot. The movie had me feeling lonely and I looked at one of its stars longingly, wanting to touch him, to play with his hair, looking at his hands and feet, longing to touch both, wanting to touch other people, thinking of other people I have touched and their distance from me physically and otherwise at this particular time in my life, thinking about that a lot because this is a movie about travel and distances, about collapsing those emotional ones, doing so in this travel movie, and, yes, perhaps traveling physical distances is the best way to collapse those emotional distances.

I watched it alone, the theater packed with groups of friends, couples. I rode the subway home looking at faces, wanting one to look at me, wanting to make some sort of connection with someone, wanting to kiss someone and talk to someone and lie next to them and to feel giddy about another human being. That didn't happen. I picked up a Coors Light and a bag of Doritos at the bodega downstairs and consumed the both here in my apartment while listening to the Rolling Stones.

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