amsterdam (book). my plan to bathe in the healing light of ian mcewan's booker-prize-winning novel after a comparatively underwhelming experience with atonement, she was not so successful. amsterdam isn't a bad book—it's funny, it anticipates in a slumping english newspaper the sort of editorial panic those of us in magazines enjoy these days, and it makes the lake district sound mildly interesting—but it is also quite short, and its morality-tale ending feels abrupt. part of the pleasure of a book like atonement is the painterly buildup to a character's shocking decision; amsterdam in its entirety feels as long as the tallis family's fateful dinner party, and its payoff doesn't justify the broad strokes mcewan has to use to get his characters in place in the time he allows himself. i'll give you one more chance, mcewan, and if you don't behave, i'll turn you into a goon.
an equal music (book). vikram seth's the golden gate (pushkin sonnets about san francisco) is my second favorite novel-in-poetry,* and it's had me promising myself for years that i'd read his prose as well. an equal music feels quite a bit like poetry; it's about chamber musicians, love, and sexy old europe [london, vienna, and venice], and its central romance is studded with substantial chunks of unabashedly florid prose. normally that would bug me, but seth's sincerity feels sweet rather than creepy most of the time.** music at its best feels like a really, really long alex ross column, and who can object to that?
frankenstein's army (film). the missus and i make a point of seeing the most ridiculous-sounding horror movie at the tribeca film festival every year, and this one—a found-footage stinker in which a platoon of russian soldiers attempt to win world war two by enlisting dr. frankenstein and are instead torn apart by a gaggle of what look like the anthropomorphic bomb-goblins from labyrinth—was that. it feels a bit unsporting to call it nonsensical, but i do expect my horror to be internally consistent, and frankenstein's sloppy video-game angles and haphazard plotting make the leprechaun franchise look like tolstoy.
fresh meat (film). "there are so many amazing movies at the festival this year," said director danny mulheron,*** "and then there's this movie." mulheron's horror-slapstick (about a family of cannibals "who happen to be maori" held hostage by violent fugitives in suburban new zealand) felt like low-budget kiwi robert rodriguez circa four rooms, and i kind of loved it: fresh meat was the last thing i saw at tribeca this year, and after two weeks of dancing for Extremely Serious Filmmakers, i was delighted to meet one who ripped all of the reserved seating markers out of his theater so that everyone could sit where they liked. a cannibalism-comedy double feature with fresh meat and eddie the sleepwalking cannibal would not be a bad way to spend an evening, is what i'm saying.
julius caesar (play). joe and i nearly took a weird train out of london to see the RSC's julius caesar on our trip to england last fall, and i'm a bit sorry we didn't, both because impromptu shakespeare binges are awesome and because when it crossed the atlantic it landed at the BAM harvey theater, a problematic little venue full of loutish cell-phone answerers which makes me think without fondness of when i was limber enough to fold myself up like a hipster's bike. theater aside, the theatre was quite good: the production is set in present-day africa,**** and caesar & co. bring to mind any number of nasty modern dictators. "nasty" is the key word here; i don't find any of shakespeare's tragic heroes especially cuddly, but julie has always been down at the bottom of the list, and he's still there now. the minimal concrete set felt postapocalyptic rather than military—lots of postapocalyptic shakespeare around these days—and the witchy-tribal soothsayer made the players' very modern punishments feel ages old. i like this new timelessness.
pym (book). did i find pym, mat johnson's tale of an unemployed professor who leads a team to antarctica in search of the cold-ass honky described at the end of edgar allan poe's narrative of arthur gordon pym of nantucket, or did pym find me? i first set out for it after storming out of a washington hotel room in a fit of hanger (i found neither it nor food, but i did acquire a lovely edition of 1Q84). when i finally did get my own copy, i found, among other things, a surprisingly awesome story-within-the-story of a thomas-kinkade-like conservative (orange county is composed almost entirely of pastel stucco and republicans; we have strong feelings about thomas kinkade, and conservatives). i've also found mat johnson to be one of the few writers i can follow on twitter without wanting to pull out my own teeth. bring pym to the beach this summer! lily concurs.
the reluctant fundamentalist (film). first a 2007 novel by pakistani author mohsin hamid, the reluctant fundamentalist was, by the time we met, a Very Serious Post-9/11 Thriller featuring, among other things, british/pakistani dreamboat riz ahmed, kate hudson as a recent college graduate with terrible brown hair, and kiefer sutherland as a wall street master-of-the-universe type (kicking down terrorists' doors has been very, very good to him; i didn't recognize him when i saw him at the premiere). it's thoughtful and intense—both ahmed's character's response to the ongoing way he's stereotyped and his movie-spanning chat with liev schrieber are put together quite pleasingly—but i imagine one's enjoyment of it and, more to the point, one's appreciation of its twisty conclusion would be rather compromised if, say, one had to tiptoe out of the theater ten minutes before it ended in order to collect audience award ballots. ah, the heartbreak of film festivals.
stranger things happen (book). kelly link's first collection didn't kick me in the teeth nearly as hard as her second one did, but it's still some of the cleverest, scariest, most original fiction i've read in years. come for the prospective father-in-law with interchangeable handmade noses ("water off a black dog's back"), stay for the stuff in "the specialist's hat" that i'll reference without actually talking about because it makes me nervous. salon's laura miller called stranger things happen "an alchemical mix of borges, raymond chandler and 'buffy the vampire slayer;'" that's about right.
V/H/S/2 (film). like frankenstein's army, V/H/S/2 is found-footage horror (here, an anthology of four short films united by the premise of a couple of investigators breaking into a house to find a missing man and finding videocassettes full of mayhem*****); unlike frankenstein's army, it was occasionally so scary it was actually exhausting (in shorts which don't have time to develop fancy plot points, you're mostly dealing with jump-shock after jump-shock; also, i saw it by myself at midnight on a friday). "a ride in the park," by the blair witch project's co-director, is the
imaginary reading group discussion questions
01 the leprechaun franchise, she is rebooting this year. shall you watch?
02 do any of shakespeare's tragic heroes tug at your heartstrings?
03 do you get hangry?
04 how hard would it be to talk you into going to antarctica?
05 the shit: when was it last scared out of you?
06 what is the premise of your found-footage horror film?
*toby barlow's crazy, lurid sharp teeth - free verse about werewolves in los angeles - is my first.
**the love story does occasionally stray into bridge across forever territory, but the two decades i've put between myself and richard bach have made echoes of him in other books slightly more manageable.
***(once a nominee for best female performance for his work as heidi the hippo in meet the feebles)
****the RSC's artistic director was inspired by nelson mandela's notes on julius caesar in the robben island bible, a copy of the complete works of shakespeare smuggled between south african political prisoners. each man underlined passage which was meaningful to him, and mandela chose "cowards die many deaths..." from julius caesar, act II, scene II.
*****generic mayhem, not blackstone's mayhem or dean winters as mayhem****** in those allstate commercials.
******a fellow volunteer claimed to see dean winters at the same premiere at which i encountered kiefer "babyman" sutherland. she was beside herself.