Wednesday, April 02, 2008

How I spent Spring Break

Book reports in brief:

By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño

I’ve been eager to read this one for a while. Of course anyone who strolls by this cyber-joint knows that I’ve been all about Bolaño for the last few months, really since reading Amulet and definitely since reading the increasingly misunderstood Savage Detectives. So I wanted to go back and read the "novellas", as this and Distant Star are referred. I knew so much about this book before picking it up that it felt like hearing the longer version of a familiar story. Nevertheless, there were a lot of elements I was joyously surprised to encounter. Yes, the novel is a deathbed confession from a conservative priest, minor poet and literary critic who gets ushered, all too easily, into Opus Dei and then into the Pinochet dictatorship. Aside from teaching the General and his men a thing or two about Marxism (so they could know their enemy better) the priest/narrator finds that he was closer than he thought to the torturous activities of the regime. But what really grabbed me was a bit about how European churches were ridding themselves of pigeons. It becomes a beautiful metaphor for the elements to come in this small, but quite packed, book.

Pig Tales by Marie Darrieussecq

A wild and disgusting ride that truly is, as the book claims, a novel of transformation and lust. Reminiscent of Kafka or Ovid only in the sense that the narrator finds herself inexplicably turning into a pig, the book combines dark humor and biting commentary to showcase a morally declining universe where human beings can be sex objects, meat, base entertainment or avenues to the so-called better life. Good, nasty times not for the squeamish.

Poems of Mina Loy

As mentioned earlier on this here page, I’ve recently discovered Loy and her modernist poetry. I’ve been dipping in and out of a collection of hers, savoring the treats. And there are treats. I already posted a link to some of her work, so I won’t again, but all I can say is that reading her poem about Poe, or the one about the Mexican desert, I was struck with the feeling that this is what poetry ought to goddamn look like.

The Night Buffalo by Guillermo Arriaga

I knew Arriaga as the screenwriter for Amores Perros and 21 Grams. I liked the first film and was absolutely depressed beyond belief after seeing the second. When I saw this book at the store, I knew it had to be worth investigating. It stands along with his other accomplishments as being a story about decisions and the ways those decisions alter your life, which sounds pretty logical (and somewhat trite, I know) but is oddly an idea running antithetical to most of the talk I hear coming from people who believe in some sort of predestination or divine law. But I digress and run on. This is the book for you if you enjoy a somewhat masculine, lean prose style, schizophrenic supporting characters, duplicitous women, bad cops and a mystery that is never really solved in the end. (My favorite kind.) Have at it. Really, it is a well crafted, stylized book about friendships, love, and betrayal that was quite enjoyable, a few clunky moments (probably due to the translation) and Fight Club style staccato sentences notwithstanding. Anyway that seems to be the trend, quick, "edgy," stand-alone sentences. Damn that fucking Chuck Palahniuk.

The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares

I just read this one last Sunday while lazing in bed. At just over a hundred pages, it fits in with my recent focus on smaller books (school starts today and I wanted to squeeze in as many books as I could) that contain significant metaphorical weight. Like Bolaño’s novella, this one seems fairly straightforward but builds nicely toward a satisfying conclusion conjuring a myriad of ideas. It's pretty amazing when a book can achieve this is such a short space. Winterson once mentioned that she thinks it bad manners to write big books, which is funny and all, though clearly not completely defendable. Nevertheless, here's one arguement for that side of thinking. The ideas of love and immortality struck me the most, and while I might not jump to agree with Borges and Octavio Paz, who both said this was a perfect novel, I will say that this furthered my interest in Casares. Borges is Borges and always will be, but a few other nicely crafted stories like this will go far toward making me hail another pre-Boom writer from Argentina besides ol’ Jorge Luis.

That’s about it, give or take a poem or two or some other shorts, like Mark Vonnegut’s introduction to his father’s new book, may Kurt rest in peace. Tonight I return to class. I read Alice Munro’s story “Prue” last night in preparation. I found it slight, dull, and ineffective. I just didn’t care. This does not bode well.