Sunday, January 4, 2009

Is it Asimov's that has that section called "On Books"?

This here is probably going to be more like an "On Authors." (Or "On Writers," but I think that, for some reason, that sounds too pretentious [a word I just typed wrong about five times]). Let's just say I'm reading a lot of books right now. Too many. It gets to be that I forget I'm reading a book and someone will mention it and suddenly I'll remember I'm halfway through it.

The ones on my mind right now are Bret Easton Ellis's Lunar Park, that I just started today, and Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, as translated by Michael Henry Heim, that I picked up a while ago with Foer's Everything is Illuminated, to complete my set of Harper Perennial Olive Editions (the third, and last, book being Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh). [Finishing this post, I've noticed that I should probably share with the reader that I have compared both with the works of Kurt Vonnegut, casting little input from elsewhere. I guess this is a flaw, and for that I apologize.]

Easton Ellis (as I often call him to differentiate with Warren Ellis), hit a chord with Glamorama, which took what was good about American Psycho (the humor, the dialogue) and limited the parts that made you cringe (namely the serial killing), and has now moved on (or did 3-4 years ago. I'm behind the curve) to his faux memoir. To actually speak of the novel, would be a travesty, because I've only just begun, but so far I have noticed a specific point of interest. It seems as if Easton Ellis has no probkem with representing himself in much the same fashion as one of his characters, and with the first person narrative style so similar to that of his earlier novels, it becomes an odd game of asking "what here is the writer and what is the character?". It's an intriguing enough game to play, because of his blend of fiction and reality seen from nearly the beginning of his tale, perhaps first referenced his claim of going to Camden College (the fictional university from many of his stories).

It seems to take either madness, masochism, or some sort of angry reflection on the past to produce the opening of Lunar Park, shown most comically in the fact the Bret's own character isn't portrayed with a hint of respect, but as little more than the unreliable narrator that has so dominated his novels in the past. I'm not sure what I expected from this novel, but the "truth" that is being given is most definitely harsher than I would have predicted, with, perhaps, the most interesting fact being that the Bret Easton Ellis character deals with this in the same sort of extremism you'd expect of leads of his last two novels.

But this is just (not very) scholarly blather, the real point I have in mind here is just how the general Easton Ellis novel seems to be structured. While something like Less Than Zero seems fairly set structurally (something alluded to in Lunar Park), Ellis moved away from a set plot with The Rules of Attraction, and returning to such in both American Psycho and Glamorama, he gives us these glimpses into the life of his characters, but it would be hard to argue against the indictment of a lack of closure in both books. For me, this is not so much a problem, but a point I bring up so that I might contrast Bret with Kurt Vonnegut, who I've mentioned lately here. What Vonnegut does in a novel (one like Player Piano or The Sirens of Titan, not in reference so much to his later metafictional efforts such as either brilliant book he is most known for [Slaughterhouse-Five or Breakfast of Champions]), is to write you a knot that is very hard to comprehend as you first approach it, but is most definitely one piece of rope looped in upon itself, and this becomes more and more apparent as you read on. In many ways, Easton Ellis is the opposite in this case, as his minimalism in style has moved away from his sentence structure and language and transferred itself into the resolutions to his novels. Although I hazard to draw a comparison, I see in the end of a book like Glamorama, the confrontation of an issue I, myself, have encountered in my own attempts at long works. Basically, at some point, plot itself seems to collapse and die, and you find yourself asking the question of why this happened, what this passage was supposed to reflect, and the like. It is possible, hell, probable, that when I look at a book by Bret Easton Ellis, I find this conflict, it is only a rationalization, made to make me feel better about my own efforts, because Bret's way of combating seems to be just ignoring the issue, and if one can avoid this problem in such a fashion and still form such a tour de force as Glamorama, then I can minimalize the importance of it in my own writings.

What we have in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, is something that I'd expect Vonnegut's Timequake to be like (as of writing this, I haven't read Timequake, but I feel I've read enough about it to make the comparison): basically a story that is being told to us by the writer, as he envisions it. What I must wonder is how much of Kundera's sheer presence in the work can be chalked up to Heim's translation, because the style is very different from what you'd expect from a novel. This considered, I find this difference inspiring and is something I tried to emulate in my first post on this blog (be it in a more subdued fashion, through the use of a character-narrator, rather than the writer-narrator Kundera employs). The humor here being that the oddness of Kundera's style is perhaps not his presence as the author of the novel, but his lack of exploration of this metafiction. (Kundera has a strong role in his novel, but it is small in comparison with the role that Vonnegut gives to himself in Breakfast of Champions.)

So then, I'm almost two thirds through The Unbearable Lightness of Being and an eigth into Lunar Park, and that far in, both a very good books, but in different fashions. For Bret Easton Ellis this is a return to style (which, for all I know, it is for Kundera as well, since this is the first book I've read by him), but what I find most charming about the former book is the newness emitted by its literary technique.

Funnily enough, both have, in effect, already influenced me. Ellis's earlier Glamorama changed my writing style to some extent, forcing it into long, run-on sentences, that perhaps took themselves too seriously, and bordered on pastiche, for a time, and, like I've said above, I've attempted to gather a similar structure to Kundera's work in at least one story as of late.

I'm reminded here of Howard Phillips's predicament: "There are my 'Poe' pieces and my 'Dunsany' pieces — but alas — where are my Lovecraft pieces?"

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