New in Books
Funny, Smoky, Rich, and Dumb
by Eileen Myles
(Wave Books) $14
Sorry, Tree is a fucking funny title for a book. Especially for a book of poetry, that nervous species of writing that sometimes wonders whether it's worth the paper it's printed on. And especially for a book by Eileen Myles, whose poetry—whether it's about being lovesick or on a boat full of barfing people or surrounded by conservative zealots—is the opposite of apologetic. Historically speaking, Myles is the last stop of the New York School and the beginning of punk-rock poetry—the mythology of Myles begins with her first reading, at CBGB, in 1974.
Most of the poems in Sorry, Tree are, like most of her poetry, written in two- to four-word lines. Those skinny smokestacks look spare and refined but are full of exuberance and vulgarity: "I love you too/don't fuck up my hair/I can't believe/you almost/fisted me/today." Occasionally, they are too long, like in "That Country": 39 funny lines about what to call England ("Britain seems wrong,/does anyone/go to Britain?/People go to London/...and UK is just a concept/a fashion statement") followed by an unnecessary 48 more. But too many words from a good poet who has already become—no offense, Eileen—a historic poet, is a small sin. BRENDAN KILEY
Eileen Myles reads on Fri March 23 at Bailey/Coy Books, 7 pm, free. On Sat March 24, she gives a talk called "Everything Is Not Enough" at Henry Art Gallery, 3 pm, $5/members free. She reads again on April 5 at Elliott Bay Book Company, 7 pm, $10.
by Benjamin Black
(Henry Holt) $25
A dark anti-Catholic thriller from the Booker Prize–winning John Banville (writing under a pseudonym), Christine Falls is absorbing and overwhelmingly atmospheric—but for a genre novel, the plot is weirdly obvious. In the first 40 pages, Banville traces the general outline of a baby-farming conspiracy through the streets of 1950s Dublin and Boston; the rest of book is about being unwanted and loved and abandoned, about sibling rivalry and character and the way cigarette smoke can hang in the air after the smoker has gone.
The one-name Quirke (Mr. Quirke, to his colleagues) is a Dublin pathologist and a whiskey drunk. His adoptive brother, the biological son of a powerful judge, is an obstetrician in the same hospital, and one night Quirke catches him in the morgue's office, writing up a file with his left hand. Quirke can't figure out what he's trying to cover up, and eventually he ends up in Boston listening to priests and nuns and Knights of St. Patrick lie and lie some more. Banville's style is feathery and often heartbreaking. Though I admire his staunch resistance to cliché, I could have done without two different rooms being described with the antique term "gaunt." But I'm picking on just two words in a cast of hundreds of thousands of beauties. ANNIE WAGNER
John Banville—er, Benjamin Black—reads from Christine Falls at Elliott Bay Book Company on Thurs March 22 at 7:30 pm.
Sound Bites: Eating on Tour with Franz Ferdinand
by Alex Kapranos
(Penguin Books) $13
Last year, Madonna made $260 million on tour. As unrepresentative as this gross sum is of most musical acts, it does illustrate the equation faced by all pop music performers: The real money is not in record sales; it's in touring. And so it's difficult to see tour memorabilia—from DVDs to T-shirts to, now, books—as anything but a merchandising ploy.
Like Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs—who published a coffee-table book of tour photos in 2005—Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand has devised a way to memorialize, package, and resell his band's debut worldwide megatour as a book. Sound Bites is a travelogue detailing how a famous Scottish rocker eats on tour.
Kapranos dines on gizzard in Paris and blowfish in Osaka, burgers in L.A. and Tex-Mex in Austin, primarily translating his experiences through an easy, low-key persona. At its worst, Bites sometimes trips over Kapranos's poetic aspirations ("Fugu? Isn't that blowfish? Excitement yelps around the table. Fear chases it, propelled by vague and venomous statistics like poisonous hummingbirds eager to spear any sense of adventurousness.") But at its best, it conjures up a dream marriage of food and locale, like the bistro at the crown of a cobbled Lisbon hill so steep it's hazardous in leather soles. At the sea-view summit—with its olives, fish, and wine—it's like Kapranos momentarily died and went to a heaven made entirely of my urbane A Moveable Feast lunch fantasies, minus the irksome presence of Ernest Hemingway. CHRIS WEEG
The Average American Male
by Chad Kultgen
(Harper Perennial) $13.95
This is one of those novels that exists solely to cause controversy, the kind of book that unsuccessfully begs to be called "Portnoy's Complaint for the new millennium." It purports to be exactly what goes through the mind of the average American male at any given moment.
According to this book, the average American male really wants to get his dick sucked, and then, as soon as that's done, he wants to play video games until he wants to get his dick sucked again. The main character commits anal rape within the first few chapters. He also keeps leading on a very sad woman with a "hairlip" [sic] because he thinks it's kind of funny. Also, he's racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and boring.
I have no doubt at all that this type of man, this borderline-retarded Maxim-reading piece of shit who stares at women in the mall with one question running through his head on repeat—"Does that bitch swallow?"—is in the majority. The question that remains unanswered after spending 200 pages inside his head is: Why would anybody bother writing a book about something so blindingly, depressingly obvious? It's 2007 and, frankly, this sort of thing isn't shocking anymore. Maybe the author is hoping that a televangelist will accidentally read his book and wage some kind of Christian fatwa against it, but I, personally, hope that the reverends of the world are too busy wondering whether they're going to get their dicks sucked tonight to pay any attention to this waste of paper. PAUL CONSTANT