Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Turb Blurbs

If you read a lot it's inevitable that you are going to come across stuff that you either mildly dislike, or are otherwise indifferent to. After you read such books they generally fade from your mind quickly. People who review books are not likely to invest a lot of time into writing about something mediocre, unless they work as professional critics. Every year thousands of books get written, and it's likely that the majority of them fall into this category. They exist to fill up the shelves of stores and libraries. They make this nation look like it's brimming with literature. To most it's mainly blank space, except to the handful of readers that are either related or have some other special interest in the authors. I tend not to post blogs about books I don't care about, and I rarely even write a hate screed against something I found awful. But I've decide to include some blurbs about a few. After all I've invested a lot of time into reading them, and maybe I can save others the trouble.

Charles Portis, The Dog of the South (1979). Portis has been called "one of the most inventively comic writers of western fiction". This characterization is completely beyond me. If this particular title is representative of his work, then I can think of few more misleading descriptors. The protagonist is a man who has just discovered his wife has left him with a man who has stolen his car. He decides to set off in pursuit of the wayward couple, and finds himself in Mexico. The most apt way I can describe Portis' writing style is to use the word 'meandering'. I don't necessarily require a clever plot to enjoy a book. I don't need unexpected twists and turns. I don't even need tons of sparkling dialog. But if you are going to center your narrative on a series of conversations between characters, their talk should convey an understanding about what these people are about. Instead Portis has his characters shoot the breeze about arbitrary subjects, and even then he fails to describe anything interesting. It's not that NOTHING happens in The Dog of the South... it's that there is no reason to care.

Dennis Cooper, Guide (1997). I had read that Cooper was a transgressive author, but I had no idea what he actually wrote about. This particular work is the fourth in the George Miles cycle, but Miles himself appears little here. Apparently he was a boy who Cooper fell in love with as a child, and with whom the author had a brief affair as an adult. None of that is necessary to understand what is happening in Guide. The protagonist seems to be Cooper himself, and the events portrayed may or may not be non-fiction. Much of it reads as wish fulfillment, as Cooper no doubt intends. The challenge is that his fantasies closely echo those of historical figures like Aleister Crowley and the Marquis de Sade. There is also quite a bit of William Burroughs at its core.

Stylistically Cooper is nothing special. His writing is very accessible. It's the subject matter that is likely to put off a lot of readers. Cooper is flamboyantly gay, and if that is a problem you should steer clear of this title straight away- because that is the mildest thing about the identity he shares with us. Apparently his fetishes include the idea of the murder and mutilation of underage boys. The amount of violence directed against the seemingly 'innocent' is truly frightening, and makes one wonder about the mental stability of the author. I guess this is the point in Cooper's work. He doesn't spend a lot of time apologizing for these themes. Perhaps he intends it to be titillating for his audience... but if that's the case, the work is meant only for extreme sadists. It takes a lot to turn off my fascination for different perceptions and world views- in this respect Cooper is a complete success. Still. Like when approaching a gory car accident, one wonders just how bad it can be. Despite the fact that I found most of this singularly unpleasant, I can't say for sure that I'll never read Cooper again.

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