March 28th, 2007

Great debut novel: Nick Antosca's FIRES

I just finished reading a very striking first novel, Nick Antosca's FIRES (Impetus Press).  Antosca was a creative writing student of John Crowley's at Yale, and the book arrived with blurbs from Crowley (comparing the author to James Salter) and Scott Heim (MYSTERIOUS SKIN). 

FIRES bears a few hallmarks of First Novel Syndrome — there's quite a bit of Ivy league undergrad dissipation (which brings to mind the old saw that "everything changes but the avant garde" ) but I'm sympathetic to this sort of thing ("hypocrite lecteur! mon sembable, mon frere" etc.). 

Jon, the novel's young protagonist, is embroiled in an obsessive, sexually transgressive affair evocative of the hothouse atmospherics of Scott Spencer's ENDLESS LOVE, when he learns that his lover was previously involved with a high school acquaintance from his home town, Bondurant, Maryland. 

But Bondurant is burning, literally and figuratively — a drought has brought devastating fires to the surrounding mountains.  And a superbly sinister, frightening figure known as the Coach is revealed as a sexual predator who has imprisoned a young boy in his house, right across the street from Jon's own childhood home.  On a whim, Jon takes up with his romantic rival, and the two return to Bondurant, crossing police lines to break into homes that have been abandoned by residents fleeing the firestorm.  The latter part of the novel is a tour-de-force that brings to mind a surreal, pyrotechnic take on John Cheever's classic of suburban anomie, THE SWIMMER.  The protagonist's mental disintegration mirrors the town's destruction in a prolonged, harrowing sequence as visceral as anything I've read in some time.  Fans of Donna Tartt's THE SECRET HISTORY or Glen Hirshberg's superlative dark fiction will relish this disturbing and beautifully written debut.

Two Good Movies

If you're looking for something more than the brain-dead crap Hollywood funnels into our maws, a process that reminds me in its stupefying cruelty of the way geese are forcefed so as to make their livers diseased in order to produce pate de foie gras, here are two movies worth your money that are getting an April release:

Jindabyne--Aussie director Ray Lawrence's follow-up to Lantana, based on a Raymond Carver story about a group of men who go on a wilderness fishing trip and discover the body of aboriginal woman who has been murdered. Rather than rushing back to inform the police, they complete their fishing trip and it is the effects of this delay that constitute the body of the film. Featuring a revelatory performance by Gabriel Byrne, solid work by Laura Linney and others, this is a beautifully shot movie, every bit as economical as its source material, and it will stay in your head for a long, long time.
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Red Road--this debut feature from Andrea Arnold was filmed in and around a disastrous Glasgow public-housing tower, and focuses on Jackie (played to a twitchy, depressive T by Kate Dickie), who works in a security center manning the closed-circuit cameras that are mounted throughout the city. One day she spots someone she knows, a ginger-haired man named Clyde, while monitoring the Red Road tower...and she's not all that pleased to see him.

To give away more about the plot would spoil the film, but Arnold's creepy evocation of the surveillance culture of inner-city Britain is terrifying. This is a unique thriller with a female protagonist as the classic noir anti-hero, a damaged loner with a black secret, who sleeps with somebody she shouldn't. Full of startling moments, Red Road feels like what it is -- a raw, nasty peek into a world that, perhaps, you shouldn't be looking at.
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Life FAQ

1. Where did my youth go?
A: With the snows of yesteryear.

2. How did SHE get THAT job?
A: How do YOU THINK she got that job?

3. Do my children love me?
A: Not the way you imagine or desire.

4. Where do I find the kind of sex I see in porn films?
A. One small stageset in southern California.

5. Why am I not rich yet?
A: You care too much for people.

6. Tragedy or farce?
A: Feeler or thinker?

7. Why is HE such a PRICK?
A: "We are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men..."

8. Is there life on other planets?
A: "It is not worthwhile to go around the world to count the cats in Zanzibar."

9. Who's responsible?
A: All of us, and no one.

10. Can I come back later and do it all over again?
A: Sure, why not!

Podcast Help Redux

A million thanks to everyone who posted suggestions/information for my attempts to get a podcast off the ground (or wherever it goes off to).  I'm implementing almost all of them in one way or another, and will let you all know when I've got something to show (or hear) for the effortt.

Here's another, more specific question: what's the deal with sampling copyrighted material (music) in a podcast?  I'm thinking of music that would be background material to the reading, brief samples & loops; the podcast itself would be free.