December 18, 2014

Book Review: "The Laughing Monsters" by Denis Johnson

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

The Laughing Monsters, by Denis Johnson

The Laughing Monsters
By Denis Johnson
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

It's funny that the same week I read Denis Johnson's new novel, The Laughing Monsters, I also happened to catch the new movie A Most Wanted Man, which has been (rightly) described by most critics as "based on a minor John LeCarre novel;" because when it starts out, this seems like it's going to be the best way to describe this book too, as a minor one by Johnson in the vein of his last book as well, the ultra-slight crime noir Nobody Move, this time ostensibly a spy thriller but in reality not much more than an extended character study in which not much happens, set in Africa and with the kind of world-weary tone of a typical Graham Greene novel. (The book's title comes from a famous quote by the first white man to travel in Uganda, missionary James Hannington, who found the experience so miserable that he started referring on a regular basis to the local Happy Mountains by this term, which Johnson uses as a metaphor for the entire history of white intervention in African affairs.) And in a way this is a shame, because Johnson's complex, dense and immensely rewarding 2007 Vietnam CIA drama Tree of Smoke continues to be one of the best books I've ever reviewed since opening CCLaP eight years ago, and it's naturally tempting to want to see Johnson output another novel just as thick and amazing; but in a way it's of course perfectly understandable too, in that even the best writers in history usually only have one or two Tree of Smokes in them over the course of their entire careers, and it's unrealistic to expect an author to knock out another one every time they sit down at their computer.

But ultimately the point turns out to be moot anyway; for the more you read The Laughing Monsters, the more complex and fascinating it becomes, and while ultimately not a masterpiece like some of his other works, by its end it is an immensely enjoyable and nastily dark little tale that once again examines the hazy line between good and evil when it comes to the act of undercover intelligence gathering, the same subject of Tree of Smoke but this time transplanted to a post-9/11 American hegemony, an all-powerful "planetary police" that now uses its creepy black-ops powers as a way to thwart all threats to the current world order. Set in a series of unstable African countries, as our protagonist Roland Nair makes his way from the west coast of Sierre Leone to the east coast of South Sudan, at first this seems like it's going to be an expat hangout tale, as Nair reunites with his African civil-war-era compatriot Michael Adriko, hangs out in a series of bars and hotels in Freetown, and slowly becomes convinced to join in on a scam to sell fake uranium to what may or may not be the Israeli secret service. But after Nair reports on his activities in a secret communications room in the basement of a decrepit internet cafe, we start to realize that he's actually there to officially keep tabs on this fake uranium scam, on behalf of what might be the CIA or perhaps is NATO; but then when we see him steal a series of sensitive documents about the locations of such spy centers across Africa, we're led to believe that perhaps he is a double agent, or maybe a mercenary who has grown tired of governments altogether, or even that the entire thing is a triple feint to get him in as a deep, deep undercover agent within a super-secret ring of legitimately dangerous terrorists, and using Adriko's laughably obvious con game with the uranium as a double cover in order to confound everyone involved.

The answers to these questions is what fuels most of the book's plot, so I will allow them to remain surprises to the first-time reader; but what can definitely be revealed is that these plot machinations are simply half of the story Johnson is telling, with the rich descriptions of these deeply flawed characters being just as important a reason to read this book as the three-act storyline itself, as well as Johnson's look at the history of European/American dabbling into African affairs, the futility of such dabbling, and the unending disasters over the last century that such dabbling has created. And so in this, The Laughing Monsters ends up becoming just as complex and fascinating a book as anything else Johnson has written, even if it perhaps doesn't climb to the same heights of an undisputed classic like Tree of Smoke (although in its defense, nor does it even try to). Richly engaging, and a good primer on the recent history of African politics to boot, the book is well worth your time even if you're not naturally a big fan of spy thrillers, and it comes strongly recommended to a general audience today.

Out of 10: 9.2

Read even more about The Laughing Monsters: Official site | Amazon | Goodreads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, December 18, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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December 15, 2014

Book Review: "A Killer Retreat" by Tracy Weber

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

A Killer Retreat, by Tracy Weber

A Killer Retreat
By Tracy Weber
Midnight Ink
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

Oh, what to say about a book from a basement press you found truly terrible, when you're an organization dedicated to supporting basement presses and cutting them as much slack as possible? That's the dilemma I find myself in today, reviewing Tracy Weber's A Killer Retreat from Midnight Ink, and as a result I'm finding it difficult to even get my thoughts in order; for while it definitely gets an A for ambition and effort, it unfortunately gets as close to an F for execution as we even give around here. One of those contemporary mystery novels where the gimmick is that the person solving crimes is not a formal detective, like what litters so many basic cable networks these days, it's this very subject that provides the first and one of the biggest obstacles to the book itself; for the crime-solver in question, professional yoga instructor Kate Davidson, is so smugly self-righteous and intolerably pretentious that it made me immediately start rooting for her violent demise right on page one, a bad attitude for a reader to have when this is to be the main narrator and the one you're supposed to be rooting for. Now add the childish, awkward telegraphing of the coming goodies and baddies as each new character gets introduced, so clumsily done that one can fairly easily guess the book's entire plot just in the first chapter; then add the immature dialogue, the special-needs dog I wanted to kick every time it appeared, and just the overall "I Watch Too Much Nancy Grace" tone of the book in general, and you're left with a novel I cannot in good conscience recommend to others, no matter how much I hate to admit it. A cautionary tale from the world of basement presses -- that just because it's easier than ever to turn a 300-page Microsoft Word document into a finished paperback book doesn't mean that every 300-page Microsoft Word document should.

Out of 10: 4.4

Read even more about A Killer Retreat: Official site | Amazon | Goodreads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, December 15, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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December 11, 2014

Book Review: "Wayzata" by Ted Korsmo

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Wayzata, by Ted Korsmo

Wayzata
By Ted Korsmo
Self-published
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

I have to confess, although there are certainly other valid ways to think about the subject, I myself simply do not care for contemporary authors who choose to mimic a well-worn writing style that has already been around for decades; and that makes Ted Korsmo's Wayzata a problematic title for me to review, because it is not much more than an exact aping of a typical rat-a-tat hardboiled private-eye story by Raymond Chandler or other masters of the genre. I mean, it's done well, don't get me wrong, which is why it doesn't deserve to be dismissed out of hand, because I understand that there are people out there who enjoy such books; but it's hard for me to read such a novel and think anything other than how this genre was already perfected years before even my elderly parents were born, and that the mere act of writing such a tale in 2014 is essentially the act of beating a dead horse. I'm compromising today by giving it a middle-of-the-road score, but be aware that this is far from a mediocre book -- instead, it will be greatly loved by those looking for an exact replica of an Early Modernist detective story, but unfortunately worthless to everyone else.

Out of 10: 7.5

Read even more about Wayzata: Amazon | Goodreads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, December 11, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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December 10, 2014

Book Review: "Undead Obsessed" by Jessica Robinson

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Undead Obsessed, by Jessica Robinson

Undead Obsessed: Finding Meaning in Zombies
By Jessica Robinson
Booktrope
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

I have to confess, I don't have a lot to say about Jessican Robinson's new essay collection Undead Obsessed, because there's simply not a lot there to talk about; a nonfiction book that purports to be all about the subject of zombies and how they relate to our current culture, it instead reads with all the insight and excitement of some mediocre undergraduate's term paper on the subject, with chapters that are less analysis and more just unending lists of creative projects over the years, that describe how those projects have presented this or that particular aspect of zombie tropes. Written well for what it is, it's the "what it is" part that I have a problem with, essentially a book-length Wikipedia entry that had me quickly skimming through entire sections in the failed hopes of finding anything truly fascinating that Robinson has to say. An A for ambition, but sadly today a D for actual execution.

Out of 10: 6.2

Read even more about Undead Obsessed: Amazon | Goodreads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, December 10, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |
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December 9, 2014

Book Review: "The Black Hour" by Lori Rader-Day

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

The Black Hour, by Lori Rader-Day

The Black Hour
By Lori Rader-Day
Seventh Street Books
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

So first, let me get my bias out of the way, that I am not a big fan of crime novels in general (today's book is being reviewed specifically because the publisher sent me a copy, not because I sought it out on my own), and that things that make me annoyed within this genre are many times things that won't bother a heavy crime fan at all. But that said, even I know that the main thrill of the average crime novel is that it has a more heightened pace than most other types of books, and a storyline where a lot happens in just a short period of time; and that's unfortunately the biggest problem with local author Lori Rader-Day's The Black Hour, is that the simplistic premise carries the story for way too long, the entire first third of the manuscript to be specific, with not really much of a payoff once the plot does start finally rolling along. The tale of a good-looking middle-aged professor of violence and sociology at a small liberal-arts college in the north Chicago suburbs, who gets shot by a random student one day for reasons that no one can figure out, this is basically the one mystery that fuels the entire rest of the book, why he picked her in particular before then turning the gun on himself; and while if the investigation into that question had begun in chapter two, it could've maybe turned into quite an interesting story, that investigation unfortunately doesn't begin until well after the setting and character exposition has been beaten nearly to death, leaving me skimming through entire sections just to see if anything of import ever happens or not. And it does, finally, near the end, in an explanation that left me sort of half-heartedly shrugging my shoulders; but in the meanwhile, what I believe is supposed to be a long middle section of complex character-building simply doesn't work as the author intended, merely because the characters aren't complex enough to support that many pages of text, and their dialogue I found to be guilty of what I call the "Joss Whedon Effect" (in which you can't quite put your finger on what's bothering you so much about the slightly immature, sorta bad-jokey things that the characters are glibly saying to each other, but it annoys the hell out of you nonetheless). Like I said, I suspect that this will be much better received by existing heavy fans of crime novels, which is why it's still getting a so-so score today; but certainly I do not recommend it for a general audience, and I also caution you to keep your expectations low.

Out of 10: 7.1

Read even more about The Black Hour: Official site | Amazon | Goodreads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, December 9, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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December 8, 2014

Book Review: "Two Small Birds" by Dave Newman

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Two Small Birds, by Dave Newman

Two Small Birds
By Dave Newman
Writers Tribe Books
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

Dave Newman's Two Small Birds is the best kind of social-realist novel there is, a genre that can be fraught with problems if not handled with a delicate touch; not the dour, preachy kind of social realism from do-gooder academic liberals that seems to dominate this type of storytelling, but more the "here's to the losers" celebration of lumpens made so famous by Nelson Algren, which tends to only get pulled off when the author in question is a fellow prole like Newman is. (The book's plot mainly concerns itself with our hero's nightmarish stint as a long-distance trucker, and the author mentions in his bio that he himself used to be a long-distance trucker, so I'm just assuming here that many of these anecdotes are based on true stories.) Now, that said, be warned that this novel also occasionally dips into overly sentimental territory itself, nearly impossible to not do at least a little when trying to write sympathetically about addicts and homeless people; but in general this is a wonderfully hard-edged look at those members of society destined to squander nearly every opportunity ever presented to them, and a blackly joyous look at why these people still matter to society at large. It comes generally recommended to CCLaP's overall audience, but especially so to fans of Bukowski and other such writers. Here's to all my friends!

Out of 10: 8.8

Read even more about Two Small Birds: Official site | Amazon | Goodreads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 12:57 PM, December 8, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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December 5, 2014

Book Review: "Muscle Cars," by Stephen G. Eoannou

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
 
Muscle Cars, by Stephen G. Eoannou
 
Muscle Cars
By Stephen G. Eoannou
Santa Fe Writers Project (SFWP)
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
 
Devo asks, "Are we not men?" Stephen G. Eoannou asks the same question in his short story collection, Muscle Cars. The collection features "a diverse cast of inarticulate misfits." These misfits include an obsessive bodybuilder, a former boxer, a couple boyhood friends planning to steal Ted Williams' frozen head, and others. Eoannou sets the stories around the Buffalo, New York area, a town consigned to the Rust Belt, famous for its ferocious winters, beef on weck, and hot chicken wings. In these stories men try and navigate their directionless lives. Beset on all sides by the harsh realities of the Great Recession and wrestling with their own masculinity, they try. Most try and fail, but at least they try.

Masculinity is about cultural expectations, public and private performance to friends, co-workers, and loved ones, and, finally, the role one is expected to play. In these stories one can almost hear the Snowpiercer character Mason lecturing the plebes, "Know your place!" Unlike the economic determinism of Snowpiercer, one's place in society is harder to tack down.

In the title story, Tom Mastoris has trouble sleeping because the kids next door rev their cars and play loud music at all hours. Maureen, his wife, tells Scott to go next door and make them quiet down. Everyone in this tiny story is irreparably damaged. Scott lost his brother Gregg to an IED and the neighbor kid, Scott, lost his mother in a drunk driving accident. Tom tries to confront Scott about the noise, but ends up telling them how his brother Gregg died. The story ends unresolved, the emotional wounds left unhealed. When confronted with expressing their emotions, both Tom and Scott shut down. Like the cars Scott works on, Tom expresses himself not with emotional openness but in a crude ritual of lifting weights. The addictive workaholic nature of bodybuilding gets snarled in the vanity and "feminine" aspects of the sport. Maureen is confused, because Tom shaves his entire body and makes sure he looks good in front of the mirror. But he's not a competitor. Maureen wants to know who he does this for. "Who, Tom? Who's them?" Is Tom doing this for his brother? To cope with the loss? Some kind of vanity project to overcompensate for a loss of masculinity? It is never explained.

Many stories in Muscle Cars are like this: short, tautly written, and ending just shy of a resolution. While the characters exist in a heteronormative space, they confront their masculinity in an entirely localized way. The trope of Man versus Self is seen across different age and economic groups. Characters include high schoolers, substitute teachers, technical writers, old timers at an Off Track Betting parlor, and Second World War veterans. Each faces a dilemma seen through the filter of peer and society expectations. Society says, "Men must act this way." In "The Wolf Boy of Forest Lawn," a substitute teacher plan a semester around a field trip to Forest Lawn cemetery and the disappearance of the Wolf Boy. The teacher does this in an attempt to reach a troubled boy in class, but also uses it as a ruse to get closer to his divorced mother. It doesn't end well. The story resolves itself with emotional devastation. Many of these stories are populated with cowards, whiners, and boasters. Eoannou's stories have created a pantheon where cowardice becomes a heroic act. The men in these stories now have to confront the consequences of their inaction. When reading these, one is forced to ask, "He acted like a coward, but would I have acted any differently?" Even I don't have a definitive answer to that question.

The reason for the high grade are manifold. It is a highly relevant short story collection, since it explores the inner turmoil of straight white males in the post-9/11, post-Great Recession world. But this focus on an otherwise privileged group is undercut since most men in this collection are not economically privileged. To demonize these character on racial and gender grounds seems a bit tone deaf and hypocritical. It should also be noted that this focus is not ideological or reactionary. This isn't some harangue by some Men's Rights mouth-breather or crypto-fascist making excuses for the atrocities committed by the Ferguson, Missouri police force. The non-ideological basis of the stories liberates them from a narrow reading. Besides, ideology is boring. The characters' struggles are internal, deeply personal, and psychologically affecting. Beyond this is the fact that these stories have cross-over appeal. I can see my father reading these stories. These aren't the insular, solipsistic exercises of Creative Writing MFAs writing to other Creative Writing MFAs. The term "literary fiction" can be limiting and inaccessible to the general readership. (Whatever that is? It's hard to pin down, since public taste, trends, and fads are fickle and constantly change.) The accessibility of these stories co-exist with their incredible level of high craftsmanship. Eoannou's characters have to face tough situations, most of all their own delusions, and the demands of a world that expects men to act manly, nut up, and not cry like a woman. And Society isn't another abstract representation alien to everyday experience. It is your relatives, family, civic leaders, and friends all demanding, consciously and unconsciously, to act in such-and-such a way and to know your place. All the more confusing, since it is macho to "take it like a man," but also macho to say, "No!"
 
Out of 10/10
 
Read even more about Muscle Cars: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, December 5, 2014. Filed under:
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November 21, 2014

Book Review: "Does Not Love" by James Tadd Adcox

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Does Not Love, by James Tadd Adcox

Does Not Love
By James Tadd Adcox
Curbside Splendour
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

James Tadd Adcox's first novel, Does Not Love, is a number of things, all of which revolve around the phrase "satisfyingly weird." If you've got a taste for the bizarre, you absolutely have to check this guy out, because he's pretty much written the craziest reinterpretation of the thriller since DeLillo got up on that in the mid-'70s. There's a lot reminiscent of that great, great writer here: bizarre circuitous dialogs full of deadpan humor, a crumbling relationship that reflects upon wider social disaffections, and a conspiracy that's at once capitalist and cabalist in its nature. Adcox's prose isn't as wondrous as DeLillo's, but then, there are very few living prose stylists on DeLillo's plane. I'm going back and forth on whether I would've preferred Adcox use more dazzling language. On the one hand, pretty sentences certainly never hurt a work of fiction, but on the other, Does Not Love moves forward just fine without them.

It's the sense of mystery that kept me reading this book, basically. There are a variety of other good things on display -- the humor, the weirdness of the story, the odd but effective modes of characterization (it's strange how Robert and Viola and the FBI agent are so peculiar and yet feel real) -- but what really makes it work out is the shadowy style. Does Not Love begins as an offbeat domestic drama with hints of something sinister, and as it gets rolling, it gets stranger and stranger, until it hits a bizarre and jarring and yet utterly appropriate climax. Which is to say that there isn't a lot here for fans of realism. This isn't quite deserving of my "I'd recommend it to everyone" rating mostly because it's too odd to recommend to everyone, not because of any lack of quality or failing on Adcox's part. He's just into his own thing.

I suppose that, if I were to complain about anything, it's that some of the novel's odder turns could've been foreshadowed a little better. That's not to say that I have to be perfectly set up for everything, but the escalation from a rather realistic if oddly portrayed romance into the complete insanity of what follows could've used a bit more of a breadcrumb trail. Perhaps flashes of news reports would've made the piece seem less like Adcox was saving the strangeness for the end. Then again, there is an FBI agent involved from early on, so maybe that's enough. I'm not sure. I am, however, quite sure that Does Not Love is a memorably odd and often hilarious read. The "good cop, bad cop" exchange is particularly brilliant, but really, it's the most fun you'll ever have with shadowy pharmaceutical conspiracies.

Out of 10: 9.0

Read even more about Does Not Love: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari |

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 9:50 AM, November 21, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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The last CCLaP Weekender of the year is here!

CCLaP Weekender for November 21, 2014

The last 2014 edition of our new e-magazine, The CCLaP Weekender released every Friday morning, is now online for your free downloading pleasure. It features a new piece of original fiction by Matt Rowan; a photography feature highlighting the work of Russian artist Masha Demianova; and our usual look at the upcoming week of Chicago literary events. Use the links below to access it right now.

Right-click here for PDF / Voluntarily donate 99 cents
Online version at Issuu.com (or just use the embedded version above if you're seeing it)

CCLaP Showcase: Patricia Ann McNair

And don't forget about the November edition of our new reading series and open mic, the CCLaP Showcase being held at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood (2523 N. Kedzie). Being held this Tuesday the 25th at 6:30 pm, it will feature local author Patricia Annn McNair. There will also be room for six open-mic slots, for performances of five minutes apiece (strictly timed); if you'd like to sign up in advance for one of these slots, drop us a line at cclapcenter [at] gmail.com. (Don't forget that the entire thing will be recorded for our podcast as well.) Do make sure to go by the event's Facebook listing for more, and we hope to see all you Chicagoans there.

Don't want to keep coming by the website for all this stuff? Then sign up for our weekly email newsletter, which will send you not only a reminder every Friday morning about each new issue of the Weekender, but also a recap of everything that has happened with the center in the last seven days (including news about recent author features and events from around the US, a look at all our latest eBay rare-book auctions, links to each book review we posted at the blog that week, and a lot more). To subscribe, simply sign up using the box below. We never sell your information nor send more than one email a week, and you can quit at any time!

Thanks to all of you for a great 2014, and we look forward to presenting another 50 stories and photo features through the magazine in 2015!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:32 AM, November 21, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Photography | Profiles |
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November 14, 2014

Come out to our last two events of the year!

Well, we're getting close to the date that CCLaP shuts down every year for the holidays (we pare down our activities to a bare minimum from Thanksgiving to New Year's every year, for those who don't know, just to give our hard-working staff some much-needed time off), but I wanted to remind you about two more live Chicago events we're squeezing in before that happens...

Chicago After Dark University of Chicago contributor party, with Memoryhouse Magazine

First, I'm happy to say that we're doing yet another campus-specific contributor party to celebrate the "city all-star" student anthology we put out earlier this fall, the hugely popular Chicago After Dark; this newest one will be down at the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park this coming Monday, November 17th, starting at 7pm, in the south lounge of the school's famous Reynolds Club (5706 S. University Avenue). And even better, this time we're doing it in conjunction with a campus literary magazine, the excellent Memoryhouse Magazine which actually shares a contributor with us (Eric Shoemaker, who was the one who made this event happen in the first place); Memoryhouse actually runs a professional performance ensemble on top of doing their paper magazine, so they will be doing a multimedia performance on Monday night, as well as short performances from CCLaP contributors Shoemaker, Phallon Perry, Angie Flores and Alicia Hauge. The whole thing is free, and there will be food and drinks as well, so I hope all of you down there on the south side will have a chance to make it out, and do make sure to check out the event's Facebook page for more.

CCLaP Showcase: Patricia Ann McNair

And then the Tuesday after that, November 25th, we're extremely proud to be presenting the last CCLaP Showcase of 2014, this time with revered local author and Columbia College professor Patricia Ann McNair. Patricia is a hugely popular teacher and writer here in the city, and we're expecting this to be our biggest reading of the year (our open mic is already completely filled, just to give you one indication), so it's going to be a nice way for us to officially end our active performance schedule for the year, and a great chance to see some amazing Columbia writers sharing their most recent work. As always, it's at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood (2523 N. Kedzie), starting promptly this time at 6:30 pm, and with free drinks there as well. Stop by the event's Facebook page for more, and I hope you'll have a chance to come by and celebrate the end of another successful and productive year with us.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:51 AM, November 14, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Chicago news | Events | Literature |
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The CCLaP Weekender for November 14th is here!

CCLaP Weekender for November 14, 2014

This week's edition of our new e-magazine, The CCLaP Weekender released every Friday morning, is now online for your free downloading pleasure. It features a new piece of original fiction by Joseph G. Peterson; a photography feature highlighting the work of Italian artist Tiberio Frascari; and our usual look at the upcoming week of Chicago literary events. Use the links below to access it right now.

Right-click here for PDF / Voluntarily donate 99 cents
Online version at Issuu.com (or just use the embedded version above if you're seeing it)

CCLaP Showcase: Patricia Ann McNair

And don't forget about the November edition of our new reading series and open mic, the CCLaP Showcase being held at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood (2523 N. Kedzie). Being held on Tuesday the 25th at 6:30 pm, it will feature local author Patricia Annn McNair. There will also be room for six open-mic slots, for performances of five minutes apiece (strictly timed); if you'd like to sign up in advance for one of these slots, drop us a line at cclapcenter [at] gmail.com. (Don't forget that the entire thing will be recorded for our podcast as well.) Do make sure to go by the event's Facebook listing for more, and we hope to see all you Chicagoans there.

Don't want to keep coming by the website for all this stuff? Then sign up for our weekly email newsletter, which will send you not only a reminder every Friday morning about each new issue of the Weekender, but also a recap of everything that has happened with the center in the last seven days (including news about recent author features and events from around the US, a look at all our latest eBay rare-book auctions, links to each book review we posted at the blog that week, and a lot more). To subscribe, simply sign up using the box below. We never sell your information nor send more than one email a week, and you can quit at any time!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:20 AM, November 14, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Photography | Profiles |
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Book Review: "Taxidermy Art" by Robert Marbury

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
 
Taxidermy Art, by Robert Marbury
 
Taxidermy Art: A Rogue's Guide to the Work, the Culture, and How To Do It Yourself
By Robert Marbury
Artisan
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
 
For meat dishes, few things compare to venison. One of my favorite game meats comes from deer. Fortunately I come from a family of avid hunters. But coming into possession of venison will involve someone wearing blaze orange and dispatching the deer with a rifle. The death of an animal and my enjoyment of its meat is a troubling situation. It's hard to come to terms with this carnivorous dilemma when one only sees sterile sections plastic-wrapped in the Meat Department of your local supermarket. The meat remains, but the process has been erased. One's curiosity gets stifled by the warning, "Don't ask how the sausage gets made."

With hunting, gun ownership, meat eating, and animal rights, things can get simplified, people get hysterical, and everyone loses sight of things like context, tradition, and caloric intake. Social media doesn't help matters. For addlepated false equivalence by the truck load, look no further than a Facebook feed. One on side you have the animal rights advocates, caricatured with a phrase like, "You cruel bastard! You can't kill deer." (The cuteness of deer also helps the emotional sentimentality of their rhetorical attacks.) On on the other side, you have people like Joe the Plumber uttering this marvelous chestnut, "Your dead kids don't trump my constitutional rights." (Is he really a Family Values icon? He sounds like he's auditioning for a role in a Marquis de Sade novel.)

All these complex issues and the fun-house mirror of social media bring me to Taxidermy Art: A Rogue's Guide to the Work, the Culture, and How To Do It Yourself by Robert Marbury. Marbury is one of the founding members of the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermy (MART). He curates a book showcasing several other rogue taxidermists, a selection spanning the globe. But what is Rogue Taxidermy? Marbury defines it as "A genre of pop-surrealist art characterized by mixed-media sculptures containing traditional taxidermy materials used in an unconventional manner." The traditional taxidermy mount can be seen in such settings as a relative's house or a museum. In one case the mounted deer head celebrates the triumph of the hunt. A trophy. For the museum the taxidermy specimen is used as a tool for research and education. During the Renaissance and Baroque eras, aristocrats and natural philosophers constructed intricate Wunderkammern (curiosity cabinets). The Milwaukee Public Museum has a modern interpretation of a curiosity cabinet when you walk into the main entrance. An exhibit, dense with specimens, hits the viewer. Skeletons of ancient mammals, mounted taxidermy specimens, pinned beetles and butterflies, and so on. One can experience a similar experience walking through Woolly Mammoth Antiques & Oddities. Victorian medical kits, a mounted giraffe head (and neck!), quack cures, bookshelves crammed with skulls, and so on.

Marbury curates the book's selection of artists, providing the reader with a fascinating convergence between contemporary art and the curiosity cabinet. The book's structure is also a bit of a chimera. It begins with a history of taxidermy, highlighting the taxidermists, artists, and scientists instrumental in the medium. The bulk of the book is examples taken from rogue taxidermists. The concluding section is a detailed how-to for aspiring rogue taxidermists. It includes instructions on dry and wet preservation. (Wet preservation can be seen in sideshows with "pickled punks" and the "human head in jar" trope in the horror and science fiction genres.) It also includes more advanced lessons on things like brain tanning.

The rogue taxidermy runs the gamut of styles and techniques. Marbury is a practitioner of "vegan taxidermy." He re-purposes stuffed animals. One of the tenets of rogue taxidermy is not using animals that have been intentionally killed. Marbury advises on using roadkill or feeder animals (pre-killed and refrigerated animals used to feed snakes). All artists confront the issues of death, meat consumption, and environmental ethics, although finding a commonality among the artists approaches impossibility. Some are art school trained. Some were traditional taxidermists. Others were untrained amateurs until they discovered rogue taxidermy.

A couple noteworthy examples include Mother's Little Helper Monkey by MART founding member Sarina Brewer. A winged monkey wearing a fez and holding a martini glass stares out with fangs bared. Elizabeth McGrath pieces "have dark back-stories ... and wear their adversity like drag performances." Truth Lights Cougar looks like a wall-mounted head of a hairless cat, but its skin is a pale blue. On its skin are dozens of gorgeous tattoos and icons from Catholicism. Peter Grondquist, from Portland, Oregon, has work that dons the cover. His work is a darkly satirical riff on luxury and loot. He has deer heads sporting gold machine-guns or gold fashion logos. Finally, there is Kate Clark from Brooklyn. She creates taxidermy pieces straight out of the Uncanny Valley. Her pieces have realistically sculpted human faces. They are beautiful, but also deeply disturbing. Other artists have dealt with legal issues. German law forbids the use of roadkill in art.

Taxidermy Art is fun, informative, and educational. One can browse the artistic pieces, marveling at the variations of technique and opinion. And if one is so inclined, Marbury's taxidermy lessons at the end of the book prove easy enough to follow. The directions and illustrations make it user-friendly as with any good cook book.
 
Out of 10/9.0; and 10 for fans of pop surrealism, DIY culture, and aspiring rogue taxidermists.
 
Read even more about Taxidermy Art: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, November 14, 2014. Filed under: Karl Wolff | Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |
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November 12, 2014

Book Review: "Phoning Home" by Jacob M. Appel

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Phoning Home, by Jacob M. Appel

Phoning Home
By Jacob M. Appel
The University of South Carolina Press
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

Jacob M. Appel's Phoning Home is the type of essay collection I really love, which made it a welcome sight when arriving in my mailbox earlier this year. A doctor, lawyer, and ethics professor based out of New York, as well as a veteran fiction writer (both of novels and short stories) and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, he puts all of these experiences to good use in this newest book, penning personal yet analytical non-fiction pieces on such varied subjects as his Jewish upbringing, the morality of playing pranks, and a lot more, combining the flair and style of a creative writer with the fastidiousness and attention to detail that you would expect from such an academe. Always entertaining while often also being quite thought-provoking, this is a book for those who like their literature smart, compelling, yet not too terribly dense, and it comes enthusiastically recommended today for a general audience, and especially those interested in Jewish-American history and the practical complications of theoretical ethical decisions.

Out of 10: 9.3

Read even more about Phoning Home: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:37 AM, November 12, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |
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November 10, 2014

The CCLaP Weekender for November 7th is (belatedly) here!

CCLaP Weekender for November 7, 2014

This week's edition of our new e-magazine, The CCLaP Weekender released every Friday morning, is now online for your free downloading pleasure. It features a new piece of original fiction by Bruce Douglas Reeves; a photography feature highlighting the work of Italian artist Riccardo Bandiera; and our usual look at the upcoming week of Chicago literary events. Use the links below to access it right now.

Right-click here for PDF / Voluntarily donate 99 cents
Online version at Issuu.com (or just use the embedded version above if you're seeing it)

CCLaP Showcase: Patricia Ann McNair

And don't forget about the November edition of our new reading series and open mic, the CCLaP Showcase being held at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood (2523 N. Kedzie). Being held on Tuesday the 25th at 6:30 pm, it will feature local author Patricia Annn McNair. There will also be room for six open-mic slots, for performances of five minutes apiece (strictly timed); if you'd like to sign up in advance for one of these slots, drop us a line at cclapcenter [at] gmail.com. (Don't forget that the entire thing will be recorded for our podcast as well.) Do make sure to go by the event's Facebook listing for more, and we hope to see all you Chicagoans there.

Don't want to keep coming by the website for all this stuff? Then sign up for our weekly email newsletter, which will send you not only a reminder every Friday morning about each new issue of the Weekender, but also a recap of everything that has happened with the center in the last seven days (including news about recent author features and events from around the US, a look at all our latest eBay rare-book auctions, links to each book review we posted at the blog that week, and a lot more). To subscribe, simply sign up using the box below. We never sell your information nor send more than one email a week, and you can quit at any time!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 4:39 PM, November 10, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Photography | Profiles |
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Book Review: "Playmates," by Jess C. Scott

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Playmates, by Jess C. Scott

Playmates: Wilde Twins, Book 1
By Jess C. Scott
jessINK
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

I have to confess, I don't have much to say about Jess C. Scott's new dark bizarro novel Playmates, book one of a coming "Wilde Twins" series, because there's simply not much to say about it in the first place -- a transgressive noir in the style of Kathy Acker, like many of these books it is cartoonish in the level of abuse and degradation on display (in this case, by a set of dysfunctional parents towards their twin children), which serves as the catalyst for a series of ultra-violent, Tarantinoesque adventures (involving the Wilde Twins of the book's title, who go off on a streak of chaos when older that is so over-the-top as to be deliberately ridiculous). And that's...well, you know, it is what it is, and those who like these kinds of books (you know who you are) are sure to like this one as well, although for general readers be warned that this follows a well-worn set of easily guessed tropes and doesn't really contain much more of interest besides that. A book tailor-made for the hardcore bizarro fans it was designed for, but that likely won't appeal to anyone else, it is getting the middle-of-the-road score today that such an assessment deserves.

Out of 10: 7.2

Read even more about Playmates: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, November 10, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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November 6, 2014

CCLaP Rare: "The Lion Tamer" by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

The Lion Tamer by Carroll E. Robb (1925), 1st Edition 1st Printing

(CCLaP is now selling rare and unusual books through the main website, shipped to customers through USPS Priority Mail and with full refunds always guaranteed. To see the latest full list of volumes for sale, please click here).

The Lion Tamer
By Carroll E. Robb (1925)
First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: Every once in awhile, a book collector will randomly come across something during their adventures that turns out to be really unique and interesting from a visual standpoint, but for which almost nothing in the collective online universe is known; take for example the 1925 novel The Lion Tamer, which appears to be the first and last novel ever published by Carroll E. Robb, and which came out with little fanfare from the revered Harper & Brothers back when such companies churned out simple morality tales like these by the dozen. And make no mistake, from the standpoint of writing quality, this is nothing more than a mediocre morality tale: a melodrama about a young man in a small town who has been known for years by the nickname "Lion Tamer," because of once standing down a circus lion that had gotten loose rather than let it attack his girlfriend, this courage is suddenly called into question when there is a steamboat full of recent school graduates that crashes and sinks one night on the edge of town, with our hero Mart Bannister surviving but many of his chummy pals not. Did he really abandon his friends to save his own skin, like his shell-shocked girlfriend contends? Will he move away in shame? Or will the love of a mysterious new woman allow him to get on with his life? It's not to find out the answers to these questions that a 21st-century collector might want to own this book; it's instead for the beautiful but delicate Expressionist woodblock dust jacket, for its excellent condition despite being almost a century old, and simply for its memorable, one-of-a-kind nature. Admittedly, a volume like this is never going to be worth much to a full-time dealer; but it serves as an amazing decorative object for book lovers who wish to have a few front-facing punctuations in the library they show off to guests at dinner parties, and it is being priced today specifically to appeal to such customers. A wistful acquisition simply because of its nearly completely obscure status within the history of American literature, don't let this hard-working little book slip into complete abandon, especially because of its pristine condition relative to its super-low price.

CONDITION: Text: Very Good (VG). In great shape for its 90-year age, except for one smudge mark on the yellow fabric spine, and a few fold marks at the spine's bottom. Dust jacket: Good Minus (G-). Although it's a minor miracle that a book this old still even has its delicate dust jacket to begin with, please be aware that it's not in very good shape, with big chunks missing from the spine and the whole thing really only being held together anymore by its protective mylar cover. Contains an ink signature on the inside front cover that reads, "To Mother, from Arthur, Ellen, Roslyn and Janice, Christmas 1927." As confirmed by the McBride Guide to the Identification of First Editions, a stated "First Edition" on the copyright page, and lack of additional printing notices, makes this a true first edition, first printing.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at the Hyde Park Book Fair, Chicago, October 2014.

eBay auction
MINIMUM BID: US$15 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $30
(If coming across this in the future, see CCLaP's main page at eBay for the relisted auction URL)

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, November 6, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Rare | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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November 5, 2014

Book Review: "Misdirection" by Austin Williams

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Misdirection, by Austin Williams

Misdirection: The Rusty Diamond Trilogy, Book 1
By Austin Williams
Diversion Books
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

Austin Williams' crime thriller Misdirection has one very interesting thing going for it -- and that's main character Rusty "The Raven" Diamond, a former Las Vegan magician who has since burned out and moved back to the small Eastern Seaboard town where he was born and raised, reluctantly forced into private-eye mode after his elderly landlord is brutally murdered by an addict strung out on bath salts, and who cleverly uses the tricks of his trade to help in his investigation. Unfortunately, though, the rest of Misdirection is an only mediocre, by-the-numbers supermarket potboiler, and suffers from the exact kinds of problems you would expect from such a book -- stilted dialogue, clunky exposition, uneven pacing, cardboard-thin characters who loudly announce their goodie or baddie status from a mile away, etc. Just an okay read even for those who are heavy crime fans, it does not really come recommended to a general audience today, despite the admittedly compelling character at the center of it all.

Out of 10: 7.5

Read even more about Misdirection: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, November 5, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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November 4, 2014

Book Review: "Death Metal Epic, Book 1: The Inverted Katabasis" by Dean Swinford

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Death Metal Epic, by Dean Swinford

Death Metal Epic, Book 1: The Inverted Katabasis
By Dean Swinford
Atlatl Press
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

Dean Swinford's Death Metal Epic, Book 1: The Inverted Katabasis is both exactly what you would expect from a book with this title, and nothing like what you'd expect -- it is in fact a rather sweet coming-of-age tale about a Florida teen in the early '90s enmeshed in the "death metal" culture so prevalent at the time, exploring both the humiliating lows that he goes through in his pursuit of being a "dark one" and a heartfelt look at why he feels it's so important anyway. And that's really the key to this book working as well as it does, because it neither takes itself too seriously nor is it a "Spinal Tap" deliberate comedy about losers; it is instead merely a clear-eyed look at the trials and triumphs (okay, mostly trials) of our put-upon, mall-working hero "Azrael," as his band Valhalla first breaks up, then reforms under the influence of a Tolkien-worshipping hippie who "doesn't believe in percussion," and then is finally sent by his exasperated record label on an ill-funded and non-promoted tour of small college towns in northern Europe, where he eventually falls under the spell of thinly-veiled versions of real-life death-metal veterans Oystein Aarseth (a.k.a. "Euronymous") and Varg Vikernes (a.k.a. "Burzum"), setting things up nicely for the coming part 2 of this legitimate saga. (For more on the '90s death-metal scene in northern Europe, and the violent extremes it eventually devolved into, a necessary primer for enjoying Swinford's work at its fullest, see the still excellent 1998 book Lords of Chaos by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind.)

I mean, obviously "legitimate saga" is being used here in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way, with the majority of this book's fast-moving plot being about the small indignities Valhalla (now known as Katabasis) must endure on a daily basis while pursuing their dreams (their drunken adventures with a group of Norwegian undergraduates on holiday break is a great example, and one of the highlights of the book); but ultimately Death Metal Epic fits squarely in the tradition of such now classics as Joe Meno's Hairstyles of the Damned or Abram Shalom Himelstein's Tales of a Punk Rock Nothing, a plain-spoken and moving ode to outsider art and its transformative effect on bored teens across the planet, no matter what age or what scene you're talking about. A brisk read that is always entertaining, and brutally honest about its subject's shortcomings where other books wouldn't be, volume 1 of Death Metal Epic comes strongly recommended whether or not you're a metal fan yourself, and I'm now highly looking forward to volume 2.

Out of 10: 9.1

Read even more about Death Metal Epic: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, November 4, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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November 3, 2014

CCLaP Podcast 123: "Chicago After Dark" release party

CCLaP Podcast 123: 'Chicago After Dark' Release Party

It's Monday, which means it's time for another episode of the CCLaP Podcast. Today, it's a special half-hour live recording from last week's Chicago After Dark release party, featuring performances from five of the book's authors. Recorded at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood.

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:05 AM, November 3, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Podcast | CCLaP Publishing | Chicago news | Events | Literature |
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Stalking the Behemoth: Don Quixote

Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha
By Miguel de Cervantes (1605)

In the coming months, I plan to review a series of my favorite long books, "long" here defined as "six hundred pages or longer," in my "Stalking the Behemoth" series. I can't think of a better behemoth to start on than Don Quixote, considered by many to be the first modern novel. Of course, it could be argued that Quixote had a few forebearers--the Tale of Genji and Satyricon are the most famous--but the common argument is that Quixote was the first novel to grant its characters interiority and complex arcs. Now, since I haven't read either of Quixote's forebearers, I can't judge where this stacks up historically, but I can say that Don Quixote and especially Sancho Panza's developments are pretty remarkable. Panza in particular fascinates me, moving as he does from the comedic cowardly sidekick to a man with cunning (always used for good, of course), and even wisdom.

You probably know the summary, but for those who have spent a better part of the past four hundred years under a bridge, it works like this. Don Quixote reads too many books of chivalry, gets it in his head that he's a knight, and sets off on a string of comic adventures. Along the way, he picks up a squire, the simple farmer Sancho Panza, and claims he's doing it all in the name of Lady Dulcinea, whom we hear a lot about but never actually see. He also jousts with windmills, mistakes inns for castles, frees a group of convicts, beats the stuffing out of a priest, and just generally makes the most endearing fool out of himself imaginable. At least for a while.

See, you're invited to develop a complex relationship with Quixote, which I think is part of the reason why he's endured in the public imagination. You laugh at him at first, because let's face it, he's a ridiculous guy, and for the first hundred pages, I was comfortable with thinking of him as just a ridiculous guy. The fullness of Quixote's character doesn't kick in until you've read a little, until you see how other characters react to him and treat others, and then you realize that he's got a heart of gold and is out for what's best for everyone. At that point, the whole novel becomes a remarkably poignant allegory for just how hard it is to find a good person, and how anyone who charges out there in the name of good will be treated like a madman; "Quixotic" is almost never used as a compliment, but maybe it should be.

Which is all remarkably sophisticated for a novel published between 1605 and 1615, when narrative was just beginning to divorce itself from Homer, whose whole idea of character motivation was "because the gods said so and you can't fight the gods" (this, incidentally, is why I'll never be a classical scholar). It gets even more crazy modern when you consider how meta it all is: part one was meant to be cobbled together from a variety of sources, and in part two, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza have become famous for their exploits reported in book one; complicating the hall-of-mirrors effect further, book one of Don Quixote exists within Don Quixote's universe, and both Quixote and Panza are aware of it. Cervantes even takes a moment to subtly insult a writer known as Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, who wrote a sequel to Don Quixote in the interim between the first and second book's release. That's right, fanfiction has been around since Shakespeare's time. Again, book one came out in 1605. Book two? 1615.

Now, it's easy to see how Cervantes was working without a net here, which means the occasional flaws are easy to excuse, but they're there, and they're glaring enough for me to detract half a point. They come in the form of the tangents. As anyone who follows this project long enough will learn, I love tangential novels like Gravity's Rainbow to death, but here's the thing: Pynchon's tangents are a lot more interesting than Cervantes'. He'll pick and throw a side character into the mix seemingly for the sake of having a side character in the mix and launch into this elaborate three-chapter discussion of who they are and how they got where they are, but will somehow do so without the charm and wit and intelligence that defines Quixote's exploits. Granted, anyone curious about the mores of seventeenth century Spain will find a lot to mine in them, but if you can make it through "The Tale of Inappropriate Curiosity" and not start to lose feeling in your brain, you're a stronger reader than me.

Still, it's a terrific read, and not just for the history: Quixote and Panza's arcs are the stuff literary legends are made of. It's still looked at as one of the greatest books ever written four hundred years later, and let me tell you, that did not happen by accident. By all means, read this.

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 7:00 AM, November 3, 2014. Filed under: Chris Schahfer | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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