Sunday, March 29, 2009

Aspic and Antidote

Okay, so it is known in some circles that I am all about the high and the low. Hard to quantify the obscure pleasure that is to be gotten from the fact that on my bookshelf I have Peter S. Beagle’s The Folk of the Air next to William Peter Blatty’s Legion and Borges’s Collected Non-Fictions. As the fabulous Alan Bennett writes in The History Boys, all that stuff--the melodramatic movie scenes and show tunes he makes his students perform in between Aeschylus and Adorno--is an antidote. It’s what prevents intellectuals from wandering into their bellybuttons like Theseus trudging onward as the Minotaur recedes around the next corner of the labyrinth.

As a case in point, I have resisted reading Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones for three years now. Because it’s literary and sounded dire (in that independent-film-go-on-and-eat-your-turnips-Nikolai sort of way). Frankly, I couldn’t imagine how the author could have pulled off the concept of a murdered girl narrating her family’s lives from heaven. And I disdained what I imagined to be the typical narrative soft-shoe that covers up such a large structural problem (image... image... conjecture... image... bitterly elucidated poignancy... image). I’m halfway through the book, and I freely admit that I was utterly wrong. If she pulls it off, in my opinion, it’ll be one of the cleverest narrative moves since The Virgin Suicides. (And not for nothing, but Marc Cherry, you should cut Sebold a big fat check. Desperate Housewives’s deceased play-by-play announcer reaches for the same sangfroid.)

But as an antidote (now happily unnecessary) to what I had anticipated as a forced march through the textual cranberry bog of literary fiction, I have been reading Brian K. Vaughan’s graphic novel series, Y: The Last Man, which is not unlike what would emerge if you threw Douglas Adams, Ian Fleming, Eve Ensler, and George Orwell into a supercollider. And inverted the plot of Frank Herbert’s The White Plague (where all the woman in the world are killed by a designer disease). And for good measure, I found this, online, not 24 hours after I mentioned that the AP’s it-looks-like-news-but-tastes-like-chicken press release on their pitiful week-long blackout on Paris Hilton hurt my heart. This is what comes of making any edicts about one’s appetites in the world of ideas.

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