Friday, May 8, 2015

Brief Thoughts 5

It's been some time since I've done this.

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

In the past, I would have said that Watchmen is my favorite western comic (my favorite manga being Osamu Tezuka's Ode to Kirihito). After reading Asterios Polyp, I don't that's true anymore.

The story concerns an architect named Asterios Polyp who has won awards for his designs, but never had any of them built. We first meet him at the lowest point in his life. His apartment building burns down during a lighting storm, he grabs some of his possessions and heads out of New York. We learn about his past and about his relationship with his ex-wife, a sculptor.

This comic is amazing. The art is excellent, the story is great, the balance between drama and humor is spot on and all of the characters are fascinating. It's one of the best examples of what comics as a medium are capable of.

The only complaint I have about it is the ending. I won't spoil it, but it reminded me of Douglas Copeland's Eleanor Rigby in a bad way. I see what Mazzecchhelli was going for, but it just felt way too contrived and out of left field.

Despite the ending, I still highly recommend it.

Buy Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli here.

Tough Guys Don't Dance by Norman Mailer

I enjoyed Mailer's debut The Naked and the Dead, so I gave this book a try. A noir crime novel seems like a perfect fit for someone like Mailer.

Tim Madden, a writer with a drinking problem, wakes up from a drunken blackout to find he has a new tattoo, blood in his car and woman's severed head in his marijuana garden. He sets out to figure out what happened during his blackout.

Plot wise, the novel is a run of the mill detective novel. Mailer doesn't do much with the tropes or cliches of the genre. That said, for what it is it's entertaining.

What makes this different from other detective novels is that instead of hard boiled prose, Mailer's style is much more affected. Instead of focusing on the plot, Madden often goes on tagents about his past and philosophical monologues about love, masculinity and sexuality.

This a mixed bag. Detective novels tend benefit from being tightly plotted and from their straightforward prose. Mailer doesn't quite pull off this style of writing with this genre. There are some tangents that are ridiculous. Madden's monologue about the phallic symbolism of a lighthouse comes to mind.

Despite that, most of the tangents are actually either funny or interesting to read. My favorite is probably a jab that Mailer takes at a John Updike passage that describes a vagina in the most awful purple prose. Madden praises the passage and proceeds to attempt to write something similar that ends up sounding crude and mean-spirited.

The views on sexuality are not exactly politically correct, but I found them interesting enough that it got me wanting to read Mailer's The Prisoner of Sex.

As far as novels go, this isn't bad. I would recommend The Naked and the Dead over this one though.

Buy Tough Guys Don't Dance by Norman Mailer here.

Duluth by Gore Vidal

The first book from Gore Vidal that I read was Lincoln. It's not a bad book at all, but I probably would have liked it more if I was a civil war buff. Still, it was interesting to read such an unromanticized portrait of a man that is considered by most to be a secular saint. I liked it enough that I picked up Duluth, mostly because Vidal himself considered it one of his best.

This book was more up my alley. It's a goofy and surreal satire of pretty much everything in American society.

The book takes place in a fictional version of Duluth, Minnesota that contains a desert, mountains, a beach and a swamp. There are several plots running through the book, most dealing with the politics of the city. Several of the plots are pastiches of science fiction, police procedural and Harlequin style romance.

Some of Vidal's satire doesn't really work. His mockery of daytime television is a little too obvious and on the nose.

That said, much of the books is very funny and entertaining. He engages in a type of postmodernism that makes for a bizarre but accessible world. My favorite part of the book is probably the antics of the sadistic police woman Darlene Ecks.

While Lincoln seems to get more praise, I would recommend Duluth over it.

Buy Duluth by Gore Vidal here.

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