SURVIVOR: black swan green (david mitchell)*
CHALLENGER: rabbit at rest (john updike)
Martin Amis, Updike's only rival as a post-Nabokov virtuoso, wrote that "having read him once, you admit to yourself, almost with a sigh, that you will have to read everything he writes." Nicholson Baker, another scintillating miniaturist, embarked on the memoir/homage U and I despite not having read even half of Updike's books. Do writers as inimitable as Updike leave heirs? Or just addicts?

(troy patterson)
i'm finished; while i can't say that i'll never read updike again (in truth, i wouldn't mind reading the centaur soonish), i can say that the unscratchable itch is less ferocious now than it's been for a few years. there's a scene in this final rabbit novel in which (aging, bloated) harry angstrom rolls down main street dressed as uncle sam for the local independence day parade, taking in admiration like a balloon float on thanksgiving: he's full of nothing (and hazardous to bystanders**) and manages to rivet (and delight) the whole damn town. though harry peaked as a high school basketball star, though chasing updike's portraits of american decades down the dirty corridors of harry's thoughts is more than a bit like scrambling around, ninja turtlish, in a sewer...you can't stop watching the fucker.

harry is only fifty-five when rabbit at rest kicks off, but updike wastes no time making sure we know this rest won't be happening on a barcalounger - not much of it, anyway.
Standing amid the tan, excited post-Christmas crowd at the Southwest Florida Regional Airport, Rabbit Angstrom has a funny sudden feeling that what he has come to meet, what's floating in unseen about to land, is not his son Nelson and daughter-in-law Pru and their two children but something more ominous and intimately his: his own death, shaped vaguely like an airplane.
he and his wife have retired to florida's valhalla village, a terrifying snowbird community which bears a striking resemblance to leisure world, the gigantic south orange county oldsters' enclave that packed our family's church every sunday and voted down our community's effort to become a city every november (because they'd have had to help pay for our fire department and schools; retired people are so giving). valhalla village is full of norfolk island pines*** and - lucky updike! - freeze-dried golfers; as in previous rabbit novels, we're treated to frequent, painterly status reports on the local foliage and harry's short game. they're far better news than the reports on harry's family: his son, now a full-fledged coke addict, is running harry's toyota dealership into the ground, his daughter-in-law is desperately unhappy and even more mercenary than she was in the seventies, and his grandson is a portly little malcontent. his granddaughter, judy, has something of a rapport with harry; nearly alone among the tetralogy's sympathetic females, she neither snuffs it as a result of his negligence (though she comes close!) nor stars in his creepy musings. i like judy very much, and the scenes in which harry and janice drag her and her little brother around thomas edison's estate and a questionable florida zoo are some of the best of the series. i am, for reasons i don't quite understand, especially fond of this:
A small machine such as those that in Harry's youth supplied a handful of peanuts or pistachio nuts in almost every gas station and grocery store is fixed to a pavilion post near an area where peacocks restlessly drag their extravagant feathers across the dust. Here he makes his historic blunder. As his three kin move ahead he fishes in his pocket for a dime, inserts it, receives a handful of brown dry objects, and begins to eat them. They are not exactly peanuts, but perhaps some Florida delicacy, and taste so dry and stale as to be bitter; but who knows how long these machines wait for customers? When he offers some to Judy, though, she looks at them, smells them, and stares up into his face with pure wonderment. "Grandpa!" she cries. "That's to feed the birds! Grandma! He's been eating birdfood! Little brown things like rabbit turds!"
Janice and Roy gather around to see, and Harry holds open his hand to display the shaming evidence. "I didn't know," he weakly says. "There's no sign or anything." He is suffused with a curious sensation; he feels faintly numb and sick but beyond that, beyond the warm volume enclosed by his skin, the air is swept by a universal devaluation; for one flash he sees his life as a silly thing it will be a relief to discard.
it's in this novel that one starts thinking of harry as a family member, albeit an often-repellent one, and that, alright, i finally let updike in; his protagonist's weird personal gravity, the way he draws himself to you with big, dumb gestures and repulses you with swift, hard ones, collapses into a small, dense nugget of commentary on white male america that feels very true. i began to suspect quite early that rabbit at rest would take this round, and the plot point (involving harry and his daughter-in-law) that initially drove me from that conclusion is the very one that deposits me there. blimey, internet.

VICTOR: john motherfucking updike, in the dirtiest match on record.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 to whom are you addicted?

02 have you ever participated in a parade? if so, how?

03 which of your hobbies would be most interesting to novel-readers? which would be least interesting?

04 in 2001 updike wrote a 182-page "sequel," rabbit remembered, about harry's surviving family (reviewed here by my boyfriend a.o. scott). you get to commission a novella-sequel! to which sequence of novels will you demand an addition?

05 does updike's win surprise you?

*previous battle here.

**that list of thanksgiving day parade accidents is something else. "1994: Barney tore his side on a lamppost and had to be removed from the parade with the help of knife-wielding officials, crying kids and cheering adults. 1995: Dudley the Dragon, who was leading the parade, was speared and deflated on a lamppost and showered glass on the crowd below."

***much like magnus, acquired on the way home from a coworker's farewell party just before i began rabbit at rest. it's possible i felt updike was taunting me for adopting a plant i'd almost certainly kill (norfolks are far too tender for new york winters, and are happiest in, well, florida).


the boxing day blizzard has been called many things, most of them impolite. i call it snoomsday, as one should say snoo whenever one can, and the saying of snoo distracts one from the lack of one's sister (whose overnight flight from los angeles was chucked from the american airlines timetable like excess picnicking supplies from a sinking hot air balloon). hurry here, sister! we wait, tipple,* prepare even more food, and marvel at the hulk steve's become since we last had a snowstorm.

day 189: snowmageddon


steve, c. boxing day blizzard 2010


*boxing day margarita: begin with a handful of ice in a stemless wine glass; add about an ounce and a half of mezcal (we used sombra, which is nice and smoky) and the juice of half a ruby red grapefruit, then fill rest of glass with fresca. top with a splash of angostura bitters and a pinch of ghost pepper salt. add an extra pinch or two if you're feeling festive.

12.21.10: the dirty dozen {films to which i have taken myself on movie dates}

01 plunkett & macleane
02 the blair witch project
03 13 going on 30
04 the queen
05 twilight
06 julie & julia
07 the visitor
08 atonement
09 a single man
10 the last station
11 crazy heart
12 black swan

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 have you ever heard of plunkett & macleane?

02 would you like to come to my 13 going on 30 movie party? there will be pajamas. also alias.

03 do you go to the movies by yourself?

04 have you seen black swan? what did you think?

12.20.10: sparkle motion (the pinata tree post)

i was wandering around the time warner center in search of cheap mittens and came across a window full of fancy, fancy party decorations, so i texted a picture to someone special.

LMO: [img] Confetti system at jcrew, cookies.
ESB: well, they already did urban. so...
LMO: Unsame!
ESB: yeah. fuck j crew.*

there were no cheap mittens for me, but i did come home with a theme for this year's christmas tree, thanks to the texting and the coincidentally fancy princess manicure i'd acquired at the office. i decided i'd pay tribute to the deep vein of tinsel that seems to be running through this holiday season and make tiny, confetti-system-inspired tree-pinatas.

tiny pinata ornament II (xyz)

this is a square trapezohedron i made out of paper and covered with patchwork foil, beat-up-old-spaceship-like.

tiny pinata ornament I

and this, internet, is a truncated pyramid covered with hand-cut foil fringe. these photos aren't my best work, but i'm terribly proud of them anyhow; after spending an hour on each of the (three) square trapezohedrons and another two on each of the (three) truncated pyramids, i had the fine motor skills of an old eggnog addict. that they're mostly in focus is enough for me.

the pinatalings are sharing space with a handful of porcelain jonathan adler ornaments and some of last year's princemas doves; on an 8' tree with purple lights, the effect is singular if nothing else. a funky yet gentlemanly fiesta? a hopeful butch unicorn party? dandy alien window dressing? i think i'm pleased - and my fingers are nearly mobile enough to text again. a season of wonders, internet.

*i've been known to shop at both j.crew and urban outfitters, as it happens; i still think confetti system's collaboration with the former is a bit more like finding out my mum and i have the same pair of candy cane underpants. mom, tell me i'm alone.


street beet

i'm pretty sure i'd like to make a print of this and frame it for the kitchen; too lurid?


101 in 1001 {II}: 092 watch taxi driver [completed 12.15.10]

washington business demands the missus
overnight, and scorsese demands me:
"you netflixed bickle back when your kitten
was the size of my right eyebrow. that he'd
now eclipse kubrick's monolith on a
flatscreen speaks volumes." well i'm the only
one here; i'm for stygian miasmas,
for fifty-seventh in the seventies.
new york is its own choicest sustenance,
a yupster who once lived in hell's kitchen
its fables' most comfortable audience
(pornography underwent mutations).
kael called this city a 'voluptuous
enemy.' we each pray it swallows us.



black swan green (david mitchell)*
CHALLENGER: rabbit is rich (john updike)

alright, look. john updike is one of only three authors who've won the pulitzer prize for fiction more than once** - for rabbit is rich and rabbit at rest, novels which are packaged in this handy little volume in soothing blue that flung itself at my feet like so much sea glass when i was wandering around columbus circle several months ago. ever wonder why books in my life seem to behave like the necronomicon in the evil dead movies? i do not, internet; i'm no philosopher, and i let them do what they will.

rabbit is rich finds harry (rabbit) angstrom in his forties in the seventies, pulling down a salary in the high five digits and hovering around two-fifteen with a forty-two waist. updike flings numbers about like a bingo caller at the beginning of the book, but that handful's the one that really matters: we're here to know what's become of rabbit.*** he's now helming his dead father-in-law's successful toyota dealership, working side by side (and now best friends) with the crafty greek who romanced his wife in rabbit redux, the second book of the tetralogy. disco on the radio, platforms on the hot young ethnic types downtown. here's updike on rabbit is rich:
The novel contains a number of scenes distinctly broad in their comedy: amid the inflationary abundance of money, Harry and [his wife] Janice copulate on a blanket of gold coins and stagger beneath the weight of 888 silver dollars as they lug their speculative loot up the eerily deserted main drag of Brewer. A Shakespearian swap and shuffle of couples takes place in the glimmering Arcadia of a Caribbean island, and a wedding rings out at the novel’s midpoint. “Life is sweet, that’s what they say,” Rabbit reflects in the last pages. Details poured fast and furious out of my by now thoroughly mapped and populated Diamond Country. The novel is fat, in keeping with its theme of inflation, and [Harry's daughter-in-law] Pru is fat with her impending child, whose growth is the book’s secret action, its innermost happiness.
the "swap and shuffle" he mentions is in fact the novel's core: while the oil crisis, the japanese auto boom, and harry's now-rotten son becoming a husband and father fill a few pages, this is the story of whether or not harry will manage to sleep with cindy murkett, a country-club friend's trophy wife whose cardinal trait is her fascinating inability to stay put in a diaperlike bikini. it would be unsporting of me to spoil that plot point for you, but i will say that the caribbean wife-swap is more baffling than most of shakespeare's (and that marriage for updike characters - as in, say, a shakespearean problem comedy like measure for measure - is a form of justice; it hardly "rings out"). david foster wallace, writing in '97 on generation X re: updike:
I'm guessing that for the young educated adults of the 60s and 70s, for whom the ultimate horror was the hypocritical conformity and repression of their own parents' generation, Mr. Updike's evocation of the libidinous self appeared redemptive and even heroic. But the young educated adults of the 90s -- who were, of course, the children of the same impassioned infidelities and divorces Mr. Updike wrote about so beautifully -- got to watch all this brave new individualism and self-expression and sexual freedom deteriorate into the joyless and anomic self-indulgence of the Me Generation. Today's sub-40s have different horrors, prominent among which are anomie and solipsism and a peculiarly American loneliness: the prospect of dying without once having loved something more than yourself.
i was a sub-20 at the time, but that landscape is familiar - and like DFW, i'm puzzled that updike seems to "[persist] in the bizarre adolescent idea that getting to have sex with whomever one wants whenever one wants is a cure for ontological despair." internet, rabbit is rich and i - like mortified swappers, i'd imagine - have little to say to one another.

VICTOR: mitchell, with a few quick punches to vital organs. perhaps the laurels affected updike's reach.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 am i alone in suspecting that the necronomicon would make an amazing halloween costume?

02 did you realize the hyperlink in the evil dead reference up there was to a german trailer? go on, i'll wait.

03 does the idea of having sex on a pile of money appeal to you?

04 how do you feel about shakespeare's fifth-act marriagepaloozas?

05 can marriage be an effective form of justice?

06 do you know how to remove color hairspray from brickwork?

07 how has december been treating you?

*previous battle here.

**the others are booth tarkington (the magnificent ambersons and alice adams) and william faulkner (a fable and the reivers).

***also i wanted to know how long it would take updike to gross me out (seventeen pages: "Cunt would be a good flavor of ice cream, Sealtest ought to work on it.")

12.14.10: the dirty dozen {goings on since last we spoke}

01 a double-blind hot cocoa taste test (surprise winner: nestlé)
02 i drank judge wapner root beer ("i sentence you to drink my root beer.")
03 measure for measure at judson memorial church
04 over post-measure-for-measure austrian food, i attempted to explain to amanda why i always mist up while watching damn yankees' "high enough"*
05 i found $5 on grand street
06 i gave $5 to a cellist and a violinist playing pachelbel's canon in D on the F platform
07 i panicked and drew on our building with red sharpie
08 i received my first-ever compliment from our fashion director (for green jeans)
09 we framed one of our giant wolf posters from the benevolent canadians, realized the poster was waggling beneath the mat, and framed it again, making the waggle much worse
10 a handful of poems i misplaced back in san francisco reemerged (published!)
11 i stayed at the office until midnight
12 it snowed all day

*toward the end with the getaway and the shootout and the ted nugent solo and the...i'll just go.

12.03.10: the dirty dozen {contents of my weekender}

01 plastic polar bear
02 chanel rouge allure ("insouciante")
03 sherlock dvd
04 our tragic universe (scarlett thomas)
05 brief interviews with hideous men (david foster wallace)
06 although of course you end up becoming yourself (david lipsky)
07 black american apparel rib u-neck tank
08 black patent leather ballet flats
09 korres saffron amber agarwood cardamom eau de toilette
10 benefit cheek tint
11 filial piety
12 plastic moose