August 13, 2010

Your micro-review roundup: 13 August 2010

(Because I make my way through so many books and movies for CCLaP, I regularly come across projects that are interesting enough unto themselves but that I simply don't have much to say about, or at least not enough to warrant an entire entry. I thought, then, that on occasional weekends I would gather up such "micro-reviews" and post them all in one large entry; they can also be found on CCLaP's main book and main movie archive pages.)

Horns, by Joe Hill

Horns
By Joe Hill
William Morrow

Believe it or not, despite how these reviews sometimes sound, I do always feel legitimately bad about panning an author when it's the first thing of theirs I've read, because you never know when that particular book might've been an aberration; for example, take horror writer Joe Hill, whose 2007 debut novel Heart-Shaped Box I found generally to be an underwhelming Stephen King ripoff (and this before learning that Hill is actually Stephen King's son, who hid the fact as long as he could so to establish his career on his own credentials instead). Well, now Hill's second novel is finally out, simply titled Horns and I was excited about giving it a chance and maybe having an opportunity to publicly reverse my opinion of him; but alas, this turned out to be even worse than his first book, a glib one-trick-pony that goes on way, way, way too long for the slightness of its subject matter. Namely, it's about this kinda not-so-nice dude who wakes up one morning to discover that he has mysteriously grown actual bone-based devil horns in the night, and that whenever people are in proximity of them, it apparently turns them into potty-mouthed 12-year-olds who blurt out every secretly racist, sexist, violent thought they've ever had (in a universe apparently where people still use the racial slur 'jigaboo' with a straight face), which he comes to suspect has something to do with the murder of his girlfriend a few years ago, for which he was falsely accused and then exonerated, but that ended up ruining his life anyway.

And I admit, that's not a bad premise for a genre novel, and if used as a ten-page setup would leave me wanting to learn more; but Hill ultimately never does anything with this setup, instead taking 75 freaking pages to explain what I just did to you in one paragraph, then another 75 freaking pages just to explore the cutesy relationship our narrator and this woman had before her murder, then yet another 75 freaking pages to explain how she actually did get murdered. And that was the point where I finally gave up on the book and just read up on its finish over at its Wikipedia synopsis; and while I won't give any secrets away, let's say that I'm awfully glad I didn't stick around and try to slog my way through to the very end. It's always a shame to see, a genre author who's good at concepts but lousy at second acts, but it's especially heartbreaking here, given Hill's pedigree and the huge amount of natural interest his books generate merely for existing. I may possibly give Hill a third try in the future, but it'll take a whole lot of glowing press from others before that happens; and in the meanwhile, I can sadly say that I'm no longer hesitant about recommending that smart readers skip this ultimately empty-handed author altogether.

Out of 10: 3.8

The Novel: An Alternative History, Beginnings to 1600, by Steven Moore

The Novel: An Alternative History, Beginnings to 1600
By Steven Moore
Continuum

Regular readers know that for the last three years now, I've been exploring the history of the novel format in my CCLaP 100 essay series; so I was excited about coming across volume 1 of Steven Moore's own grandly ambitious new history of the novel, in which over 2000 pages he will eventually be exploring the entire grand tapestry of narrative fictional long-form stories over the course of the last twelve thousand years, with this first volume covering from the dawn of writing in Mesopotamia around 10,000 BC to essentially the Western Renaissance of 1400 to 1600 AD. But there's a big problem with Moore's book, a problem that you notice right off the bat, which is that he apparently created no limits whatsoever for what he was going to include here as examples of "novels" -- he counts the Bible and other religious texts as novels, for example, and epic poetry, and any historical biography containing even a trace of mythology (sheesh, no wonder this first volume is 700 pages just on its own), making this survey of them more aptly named A History of Every Single Thing A Human Being Has Ever Written Down, which might be interesting but is for sure not what I wanted to read when I picked up a book called The Novel: An Alternative History.

But still, such a thing might not be so terribly bad in the right analyst's hands; but here, Moore barely scratches the surface of the historical, sociological and anthropological circumstances that were influencing these projects at the times they were written, and instead spends the majority of the text doing simple plot recaps of the cited stories, and then comparing them with an insulting "see? see?" attitude to a bunch of snotty, smartypants academic novels from the 20th century, making the entire thing more a book to be begrudgingly tolerated in a class assignment than a legitimately enjoyable NPR-style pleasure read. And speaking of which, then there's that inexplicable introduction, in which Moore spends 35 pages not talking about anything from the book at all, but rather delivering a preachy lecture attempting to justify the ultra-challenging smartypants authors of the Postmodernist period (which I guess should come as no surprise -- Moore is considered the world's leading expert on ultra-challenging Postmodernist author William Gaddis, which he conveniently reminds us of over and over and over), which once you get past the dozens of footnotes can essentially be summed up as, "Ah, you f-cking mouth-breathers just don't get it," a sad and defensive screed that should've been entirely cut by his editors before this book ever saw the light of day. I'm tempted to say that it's a book only a professor can love, but it's not even that; it's only the most d-ckishly obscure, detestably arcane professors who could possibly love this waste of dead trees, and I think we should all say a little prayer for those poor unsuspecting University of Michigan undergraduates who are going to have to bewilderedly deal with Moore in their American Lit 101 courses next fall.

Out of 10: 2.2

Point Omega, by Don DeLillo

Point Omega
By Don DeLillo
Scribner

If any more proof is needed that September 11th effectively brought an end to the Postmodernist period, just look at the sad recent fate of author Don DeLillo, who back in the 1970s and '80s was one of the most brilliant and celebrated writers in the entire country, cranking out perpetual masterpieces like Americana, White Noise, Libra and Mao II which deftly combined pop-culture with academic finery, but who in the 21st century has put out nothing but an entire string of novella-sized flops (can you even remember anymore what The Body Artist or Falling Man is about?), lifeless duds that feel like they only exist in the first place to remind people that DeLillo has indeed not actually died yet. And so it is with his latest as well, this year's Point Omega, which is not a novel at all* but rather yet another 100-page novella, which is so boring and meandering and pointless that I can't even seem to muster up the energy to give you a plot recap. (Well, okay, here's a quick one -- pretentious "conceptual filmmaker" wants to make one of those intolerable eight-hour unedited movies, in which he interviews a politically moderate intellectual who is unbelievably asked by the Bush-era Pentagon to contribute ideas to the war effort, which leads him to the man's desert home where they sit around endlessly blathering about time and space and mistakes and poets and museum installations and more more it never freaking ends, until the man's daughter shows up and is suddenly like, "O-M-G, you two are so stooopid and stuff!," and then they all go sit in the desert for awhile, The End.)

Sigh. Oh, DeLillo, what happened to you? Oh, right, Postmodernism died, that's what happened to you. Don't you have some grandkids to go play with or something?

Out of 10: 1.8

*And seriously, mainstream publishing industry, listen up -- if I can read the entirety of a book from beginning to end on an el ride from my apartment to the Chicago Loop and back, then f-ck you, it's not a novel, and I am godd-mned sick and tired of you trying to sell the thing to me for $25 anyway. This is why your industry is dying, because your audience can plainly see through your shell games; but what you need to understand is that it's not our job to pay for your Brooklyn condo mortgage, and that we will continue to desert you by the millions the longer you keep up these elaborate ruses, just because you don't want to take the pay cut you so obviously deserve. Your attention to this matter is greatly appreciated.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 12:29 PM, August 13, 2010. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |