Monday, September 21, 2009

Taking Chance

Congrats to my old high school pal Ross Katz for his three Emmy nominations for writing, directing, and producing the HBO film Taking Chance, about the return home of a US soldier killed in Iraq. You can check the film out on DVD. It makes a good case for the power of quietness in storytelling.

Go Fords!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

There's an MFA canon that runs parallel to but only occasionally overlaps (Hemingway, O'Connor, Welty...) the literature canon. It includes people like Alice Munro, George Saunders, Donald Barthelme...people who are always taught in workshops and loved by many many writers...and Lorrie Moore just might be the queen of that canon. Her story "How to be an Other Woman" was one of the most personally important stories I encountered as an undergraduate--it made writing seem both pleasurable and possible. So the truth is I probably wanted to love this novel too much--I set us all up for disappointment.

The first half--funny and sincere and believable--is everything I wanted. But then Moore gets REALLY big in her plot. I mean these people suffer. And you know what--I just didn't believe it. Normally I only blog about books I recommend, but I figure Moore--one of my writing heroes--can take a little criticism. Actually if I had read this book back in the early nineties when I read the rest of Moore's work and found it so influential, I probably would have liked it more. So maybe it's just my tastes have changed and the stage of my writing life that I'm in requires different influences.

But her sentences are so good--it may be worth the read anyway. What I struggled with were the four major dramatic events that happen in proximity to the narrator--one related to a boyfriend, one to her employers, one to her roommate, and one to her brother. I'm not going to spoil the plot, but let's just say these are BIG events. Each the kind of thing with the potential to change or end a life. And our narrator has four of them in one year. And none of them are caused by her but rather happen to people close to her. So not only did I struggle to believe what was happening (there is no such thing as "suspension of disbelief," people--you have to earn my belief with every sentence) but I wasn't superinvested because the narrator had nearly no way to interact with these events. All she could really do was grieve them.

Still it made me want to go back to Anagrams and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? both of which I haven't read in a long time...

Big Machine by Victor LaValle

An enjoyable enough novel by the author of The Ecstatic, which I admit I preferred. LaValle is very very good at generating suspense to start (it was the plot in the middle where I kind of flagged)... he uses a classic mystery set-up and places a number of strangers in a remote location all gathered by some strange man with a plan. Because LaValle is so good with voice you'll happily go for chapters not knowing what's up because you like the narrator so much and so he can withhold information for quite awhile. Not to mention, about fifty pages in you meet a new character who has no connection to the narrator whatsoever until he describes her as"my future wife." So you can't help but read on to find out how on earth they go from the position they're in to being married in two hundred pages.

But what I wanted to mention is for a long chapter in the last third of the novel the point of view switches from first person to third person and relates the past history of the wife character. It's set up so that you understand she has told the narrator this story--but it's not told to the reader via his first person or hers. It's just set apart--given a title of its own--and dropped in. Which made me think you can get away with this kind of thing if you own up to what you're doing. Just switching without announcing the switch would have bugged me more. But this seemed okay. In my adaptation class we've been talking about handling flashbacks and I have a similar theory about them--they work best when the film acknowledges the change and doesn't try to make that flash seamless. In a number of ways LaValle is up front about writing a comic book in the form of a novel, and I suspect this third person section--a side adventure for a secondary character--may have also been under the influence of comics.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


O Magazine has a great profile on Michael Silverblatt the host of Bookworm--the one podcast every writer should listen to.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Excuses #1-5

Beginning of the semester is always a bit busy. Plus I started a few books that I wasn't motivated to finish. And I'm waiting for my Lorrie Moore to arrive from Amazon. Also, I've been watching a lot of episodes of Dexter. And I've been working on my bowling.

But I have in hand a library copy of Big Machine by Victor LaValle, an advance reading copy (courtesy of my hooked-up friend and colleague) of The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk (which I hear contains a character named Papatya, a fact I am ridiculously excited about) and the aforementioned Lorrie Moore has been shipped.

So I should be blogging more soon.