Catcher In The Bananafish

Last October I told you about the unpublished chapter of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. But I think this tops it. Uncovered at this link are the “under-published” works of Jerome David Salinger. This collection consists mostly of out-of-print short stories. Salinger has deliberately kept most of these works out-of-print or off the market, so it should be said, the above linked website not only infringes on Salinger’s copyrights, it also makes certain material obtainable against Salinger’s will. But I’m not going to feel shamed for sharing the link, because some of it is fucking beautiful.

The Good People Of New York

First off, I loved Thisbe Nissen’s first effort, a collection of short stories entitled “Out of the Girls Room And Into The Night“. Go buy it. Now. But I’m disappointed to announce that her début novel “The Good People Of New York” just didn’t do it for me. It just fell flat. Glossing over he fact that at least two chapters of this novel were taken nearly straight from her collection of short stories, the story just didn’t seem to work. Thisbe Nissen seems to be long on incident and short on plot so I would suggest sticking to her short stories. Thisbe’s writing remained strong and there are moments of true brilliance, and more rarely, heart felt emotion. But the books downsides outweighed the upsides in my opinion. The pacing seemed strange, granted it’s difficult to encapsulate 20 plus years in less than 300 pages, but the speed was jerky; it slowed and accelerated awkwardly.

For a book that is about relationships, in “The Good People Of New York” Nissen did little to develop the relationship between the main characters Roz and her daughter Miranda. And to further muddle things, several characters created brief emotional relationships with each of the main characters but none of these interactions or affairs were built upon with conviction. Individuals simply breezed in and of the novel making impacts whose craters Thisbe neglected to explore.

The novel, however, was enjoyable and worth my time. I didn’t hate it but I surely didn’t love it. There were sections were Thisbe really shined (see below). I’d recommend this book to those interested in reading about mother/daughter relationships but I definitely won’t be reading it again.
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I should start by pointing out that Rebbecca Ray was only 16 years old when she began writing Pure, and it shows. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because the novel is about adolescence, Rebbecca Ray’s age while writing the novel keeps her closer to the subject matter. At the same time, her age often shows in her unpolished writing via some shallow characterization and a very poor ending. Pure is an admirable first effort for such a young writer and a decent cotton candy read but it is by no means a fantastic or important novel. I may have found this book more interesting than most due having enjoyed other, better novels with similar themes involving female adolescence.

Our unnamed narrator is a 14-year-old girl who is struggling desperately to find her place. She’s struggling to feel anything at all, really. The story begins with what appears to be a relatively normal British kid with problems the typical problems of peer acceptance, minor family problems, and just wanting to grow up. As the story moves forward we find that our main characters life is more complicated and not nearly as normal as we first expected. The narrators emotional ambiguity and sad apathy seem tip prove the helplessness of adolescence. The uncertainty of how to judge what is happening to her seems to the most poignant and truthful theme in the novel and that also of our teenage years that provide so many new experiences. As thing in her life become more complicated, problems with her parents escalate. When her overbearing father and ineffectual mother fall further apart, their 14-year-old daughter begins dating a man over twice her age. She allows, then craves abusive relationships and before long her feelings of self-loathing become self-destructive: hurt becomes love, repulsion becomes sexy, and pain is part of fitting in.

This novel harbors very little joy and it’s not sensational or sentimental. But being along similar veins of Perks Of Being A Wall Flower and Kids, this book is interesting in that it is both fascinating and upsetting to look at how growing up has changed for the modern child. You wince for the girl in this book, but you also relate; remembering what it was like, having been in that cool basement, on that lumpy couch, wondering if they actually like you back or are just fumbling toward an incomprehensible and obscure maturity too.

White Noise

Back in highschool, me and my friend Les would often stand in the hallway near our lockers during passing period and stare out the door. We wouldn’t talk to each other. We were too busy listening and didn’t want to interrupt what we were hearing: the sound of 400 students gossiping, spilling books, taunting, laughing, slamming lockers, eating snacks, chasing each other, smacking gum, copying homework, making out, tearing pages out of notebooks, etc. When we didn’t focus on one sound at a time but the on whole sound: a low penetrating, ominous, rumble would emerge. It was a hum you would hear only if you knew it was there. Soon, we noticed this could be done almost anywhere. It fascinated us, how this sound seemed to stand on its own, beyond the individuals creating it. Les was the only one I had ever told about my listening to this sound. I think because I thought he would be one of the few I knew who could appreciate it. To this day I could walk up behind Les and hum, and he’d know exactly what I was referring to: white noise.

As a close friend of pop culture, it’s very surprising that I thought Don DeLillo’s White Noise was, in a word, boring. At least mostly boring. The novel held some appealing wit. The scene with like the “Most Photographed Barn In America”, the near plane crash, and some of Jack Gladney’s conversations with his family I found really amusing in DeLillo’s dark and dry way. And though at times the novel produced a disturbed chuckle from me, I wouldn’t say that it was hilarious or even funny, really. In fact much of the time it was annoying and tedious. Yes, this novel was clever, but despite having many facets, it was not fascinating.

It’s true that the meat of DeLillo’s White Noise is held in its observations, not in its plot. But the story held almost no plot. The main character in White Noise tells us that all plots move deathward. Is it a valid reason for Delillo not to include a plot in this novel? I don’t think so.

It could very well be that I have become so accustomed to the torrent of information, often useless, swirling around me that I don’t think that the racket that it creates is worthy of a novel itself. Let alone bothering to read that novel. White Noise seems to be just more white noise. It’s not lost on me that may be exactly what DeLillo had intended.

I did enjoy the cultural themes presented in the novel. DeLillo reveals to us how we as participants in American culture are often more interested in the copy than in the original. We as a culture reject the real event in favor of the simulation. Representation supersedes experience. I also enjoyed the idea that death seems to be the only concept that can equal our society’s white noise in sheer force. And despite popular culture using glitz, packaging, and showiness in an attempt to hide death beneath the surface, death is in the end, inevitable. Despite what DeLillo is trying to portray, I don’t think death has disappeared from american culture, my death clock is testimony to that. Maybe I’m missing something. On the other hand, maybe I get it.

Is Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise high-end art? Maybe. Enjoyable? Maybe not.
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My Life Without Me

Last night I watched My Life Without Me (trailer can be found here). What a tear-jerker that was. I was a sniffling mess for a while there. I can’t remember who recommend this movie to me, but they said my Big List reminded them of it. Anyway, thanks whoeveryouare, it was really enjoyable. I thought it was a great movie, if not a bit depressing and a little manipulative, it really moved me. There are plenty of bad reviews out there for this movie, this isn’t one of them. I thought Sarah Polley did an incredible job. The stylization was just up my alley and the soundtrack was great to boot. The selfishness of the main character was lost on me till I started reading some negative views.

I also really enjoyed it because it correlated with the book I’m reading right now: White Noise by Don DeLillo. Both stories (the movie and the book) deal with the ever looming spectre of death, specifically terminal illness. They both deal with how we act when our time on earth becomes specifically finite. Neither of the characters (in both the movie and the book) choose to tell their spouses or their children. Is that OK to do? Are we obliged to tell our loved ones if we are going to die in two months? Are we saving them any suffering if we don’t? In addition, both main characters deal with issues of infidelity which draws even more parallels between the two stories. Anyway, I totally recommend the movie (as long as you don’t mind a good cry) and I’ll let you know about the book when I finish it.

An Underachiever’s Diary

“…I am, in all things, an underachiever, bound by nature to wrestle with the dull unanswerable and then give up, to the benefit of no one…”

A plain white cover with simply the Authors name, Benjamin Anastas, and the words An Underachiever’s Diary on it were so appealing, I bought the book without knowing anything about it. Benjamin Anastasi novella is not an awe-inspiring work of fictional literature, but it is an (deceptively) light, short, enjoyable read – particularly after having just read this behemoth. In fact there are times when the writing is excellent and the story bounces along hitting off of other literary works and social commentaries made by those such as Freud, Dostoevsky (particularly Notes From The Underground), and Thoreau. Anastasi ability to put both humor and humanity into most the sullen of characters can be attributed to his sound writing ability.

William, a self-proclaimed underachiever, gives the first person narration. William’s tale starts at his birth, which is significant because he was born seven minutes before his twin brother Clive, the last time he will ever be first at anything. Clive, is William’s antagonist and opposite. Clive is successful, charming, social skilled and an overachiever. The story continues through William’s childhood where he is slow to learn how to walk, talk, and get potty trained. Through his adolescence he is constantly in poor health with a long series of illnesses and injuries. His Jr. high years bring social awkwardness and the trials of sexual discovery both of which he is a miserable failure, but at this point in his life his begins to accept his calling as an underachiever. He puts himself into boarding school and soon finds himself at a “third rate” college in the Northeast. He spends five years lost in keg beer and failed relationships but he develops a philosophy along with a pride in being an underachiever. He soon relishes his ability to be unsuccessful and actually put himself in situations in order to fail. Eventually William comes to terms with his station in life and learns to cull faith and understanding from his flaws, a characteristic his “perfect” brother was never able to do. He acquires an ability to appreciate the broken and defective nature of humankind. The remainder of the novella that involves his adult life (failing at numerous jobs and eventually joining a cult) I found rather dull and a bit contrived. In addition the book ends somewhat flatly.

Anastas does a great job of describing Williams feelings. So much so that even the most successful will relate to him in some way. And as a thirty-year old myself (Williams age in the novella), I can help but look back on my life on occasion and wonder if I have achieved my potential. Anastas seems to be asking us to evaluate, or reevaluate what it means to be successful in life. All of us have a little underachiever in us somewhere. And I find myself a lot closer to William than Clive these days. Which is better, paltry happiness or sublime suffering?
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