Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Notes on Dogville Vs Hollywood, Vernon God Little, & The Shipping News

I finally received my copies of Dogville Vs. Hollywood in the Mexican post, about two months after they were sent. The book looks great, and despite my half-hearted efforts not to do so, I am now caught up reading it again, as it were for the first time. There is a big difference between going over an MS for revisions, proof-reading, etc, and reading a published work. Once it is set in text, as it were, my critical writer/editor’s brain can relax and I am able to more or less enjoy the work as it. More or less.

So far, on chapter two, my “objective,” ha ha, assessment is as follows: the introduction blew me away. The first two pages must constitute the most profound comments ever made about Hollywood in a hundred years or more. That’s my objective opinion, of course.

Yes, I am biased to over-appreciate and value those moments when genius occasionally deigns to touch this humble author, producing such astoundingly original and profound thoughts eloquently and wittingly phrased. Perversely enough, I felt frustrated rather than pleased while reading these two pages, thinking about the fact that, so far, besides the Leeds Guide, no one has bothered to review the book. How could they ignore a work that starts so smashingly as this!!!???

Later, weary from the past few weeks’ continued attempts to get the world to NOTICE me, I decided, neither for the first nor I am sure the last time, that I was misguided in this pursuit, and that it is all about THE WORK, nothing at all about the world’s response to it. Besides, according to the argument of my book, the nature of the mediocracy is to resist new and overly creative ideas (viruses) and embrace instead more mediocre retreadings of old worn-out ground, anything that is pleasantly familiar and equally non-threatening. By such circular reasoning, if a work fails to ignite the world with enthusiastic praises and endorsement, this is itself confirmation that it is a grrreat work. Yeah.

It is all about the work, and the only true joy comes from knowing that one has done something as well as one could, and gazing upon that work, having it laugh back at one, like a newborn babe, and say “Hi Dad!” That is the only real measure of success for “an artist.”

Reading on, I found chapter one a little shaky, somewhat deflating my rapidly expanding self-esteem. But chapter two is strong again, though nowhere near as strong as the intro, and rather more errors have snuck in than i feel happy about. (Probably, the book starts with a bang and ends with a roar, and rather meanders in between. I think I attempted to save my energies for a final burst of inspiration in the last chapter; then later I found out, from my publisher Marion Boyars, that reviewers tend to read only the first and last chapters anyway!)

So that’s what I have been up to of late, devouring my own excreta, as it were, and enjoying it enormously. I definitely recommend it (the book that is, not devouring your own excreta.)

Recently I tried to read Vernon God Little, a book that people have made such a hop-te-doodah big hairy deal over. I disliked it. Actually I only read part one before passing it on to my wife, figuring she could tell me if it got any better. She didn’t much care for it either but read it all the way through, said it didn’t get better but worse. Yet people are falling over themselves to praise this smart-ass “look-at-me,” hipper-than-thou, post-post-modern, sub-Vonnegut/Heller/Robbins, 21st century, smugly cynical piece of pseudo-literature shite! Vernon Git Little, if you ask me. well OK, it wasn’t that bad, but it occurred to me while reading it (and resenting all the praise it got), that it may be a distinct DIS-advantage to have one’s work overly praised and touted by the Mediocracy, since it raises readers’ expectations, and as in this case, pre-inclines them to be disappointed or annoyed by the book when it doesn’t live up to the hype. If I had neve heard of VGL and knew nothing of all the raves and awards, I might even have finished the damn thing. And though I doubt I’d have liked it much more, I at least wouldn’t have found it so irritating. Of course, you could say that’s my problem.

I had more luck with The Shipping News, which though I had to really work at and found pretty boring most of the time, I could at least appreciate as a piece of literature. As it happened, I only persevered to the end because my wife had read it first and loved it. Plus again, all those damn awards, I figured I would at least get to the end. Unlike the Vernon crap, I could see it was a good book that was well written, but it just didn’t grab me. (Oddly, the first ten pages hooked me much more than anything that came afterwards, though I liked the last fifty pages or so.)

I’d even go so far as to call the prose beautiful, haunting, etc; also the main character of Quoyle had a lot of substance and poignancy, stayed with me for a while after. Fortunately, I had avoided seeing the shitty Hollywood movie, with Kevin Spacey no doubt doing his Tom Hanks “I am so sweet and harmless so love me” schtick (why the hell doesn’t he stick to playing Satan and other vicious but deliciously intellectual cold fish characters?). As a result, I didn’t have that Hollywood imprint to interfere with my visualization processes. My problem with the book was that it was too damn wordy. There was a good story somewhere in there, but it was too damn hard to find amidst all the billowing sea foam and damp odors and crumpling waves and malefic spirits, the fountains of blackflies and “the sea’s hypnotic boil.”

In the end (pretty quickly actually) the beauty and lyricism of the prose caused my mind to get blurry and tune out in search of a meaty storyline. Also, the unnaturally truncated sentences, refreshing at first, became kind of annoying by the end, almost like the writer couldn’t be bothered to write full sentences. It felt like I was reading a treatment rather than a novel, and so my mind started to skim over the words. All in all, I guess I took in about 30% of the book and missed the rest. It’s not something I’d recommend to many people, but I’m still glad I read it. A unique vision, and unlike Vernon Glib Little, one that comes straight from the heart, not out the arse.

with apologies to the many adoring fans of this book: "taste is the great divider" (Pauline Kael)

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