February 3rd, 2006

Reading List: The Vanished Hands

Read: The Vanished Hands, Robert Wilson.

I rather like Robert Wilson’s crime novels (they’re not quite mysteries, nor literary fiction, nor thrillers), but I always have the problem that after reading them, I can’t describe much of anything that happened. They’re strongly character-driven, so I could tell you all about the main character, Inspector Javier Falcon, but not two weeks after reading this book I have to think hard to recall what it was that he was investigating.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and Wilson certainly makes it work for him. He creates a dreamy sense of unreality in his novels - not the sort that makes you question, but the sort that makes you suspend your disbelief and accept whatever happens next. The Vanished Hands was like one long fever-dream.  I’m pretty sure there were murders, and some carry-over from the previous book in the series (the excellent The Blind Man of Seville), and a cesspit like an open wound under an expensive residential area, and a really hot sex scene, but it all blends together in my mind.

Wilson is at his best when evoking a setting or a character, and it’s Falcon and his city, Seville, that stand out most to me in my memory of this work.  Wilson’s Seville isn’t a city of orange blossoms and flamenco dances; it’s a place of dirty double-dealing among the blasting heat and the ancient culture.  I might not be able to tell you exactly who did what to whom while I was visiting Seville in my mind, but it’s a place I would love to go back to in Wilson’s next novel.

Next time, though, I’ll reread the previous books in the series before I start the next.  Maybe if I’m not so enchanted by Wilson’s characters, language, symbolism and setting, I’ll actually be able to sort out what’s going on in the plot.

Reading List: Hearts in Atlantis

Read: Hearts in Atlantis, Stephen King.

Thanks to The Dark Tower I’m on a total Stephen King kick, so I’ll keep things brief. Yes, good writing, yes, good evocation of character, yes, believable horror, yes, yes, yes. See, all reviewed! Well, kind of . . . .

The title story in this four-novella collection was certainly my favorite, as it explored why a group of young men would jeopardize their college careers and even their lives to play a game. King posits a terribly addictive ongoing game of Hearts among a group of young college men just after the institution of the draft in Vietnam. Instead of doing their schoolwork, they spend all their time playing cards. Even though the main character doesn’t want to, he can’t help getting his fix. The world of the game takes over and shuts out the real world. Beating his friends at Hearts becomes more important than keeping his grades good enough to stay out of Vietnam.

There’s a lot more to the story, of course, but that’s the part that really resonated with me. Some of the work that I’m doing is game advocacy stuff - arguing that games are not TEH EYVULLLL. A lot of people look at computer games and shout, “Addictive! Terrible! Life-wrecking!” But what Hearts in Atlantis said to me is that the love of games has nothing to do with the technology that the game is built with. Pasteboard and ink can take you to the same place as Liberty City or Azeroth or the Forgotten Realms. Whatever it is that drives you to play comes out of you, not out of the death rays that your computer game somehow magically emits.

Play is in itself a compelling activity - paper, ink, cardboard, graphics cards, footballs, whatever it takes. Human beings need to play, and if our culture doesn’t support healthy playfulness then it’s going to come out in very strange ways. Play’s not just for children, and if we adults don’t find ways to play then we’re missing out on a whole spectrum of human experience.

Reading List: The Beautiful and Damned

Read: The Beautiful and Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Help! I’m reading faster than I’m reviewing!

I generally like Fitzgerald, but I also generally find his work rather puzzling. His characters are all coming apart at the seams in unfamiliar ways. I don’t understand, in my gut, the reasons why Anthony and Gloria flame out (both together and separately). I try to identify with the characters, and it’s a mark of Fitzgerald’s genius that I’m able to at all - but I’m left with the feeling that these are people I would neither like nor respect if they were in my own life. I just want to smack them a good one.

That said, it’s absolutely fascinating to watch how he handles painting their world. He makes the values of their world come alive, and with just a few strokes creates the types that people of their class, in their time, would have to deal with. The careful details of the Patches’ slide into “poor company” are worth the price of buying the book all by themselves. Each step down the social scale, you feel, was carefully calculated by Fitzgerald and yet still seems totally inevitable given Anthony, Gloria, and what they do to one another.

Meme or Mitzvah?

When I saw this video, I was really tempted to show up.  After all, I was invited!!  (And yes, I was totally amazed at the twelve-year-old who had the balls to put this kind of thing together.)

After looking at the RSVP site, though, I wonder whether this isn’t meant to be some kind of crazy internet meme.  It says that the bat mitzvah already happened, but the last time March 11th was on a Saturday was in 2000.  I suspect the whole thing might be an ad for the bar/bat mitzvah company you can find on the links page.

Check it out, folks, and tell me what you think: mitzvah or meme?

Oh, and if you can’t get “If I Were A Rich Girl” out of your head, it’s not my fault.  Really.