Sunday, January 22, 2006

Book 1 - Cosmopolis

 By Don Delillo

Meezly’s unofficial entry into the “50 books” circle. If I can read one book per month, making a grand total of 12 books for 2006, I’d be a happy person! So here’s my first:

I’ve been curious about Delillo, as he’s considered an “important” writer. I tried reading The Body Artist in November, but the stilted dialogue and self-conscious style put me off, so I quit early on in the book. Then I gave Cosmopolis a shot, as the story of a billionaire financial genius taking a limousine ride across an otherworldly Manhattan seemed a more promising premise.

When the limo gets gridlocked in traffic many improbable events occur: the protagonist gets swarmed by an anti-globalization protest movement, witnesses an act of self-immolation (yeah, in Manhattan), gets his daily anal probe by his doctor, has multiple sexual encounters with various women, has lunch with his wife, joins a Sufi rapper’s mega-funeral procession, gets naked as an extra in a street-wide movie set, gets stalked by assassins, and loses his entire fortune. And that ain’t all of it either. Oh, and he gets a haircut, which was what got him out of the house in the first place.

I suppose the limo ride was like a metaphorical journey or visionary concept, but I just wasn’t buying it, the events seemed so utterly contrived. Perhaps Cosmopolis could’ve been a great satire. The novel had that disjointed quality and its share of ludicrous twists and turns. It was even quite humorous at times, like when the protagonist gets hit by a Romanian tartiste. The exchange was very well put together and spoke volumes. But those moments were few and far between and I spent much of the time annoyed by the author’s heavy-handedness. Alas, Delillo is a “serious” writer, and he takes himself and his subject way too seriously.

As a serious writer, however, there were passages that were quite eloquently constructed, and the novel had some things to say about society and technology, consumerism and conscience, meaning and randomness. It also had action, sex, rap and violence (yes, there were rap lyrics thrown in too). Then I came across dialogue that was so ponderously worded and pretentious, it just jarred me into annoyance.

Delillo’s style belongs to a certain camp and I guess ultimately, his books just ain’t for me. Maybe I should’ve started with Underworld instead.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Of Movies and Men

Just recently saw three mainstream movies in a row: all very different in genre, but nevertheless male-oriented movies. Beware, major spoilers ahead!

Thursday Jan 12: ‘HOSTEL’ (Paramount Theatre)

In the presence of a bored Slovakian babe, the whiny, wimpy American traveler drones on about his ex-girlfriend. To my delight, he is consequently subjected to the ultimate torture scene in Eli Roth’s backpacking horror movie.

The victim’s confident and fun-loving buddy, thanks to old-fashioned luck and smarts, manages to escape his grisly fate to become the “hero” of the story.

Roth’s previous film, Cabin Fever, wasn’t terribly good, but I appreciated his dark, pessimistic view of human nature. ‘Hostel’ takes a similar approach where the protagonist, instead of alerting the authorities (he learns the Slovakian police were complicit anyway), takes matters into his own hands. The film can be construed as sanctioning the use of violence against violence, but it also illustrates this situation quite well: when confronted by such merciless and dehumanizing evil, no God or government body can save you. Yes, evil lurks within the darkest recesses of the human soul!

The protagonist, by rescuing a fellow Japanese victim, is endowed with enough humanity needed for viewers to relate to and thus, be surprised by the mad violence that’s to come. Although the vengeful dispatch of those responsible for the suffering and demise of the protagonist’s friends came way too unbelievably easy, it was, however, deeply gratifying to see the bad guys get what was comin’ to them!

Friday Jan 13: ‘BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN’ (CinĂ©ma du Parc)

At heart, a tender love story between two cowboys, who discover how wonderful sex between men can be: there’s no need to shower before screwing and you can indulge in rough, nose-bleeding foreplay amidst a gorgeous mountain backdrop.
Sex with women only result in being saddled with child-rearing responsibilities and father-in-laws who hate your guts. Ah, ‘twas hard being a homo in 1960’s & 70’s mid-western America. One of the better love stories I’ve seen in a long time, Ang Lee is indeed a master of below-the-surface emotion and complex inter-relationships.

Saturday Jan 14: ‘THE WEDDING CRASHERS’ (DVD rental)

Even if you’ve got the most ingenious scheme of getting women, good guys will eventually fall in love and marry the right girl. This movie could’ve been so much better if it was just a comedy about two bachelor buddies and their game, and not wasting screen time on the hackneyed romance between Owen Wilson and Rachel Macadams.

A corny, hand-slapping routine posing as chemistry? Ick, come on. I was much more interested in the developing relationship between Vince Vaughn and Isla Fisher (who plays Macadams sister) as two sexually adventurous wackos falling for each other. Way more spicy and funny, and most importantly, it’s plausible. Do they really expect me to believe that fresh young Rachel Macadams would want to end up with an aging sleazebag who crashed weddings for a hobby, who actually admitted “And I’ve had women, a lot of women”!

It would’ve been much more fun had he ended up with Macadams sassy mom (Jane Seymour) instead. Owen Wilson used to be quite artlessly charming, but his schtick is gettin’ old. And he’s gotta lose the shellacked shag-do soon, cuz that and the caked-on makeup isn’t making him look any younger; it’s only making him look like Rod Stewart, or a 30-something Shawn Cassidy.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

My 11 Books for 2005

Well 2005 is at an end and some bookworm read, like, 56 books!! But that ain't me, that's Olman. Good work, babe!

I'm a close second though... Just finished 11 for the year! In summation, a brief review of the last four books:

8. Paul en Appartement (Paul Moves Out)

I read this graphic novel by Michel Rebagliatti in its original French version (with the occasional help of ye good olde french-eng dictionary). It's part of an autobiographical series about the author growing up in Montreal during the 1980's and this particular issue chronicles the experience of moving into his first apartment with his girlfriend. Most of the novel takes place in the Plateau area where I live, so it's a treat to see how familiar landmarks are portrayed by Rebagliatti's retro-elegant style. Like any day-to-day events in the life of a normal twenty-something year old, a lot and nothing much happens, but Rebagliatti is a gifted storyteller-artist and renders even the most banal moments an engaging read.

9. The Magic Toyshop

This is an early novel by British author, Angela Carter, who's probably best known for The Bloody Chamber, a feminist and adult reworking of classic fairy-tales. "The Company of Wolves", Carter's blend of Little Red Riding Hood and the werewolf legend became the 1984 film of the same name by Neil Jordan. The Magic Toyshop is a coming of age story about a newly orphaned teenage girl who, along with her younger brother and sister, go to live with their tyrannical uncle and his strange family. Although there's no magic to be found in the uncle's toyshop, the story is told in Carter's detached, ethereal style. I kept forgetting that the story takes place in London during the 1960’s (when this book was written) because the setting was so Dickensian. Although I wasn’t blown away, I’m glad I finally read this book, which hints at the dark surreal quality of some of her later work, such as The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman and Heroes and Villains.

10. Appointment in Samarra

An excellent classic by John O'Hara about how frighteningly easy it is to: make enemies, alienate your wife, become a reckless driver and social pariah, and best of all, just plain self-destruct, all within a span of three days in depression-era New England. One moment you're making the tallest highball in the world, the next moment... well, you'll have to read it to find out what happens. Tight, scathing and complex. In Time Magazine's Top 100. Need I say more.

  • Time Magazine's Top 100

  • 11. Motherless Brooklyn

    A highly enjoyable holiday read. I’m not familiar at all with the hard-boiled genre, but this book plays like a hip, comic detective novel featuring, uh, an unlikely protagonist with Tourette's syndrome. Yeah yeah, you're saying to yourself, sounds very promising... Well yes, Lionel is the tourettic narrator and yes, his speech is punctuated by sporadic outbursts of twitching and nonsensical cussing. But somehow, Lethem succeeds in making him likable and articulate. No small feat. Lionel is one of four teenage orphans picked up by Frank, a small-time mobster recruit, to do the occasional odd job. About 15 years later, they're still doing odd jobs for Frank, now under the guise of a car service-slash-detective agency. When the boss gets murdered, the motley crew is divided by degrees of loyalty and ineptitude. So it’s up to Lionel to find Frank’s killer! As people write him off as a harmless idiot, Lionel digs deeper into layers of betrayal and corruption that take him beyond his Brooklyn hood. He even gets laid. Eat me, Bailey!