Friday, November 20, 2009

Cannonball Read 2 1/2: Pussy, King of the Pirates by Kathy Acker

I wanted to make sure that I finished reading every book I started for the Cannonball Read, but this book was impossible for me to finish. I struggled for a week to read more than a few pages before my eyes crossed with frustration and incomprehension. I got about halfway through, and I have no idea what Pussy, King of the Pirates was supposed to be about. I could never tell whether what was going on was a dreamscape, or "reality." So, when I misplaced my copy of the book a few days ago, I couldn't really be bothered to look for it. I just started reading the next book on my list, High Fidelity.

Monday, November 9, 2009

#2:Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

When you understand...that what you're telling is just a story. It isn't happening anymore. When you realize that story you're telling is just words, when you can just crumble it up and throw your past in the trashcan...then we'll figure out who you're going to be.
About 15 pages into Chuck Palahniuk's Invisible Monsters, I almost put it down. Normally I'm not into books that rely heavily on flashbacks, and in this case the entire novel is a non-chronological flashback: the beginning is the end, and vice-versa, with the meat of the novel jumping amongst story lines from paragraph to paragraph. I kept slugging along though, and I'm glad I did, because this book ended up twisting my head into circles. This little novel managed to explore notions of God and parenting, sexuality and gender, the ephemeral nature of beauty, and the thin line between love and hate, all while meandering through past and present, and told from the viewpoint of a mute "accident" victim.

It almost sets up like a lame one-liner: a mutilated former model, a pre-op tranny, and an ex-vice cop pile into a Lincoln Town Car... but nothing is as it seems. The relationships among the main characters are revealed gradually, and they are convoluted and surprising. I feel like a plot summary beyond this would would contain too many spoilers, and I don't want to ruin the experience of trying to figure out what the hell is going on. The plot though, is almost secondary; in fact it's more of a vehicle for the ideas about life, and letting go of desires, and purposefully making mistakes to become more human. One of the characters, says as much:

I'm only doing this because it's just the biggest mistake I can think to make. It's stupid and destructive, and anybody you ask will tell you I'm wrong. That's why I have to go through with it... Don't you see? Because we're so trained to do life the right way. To not make mistakes... I figure the bigger the mistake looks, the better chance I'll have to break out and live a real life.

Not telling you which of the characters says this is deliberate, because the feeling behind the quote seems to be universal in the novel. Screwing up and going against the mold is the only way to be alive, to not just exist but live, and grow, and change.

God comes up a lot in the novel. Over and over, the protagonist apologizes. "Sorry, Mom. Sorry God." We ourselves are compared to God when we watch television, and in the same vein, if we are, in fact, imbued with free will, isn't that what God does? Watch us on television for entertainment? "Somewhere in heaven, you're live on a video Web site for God to surf," intones the narrator with a heavy dose of irony. At one point, our parents are compared to God, and we become Satan when we decide that it's time to run our own lives.

Sexuality and gender are huge themes to contend with. Parents who only support Gay Rights after their son has died of AIDS, men who want to become women, men with ambiguous sexuality, women who used to be men, women who love men who love men... it's pretty much all there, but it's hard to go into too much detail without spoilers.

Beauty, gained and lost, is also explored. Our narrator, a former model, keeps stumbling upon images of her former self, before her horrific mutilation. In contrast, her transsexual companion goes through many voluntary rounds of expensive self-mutilation in order to become beautiful. Neither is happy before or after the changes.

I feel like I'm just meandering around, and not really making the points that I want to make about this novel, because I can't reveal the events that make the novel truly worth reading, but I also want to include some of the insightful little quotable quotes that I enjoyed:

"The one you love and the one who loves you are never, ever the same person."
"When did the future switch from being a promise to a threat?"
"I'm an invisible monster, and I'm incapable of loving anybody. You don't know which is worse."

I truly enjoyed this book, and I enjoyed it for reasons that went beyond the story. I enjoyed the telling of the story, and the characters who were real to me, and the very real emotions that run beneath the text. For anyone who has ever tried to shield themselves from pain with snark and humor, this book will ring true.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bloodsucking Fiends: Cannonball Read #1

Whenever you get ready to read a novel by Christopher Moore, you can expect a quirky and offbeat look at whatever subject matter he happens to be tackling, and Bloodsucking Fiends is no exception. When protagonist Jody wakes up under a dumpster with a burnt and blackened hand and heightened senses after having been attacked the night before, it doesn’t take long for her to figure out that she is no longer exactly human, but it takes the entire novel for her to realize what being a vampire really means.

The tag line on the cover describes this novel as “a love story,” and it’s true that there is as much focus on self-discovery and falling in love as there is vampirism and murder. The plot is driven forward by the harassment of Jody by her creator, the ancient vampire Elijah ben Sapir. He keeps leaving the bodies of his victims, necks broken and bodies drained of blood, near her hiding places, so that the homicide officers in charge of the cases draw ever nearer to Jody.

Jody is more than just a vampire in the story. She is a confused young woman who is afraid to be alone. At twenty-six, she is already a serial monogamist, with ten live-in boyfriends under her belt. Whatever emotions she feels for one, are automatically transferred to the next. She knows that what she feels is less real love than desperation, but she is so in need of companionship that she can't stop herself. When she is turned, she is more alone then ever; with no one to share her new senses with, the wonder of being able to hear the fog brush up against buildings and to see the heat signatures and health levels of people is lessened, and she looks to fill the void with more companionship.

There are many colorful characters throughout the novel. C. Thomas Flood (Tommy to his friends) is the fresh-out-of-the-midwest wannabe Kerouac that Jody clings to as her protector and love interest. He works graveyard stocking shifts at Safeway with the “Animals” who like to party first, work second. Turkey Bowling is one of their many nocturnal activities, but when one of their number is victimized, they form a merry band of misfits and help save the day. Their leader is the Emperor of San Francisco and Protector of Mexico, known as Your Highness to the good people of the City, but by all appearances he is simply a crazy old homeless man with his two dogs in tow, Bummer and Lazarus. He is one of the few who realizes that the city has been besieged by a vampire, and he wanders the city at night wearing make-shift armor and wielding a wooden sword. The two detectives in charge of the homicides, Cavuto and Rivera, slowly reach the same conclusions, though they continue looking for reasonable explanations to the bitter end.

As with other Christopher Moore novels, Bloodsucking Fiends is a light, entertaining and quick read (I read it in about a day and a half). Its look into the life of a fledgling vampire is somewhat original, what with the tests that Tommy performs on Jody to see which of the vampire legends are true, but I don’t think that Christopher Moore will be winning any Pulitzer Prizes any time soon. The ending of the novel comes quickly and is somewhat unsatisfying, though Moore does a good enough job of characterization that I actually cared about what happened to them next. Character development is a strong point in the novel, and Moore excels at drawing detailed portraits of colorful characters. The Emperor alone makes this a novel worth checking out.

I would recommend this novel to others, though I don’t hold Moore in the high esteem that many of my other friends do. He may have fun takes and interesting story ideas, but I think he’s quirky for quirks sake, and sometimes it seems a little forced.