Tuesday, March 30, 2010

March 29, 2010 - subTEXT

Yeah, it really has been almost since a month since I bought some books or finished reading one I haven't already been through. It's that kind of semester, that kind of workload. Sadder for me than for you, no doubt, but I'm just saying!

A few finds at subTEXT when I was over for lunch yesterday, though:
  • Timothy Corrigan, A Short Guide to Writing about Film ($5, prep for the course I'm co-teaching next spring - "The Environmental Gaze: Literature, Film, Theory")
  • ed. Philip C. Dolce, Suburbia: The American Dream and Dilemma ($2 for this dated [1976] but fascinating little volume)
  • sel. Michael Redhill, Blues & True Concussions: Six New Toronto Poets ($5 because a 1996 collection isn't really "new," though it's a good bunch: Christian Bok, Kevin Connolly, Laura Lush, Esta Spalding, R.M. Vaughan, Eddy Yanofsky), and
  • Gary Snyder, He Who Hunted Birds in His Father's Village: The Dimensions of a Haida Myth ($10, for a book I've meant for a long time to pick up)

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Martin Amis, The Information

I've spent lots of hours outside my usual reading habits recently, working my way through Martin Amis' The Information more slowly than I expected. It deserves all the praise it's received, this novel, because it really is remarkable, but I didn't find myself drawn in the way I thought I might.

It was a gift from a friend, a good one, but for a little while there I wasn't sure how to take the gift! After all, it's about a fellow exactly my age whose career is a dead end, whose family life is often unpleasant, who has no real friends, and who is consumed by an assortment of nasty emotions. After seeking some clarification about where exactly I was to be seeing myself in our hero (whose first name, unhelpfully for me, happens to be Richard), I put all that aside and dove in more readily.

But still, I never did find this an easy book to read. Or rather, reading this book made me persistently uneasy. Richard Tull really is a troll, corrupt and inadequate, and yet one nonetheless recognizes elements of him in oneself. (Enough distance there? Hmm.) There's just no way you can see him ever, ever, coming to a happy ending, and he doesn't particularly deserve one, but his attempts to poison everyone else's endings still somehow come off as not altogether unappealing. Very dicey.

Amis does a wonderful job, I have to say, of portraying unhappy relationships, masculine self-doubt, and violent jealousy: I've seen them elsewhere, of course, but The Information is terrific on these things. Not particularly pleasant, but then I got off on the wrong foot. If I was able to read the novel more purely as satire ("blackly hilarious," as the blurb calls it, or "pleasantly wicked," according to the San Franciso Chronicle), then I think it would have been a different experience altogether. After all, I think Fargo is hilarious as well as dark, yet also affirming in a way, and when I come back to this book, that's how I expect it'll go.

Of course, I'll be older than Richard Tull by then, so I'll be able to shake my greybearded head at his foolishness, recognizing none of myself in him....

Stanley Evans, Seaweed on the Street

With a title like Seaweed on the Street, you'd be excused if you thought maybe Stan Evans' 2005 book was a chapbook of stereotypical West Coast natural/urban hippie poetry (not that I've seen many example of that sort of thing in years, and not that I'd mind reading that sort of thing anyway), but you'd be wrong in almost every way: it's the first book in Evans' mystery series featuring Coast Salish detective Silas Seaweed, a member of the Victoria Police Department.

And it's such a good read, such a well-crafted story, that it's made me rethink my feelings about TouchWood Editions. I'm a fan and supporter of small presses, but I've had some bad luck over the years with my choices from TouchWood, so much so that it has been affecting my purchase decisions. Evans' novel, though, is much more polished and accomplished than my other recent reads from them, so effective immediately I'm deleting that particular spam filter on my debit card. (First candidate for purchase: Bill Terry's Blue Heaven: Encounters with the Blue Poppy. What? Hey, now don't call me that!)

Reasons to like the novel, apart from the level of suspense that's essential for a mystery novel to work properly:
  • Seaweed's simultaneous way and bad luck with the ladies
  • Evans' handling of Seaweed's life as a contemporary Salish man, which blends a modern life like any other with traditional Salish practices (which Evans says are carefully restricted in the novels to practices publicly known and in the public domain, so to speak, in spite of any additional knowledge Evans may have about elements that aren't part of the public conversation)
  • the minor characters, many of whom are rendered successfully with great economy, and
  • Seaweed's credible unpredictability, which I appreciated greatly in comparison to mystery novels that substitute randomness for unpredictability, or whose unpredictability simply isn't believable.
Plus Stan Evans is just a good guy, as our book club found out last week! I've already loaned out my copy of this book, and I know a few people I'll have to buy it for. Seaweed's just trying to make his way in a complicated world, and I get that.