Books I Read Recently - July 25, 2006

recent books I have read:

EAT THE DOCUMENT by DANA SPIOTTA– this is an incredible novel. About a couple that are a part of a Weather Underground-style radical left 60s group. They accidentally kill a housekeeper when they try to bomb the house of a DuPont CEO, and then split off and go underground. The novel follows both of their lives as they erase their past and change identities, have kids, try to inspire anarchic spirit in younger people. The story is totally riveting, and gives Spiotta a chance to compare the political landscape then and now, and the effectiveness of protest. She describes her characters' blind faith in social change back in the 60s and 70s and contrasts it with its result: a "cool" factor, trendiness in rebellion: disenchanted kids toying with logos, hacking into computers -- their imaginative anarchic acts being re-absorbed into the giant inescapable consumer machine.

TWO GIRLS, FAT AND THIN by MARY GAITSKILL – she is such a dark lady, Ms Gaitskill…but also a tremendously skillfull mood-alchemist. I was completely engrossed…one of those books that makes the world around you seem quiet and a different color when you read it. About two women who meet when the thin one is doing research for an article about a cultish Ayn Rand-like literary cheesoid Objectivist. The "fat" girl was a devoted follower, but now lives a lonely life as a late-shift paralegal. Both suffered sad, twisted, abusive, yet scarily believable childhoods. Gaitskill, in a way, is a modern horror writer, whose evils are not Stephen King-style supernatural spirits, but rather the much more mundane evil of child sexual abuse. This novel isnt just a horror book, ends up becoming a love story, and will leave you feeling hopeful…sort of when you feel light and cleansed after puking all night from food poisoning.

THE BLIND ASSASSIN by MARGARET ATWOOD– This book is about two sisters in post world war two Canada. One sister is the celebrated author of a cult pre-feminist novel (also called the Blind Assassin) which is about a rich woman who has an affair with a fugitive communist revolutionary on the run. Within the novel’s novel, the fugitive tells his lover a story about a distant planet named Zycron whose population live under a late-Roman Empire-style (or today’s America?) cynical government who cut out the tongues of young girls and sacrifice them to a god they don’t even believe in anymore. The blind assassin falls for one of these girls and they escape the city. Meanwhile we follow the tragic lives of the sisters, and the erotic, sassy dialogue of the lovers as they have their trysts in various hotel rooms. The stories converge and the ending of the novel is very lyrical and well-done..but…well….Listen, I love Atwood, and think she is a major treasure to our language and everything, but my one gripe is that I felt the science fiction story was sort of forgotten about. Atwood created this amazing world, and then kind of throws it away at the end.

V by THOMAS PYNCHON. Actually I couldn’t get past page 6, when the protagonist, who goes by the annoyingly playful name of Benny Profane, is at a bar where they serve beer out of giant tits. Ploy, a crazier, Jack Nicholson-type character screams “It's Suck Hour!” and all the men in the bar dive onto the breast nozzles. It was then I realized I couldn’t read any further and didn’t want to. It still makes me angry when I am presented with straight guy bullshit that is supposed to be canonical for some reason. I did like The Crying of Lot 49, but this was just dumb… I get more and more violently angry when I am shown how straight men are allowed to be casually surreal and playful with language and their smug masturbation is considered an act of genius. It’s the same reason why I could never finish a Henry Miller book. Or Infinite Jest. There is something hollow about their tone…like they have no heart in what they are saying. They just want to all suck on a tit-nozzle. Why cant every hetero guy writer be like Richard Ford?

ANAGRAMS by LORRIE MOORE. It’s really weird to read this now. I guess it is a pre-cursor to chick-lit. About a neurotic young woman who either fantasizes she is a jazz singer or becomes one. Moore is of course a sharp writer…but this book left me feeling weird and sad like when I consider any art or literature from the 80s, you know? Cathy cartoons, Carol Armitage (is that her name?), Bright Lights Big City, Martin Amis, Liquid Sky…it all leaves me feeling like I have a marshmallow of air in my mouth.

AMERICAN WOMAN by SUSAN CHOI. Another book about 60s radicals going underground, this time the group is more like the Symbionese Liberation Army. Choi has a more masculine prose style than Spiotta, less poetic, but she keeps the story lean and absorbing...especially when the gang is hiding out in a home in upstate New York and developing into a weird, lazy, beer drinking paranoids. I kinda know Ms Choi we would say hello if we saw each other at the lesbian coffee place down the street. But anyway I’m really impressed with this novel, as well as her first book, The Foreign Student, and can't wait to read more of her work.

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