I haven’t posted in awhile

Why?

Well, turns out that getting divorced has proven to be more difficult than I could have ever imagined. It’s sapped me of my of a lot of my enthusiasm. Not all. But most. And the longer I went without posting the harder it was to sit down and do it. I don’t know.

So is this my come back? I have not a fucking clue. May be that I’m just super bored tonight and needed something to break the tedium, to occupy myself while I sit here alone in my half-empty one-bedroom apartment. Or, maybe I’m finally emerging from my hibernation or whatever you want to call it, and I’ll be blasting out posts pretty regularly from now on. Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

There’s something about this time of year, just as it’s getting cold and the first snowfall of the year occurs. It reminds me of my more optimistic days, when I was a student at Eastern, sitting in my dorm, reading a paperback, and still firm in my belief that I would be a writer some day, a real writer, a novelist or short story writer, the Hemingway of my generation.

I guess that’s why I recently picked up my copy of “Bright Lights, Big City” read it again. It was the book that really made me want to be a writer. It was my permission book, the one that showed me that I could write about the experiences that I thought were relevant because they were my experiences.

It’s funny, you know. Bright Lights isn’t a very thick  novel. It’s not very complex either. But each time I read it — and I’ve read it a number of times, so many that I’ve lost count — I seem to find something new in it, see it in a different way. When I first read it it was the partying and bar-hopping and drug use that really struck me, because it reflected experience that I was familiar with. I graduated in 1986 and spent my early twenties in the late 80s. But this time it was the character’s heartbreak that really impressed me, that I connected with. I never really understood it before. But I do now. I really understand it. Unfortunately…

And like the last line of the novel reads, I, like the narrator, feel as if I need to learn everything all over again.

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Bright Lights, Big City redux

When it gets cold like this, especially if it’s accompanied by snow, I’m reminded of when I lived in the dorms at school. Sitting with my feet up on the radiator, reading. While through my window I had a view of the dorm complex courtyard coated with a layer of snow that twinkled in the bright, even harsh at times, sunlight.  I read a lot. The book I read more than any other was Jay McInerney’s novel, Bright Lights, Big City. (Less than Zero by Brett Easton Ellis was a close second) And today  I’m compelled to read it again, as I have been doing almost every years since I first discovered, not when it was first published in 1984 but in 1988 after seeing the movie, staring Michael J. Fox, Kiefer Sutherland and Phebe Cates.

I know that BLBC, like it’s author, has something of checkered past, and that even McInerney himself refers to it at times as a kind of albatross around his neck. The books was and still is sometimes mocked. Sometimes I wonder when a Best of Bad McInerney contest is going to be created, if it doesn’t exist already. The second person narrative technique employed is often dismissed as nothing more than a clever device. Perhaps. But no book before it nor since has continued to resonate with me, has regulaly lured me back to read it again, has made me want to write. For me, it was my persmisson book – it gave me permission to write about what I really wanted to write about because I didn’t know you could write about such things; I wasn’t very well read at the time, so sue me. Before I’d read BLBC it was J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, of course, that held that distinction but it was quickly replaced.

I’m trying to resist the impulse to set aside what I’m reading now to read BLBC because I’m perpetually backed up on my reading and never seem able to make a dent in the stack of books that I want to read, it just keeps growing, but forces seems to be conspiring against me.

This morning the movie was on cable. Of course, it is not a very good movie but even so I’ve watched it many times. Less Than Zero is a better movie. But a remake of BLBC: the movie is in the works, due to be released in 2010. I’m curious to see what comes of it this time around. I’ve often wondered what it would been like if Woody Allen  had directed it or perhaps Ed Burns. My person preference would be for Stephen Sodeberg to do it. But I think the guy who produced and directed Gossip Girls for TV is doing it.

No doubt, in the end I’ll succumb to t his impulse to read BLBC yet again.And maybe this year of all years I shouldn’t even attempt to resist since 2009 marked the 25the aniversery of it’s publication. And as such maybe this year more than most it deserves a re-read.

I wonder if McInerney, because he seems to want to be remembered for his more sophisticated novels, is balking at a 25th aniversary edtion of BLBC. Or maybe they’re simply waiting until the movies comes out, releasing them together.

Edward’s mistress basis for McInerney character

Turns out Rielle Hunter, the woman that John Edwards was nailing was the basis for the fictional character Alison Poole, the heroin of Jay McInerney‘s third novel, Story of My Life.

McInerny dated Hunter back in the 80s, but back then she was known as Lisa Druck. Why the name change? Who knows? According to the Jayster, Hunter/Druck is a nice girl but used to be a real party girl. But hey, it was the 80s and she was a model, so, you know.

For anyone who hasn’t read Story of My Life, it is one of McInerney’s better works. Not as good as Bright Lights, Big City, but definitely better than Ransom, a real lackluster follow up to Bright Lights, but then chances were just about anything would have been.

Story of My Life follows Alison Poole on her many debauched escapades/sexcapades through the NYC nightlife. Like Bright LIghts, it is fast and funny, ironic, but also ultimately sad, a commentary on the overindulgent lifestyles of the time, which is critical but not entirely unsympathetic. It is probably my second favorite novel of McInerney’s, after Bright Lights, of course.

So here’s what I’m wondering: how long before Hunter gets a book contract for her memoir?

Jay McInerney’s “new” short story collection

Jay McInerney has a review of Andre Dubus III’s new novel, The Garden of Last Days, in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review. Dubus’ new novel has not been getting very good reviews, and McInerney’s was no exception really. It must be difficult to follow a novel as good as The House of Sand and Fog, which was a National Book Award finalist as well as an Oprah book. It was also made into a movie, staring Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley. I really dug the movie, but I confess that I never read the book. What can I say? It simply slipped so far off my radar that it I lost sight of it. And it was an Oprah book, which, for some reason, makes me even less inclined to read a book. Anyhoo… that wasn’t really my point for this blog. I noted in the little bio blurb of the reviewer that accompanies every review that McInerney has a new short story collection coming out in January of 2009. It’s called How It Ended, which is, oddly enough, the title of a previously published collection of short stories by JM. At last, I think it is or was. It’s kind of confusing.

As near as I can figure, back in like 1998 McInerney pub’d a hardcover book that was a short novel and 7 stories entitled Model Behavior. One of the stories in that book is titled “How It Ended.” Later, the novel was published in paperback without the short stories. But in 2001 a collection of JM’s stories was published under the title — wait for it — How it Ended. I’ve never physically handled a copy of this book but I’m guessing it was the 7 stories from original hardcover edition of Model Behavoir. I’m assuming they were split up under the assumption that more money could be made from two books than one. Or perhaps Vintage decided for some reason that they only wanted the novel from Model Behavior to pub in paperback format. Because the short story collectiong, How it Ended, is pub’d by Bloomsbury. I don’t think that is unusual.

But here’s my wonder. Is this supposedly new collection of short stories really a new collection. Or is it simply the original 7 with a few more added in. Jay McInerney isn’t really known for his short stories. If you read any of them, you’d understand why. They don’t suck, but they’re no great shakes. Not like say the stories of Tobias Wolff who had a new collection of collected and new stories pubbed this past year, or Mary Gaitskil, who supposedly has a new collection coming out soon.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not one of those inveterate Jay McInerney bashers. I loved Bright Lights, Big City instantly and I still admire it and reread it regularly. But I remember being pretty disappointed with Ransom, his second novel, a quick follow up that seems to have been rushed to press to capitalize on his sudden fame. Of course, Story of My Life made up for that. And while I agree that his next novel, Brightness Falls, was a more mature work, it simply did not click with me in the same way that Bright Lights and Story did. Those shorter,  hipper, riff-like novels really seem to be McInerney’s strenght, furhter proof of which can be found by reading Model Behavoir,  but of course he wants to be taken more seriously than that. I don’t know. Just my persons conjecture. Also, I’ve always suspected that the title of Brightness Falls was a calculate move on McInerney and his publisher’s part to connect it back to Bright Lights, Big City. But what do I know.

So I guess I’m just wondering if McInerney is putting out this “new” collection just to have something to put out, just because he has enough stories to make a collection, and perhaps his ego needs it. In any case, it might be disingenuous to call it a new collection when it might be more of a collected and new edition or perhaps simply an updated edition. I don’t know.

I’ve always had a rather strange relationship with Jay McInerney and his work. On the one hand, I really dig his writing, and admire much of his work, so much so that when I was younger I was determined to model him, to write my version of Bright Lights, Big City set in Metro Detroit. Lame, I know, but there it is. I’ve followed his career pretty closely, eager for each new book he puts out, and enjoying his nonfiction writing as well, book reviews and wine columns and such. But I have to say when I was in grad school I didn’t talk much about my fetish for writers like McInerney and Brett Easton Ellis, for fear of being looked down on by high brow literary types who’s high standards refused to even aknowledge such poppy writers much less discuss them seriously. But I’ve been out of grad school some 12 years now and I’m still returning to McInereny’s work as well as being interested in his new stuff, but perhaps with a more mature sensibility.

His most recent novel, The Good Life, was okay. I was excited when I discovered it was coming out and I enjoyed it well enough but it seemed like a book that he struggled to write, a book that her perhaps felt he had to write, just to get through it and be done with it so that he could move on, otherwise he might be stopped up indefinitely. He’d gone some eight years without having produced a substantial work of fiction. My hope was that his next book would be a major work for him. But with the news of this “new” story collection, I can’t help but wonder if that was just wishful thinking.

Of course, there is the possibility that this story collection was simply a way to keep his name in the ether while he completes his next novel. But if he wanted to do that one wonders why he simply didn’t issue some kind of 25th anniversary edition of Bright Lights, Big City. It was pubbed in 1984. The 25th anniversary comes up next year. Of course, he may not want that to overshadow his new work, his real new work, not some bullshit story collection.

Having said that, I’ll be keeping an eye out for it and will buy me a copy when it hits the bookstores.

Vacation Reading List

Whenever I go on vacation I make it a point to not just grab any old thing to read. I try to pick out something that I’ve been meaning to read but have been unable to yet. Especially if I am going to be on a plane because that affords me a solid block of time to delve into a book. For this trip I brought along several books — 2 novels, 1 story collection, and 1 non-fiction book. I did not expect to read them all. I don’t have such a capacity. But I seem to need a tiny library when I do travel. Just in case.

For this trip my focus was on Brett Easton Ellis’ novel, Galmorama. It is the only book by Ellis’ that I have not yet read. I’ve had a hard copy edition for some years and have attempted to read it several times but never got further than maybe 20 pages in. I bought a paperback copy to read on the plane as it is a rather bulky book and have read about 60 pages in so for.

In some ways Glamorama resembles American Psycho. In fact, Patrick Bateman, the MC of AS makes an appearance in this novel, which was written after AS. But then a lot of people make appearances in it. The novel is concerned with celebrity culture. The main character is Victor Ward, male model and It Boy of the moment. He’s opening a new club. And the invite list is long, full of all manner of celebs. Victor is dating a big time model, Chloe. But he’s also running around with Alison Poole, another model/actress, who happens to be the main character in Jay McInerney’s novel, Story of My Life.

As with American Pyscho, the obsession with superficial details is frustrating but oddly compelling as well.

I did just finish a part where Victor meets with his father, which provided a bit more depth to the character, but it was short-lived. And yet enough to compel me on. The plot is supposed to involve terrorists eventually, in some way, I understand.

My main purpose in reading Glamorama is to explore a theme in Ellis’ work that I read about in a more recent article about the author. That theme is essentially the subversion of deep feeling by intensity of sensation, mainly via drug, sex and violence. When I read that it made immediate sense to me. Not just in terms of Ellis’ writing but in much of the culture of the 80s, in which I came of age.

I am always seeking out good reasons to use to defend Ellis’ work, as he has so many detractors and critics, some savagely so. I like to be at the ready to counter such arguments, especially to types who rant about his novel American Pyscho but who have failed to read it, and in fact refuse to read it.

More on X Lit.

I’m almost finished with the novel, Jennifer Government by Max Barry, and it definitly qualifies as X Lit. Not only is it funny and ironic, but many of the characters seem to be caught in a state “stuckness,” obliged to jobs that they not only dislike, but in fact hate, and even find, well, to be immoral on any number of levels. Then of course there is the portrayal of a society so dominated by corporate interests that individuals’ last names depend on the company they work for — John Nike, Billy NRA, etc. Additionally, the government is literally bankrupt, requiring victims to fund investigations (can anyone say Social Security). Characters attempt to opt out of the system and exist apart from it with varying degress of succeccess. Some fail because they simply cannot compete with so much powers. Others are seduced by money. Creativity is co-opted by corporations for profit. Lives are taken in the interest of profit. This scenario is one that persists as a possibly nightmare come true for many Gen Xers, who seem to share a vague sense of certainty that things will not work out in the end. Things will ultimately end badly. And yet our better angels compel us to stive, in spite of thie angst.

Anyhoo… this got me thinking about other X Lit. authors and books, and I thought I’d try to list them here, as much as possible.

There is Douglas Coupland, of course, especially his novel, Generation X, but his other works qualify as well.

Brett Easton Ellis, by virtue of his age to begin with, but also his themes, particularly in Less Than Zero, the way he deals with gender roles and sexuality seems in tune with an Xer ethos.

Jay McInerney, especially Bright Lights, Big City. Of course, I struggle with this particular one. Does JM really qualify as a Gen X author? Born in 1955, he’s 53, which puts him with the Boomers. Even a recent article, in Time I think it was, classified him as a Boomer. And yet, I seem to want to co-opt him into Gen X, at least for me. Why? Perhap because his first book, BLBC, was formative to me as a writer; it seemed to give me permission to write about the things I’d experienced, to a degree, even though I never lived in NYC or or worked in magazine publishing in Manhattan or dated a model. I did my share of coke and club hopping. I suppose it is more of an 80s novel than a Gen X novel. And while the two realms may overlap they are not equal. A more detailed argument is required to claim Mr. McInerney convincingly. I wonder what he would think?

David Foster Wallace

Rick Moody

Michael Chabon

Jhumpar Lahiri

Junot Diaz

And while it might seem out of left field I am going to add Cormac McCarthy, especially his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road. Dystopian fiction is very Gen X, in that it expresses all our worst fears come true, and The Road certainly does that. Also, McCarthy was a man who opted out of the maintstream world for much of his life, living off the grid in a shack in Tenn at one time. He was often broke or close to it, unemployed, but he persisted. He still does, quietly, rarely granting interview because it seems he finds it unproductive, merely boastful. The only way he would interview with Oprah was if she came to him — and really how often does that happen. He lived on the fringe, mostly overlooked until quite recently, as has Generation X. At age 73 or so, McCarthy is a clear case of how the X ethos has more to do with a way of looking at the world than it does with one’s age.

Perhaps an interesting study in contrasts between Boomer and Gen X writers could come out of examing the careers and works of Stephen King, a Boomer born in 1947, and his two writer sons, Joe Hill, born 1972, and Owen King, born 1976. Of course, Hill has just two books to his credit and Owen King only one but over time it could prove insightful.

But returning to the idea of dystopian fiction: I say this is a Gen X preoccupation simply because the “end of the world” was something that me and my friends when we were younger used to talk about quite a bit. Probably because we lived with the threat of nuclear war between the US and the then Soviety Union. Our war was The Cold War. The fact that it never came to pass (although it still could, simply with other players firing the shots) doesn’t make it any less significant.

Few things get me more indignant than Boomers who claim that Gen Xers are a spoiled generation because  we did not grow up with war. Boomers, of course, had Vietnam, the grand-mother-fucker of all wars, which they seem to have a sick affection for, so much so that a small group of their ilk, i.e. the Bush adminstration, felt a need to recreate it. The Iraq War is as much a reenactment of Vietnam as it is a war unto itself. Even those Boomers in power who now take a public stance against The Iraq War have done little to end it. And many not only did nothing to prevent but approved it with their vote — Yeah, I’m looking at you Hillary!

I actually once had conversation with a Boomer woman and her Vietnam vet husband (which because of his status I was pretty much not allowed to have much an opinion on the issue that didn’t agree with them) who claimed that my generation did not know war. When I brought up the Cold War, she dismissed the argument. She seemed to think that because it did not fit her conventional definition of war, i.e. it was not Vietnam (she barely aknowledged, Korea, or either of the WW wars) that it did not apply. But I argued that it was a real war and that it did have real affects on the young people that grew up in its shadow. The Cold War for many Gen Xers, though not all, was the nuclear annihilation equivalent of the school bully promising to kick your ass but not telling you exactly when or where he was going to do it. When you least expect it…expect it. It could happen at any moment.

That kind of threat can really fuck with your head. You begin to think, well, we’re all going to die some day anyway so what is the point of anything. What is the point of getting good grades? What is the point of waiting to have sex, when you may not live long enough to get married to have sex? Fuck now! I mean, there was a time when I actually believed that I would not live to see the age of 21, so of course I drank, got drunk, did stupid ass shit as a teenager. It may seem irrational now, but hindsight is 20/20. At the time, in the moment, it seemed very fucking real! And it was scary as shit. Some people are still surprised that their is a cohort of you people that, when they were young, feared that a sudden, blinding flash of light would be their last vision of the world — and it could come at any time! It could happen now….now….now…now…

Perhaps this is why I am intrigued by Zombie movies andcollapse of society fiction — The Stand, by Stephen King was one of my favorite books when I was younger; I read it over and over. Even today, I have Zombie dreams, especially after I became a father. And in 2003, when the power went out, I freaked a little. Caught in traffic on my way to pick up my then toddler daughter with a gas tank on fumes, I pulled over into a Wal-Mart parking lot and began walking the 7-10 miles to my parents’ house. Of course, it would have been smarter to walk the 1.5 miles back home, get my wife’s mountain bike, and ride there, but I simply was not thinking straight. And all the clogged traffic, the honking horns, the frustrated drivers yelling and honking their horns made me frett that everything could crumble into chaos at any moment. I was watching carefully for the signs. For it to happen now…now…now…

In any case, there are no doubt many more Gen X books and authors. Our early circumstances, graduating into poor economies that made it difficult to find the kinds of jobs we had hoped for may have had the hidden bonus of creating a lot of good writers and artists, filmmakers etc.