December 14, 2011

Your micro-review roundup: 14 December 2011

(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.)

The Rage of Achilles, by Terence Hawkins

The Rage of Achilles
By Terence Hawkins
Casperian Books

Although Terence Hawkins' The Rage of Achilles is an excellent book, there's really not that much to say about it from a critical standpoint: it's essentially a faithful retelling of the ancient Homer poem The Iliad, only using the kind of graphic modern language you might hear on an HBO series, and also assuming that what Homer called "the gods talking" was likely half-delusional inner-voice wish fulfillment from these constantly drunken, injured, sick, superstitious people. As such, then, I found it great, a volume that really makes the story of the Trojan War come alive in this surprisingly contemporary way (although make no mistake, it's actually set in the ancient times of the original); but to critique the plot or characters is to critique The Iliad itself, and we already have thousands of years of opinions and analysis on that subject. An adaptation that purists are sure to find silly and troubling, but others just the thing they wished they'd had when having to take all those tests in high school on the subject, although I don't have a lot to say about the book itself, it still comes strongly recommended.

Out of 10: 8.9

Diary of a Small Fish, by Pete Morin

Diary of a Small Fish
By Pete Morin

To review Pete Morin's Diary of a Small Fish is to contemplate a subject that I occasionally get asked about as a prolific reviewer; because although my rule to myself is to read at least half of a book before feeling qualified enough to give a general opinion of it, a lot of the shorter write-ups of only so-so titles here are books that I barely got past the halfway point of, calling into ethical question whether that makes a person capable of rendering a legitimate opinion. In this case, for example, the book starts out with a troubling premise that makes it naturally hard to slog forward: the tale of a golf-obsessed Tea-Partyish state representative, who faces minor ethics charges when a lobbyist he often hits the links with gets indicted for some much bigger crimes, Morin is clearly going for a light comedy about the surrealism of small-time politics (think Carl Hiaasen, for example), and how wrong it is for the government to be squeezing our "one percenter" hero on what amounts to merely some free golf, because they want to "flip" him and help further entrap the much more guilty lobbyist; but in the "Occupy" times we live in, that's kind of like trying to write a sympathetic novel about a mid-level Nazi who merely kept count of all the gold teeth yanked from dead Jews' bodies after their gassing, not the guy who actually gassed or yanked, so why is he sitting in a glass cube in Nuremberg and being treated so harshly?

But still, maybe Small Fish would turn out to be a redemptive story when all is said and done, and our protagonist would by the end understand what kind of sneaky, petty, subsumed-guilt Bush-loving Michael-Scott frat-boy douchebag he actually is; but alas, the more that I kept reading, the more I realized that this entire novel is meant to be read in a straightforward fashion, and that our expected hero is actually the villain of the larger story called society, without the author I think even being fully conscious of it. "Yes, but maybe this transformation does take place at the very end of the tale," I hear you arguing, which is what always makes it a tricky issue when writing a review of a book you haven't finished; but in a case like this, you simply have to ask yourself, if the author hasn't shown even a taste by the halfway point that he is going somewhere new or unexpected with an unagreeable storyline, is he even going to have any readers left by the end when he actually does flip the plot? A sometimes ugly book that often wallows in casual stereotyping and the mocking of others for its small-moment humor, and loaded with the kinds of mistakes that almost every attorney who tries fiction seems to be guilty of (Dear Every Lawyer In History Who's Ever Written A Novel: Full transcripts of deposition hearings do not make for compelling fiction, no matter how many f-cking times you do it -- Sincerely, Jason Pettus), Morin certainly has his heart in the right place when wanting to do a Catch-22 style comedy about the foibles of legal bureaucracy; it's just too bad he picked such a naturally repellant subject in which to base his tale.

Out of 10: 6.6

jPod, by Douglas Coupland

By Douglas Coupland
Random House

As I've detailed here before, I have for most of my adult life been an obsessive fan of "Generation X" phrase-coiner Douglas Coupland; but while I read literally everything from his first book up to Miss Wyoming when younger, mostly for personal reasons, and have read literally everything from The Gum Thief to now for professional reasons, there's a chunk from 2000 to 2007 that I completely missed altogether (comprising the books All Families are Psychotic, Hey Nostradamus!, Eleanor Rigby and jPod), mostly because this was when Coupland reached the low point of his transition between Postmodernism and 21st-century "Sincerism," right at a point when I myself was doing a lot more writing of books in my life than the reading of them. I mean, take 2006's jPod as a good example, which was ostensibly meant to be a "conceptual sequel" of sorts to the biggest hit of his career, 1995's Microserfs, with the two novels sharing a lot of the same premises and details; but while Microserfs was a revelatory celebration of a coming geek entrepreneurial class just starting to show itself, jPod is an unimaginative reaction to our Web 2.0 times, with Coupland seemingly out of ideas about what to do with his old pop-culture shtick and quirky Aspie characters besides to ramp things up to an unsatisfyingly cartoonish level, but not yet understanding what he needed to do to change his career path into its next higher level. Eventually, of course, he did end up realizing what to do, which in a nutshell was to make his stories a lot weirder and darker (see Generation A and Player One, for example); but here where he was still floundering with it all, jPod feels very much like a Coupland simply waiting with boredom for the high-profile MTV shorts offer that were guaranteed to come with any early-2000s project of his (and indeed, jPod itself got made into a 13-episode show for Canadian television, with a novel that feels very much like a quickly done afterthought to that show instead of the other way around). As big a fan as I am of his, it's admittedly hard to justify this particular stretch of his career, so best perhaps to turn either to the books older than these or newer to save yourself some wasted reading experiences.

Out of 10: N/A

Filed by Jason Pettus at 12:00 PM, December 14, 2011. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |