SURVIVOR: chronic city (jonathan lethem)*
CHALLENGER: sense and sensibility and sea monsters (jane austen and ben h. winters)

jane austen's sense and sensibility was her first published novel (begun in 1795, when she was 21 - that will always be more vexing to me than jonathan safran foer's everything is illuminated, published when he was about 25), and some argue that it's a bit patchier than some of the later works;** as roger ebert notes in his criticism of ang lee's 1995 film adaptation,*** most of the story is spent waiting for someone or other to get back from london. that gave first-time novelist ben h. winters (who will be responsible for android karenina, god help us, in june) some room to stretch out and quip in sense and sensibility and sea monsters, quirk books' second commissioned jane austen parody (after pride and prejudice and zombies).
(on sir john and lady middleton's locally celebrated offspring)

On every formal visit a child ought to be of the party, by way of provision for discourse, or in extreme cases, if someone needs to be thrown overboard to satisfy the piranhas trailing the boat. (34)

(on sensibility)

"[Liveliness] is what I like; that is what a young man ought to [have]," sighed Marianne. "Whatever be his pursuits, his eagerness in them should know no moderation, and leave him no sense of fatigue. Because it is when you are tired that the monsters get you." (50)

(on willoughby's puzzling withdrawal from marianne)

"I am persuaded that Mrs. Smith suspects his regard for Marianne, disapproves of it, and on that account is eager to get him away. Or, alternatively, he has in his quest for treasure disturbed the burial site of a pirate captain, and incurred the wrath of the pirate captain's ghost, who has thusly cursed him to wander the seven seas until fate should claim him. It's one of those two." (82)
some of his more complicated descriptions are fun as well; london, for instance, becomes sub-marine station beta, a domed city four miles beneath the sea.*** according to winters,
I had room to describe Sub-Marine Station Beta at considerable length, by the way, thanks to one significant difference between my book and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. In that work, [Seth] Grahame-Smith wrote 15 percent of the final text; the rest was Austen. The readers who gobbled up Zombies reported back to Quirk that as much as they loved the Jane Austen stuff, they wanted a little less of it. So my mandate on Sea Monsters was to deliver a book that was 60 percent Austen and 40 percent me. Which made my life easier: I don't know if you've ever tried to describe a city built entirely underwater, where wealthy Britons attend costume balls dressed as pirates and government scientists conduct ill-advised experiments whereby fish organs are transplanted into men, but it takes a few paragraphs.
i find it's best to appreciate the creation without dwelling on the depressing austen-lessening. people are reading 60% austen instead of watching 100% jersey shore, and that's something, right? the station is enjoyable, anyway, and the marine angst that surrounds it is a clever slapstick treatment of the class system in regency england. (the human lower class is all over the place, of course, but it doesn't strike back; the gentry get what's coming to them via cow-sized lobsters and the devonshire fang-beast, and that works for me.) without spoiling the story (for i do think this one deserves a read as well), i also quite liked winters's (straight-out-of-h.p.-lovecraft) approach to poor, forgotten margaret; her hair is growing back by the time the story ends, but boy, being a third child can be rough.

VICTOR: lethem. each novel is the product of jillions of influences and references, but lethem's is a much more lethal new thing. also, winters couldn't resist the urge to make a tentacle sex joke.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 which artists' early accomplishments stand out for you?

02 were kate winslet and emma thompson miscast as marianne and elinor dashwood in ang lee's sense and sensibility?

03 is reading classics-intercut-with-critters preferable to ignoring said classics altogether?

04 pride and prejudice v. sense and sensibility: from where you're sitting, which wins?

05 would you stay in an underwater resort like the one i linked?

06 do you have any sea-related fears? (mine is the kraken. i used to have nightmares about the kraken.)

*previous battle here.

**upon reflection, i actually think i prefer it to pride and prejudice, though. i really found elinor's reserve affecting.

***aside: when i searched for "sense and sensibility emma thompson," google predicted "sense and sensibility emma thompson too old," which BITE YOUR TONGUE, GOOGLE, SHE WAS LUMINOUS.

***not unlike the undersea resort that popped up on apartment therapy yesterday. i don't know that i'd be comfortable staying there.


tanthalas said...

03. Torn on this one. I suppose it's better than Jersey Shore (then again, what isn't?), but isn't prior knowledge of the original works part of the enjoyment of these derived ones?

05. Those undersea resorts look awesome. But at $30k a week, I'm going to have to wait until I become a milliionaire first...

kidchamp said...

oh geez, i just made it far enough into the poseidon webpage to read about the three-person submarines you can pilot around. fie on you, expensive place i now need to visit immediately! (as long as we're sure it's kraken-free.)

LPC said...

02 Miscast has multiple meanings. To my way of thinking, for the movie Mr. Lee made, they were perfectly cast. Except that Ms. Winslet is perhaps a tad too wonderful. Whether Mr. Lee made the movie I might have made if I made movies, another question altogether.

04 Sense and Sensibility wins as a movie. The scene when Emma Thompson realizes he has come for her is the troubling heart of being a woman for many of us. In my generation, at least. As a book, well, P&P.

06 No. All irrational fears are focused on air and fire. Airplanes, volcanoes, nightmares.

kidchamp said...

it's in there for millennials as well, LPC (though i'm really only technically a millennial). speaking of resonances and jane, have you ever been to the pump room in bath? i think my bones actually thrummed with the emotional literary history of that place. austen isn't my favorite author, but i read the novels for the first time at an intensely impressionable age.

Milkmaid's dumb friend said...

01: Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine is so good. (U and I is the very best, and the way I see it Room Temperature is his best fiction, but Mezzanine is a knockout and a great place to start- it worked for me. All self-avowed prudes will do well to avoid Vox and fear The Fermata; the lascivious may start right in on the latter.)
03: Isn't the answer no?
04: Ebert's two cents: "When I was very sick last year there was a time when I lost all interest in reading. When I began to feel a little better, perhaps strong enough to pick up a book, it was Austen's Persuasion. What else?"
06: All my sea-related fears involve the necessity of reckoning with the depths of my potential cowardice in the manner of Lord Jim or confronting my manifest turpitude like Frank Conroy as described by David Foster Wallace in footnote 37 (2) of A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again; also sea sickness.

kidchamp said...

re: 06 was that the description of the brochure and frank's "oh sure, i was a whore"? that's an angst that tends to hit in the air, for me.

Amanda said...

01 Prufrock, natch.
04 P&P forevs.
06 Darkness, drowning, eels, unseen sharp things, grottos, riptides, snorkel masks, jellyfish. Among others.

@MDF: Now you're just showing off. And shame on you for leaving out The Everlasting Story of Nory.

LPC said...

Showing off is sometimes good. Keep saying those words, I don't know what they mean, but I like the sound. If I were afraid of anything in the ocean, it would be everything I can't hear.

kidchamp said...

turpitude is one of my favorite words, as it happens: it smacks of reptilian blood-sluggishness, scaly character. and i quite like the way MDF comments.

(...and have i mentioned how glad i am that you're back, LPC? lovely to see you.)

(and A, i vow to take you ocean-swimming someday. it's the best thing ever once you know the local tricks.)