New in Books
Immature Talent, a Hungarian Master, and Human Tempura
by Tao Lin
(Melville House) $14.95
Tao Lin is a genius of self-promotion. He is an infuriating blend of ambition, immature talent, and a beautifully aggressive drive. He doesn't need blurbs like: "I loved this wonderful book—its strangeness, its obsessiveness, its beautiful sentences." (That's Monica Ali on the last Anthony Doerr novel.) The world needs another beautiful sentence about as much as it needs another Thomas Kinkade.
And Lin knows it. He behaves as I think every writer should behave, with no sense of decorum whatsoever. He picks fights on his blog (reader-of-depressing-books.blogspot.com) with n+1 and Kevin Sampsell and anyone else who will take the bait. His blog used to be the story of one writer trying to figure out how to write before he tipped it over into full PR mode.
Bed, his book of short stories, is okay—he's also the author of a novel that's being simultaneously released by the same publisher, called Eeeee Eee Eeee—but it's not as great as Lin's internet vision of himself. The off-the-cuff, non-sequitur style in Bed is always engaging; even if I sometimes felt tricked by the stories, I never felt tricked by the writer-trying-to-write-a-beautiful-sentence thing. A high-gloss style has metastasized from creative-writing programs in which style mostly conforms to a smooth, unwrinkled vision of the world that sidesteps a direct and prickly engagement with the reader. My experience reading the O'Henry Prize Stories or Best American Short Stories anthologies in the last five years has been to think, "Oh, that is pretty, what a nice story," and then setting the book down and forgetting about it. Not so with Lin. He is in his stories, struggling, trying to figure it out. With his unabashed desire to make you feel his presence, Lin—like Gertrude Stein, Mary Robison, or Gary Lutz—is a revolutionary. MATT BRIGGS
Tao Lin reads on Tues July 31 at 7:30 pm at Elliott Bay Book Company, 101 S Main St, 624-6600, free.
Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him
by Danielle Ganek
Of course, the story starts when the artist dies. He's an aging eccentric who lives in Italy and calls himself Count Jeffrey Finelli, and he is in the middle of his first New York gallery show opening when he goes outside for a cigarette and is squashed by a car. What's left are his paintings, most notably his large and mysteriously titled Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him—which absolutely everybody now must have. Danielle Ganek's first novel is the zingy, beach-reading story of that painting, the painting that inspires a thousand double-kisses and a million screwings-over, and still quite a few more dollars by the end.
Our trusty narrator is a good-hearted gallerina, not one of those gallerinas who sits behind the desk in frightening shoes and ignores the visitors, but one who takes everything in, the outsider insider with a secret. Her secret—that she's an aspiring artist—is banal, and so is just about every scene that involves her life rather than the life of Finelli's painting. But the fun that Ganek (the real-life wife of a Guggenheim trustee—that's where she gets her dish!) is having is catching, and her characters are stock but amusing. There's Dane, the big-shot artist better known for getting naked at parties than for his work, and his haughty French dealer, a Chihuahua in pants. There's Connie, the vulgar, sweaty collector, and Simon, the narrator's boss, whose English accent may just be put on. Which of these can you spot in Seattle? JEN GRAVES
by Sándor Márai
The Rebels has quite a bit more plot than Sándor Márai's other books. This is not saying much. His first book translated into English, Embers (2000), is the story of two very old men meeting at the end of their lives to not talk about something that didn't happen. Casanova in Bolzano (2004) fictionalizes the moment after the famed lady-killer Casanova escaped from prison in Venice and, as he was hiding out in a small town, almost, but not quite, fell in love. Both of these books are expertly done. Márai is a master of the Faulknerian full-page sentence—only his sentences do eventually bring you back to where they left off.
The Rebels tells of a pack of young boys just graduating from high school in a sleepy backwater town. They are becoming men and will soon be sent off to war. Like all boys, they get into trouble. Unlike most boys, they are very philosophical about why they want to get into trouble. They do not want to be adults. They want to live in a world apart. And some of them want revenge.
Because Americans have only just discovered this Hungarian master, Márai's books are being translated in reverse. Embers was written at the end of his life, at the pinnacle of his career. The Rebels is a much earlier book. So it's not necessarily a compliment to note that it has more of a plot. Because with Marai, that means less musing. The book feels less like a long exploration through the tangled thickets of a philosophical mind and more like a short, eventful walk down a dead-end street. That's not bad; it's just not what a fan of his other books might expect. SAGE VAN WING
One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding
by Rebecca Mead
(Penguin Press) $25.95
Like a sizable though ever-diminishing chunk of heteroAmerica, I think marriage is great, despite what everybody says. In fact, my girlfriend and I plan to undergo the procedure quite soon and with much gusto.
Along with a few other industries—including but not limited to cookware and porn—the multibillion-dollar wedding industry is salivating as more and more "Echo Boomers" like us decide to take the matrimonial plunge after prolonged cohabitational courtships usually involving lots of IKEA and at least one awkward threesome. (Hi, Todd!)
But since we're part of such a media-savvy demographic, the Wedding Industry can only take so direct an approach for so long, right? It can only shove so many wedding magazines, reality shows, and lightly ironic ad campaigns toward us before we begin to suspect our noble sentiments have been hijacked by a Capitalist Plot. So we threaten to peel off, to elope, to head to the courthouse with a cleared blood test and an intact savings account, leaving all that froufrou behind. This could be serious trouble for the Industry.
Enter: Rebecca Mead and the Alt-Weddings Brigade.
Touted as a clear-eyed account devoid of the usual sentimentality and piety—the rightful heir to Jessica Mitford's classic deconstruction of the funeral industry, The American Way of Death—Mead's One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding is the most prominent product put out by the booming alt-wedding industry (cf. I Do but I Don't, www.ConsciousWeddings.com, "Bridezillas," etc).
It's a deceptive book. Mead's reliance on light Marxist theory and the liberal deployment of words like "impecunious" makes One Perfect Day almost seem like an old-fashioned muckraking takedown, but it isn't. Mead is no Mitford. She's just one rather snooty participant in the Wedding Industry's manufactured dissent. TRAVIS NICHOLS
by Osamu Tezuka
Osamu Tezuka pretty much invented manga—he's the guy responsible for Astro Boy, true, but if you've been following Vertical's excellent reissues of Tezuka's work, you also know him as the creator of the staggering eight-volume Buddha biography that's the Lord of the Rings of Eastern philosophy. Last year saw the release of Ode to Kirihito, an epic medical thriller about a plague that turns people into animals and a woman who dives into pits of boiling hot grease to become a human tempura, and now, with Apollo's Song, we're starting to see just how weird Tezuka really was.
Shogo is a disturbed young man. His mom is a bar whore, and so Shogo is weird about sex: Whenever he finds woodland creatures that are copulating, he kills them, preferably midcopulation. Shogo gets cursed by a weird celestial creature to fall in love with the same woman again and again throughout history, only to see them both die before they can be happy. Parts of the story take place in the Holocaust, parts take place in a clone-happy future, and other parts seem to extol the glory of long-distance running. Though the 500-page book doesn't really come to a satisfying conclusion, it's thrilling to watch a master tell such a pessimistic story that's so openly sexual; imagine Jack Kirby doing a sci-fi Eyes Wide Shut and you're maybe halfway there. PAUL CONSTANT