Monday, February 28, 2011

Bukowski’s “Ham On Rye” Pulls No Punches In Portrayal of Depression-Era L.A.

“I hated all the god-damned people who were sunbathing or in the water or eating or sleeping or talking or throwing beachballs. I hated their behinds and their faces and their elbows and their hair and their eyes and their bellybuttons and their bathing suits … The whole earth was nothing but mouths and assholes swallowing and shitting, and fucking.”

“So, that’s what they wanted: lies. Beautiful lies. That’s what they needed. People were fools. It was going to be easy for me.”

“We were the way we were, and we didn’t want to be anything else. We all came from Depression families and most of us were ill-fed, yet we had grown up to be huge and strong. Most of us, I think, got little love from our families, and we didn’t ask for love or kindness from anybody. We were a joke but people were careful not to laugh in front of us. It was as if we had grown up too soon and we were bored with being children. We had no respect for our elders. We were like tigers with the mange.”

I don’t really remember who recommended or where I found a recommendation to Charles Bukowksi, but I do know he ended up on my reading list somehow. After all, sometimes I use Amazon’s Wish List as kind of a notes/placeholder deal, putting intriguing items on there for closer scrutiny later. Well, at Christmastime two of Bukowski’s books ended up in my lap as gifts, so I figured, “What the heck, let’s give this dude a shot.”

Smart move, Scooter. Smart move.

I found “Ham on Rye” to be eminently quotable (as you’ll see for yourself), a no-holds-barred, not-so-semi-autobiographical account of Bukowski’s own upbringing, childhood and adolescence in Depression Era Los Angeles. Bukowski’s rapid, abrupt, clipped sentences lend to the story’s tremendous pacing, while his accounts of rampant racism, violence and abuse are alternately horrifying and hilarious, forcing an open-mindedness in the reading.

Written in 1982, Bukowski somewhat ironically dedicates the book “for all the fathers,” despite the fact that his father is an abusive, sociopathic, warped, cheating man who demonstrates no traces of love or respect for his lone child. Despite the fact that the father is terrifying in many ways, he is also incredibly funny in others; think “Shit My Dad Says” gone horribly wrong and abusive.

“‘The trouble is that there are too many Chinks. When you kill a Chink he splits in half and becomes two Chinks.’
‘How come their skin is yellow?’
‘Because instead of drinking water they drink their own pee-pee.’
‘Daddy, don’t tell the boy that!’
‘Then tell him to stop asking questions.’”

“‘He just stares. He’s so quiet.’
‘That’s the way we want him.’
‘Still water runs deep.’
‘Not with this one. The only thing that runs deep with him are the holes in his ears.’”

“He was the dark covering the sun, the violence of him made everything else utterly disappear … I felt that even the sun belonged to my father, that I had no right to it because it was shining upon my father’s house. I was like his roses, something that belonged to him and not to me …”

The lead character, Henry Chinaski, encounters a series of demented characters that are either pitiful, violent or both, with both of those attributes permeating most of the story. The endless series of verbal and physical hammerings at the hands of his father quickly turn Henry into an outcast, misanthropic, no-shit-taking cynic at an almost impossibly young age. His disturbed views of sex and relationships hover over almost every encounter he has with people of both sexes throughout the story. (side note: Did Bukowski ever draw the lines between his incessant beatings at the hands of his father in the bathroom to his complex about going to the bathroom and it being “dirty”?)

It seems that Henry has a sense of going through life without an instruction book that everyone else had been issued at birth (“Everybody knew something I didn’t know” and “What a weary time those years were -- to have the desire and the need to live but not the ability.”).

“There was always somebody pushing me who had no right to push … What did they want? Why was I in their way?”

“There was no sense to life, to the structure of things … You needed love, but not the kind of love most people used and were used up by.”

As a result, Henry develops a firm hatred of entitlement and the entitled.

“But I had this feeling inside of me that something real was there. Just hardened shit, maybe, but that was more than they had … As I watched them I said to myself, someday my dance will begin. When that day comes I will have something that they don’t have.”

“Yet, despite their smooth untouched bodies and minds they still were missing something because they were as yet basically untested. When adversity finally arrived in their lives it might come too late or too hard. I was ready. Maybe.”

“They were soft, they had never faced any fire. They were beautiful nothings. They made me sick. I hated them. They were part of the nightmare that always haunted me in one form or another.”

Despite the barren, unfortunate circumstances cast in the light of the Depression, Bukowksi manages to add humor at almost every level, even in situations where laughs would seem to be almost impossible to accomplish. Early on, Henry reminds a little of Ralphie from “Christmas Story,” with his hilarious daydreams of sports heroism and his creative writings about physically scarred heroes with true beauty just underneath the surface (“ … since some people had told me that I was ugly, I always preferred shade to the sun, darkness to light.”).

Yet the overriding sense is that every person Henry comes in contact with is either mean or criminal, which may be a reflection of the era of extreme poverty (“The poor had a right to fuck their way through their bad dreams. Sex and drink, and maybe love, was all they had.”) in which the story is set. From harsh, evil schoolkids (“At Delsey we had a code. We never made a sound. Even the sissies took their beatings silently.”) to brushes with perverts and child molesters, to drunk seventh-graders to first-graders attempting to have sex, Bukowski seems to be trying hard to show man’s inhumanity to man (throwing in a parable-ish description of the entrapment of a cat for the purpose of a bulldog killing it).

“Not only did the grownups get mean, the kids got mean, and even the animals got mean. It was like they took their cue from the people.”

“Why did the guys need this? This wasn’t a matter of courage, it was just dirty play. Where were the grownups? Where were the authorities? They were always around accusing me. Now where were they? … The knowledge that I didn’t have the courage to do what was necessary made me feel terrible.”

“That cat wasn’t only facing the bulldog, it was facing Humanity.”

Bukowski has no problem taking on very anti-establishment, controversial, untouchable traditional issues such as religion (including a dog baptism), sexuality (involving a retarded kid masturbating in the middle of class every day to a teacher who continues to show leg and doesn’t stop it), deformation (Henry contracts an almost inconceivable case of adolescent acne and boils that makes you pity him even when he acts like a prick) and animal torture (and worse). Henry becomes so jaded (“When you’re bad you didn’t pretend, it was just there. I liked being bad. Trying to be good made me sick.”) that he quickly rejects any achievement whatsoever, even physically and metaphorically throwing a medal in the sewer at one point. He even leans toward Nazism almost sheerly out of contrarianism during his ill-fated stints in higher education.

“She had her skirt pulled especially high, it was terrifying, beautiful, wondrous and dirty. Such legs, such thighs, we were very close to the magic … The skirt was so high, pulled back, we all prayed for a glimpse of panty, a glimpse of something, Jesus Christ, it was like the world ending and beginning and ending again, it was everything real and unreal, the sun, the thighs, and the silk, so smooth, so warm, so alluring. The whole room throbbed.”

“That’s what made it so good and so terrible: the fact that she pretended that it wasn’t happening.”

“Getting drunk was good. I decided that I would always like getting drunk. It took away the obvious and maybe if you could get away from the obvious often enough, you wouldn’t become obvious yourself.”

“Drink was the only thing that kept a man from feeling forever stunned and useless. Everything else just kept picking and picking, hacking away. And nothing was interesting, nothing. The people were restrictive and careful, all alike. And I’ve got to live with these fuckers for the rest of my life, I thought.”

For me, Henry’s sexuality came into question near the end. As Henry devolved into a mid-20s drifter (and a hysterical drunk) who is still a virgin, I found myself wondering if he was gay, or at least a misogynist. He becomes nauseous at the prospect of being with his friend Jimmy’s mother, Clare, after he continued pursuing her and she eventually relented, and he seems to identify most with and maybe even be attracted to Becker. Finally, we are left with a somewhat sudden and forbidding ending as World War II begins in earnest for the US and we see Becker departing for the war as Henry continues to wander around, searching for meaning in empty arcades and emptier competitions.

“I wasn’t interested in world history, only my own. What crap. Your parents controlled your growing-up period, they pissed all over you. Then when you got ready to go out on your own, the others wanted to stick you into a uniform so you could get your ass shot off.”

“I felt I had to win. It seemed very important. I didn’t know why it was so important and I kept thinking, why do I think this is so important?
“And another part of me answered, just because it is.”

“Ham on Rye” was unquestionably a disturbing and depressing book, but also brave and unflinching, painting a rare picture of the Depression with no apologies or pretensions. In terms of the writing, it became very adolescent-oriented and highly sexualized (“Her breasts were something that no mere mortal would ever see—they were only for kings, dictators, rulers, Filipinos.”) in many parts, and a couple of typos here and there were a bit jarring as well. Yet the use of Henry as our eyes and ears was a brilliant technique by Bukowski: Henry is so ostracized that he exists almost outside of the world, observing and commenting on it instead of being actively involved and within it. That’s probably why the story also comes across as being largely about hiding and waiting (“I wallowed there in the dark, waiting for something.”).

Distilled all the way down, this is essentially a book about getting hit so many times that you’re numb physically, mentally, literally and figuratively—yet you never give up your willingness to keep getting back up after falling down. If you can get past the brutal, stark harshness of it all, you may even find, as I did, a belief that “Ham on Rye” deserves perhaps a higher stature in the catalogues of American literature.

“You’ve given me a supreme test with my parents and with these boils. I think that I have passed Your test. I am tougher than You. If You will come down here right now, I will spit into your face, if You have a face. And do You shit? … I think that You have been picking on me too much so I am asking You to come down here so I can put You to the test!”

“‘Maybe after a few beers I’ll beat the shit out of you.’
‘We’re friends, Hank.’
‘I don’t have any friends. Drink up!’”

“The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little bit more off you, until there was nothing left. At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole god-damned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves.”

Friday, February 25, 2011

Limerick Friday LXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXV: Reaching New Lowes In Raleigh, Plus Turmoil Continues Internationally

Zeller flopping like a Dookie kid
Henson asking for an elbow to the lid
Another last-second collapse for State
Against the team they most hate
The T was way too late, Sid

Murders in the Middle East
Oppression of those who have least
Freedom’s price too high?
Violence that makes you ask, “Why?”
Don’t stop ‘til the gunfire’s ceased

Carmelo headed to the Knicks
Traded for a collection of hicks
Isaiah involved at the end of the day
Dude’s an epic fail in every way
The NBA is about dunks and bricks

A quick trip to see Uncle Ben
LaGuardia, Connecticut, back again
We braved all the New York roadies
So Ube could meet all the Cody’s
100 years old? Here’s to 110!

A magnitude of 6.3
Destroying every building and tree
103 lost in the ‘quake
Devastation in its wake
New Zealand, best hopes for thee

Last time

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

“Iron Man 2” Is Like “Iron Man” But With Scarlett’s 2 And A “2” At The End

Iron Man 2” was the in-flight entertainment on a nine-hour flight from England, so as someone who has huge struggles sleeping on a plane, I sort of had to watch it. Having seen the first movie and been kind of ambivalent about it, I didn’t go into the viewing with lofty expectations -- and I wasn’t disappointed.

Scarlett Johansson certainly added immensely to the scenery and Don Cheadle is one of my favorite actors and I find Sam Rockwell amusing, but at this point I just find Mickey Rourke creepy terrifying. The dynamic between Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark) and Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts) was a bit ill-defined in "Iron Man 2," by design I’m sure, so it was hard to get a handle on whether they were dating or not and how the flirting with Natalie/Natasha (Scarlett) was supposed to be taken.

But in the end, I simply couldn’t escape the impression that I had seen this all before -- and in a very real sense, I had. Basically, the plot goes something like this: dude is on top, dude makes some bad decisions, dude has a nervous breakdown, dude imposes self-exile, dude is at bottom, dude rallies, dude is back on top, dude sort of gets girl. And for me, there is no special effect that can overcome the feeling that you’ve seen this before … and didn’t like it the first time.

Monday, February 21, 2011

5 Things I Learned From Watching “The Last Song”

1. Hannah Montana has a weird mouth and teeth.

2. Something really bad and unreported must have happened to Greg Kinnear’s career.

3. I’m still not convinced it isn’t the same movie as “Dear John.”

4. Kelly Preston is getting old, and that makes me sad inside.

5. This is what happens when the movie rights to a book are sold before the book is actually fucking written.

[that is all]

Friday, February 18, 2011

Limerick Friday LXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXIV: Farewell to Uncle Leo, Plus What It Means To Be From Alabama

Got upset when Jerry dissed
Fake eyebrows made him look pissed
Son Jeffrey’s job made him proud
He said “HELLO!” really loud
Uncle Leo, you’ll always be missed

Sure, Regis is old as dirt
But his humor is witty and curt
His retirement caused some furor
But all I know for sure:
Kelly Ripa’s career is gonna be hurt

For his signature, they were offering a bounty
The state of college football makes me frowny
An 18-year-old too big for his jock
Fittingly, he’ll be a Gamecock
“30 for 30: Whatever Happened to Jadeveon Clowney?”

Covering Egypt? A reporter’s job perk
Mubarak left, crowds went berserk
But then celebration turned to hate
Laura Logan assaulted and rescued too late
Democracy for subhumans? Won’t work

Auburn cheated for a title, but jeez
You poison their Toomer’s Corner trees?
The degenerate douche has been found
When led away, heard all ‘round:
“Roll Tide!” and “Mind my red neck, please”

Last time

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Deep Thoughts By No-Look McFadden: Episode 39

Say hello to Canna Cola, the so-called “pot soda.” But shouldn’t it be packaged with a bag of Funyuns?

If you’ve flown anywhere recently (boy, are my arms tired, ha ha hee hee ho ho), you have gained an appreciation of the beauty in air travel that is possible when you don’t have any luggage. The ScotteVest can accompany you ‘round the world sans suitcases … though it may garner you a couple of askew looks from airport security, if you’re willing to risk that sort of thing.

This seems like a lot of research to find out the game Ferris Bueller attended in the movie, but … it’s sort of worth it, too, in terms of flat-out awesomeness.

Desmond Howard vs. Phil Simms would be better than any boxing match I’ve seen in years. In fact, let’s make it a thing: the Announcers Boxing Federation (ABF). Am I the only one who would pay to see one-eyed Stuart Scott square off against Dan “Captain Obvious” Dierdorf? Who’s with me?

As a corollary to #1, I introduce you to “Marijuanaman,” the comic brainchild of one Ziggy Marley. I really have nothing to add here.

I’m certainly not one who is going to tell a guy where to live, but I do understand some of the controversy surrounding the decision of Saints coach Sean Peyton to move from New Orleans to Dallas. The Times-Picayune's Jeff Duncan nails the sentiment perfectly when he writes, “New Orleans is the most proudly provincial city in America, and there’s no room for fence-sitters in post-Katrina New Orleans. You’re all in or you’re all out.”

The camera caught this kid on the concourse during a recent ACC hoops game, and I thought he looked so much like Penn State coach Joe Paterno that I did a triple-take. I'm calling him Mini JoPa.

I’m too tired and depressed about the Mets and baseball in general to even make a compelling joke about the team’s $300 million Ponzi scheme. How sad is that?

Put me in the corner of those who didn’t quite get all the fawning over what would have been Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday. Maybe I’m just a little more aware of the many myths surrounding his presidency than some.

Why has no one else noticed that UNC freshman Kendall Marshall looks exactly like former Tar Heels douche Jason Capel? While it will be hard for anyone to be as epically annoying as Capel was (is?) considering how high he set the bar, anyone nicknamed “K-Butter” certainly gives himself a shot.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

Eisenberg Lifts “The Social Network” To Unexpected Heights

Despite being aware of this movie and talking about it here since last July, due to work, family and life in general, I was late to the “The Social Network” party. However, after being bombarded with recommendations from all directions, I was able to take this one in recently. While it was a bit different than what I was anticipating in regards to atmosphere and pacing, I found it fairly amazing how a tale about a computer geek (based on a nonfiction book called “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich) was elevated to such a tremendous film.

The first thing I found jarring about this movie was the soundtrack. The foreboding music was very unique and off-putting, seemingly lending itself more to a horror flick than anything else. Also, the opening scene was an interesting choice by director David Fincher; it certainly gave you no time to slowly evaluate the Mark Zuckerberg character. The back-and-forth in the breakup scene gave a not-so-subtle insight into the fact that Zuckerberg was a social inept, narcissistic control freak. I also found it amusing that the actress who played his girlfriend is named Rooney Mara—that’s a name only an NFL aficionado could love.

Fincher’s tremendous pacing quickly launches you into the story of Facebook, which on the surface sounds like it wouldn’t be so enthralling. However, the tale is weaved with so much unexpected intensity that the movie flies past.

Fincher and screenplay writer Aaron Sorkin seek to prove that, like just about every big invention in the history of the world, Facebook was really about impressing a girl. While the facts about Zuckerberg wouldn’t necessarily seem to back that up (he’s apparently been dating the same girl since before Facebook), all involved in “The Social Network” have been adamant in pointing out that this is not a bio pic, but more of a story about a lawsuit and an interpretation of the events surrounding it. However, one could certainly make the case that Zuckerberg was trying to find himself and a place where he fits in the society of Harvard, that he was motivated by a plea for acceptance.

As is often the case in the movie format, many of the characters are very cardboard-like; in this case, the Winklevoss brothers come across as dumb-jock douches. I found Justin Timberlake to be an extreme stretch as Sean Parker, the “Napster dude” who is portrayed as a shady fraud who is using Zuckerberg for money, girls and fame.

Yet the movie is validated and legitimized by the tremendous performance by Jesse Eisenberg. From language to body language to awkwardness, you just get the sense that Eisenberg absolutely NAILS everything that is Zuckerberg.

While one could make the argument that the ending left so much unanswered and unresolved, that is also what could be construed as the beauty of this movie: since Facebook itself is constantly evolving and facing myriad obstacles, how could a compelling “ending” truly be written?

There is little question that many will view this film as a searing condemnation of Zuckerberg’s character and actions—and maybe rightfully so. Personally, I choose to remember that this is certainly just one perspective of the events surrounding one of the most important inventions of this generation. Instead, I’ll elect to evaluate “The Social Network” on its own merits as a movie. What I found in the watching was a project that could have gone way wrong if the lead character wasn’t cast correctly; Eisenberg himself took a potential afterschool-special vehicle and was the key ingredient in turning it into an intense, complex story that was deserving all the accolades it received.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Limerick Friday LXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXIII: Campaigning On Craigslist, Plus The Situation In Cairo Takes Another Twist

A Republican resigns from the House
Went on Craiglist to cheat on his spouse
He’s married, but you wouldn’t know
Went shirtless for his online photo
Christopher Lee the latest fraudulent louse

“Wear have you gone, Larry?”
A clever sign for all to see
Cameron the site of UNC-Duke
Makes other fans want to puke
But the Pack is so bad it’s scary

The Packers played with verve
Threw Pittsburgh for a curve
Only a coupla commercials were funny
But Rodgers was right on the money
Big Ben got what he deserved, the perv

Four defensive line coaches in a year
Over the hill at UNC-Queer
The last one was there for 30 days
Lied to recruits and they signed with pay
Cheating goes on, but Butch never fears

Is Mubarak finally out?
A sad state, there is no doubt
Pyramids made of ancient stones
Assaults made with pharaoh bones
Egypt, please come out of this stout

Last time

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

“The Bounty Hunter”: Stuff Happened, I Think, And Then It Was Over

Jennifer Aniston looks like she’s had quite a bit of work done and Gerard Butler looks weird when he’s talking because he’s apparently a Scotsman trying to speak countrified English.

Outside of that, there was a chase scene, some fabricated sexual tension and a rumor about a plot of some sort. That’s all I really remember about “The Bounty Hunter,” sorry. But I’m sure you can learn anything else you might need to know about this flick from this informative trailer.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

What Has To Happen To Like A Car Commercial

This is just tremendous. Well-played, Volvo. Well-played.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Fight Through The Macabre To Fully Appreciate Stephen King’s “Full Dark, No Stars”

“Bad writing is more than a matter of shit syntax and faulty observation; bad writing usually arises from a stubborn refusal to tell stories about what people actually do—to face the fact, let us say, that murderers sometimes help old ladies across the street.”
--Stephen King

No one does the short story like Stephen King; he’s pretty much perfected it. And as much as I love his novels, I am usually even more excited to read any new compilation of his short stories. So when I got “Full Dark, No Stars” for Christmas, I couldn’t wait to find the right opportunity to work it into the rotation. Suffice it to say that a lengthy plane ride to and a six-day stay in England were the perfect recipe.

This collection starts out with the 131-page “1922,” a novelette that watches the complete degeneration of a farmer who decided to murder his wife -- enlisting his son in the process. His decision is methodical and semi-rational (“The Bible says that an ungrateful child is like a serpent’s tooth, but a nagging and ungrateful Wife is ever so much sharper than that.”), lending an almost surreal quality to the writing and wording of the actual act. It’s an engrossing confession letter/story, with enough of King’s patented otherworldly, supernatural events to make it a bit more than just a documentation of a murderer losing his mind with guilt. One of the few qualms is that the 14-year-old son uses dialogue that feels much too mature for his age -- though the argument could be made that participation in a murder tends to age one rather quickly (“The rage in his eyes was of the raw, pure sort that only adolescents can feel. It is rage that doesn’t count the cost.”). And rather sadistically, this was the second straight book I read (along with “The Lost Symbol”) that featured a severed hand and a stump.

Regardless of how you feel about the actual crime and the decision behind it (“I believe that there is another man inside of every man, a stranger, a Conniving Man.”), it’s depressing to see how much of a shambles the farmer’s life becomes. And this lengthy tale ends with a newspaper account that calls into question how much of the farmer’s account of the matter you should believe or not -- always a nifty touch.

“He cried this so loudly that crows took wing from the fenceline and swirled away into the blue sky like charred paper.”

“In the end we are all caught in devices of our own making. I believe that. In the end we are all caught.”

“Big Driver” contains a few more lighthearted passages, including references to the Subaru-lesbian connection and George Costanza and “Seinfeld.” This tale is fairly long as well (112 pages), and turns out to be just as dark and twisted as the preceding story. It documents the brutal abduction and rape of a middle-aged female author who is returning from a book reading, after which she is left for dead amidst a collection of other murdered victims in a drain pipe (“At least there would be no more pain, no more waking to watch the monster-man dance in the burning sunset light.”).

The story follows the journey of a woman slowly going insane, drifting in and out of consciousness as she pursues blood revenge. Her ongoing conversations with her cat and her car’s TomTom begin to depict her loose grip on sanity, and the convention of using the TomTom as another character is another clever twist from King. You begin to notice small slipups and mistakes she may be making, and you subconsciouly attribute them to her understandably shaken state of mind. I thought the ending was a little bit contrived, as the protagonist confides in a stranger, making for a bit of an odd conclusion. Yet overall, it is a pretty fascinating read about the mindset of a victim in electing to dismiss the usual solution of hiding the truth (“The sound of the lie she would now live until it felt like the truth.”), instead plotting their own avenging path.

“When it came to the dark fuckery of the human heart, there seemed to be no limit.”

Continuing with the rather morbid content, “Fair Extension” was the next tale in the collection, and represented my least favorite of the quartet. Despite the presence of another “Seinfeld” reference and one of King’s popular descriptions of someone having too many teeth in their smile, this one turns a cancer victim (Dave Streeter) into a completely unlikeable and smug dude, moving him from pitiable to evil. It’s a little difficult to read and digest due to its harshness, but in a nutshell, it basically involves Streeter making a deal with the devil (“He supposed everyone’s shadow started to look sick as sunset approached, especially in August, when the end of the day was long and lingering and somehow not quite pleasant.”) to transfer his misfortune to his friend, who doesn't even suspect that he is also Streeter's arch-enemy as well.

There was a neat twist in putting the story into the context of real news, but the ending was a bit sudden and unexpected (even though I liked it). The lack of a comeuppance, the lack of a punishment for Streeter’s greed and lack of guilt is a bit jarring. At only 31 pages, it’s easily the shortest of the bunch -- which I found to be a good thing.

“‘Life is fair. We all get the same nine-month shake in the box, and then the dice roll. Some people get a run of sevens. Some people, unfortunately, get snake-eyes. It’s just how the world is.’”

“Janet laughed and shook her head. ‘What would I wish for? I have everything I want.’
‘Me too,’ Streeter said, and then, with his eyes fixed firmly on Venus, he wished for more.”

The most intriguing and compelling story of the collection fittingly brings the book to an explosive conclusion. “A Good Marriage” checks in at 83 pages, packing each and every word with emotion and almost mind-searing intensity. It starts out wistfully, painstakingly describing the minutiae of marriage in nostalgic language (“These things and ten thousand others comprised the secret history of marriage.”). Then, out of nowhere, the tale takes a mesmerizing turn, as the good wife makes a discovery about her husband that almost can’t be rationally processed (“Opening the box. Thinking, Does anybody really know anybody?”). Has a blood donor card ever carried more weight as a harbinger of impending pain and hidden, unthinkable violence?

Parts of it read a little bit like “Big Driver,” and there is a little bit of a “Fringe” feel to it as well. In broad stroaks, the wife discovers that her husband may be a serial killer, and based on a terrifying scene when she wakes up from a drifting sleep to discover him beside her it leads the reader to realize that his series of crimes just may have driven her nuts (“The sweet dream of one more ordinary evening in an ordinary life had been swallowed by a nightmare.”). She begins living outside of her own mind, obsessed with mirrors and a perceived other world that lies just beyond their surfaces.

While I felt an ending that ties more to the mirrors and a possible last forebidding glance into the world that was, is and could be might have been a nice touch, the interview at the end with the old codger was unbelievably well done. It was so fraught with tension, double meanings and layers of language that you felt like you were right there in that kitchen, experiencing all the same emotions and anxieties.

“The refrigerator whirred, the water dripped in the sink, and the raw seconds passed. This was the Darker Life, where every truth was written backward.”

“In that moment her understanding of him was complete. He loved nothing, least of all her. Every kindness, caress, boyish grin, and thoughtful gesture -- all were nothing but camoflauge. He was a shell. There was nothing inside him but howling emptiness.”

In the afterword, King offers up as close to an apology as he ever has for the supreme darkness that pervades these stories (“The stories in this book are harsh. You may have found them hard to read in places. If so, be assured that I found them equally hard to write in places.”). He writes very honestly about his quest to “provoke an emotional, even visceral, reaction in my readers,” then reminds that his work is always about the truth, about calling it like he sees it:

“Here’s something else I believe: if you’re going into a very dark place … then you should take a bright light, and shine it on everything. If you don’t want to see, why in God’s name would you dare the dark at all?”

He also freely offers up some tips about writing, specifically fiction. His definition of fiction is about as good a one as this writer has ever heard: “It’s the way we answer the question, How can such things be? Stories suggest that sometimes -- not always, but sometimes -- there’s a reason.

In this book about secrets and the lengths folks will go to to hide them, to come to terms with a life of living with them, King has constructed a piece not for the faint of heart. But in his carefully crafted characters and environments, he painstakingly endeavors to write about emotion more than ever -- about the emotions in these people, and yes, even the ones in you.

So be brave … cast whatever light you can muster into the dark and shadows spread by King. Then revel in a genius at work in the medium he first mastered, then owned … and now redefined.

“From the start … I felt that the best fiction was both propulsive and assaultive. It gets in your face. Sometimes it shouts in your face. I have no quarrel with literary fiction, which usually concerns itself with extraordinary people in ordinary situations, but as both a reader and a writer, I’m much more interested by ordinary people in extraordinary situations.”

Friday, February 04, 2011

Limerick Friday LXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXII: White Stripes Are No More, Plus UNC Continues To Moon The NCAA

The instruments, they will just pack
They say they will never come back
The White Stripes revolutionized blues sound
One of the few originals left around
Say it ain’t so, Meg and Jack

A top-20 haul? What a feat
Pay, bribe, rinse and repeat
Listen to Butch’s lies
He won’t look in your eyes
That’s the Carolina Way at UNC-Cheat

In Malawi, an interesting ban
Farting outlawed? If they can
Trying to give noses some peace
But flatulence hard to police
They should just buy a huge fan

Most of the country battered and how
The nation needs one enormous snow plow
“Thunder snow” is the latest thing
Wondering how long ‘til spring
Ready for an end to “Snowpocalypse Now

To many, Signing Day is the suck
While others simply get star struck
Some sit in basements and dream
But until you play for my team
I’m more like, “Who gives a f%^k?”

Last time

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Deep Thoughts By No-Look McFadden: Episode 38

So there is an older lady who works at my new company. One day, I caught her sleeping in her cubicle. The next day I caught her exercising in her cubicle. I’m alternately confused and terrified. True story.

Just a heads up if you’re ever looking for the departure gates in Newcastle Airport in England. You have to walk directly through a huge store to find them. True story.

I take it that it’s a bad thing when the highlight of your rivalry game is when your boxer-turned-point guard (Javy Gonzo) elbows Gumby (Jon Henson) in the face. If I was Sidney Lowe and I knew I was going to lose my job anyway, I would start Lorenzo Brown, C.J. Williams and three walk-ons until the rest of his team decides they, you know, want to play and all.

If you’re like a lot of people and you have little concrete idea of what is going on in Egypt, apparently it’s not unlike “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” as you can see from this helpful primer.

These Gravity Defyer shoes from Skymall look pretty damn cool. Well, I mean, that’s if you don’t mind walking around with a sperm logo on your feet. Besides that, they are tremendous and all.

Some of the more memorable beers I’ve sampled recently: OBX Moondog ESB, Wells Banana Bread, Oaked Arrogant Bastard, Bells Porter, Celebrator, Mothership Wit, Terrapin Big Hoppy Imperial Red, Bellhaven Wee Heavy, Weeping Radish Fest, Harpoon Oak-Aged Dunkel (100 Barrel Series) and (in Europe) San Miguel.
On the flip side, the Sam Adams Imperial was iffy at best.

Few sports venues have a more checkered and controversial past than New Orleans’s Superdome. So perhaps it’s a good thing that more improvements are in store in the near future.

You haven’t really lived until you’ve taken a nine-hour flight seated directly behind a homeless, crack addict-looking woman who pounds 10 rum & Cokes on the way.

BYU’s Jimmer Fredette just might be the best basketball player in America. And I'm predicting his first sponsorship deal will involve his own line of Mormon magic underwear.

It looks like Walgreen’s has made an interesting branding choice: they are now selling their own store-brand beer. It’s called Big Flats 1901, is supposed to be horrible and checks in at less than $3 a six-pack. So all of you hitting the pharmacy at midnight for toilet paper and Tylenol PM are fixin’ to stumble right into a party.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

I Would Totally Watch This Movie

Yes, it's fake (dammit). But the thought of one of my favorite books of all-time hitting the silver screen with the star of "Silver Spoons" ... well, it just seems like such a tease.

Anyway, it's a cool fake movie poster.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Now Showing: "Jerry The Great"

I would watch it. Or maybe I did. Hard to tell sometimes.