Friday, December 19, 2003

Demonology~Rick Moody

Rick Moody is true to his name in this fairly dark collection. Death, destruction, and the deterioration of relationships and lives punctuate his stories. The stories, however, seem to lack punctuation themselves. Cathartic events and catastrophes are phantoms that drift off the edges of the page, never quite resolved or allowed a proper space for their magnitude to be fully appreciated. The subtlety with which Moody portrays the characters' movements, minimizing their outrageous qualities adds to this effect.

The title piece of this book, "Demonology", offers a setting for the rest of these works. Moody, having suffered the loss of his own sister, portrays the taxing events of a household loosing a loved one, and the mental anguish that the surrounding characters go through. This is again seen in the nearly fanciful setting of the wedding hall of "Mansion on a Hill" and in the poem-like "Boys". With the account at the end of "Demonology" one must assume that Moody is writing from an entirely personal perspective. This achieves a weighty, and moody piece that stands alone. Outside of this collection it is still a piece of great fiction. With death as a central figure "Hawaiian Night" and "Forecast from the Retail Desk" both fall under this theme. The collection, containing the above common elements lacks a completely unified feel. These pieces were undoubtedly written at different junctures in Moody's life and put together in this consortium at a later date. Regardless, like a chain, the power of the collection as a whole is reinforced by the strength of each of it's individual pieces.

Demonology proves that technical form need not be devoid of emotion. Paralleling the chronicle of a man's life in "Wilkie Fahnstock: The Boxed Set" with a collection of cassette tapes, he brings two distinct voices to life. The narrator, telling the complete story of Wilkie Fahnstocks pitiful existence, and Wilkie, himself, comes through in the small notes written upon the cassettes themselves bringing a personal emphasis to a rather unremarkable life. He does this again with "Surplus Value Books: Catalogue Number 13" in which the eccentric collector's life is portrayed through a series of book descriptions and the stories behind their ownership. Everything down to the sticker price on each book shows the less than mainstream mind set of the owner.

Moody makes contact with the detachment of the arts world in "The Ineluctable Modality of the Vaginal" and the novella, "The Carnival Tradition." Alongside tumultuous relationships, the characters' behavior can be categorized as outrageous. Demanding a gynocological examination after an argument on gender issues with one's husband would hardly be marked as "normal." In "The Carnival Tradition" a woman being attacked by a dog, witness to a car accident, and practically raped are all washed away as she and her boyfriend have an unimpressive opening to a small gallery for a few of their close friends. These are prime examples of the lack of emphasis that Moody directly imparts on the events of his stories. While reading them though it's almost as if this seemingly passive, lack of emphasis gives one pause to consider the events through understatement.

Though mostly dark and rarely uplifting the stories are full of humor as a tesion release. Starting off with a description of his chicken mask "The Chicken Mask was sorrowful, Sis.", then detailing the various scandals of wedding parties in "Mansion on the Hill" one is drawn away from the depression and dwelling of Andrew Wakefield on his sister's death. This same device is used in chapter two of the "Carnival Tradition" in which two prep school boys attend a Halloween party, where everyone is "costumed" in their prep school attire, and soundly fail in their attempts at hooking up with numerous girls. "The Double Zoo" is distracted from the failings of a couple in their different schemes to make a living, and the father's breakdown at the end by a interwoven diatribe on the values of the ostrich egg. Even "Boys", the seemingly innocent tale of two youths growing up, becoming individuals, and leaving, only to return for a funeral has an disproportionate devotion of it's short length to the teenagers masterbatory habits. Moody is masterful in the quick jump from anxiety and cynicism to light hearted comments. The humor often retains the dark quality of the piece though.

Having come across these pieces separately, the would have been great reads. All of them. Reading them in tandem as a collection though gives a greater amount of insight into each work then it would have standing alone. The overall tone of the book shows not only the inner-workings of Rick Moody's mind, but a deeper understanding of the characters' context. This collection makes for a fantastic rainy day read.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Keri wrote of Lancaster on the 27th of October. A line struck me. "It's an area that thrives mainly on it's farmland and produce, and the tourism brought by the Amish."
This culture that is the complete anthesis of everything that tourism represents is a huge attraction. One doesn't go galavanting around the country in a horse and buggy. Cameras and cell phones to make hotel reservations aren't on the list of ammenities. I just find it ironic. The other idea that resonated with me was that we are so attracted to the simplicity of a culture and it's stick-to-it-ivness. Why does such devotion to an ideal have to be such a rarity. It's kinda sad. Noone ever goes to see a city of devout Catholics, Baptists, Buddhists, or Muslims except for the religion's respective global seat. What's so special about the Amish?
I was talking to my lab TA the other week. He's a mennonite, and I asked him what the cultural significance was of the beard. He informed me that the British military used to have mustaches. Officers had just a mustache, while service men also had a beard. Having the beard without the mustache was a confirmation of their people's refusal to be apart of any violent force. The remnants of the beards alone is enough for me to take an admirable step back and appreciate a culture that consistantly stands up for its beliefs.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Julie Orringer

Listening to Julie Orringer speak and passionately read her work made it apparent why I could never be a professional writer. I could never devote so much of my life or get that much of a thrill out of a piece of literature that I've written. I enjoy writing, but it's not the same drive that can make me jump out of bed and go running to the nearest pen and paper to jot down an idea for a piece. It's this drive that let her carry an essay started in her undergrad into a fully fledged, published, story.

The Smoothest Way is Full of Stones depicts two lives that shift out of parallel as the characters grow, but come back together with resolution of conflict. From the speaker's perspective the audience get's a real image of a child's understanding of sin. Ideas that conjure up images of evil are immediately rationalized and danced around as is apparent with the glimpses taken of Essence of Persimmon. In the midst of an orthodox setting this concept is heavily magnified.

The story watches both of the characters question their religious views, one from a stance of being thrust into an orthodox environment from a reformed family, and the other from an orthodox family into the freedoms that accompany a child in the summer. At the end they both come to the same conclusion.

Orringer does a great job of showing life through a child's eyes. This was exemplified in the feeling of tension between her relatives and her immediate family that went unspoken, but that she somehow felt a need to protect. This is probably her greatest strength

Thursday, November 13, 2003

You, my glorious audience.

When writing my stories I do have a specific audience in mind. I don't care for the pseudo-newage coffee house types that attempt to over analyze prose pieces and look for the deeper meaning that simply isn't there. My reader will come to the table with little to no context of what he or she will be reading. They will have just enough experience with what I'm talking about to develop a slight emotional attachment to the piece. I will tell you what I want you to think and or believe. That's why I'm writing something. It's an expression of myself, not an expression of what you feel when you read what I write. Call me selfish. Frankly, I don't care. I hope that in my writing I provide enough clues, most of them within the detail of what I've writen for you to pick up upon exactly what I'm trying to say. If this isn't the case then I've failed in my charge. We brought up the topic of gender in class regarding this exercise. I don't mind if you're male or female and reading my pieces. I've been told by some of my female friends that I'm old-fashioned bordering on sexist. I feel an urge to hold the door open, pay for my date etc. Perhaps this makes me a pig, but it's how I was raised. Maybe this will come through in my writing unintentionally. I can't tell you for certain. Whether or not this has the effect of having a pervasive tone intended for a male reader, or for a male addressing a female audience I'm unsure. I do know however that I like to write for the outcome and the emotional process of coming up with a story that excites me. If the audience enjoys it, that's great, if not it's no loss. Their pleasure or catharsis is not my intent. Perhaps I am my perfered audience.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Arrow Math
This story has a structure that intrigued me. There are two distinct story lines that are deliniated by the number system (I confess that I don't have the story in front of me to refer to). There is a rising action that occurs with the speakers history with Wyn, how they would trundle down the river in their rafts and indulge each other on the cliffs. The climax of this portion of the story occurs with the replacement of the speaker with Laura. The falling action is unspoken, and a time passes where Wyn and Laura's lives develop together and Wyn and the speaker seperate. The story is not completely disjoint however because there is still a deep seated connection between the speaker and Wyn (perpetuated by their long distance phone calls perhaps). Within this gap, but seperate from the latent story line there are two different approaches that the author undertakes. All the passages numbered one give a highly techincal description of the events that surrounded the eruption of Mount St. Helens. This reinforces the recurring theme of the math- arrow math, the speakers love for math, and the numerical reiteration of the eruption. The other section that does not really belong to the actual story line occurs in those passages numbered five in which the speaker directly addresses the audience with instruction and the author's thought processes. A second story line is taken up with the rising action occuring with the growth of both the speakers child and the son of Wyn and Laura. The two boys are both shown in snapshots that show who they will turn out to be (less so with the speakers son). This action culminates with the scenes of Laura and her son on the mountain top, and with the Speaker and her son facing a moment where the decisions of a thirteen year old can alter his life forever. The anticlimax occurs with the portrayal of the future, and questioning what will be.

All of these tenses and different perspectives go back to the title. All of them point in a certain direction for the audience to figure out, perhaps to the authors questions regarding the future or her addressing of the audience, in the same way the Arrow Math points to a specific solution or resolution.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Dave's room wasn't really a bedroom. They had converted the attic two years back. The room still had some of it's old qualities. Comprised of the entire top floor of the house there was plenty of open space. There was space before it became strewn with laundry, both clean and dirty that was only sorted by smell. The windows, two chest level ovals on the front side of the house, let in a minimum amount of light. The dark wood panneling butted against the same green carpet that covered the rest of his house. His twin bed, never made, stuck out from the wall. Matching the floor, more clothes intertwined with the flannel sheets and bedspread. A 20" stared at it from the dresser at the foot of his bed. The remote and his glasses nestled among empty coke cans and plates of pizza crust on his night stand. Two bookshelves, the only semblance of order in the place, lined the stairwell with volumes of science fiction and fantasy novels, a half-set of encyclopedia Britannica, an alphabetized assortment of Nintendo games, and every Far-Side book in print. A stereo resided on the top shelf of the one, with CDs spread across the top of the bookshelf. The Cure, Metallica, Miles Davis, and Good Charlote missing from the collection, perhaps still in the changer. One 6 x 12 map of the world covered the far wall with pushpins marking exotic spots that he planned on visiting. The paper pile with a monitor in the corner constituted his desk and covered a portion of the Pacific. A space was cleared for his keyboard, but his mouse rested atop a world history text. A full-sized pirate flag hung between the windows opposite John Coltrain. A biohazard sign was outside his door, which his parents didn't particularly like, but thought fitting, so it was never a matter for contention.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

I was born and raised in and around San Francisco, CA for the bulk of my life. There is no parallel. The City is approximately 7 x7 miles, with the Financial District (Downtown) taking up about a fifth of the city. San Francisco has a large city reputation and attraction without making one feel overwhelmed. All the neighborhoods have their own personal feel to them, with most of the city being residential. I came across an article over the summer stating that the county of San Francisco had the highest per capita wine and book sales of any other, nationwide. This isn't suprising with the new-age bohemian atmosphere that the city has set up. With a blending of so many cultures so completely, there is a tremendous amount of cultural literacy, giving way to literacy of the page.

San Francisco has tremendous social stratification. There is an upperclass, composed primarily of yuppies which isn't too suprising considering the astronomical cost of living. On the other end of the spectrum we have one of the highest homeless populations for a city of our size. This is due in part to the picturesque climate (generally 55-70 degrees year round with some fog, sunshine, and patchy clouds) and the abundance of fiscally liberal social programs. The middle class generally resides in suburbia.

The political environment has been most influential on my life. Such a liberal microchasm has pushed me further to the right. It's not that I have a need to argue with everyone, but been exposed to so many economically liberal policies that have failed that it's given me a unique insight to the political realm. The city is on the edge of economic collapse between the dot-com bomb, and rampant spending, and an anti-business environment. Social programs to help the lower class have only encouraged it's growth instead of reducing it. The governing body of the city is also something of a joke. An actual proposal about five years ago, put forth by the board of supervisors, was to distribute credit card machines to pan handlers, so they could take handouts via plastic. I hope I'm not the only one who sees a problem with this.

This has had a polarizing effect. Becoming a fairly ardent republican early on (with no help from my parents) I helped initiate a conservative students group in highschool, and worked on the Bush campaign. I recieved a call from one of my former classmates this evening telling me that the group was still going strong 3 years later. I've carried this banner with me to Cornell (mostly to the disgust of some of my friends), but it's definitely a part of who I am thanks to my City.

The beauty and culture of San Francisco are still unbeatable. Little would keep me from moving back there (except housing costs). I just hope the historical political environment changes a bit. I doubt it will, but one can dream.

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