Sunday, June 24, 2007

Early summer reviews and previews

The Pesthouse, by Jim Crace. A kindler gentler version of The Road, this book has some fine sequences but doesn't add up to much. Lead character Margaret was convincingly drawn but she wasn't much of an achievement, and her male counterpart Franklin contributed little. There were fine sequences involving a plague that swept a village, and a stay at a cult-like compound called the Ark, but this book struggled to distinguish itself from The Road's power. What's most interesting is that Cormac McCarthy and Jim Crace both set road novels in a blighted post-apocalyptic rural America. Once I finish Don DeLillo's new book Falling Man, I'll probably do a long write-up that no one will read about post-9/11 novels and writers confronting the void.

Other books, which no one will read: Nemesis by Chalmers Johnson, the third of his American Empire trilogy, didn't add much to The Sorrows of Empire. I've been re-reading some of the essays in Joseph Mitchell's Up In the Old Hotel, which I read my first summer in New York (six fucking years ago!) and is even better now. I remain sad about not liking The Yiddish Policemen's Union.

John From Cincinnati. This show might be the fucking awesomeness and the triumph and the tits and that's the truth. I've read comparisons to Robert Altman, which seem not inaccurate but not quite there, and it's been called "surf noir," which doesn't seem quite right, and to me it's got a certain feel of serious Coen Brothers (Blood Simple; Miller's Crossing) before they got all flip. (If, like me, you've been saddened by recent Coen Brothers output, No Country for Old Men had a great response at Cannes.) The marketing unimpressive, the premise exhausting, but this is may be underpromising and overdelivering. Magic realism isn't normally my bag but I'm finding these characters more interesting than any on HBO since Six Feet Under and The Sopranos dropped out of the birth canal.

Flight of the Conchords. I hated the first episode and originally planned to write a merciless bashing. The second episode had better footing. It's nothing special -- it would do fine on NBC -- but it's engaging enough and unlike Entourage appears to be about people who actually do things and have conversations and shit. I sort of wish they'd shot for something trickier than a couple of hipsters living on the Lower East Side: What if the dudes were from Alabama, and instead of playing boring indie lameness they did some kind of weird Robbie Fulks country music, and the show didn't have such a smug tone? It's a step up from HBO's string of nightmares (Lucky Louie, The Comeback, Entourage, Tourgasm).

(Pedantic digression: they clearly live in a one-bedroom on either Forsythe or Chrystie Street, but there are a bunch of exteriors shot around Brooklyn, and why the hell was one of the musical sequences (which I don't think add much to the show) set at the Marcy Avenue stop at the JMZ? I spend half the time trying to figure out where they are in the city and what they're doing there.)

Big Love. Like the axiom about Chinese food (which I've never found true) Big Love is always filling at the time, and then an hour later you're hungry. Always engaging, somewhat affecting, its stories have never amounted to much, but with such strong actors and a premise with legs, I always enjoy it. This season has centered more heavily on Barb, the smartest and most likable of the group. I find myself rooting for Barb and wanting her to pull away; for Bill to get his comeuppance; and for his son (a bigger tool than AJ Soprano) to get smacked into reality.

The White Stripes, Icky Thump. Sheer fucking fun, a total thrill, goddamn son. "You Don't Know What Love Is ..." is the missing track from Sticky Fingers. Listened to it in bed this morning and tried to imagine the song with Mick's voice and it worked. "St. Andrew ..." is fearsome: it brought to mind the acid-trip sequence in Easy Rider. "St. Andrew ..." segues into "Little Cream Soda," which sounds like music to get murdered by. I'm not a White Stripes cultic and tend to underestimate them, then every time I put on one of their albums I have small epiphanies. This time, there's no diversion like "It's True That We Love One Another" or "Passive Manipulation." The album is exciting and relentless.

Unrelated: There's a trailer up for Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, based on an Upton Sinclair book and starring Daniel Day Lewis. It will surely be awesome-assed.

Books to read:
  • Falling Man, by Don DeLillo. The reviews were tough, but the first 25 pages are excellent, something close to his old form after disasters Cosmopolis and The Body Artist.
  • On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan. Based on the New Yorker excerpt, I don't expect to like it.
  • Black Dogs, by Ian McEwan. A palette cleanser.
  • Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. I didn't like the first two sections, but it may be a slow-burn kind of book.
  • Mrs. Dalloway. To the Lighthouse is the only Virginia Woolf I've read.
  • Moby Dick. A re-reading is overdue.
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning, by Jonathan Mahler. I like sports, politics, and New York.
  • The Assault on Reason, by Al Gore. I've been reading too many of these kinds of books lately.
  • Nixon and Kissinger, by Robert Dallek. Maybe?
  • Cicero, by Anthony Everitt. Probably not going to happen. Studied some of the Greeks in college, but the Romans are a gap in my edjukayshin.
The Spree has traded in their robes.

Upcoming shows:
  • Wilco. Even though the new album blows.
  • The Polyphonic Spree. They're not a band to "get into," but their live shows are an awesome, crushing spectacle.
  • Besnard Lakes. They released a lovely and striking album, but this one is a roll of the dice.
  • The White Stripes. Floor seats at the Garden, motherfuckers.
  • The Hold Steady. Live at Prospect Park? Not the venue I'd pick for them, but they haven't had a show in the city for what feels like forever, and I'm feeling like a dry drunk.
I only go to theater for plays about politics. Frost/Nixon. I'd like to write a book about Nixon someday.


Todd said...

Big Love makes me angry. I don't know why. I watch it, then think about it later and I just get angry.

crimenotes said...

There's something about the utter certainty of these characters, their sense of righteousness despite being so twisted, that's grating, and always played very straight.

voidoid said...

Big Love promises "Brief Nudity" in nearly every episode, and it always end up being Bill Paxson's ass, which is not why I tune in. "Brief Nudity" involving Chloe Sevigny is the reason I tune in, but that never happens.

Flight of the Conchords is incredibly funny, and, since I've DVR'd it, it gets more hysterical every time I re-watch the first episode. Easily the best show on TV since Stella. But yes, the "time warps" between the LES and Marcy JMZ stop are off-putting.

voidoid said...

And fuck MSG for dropping Dan Sartain as the White Stripes' opener. He's only opening every other show on the fucking tour, but MSG thinks New Yorkers would prefer "Grinderman". You guys don't know what you're missing, Swami Records don't make no junk.

Of course, seeing the White Stripes in a venue that holds more than 200 people seems silly, they don't exactly scream "arena rock."

CrimeNotes said...

We have different tastes regarding Conchords and Stella; Bill Paxton's ass is annoying; and I confess no knowledge of Griderman or Dan Sartain. Grinderman is not a good name for a band.

Jaime said...

If you're not feeling so into 'Cloud Atlas' (and that might change as you get deeper into it, though my favorite section was Frobisher), 'Black Swan Green' might be more your speed. More about story, less about form, still fantastic writing.

Have you already seen Frost/Nixon? I'm going later this summer, but I'd love to hear what you think.

Also, not that you don't have enough, and not that you were asking for suggestions, but you should think about reading 'The Intuitionist.' Fucking brilliant, and I think you might love it.

CrimeNotes said...

Really liked "John Henry Days" and have meant to pick up "The Intuitionist." Colson Whitehead can write.

David Mitchell may just not be my speed. I read "Black Swan Green." I thought that it was fine but it didn't add up to that much for me. There were some fine moments. I thought it was nicely written but it didn't quite knock me out. So far "Cloud Atlas" -- which I'd been looking forward to reading for a year or two -- left me cold. I had to put it aside.

Now 50 pages into "Falling Man," I think it's terrific. The reviews have been so tough that the bottom is probably about to drop out. We'll see.

All things Richard Nixon make me geek out, so I'm sure I'll write about Frost/Nixon after I've seen it.

Cock D said...

Not to be a pest - but.... Is there any movement on the Tournament of Everything?

CrimeNotes said...

The Tournament of Everything will finish. The pressure is all on me. I was struggling to think through the Bob Dylan vs. Animal House semin-final and couldn't find a form to do justice to these two heavyweights. I froze. I can't just write a normal compare-and-contrast. Do I try to do it as a fictional Dylan song? Do I try to write it in the voice of Flounder? What? It remains a case of writer's block.

Jason said...

Book reviews like these make me thank God I never learned to read.

CrimeNotes said...

But it was such a short and harmless review!

I've got fucking power.

Jaime said...

If the formal twistiness of Cloud Atlas doesn't do it for you, and the writing so far isn't doing it for you, I'd leave it be and read The Intuitionist.

Todd said...

Well, I didn't expect such an easy explanation, but I think that's it exactly.

Now if I can only memorize that and pull it out when Fiancee asks what I think about the latest show.

crimenotes said...

Jaime: I feel like I should learn to love David Mitchell. People I respect rave about him. I'm not ready to let go of Cloud Atlas yet. There's also the principle of never quitting a book once you've cracked it, which is why Against the Day and Infinite Jest (which I bought in hardcover in college when it first came out) sit untouched on the shelf.

Todd: Just because the show doesn't judge them doesn't mean we can't, although we all have different threshold for misogyny and religious fundamentalism.

Jaime said...

I too, bought Infinite Jest in hardcover when it came out. But I didn't even come close to finishing. Flat out gave up. First time I had found a book too hard to read in a long time. But then, I was thirteen.

crimenotes said...

Wow, you're just a damn kid.