Monday, March 9, 2009

#4 of 2009: Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Mitchell is another author whose works seem, at first glance, to be simplistic and tongue-in-cheek and easy to finish, but they end up being all of the above and none of the above at the same time. What should be a quick read always finds a way of becoming complex without ever hinting at the mechanics that allow this trick to happen, a deceptively simple narrative unfolding into something rife with literary gimmicks and bizarre tales-within-a-tale that will leave you placing a bookmark between the pages and taking a break just to make sure your brain has absorbed the info properly.

That’s my excuse. I’m sticking to it. That’s my reason for never finishing Mitchell in a timely fashion.

Unlike Ghostwritten, Number9Dream sticks with one main character the whole way through, but in the eight chapters that cover the four-hundred-page novel there is a cast of characters almost too bizarre to be believable. Almost. We follow a young island hick in the big city looking for his unnamed father, a man who impregnated his mother and ran off, only to run into yakuza (multiple times), a concert pianist, a video store owner/capsule hotel landlord, a crazy train station employee, a wannabe hacker, a Korean bar hostess and several weirdo pizza delivery employees. Not to mention the equally weird pizzas they make.

It’s a strange story, told in a strange style, and once again I’m going to have to come out and claim a better understanding of the work would be had after a second reading. I notice myself making this claim a lot. Perhaps I read too quickly, to shallowly, to understand everything my eyes scan over. Perhaps I’m just not cut out for “intellectual” work. Perhaps I’m lazy.

Perhaps, like Number9Dream, I’m everything at once.

3/5, only for being layered enough to require a second reading.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

#3 of 2009: JPod by Douglas Coupland

2009 started off funny and has continued that way for a while.

First I became rather entranced with the idea of using this year to whittle my way through all the DVDs I’ve amassed over the years. If there’s one thing I love to collect as much as books it’s DVDs. I’ve been running on the elliptical and watching movies every day with the dual goal of losing a considerable amount of weight and seeing a considerable amount of movies and so far this year I’ve shed fifteen pounds and twenty-five DVDs.

Not too shabby.

Of course, all of this comes with the sacrifice of reading time. Not to despair, though, because I’ve lost my job as well, freeing me up for all kinds of time-consumptive projects. At this point in my life, losing my job might very well have been the best thing to happen in years, but this period of empty space is going to have to be incredibly short and bittersweet as I try to find a job in this very depressed market while reading, writing and watching movies on a tighter budget.

Good thing I have all this stuff already on my shelves, huh?

I burned my way through JPod in a matter of days. This is my fist Coupland novel, though I’ve been aware of him for years, and I’ve got to say I’m a bit angry at myself for not turning on to him much sooner. JPod is the kind of sarcastic, ironic, meta-book that I think I’ve been dreaming of. It’s almost post-modern but not quite so, caught up in a world full of penis-enlargement emails, lists of pi that last ten pages, missives from Nigerian scammers and concepts for the shittiest video games ever almost-made.

God, I love it. It's almost like reading Max Barry, whom I've already fallen quite head over heels for in a strictly literary-related sense, but not quite. It's Coupland's own distinct voice, completely different from Barry's, but they have the same sense of irony and humor combined with distaste for corporate retardation that gets me every time.

One of the traits of successful writers that I don’t believe I myself possess is the ability to create characters that flow through any and all situations, and the ability to make these situations arise without feeling contrived. God, when I write any emergence of the absurd or grotesque feels so forced that it immediately shames me. I feel like a walking cliche generator, a hack, someone who can’t even conjure the most basic characters or personalities.

JPod is life, the life of nerds and techies blending in with the rest of society, as seen through the glass of a slightly morbid funhouse mirror. What you’re looking at is completely real and mostly true, but it’s stretched a bit in ways that are physically improbable at best. But it’s great, and a blast to look at, and it reminds you of yourself in some kind of fucked-up manner that makes you also grateful at the same time that it’s not a complete mirror of your life.

Really, really good. I’m looking forward to rereading it sometime soon.


Now, back to Number9Dream, another great book that was misplaced somewhere in my house for a while. Hope I haven’t already lost my momentum with this one.

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