Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence by Geoff Dyer

title:  Out of Sheer Rage:  Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence
author:  Geoff Dyer
pages:  232
genre:  memoir
published: 1997
source:  New York Public Library

So, I may have a small intellectual crush on Geoff Dyer.

Hear me out.

Out of Sheer Rage is a memoir of sorts as Dyer writes a book about his attempt to write a book on D.H. Lawrence, and it's far less a study of Lawrence and far more an analysis of the author himself.  Unexpectedly though, as I read, I felt myself regressing to a deluded, giggly school girl, gushing every few pages "it's, like, he TOTALLY gets me!"  There were times as I read where I wondered where Dyer obtained the transcript of my inner monologue (though his way with words is far more eloquent than my silent ramblings).  Check out some of Dyer's eerily accurate brilliance:

On getting in our own way/the lies we tell ourselves:  "The perfect life, the perfect one which prevents you from doing that which you would ideally have done (painted, say, or written unpublishable poetry) but which, in fact, you have no wish to do.  People need to feel that they have been thwarted by circumstances from pursuing the life which, had they led it, they would not have wanted; whereas the life they really want is precisely a compound of all those thwarting circumstances.  It is a very elaborate, extremely simple procedure, arranging this web of self-deceit:  contriving to convince yourself that you were prevented from doing what you wanted.  Most people don't want what they want:  people want to be prevented, restricted....That's why children are so convenient:  you have children because you're struggling to get by as an artist- what is actually what being an artist means- or failing to get on with your career.  Then you can persuade yourself that your children prevented you from having this career that had never looked like working out.  So it goes on: things are always forsaken in the name of an obligation to someone else, never as a failing, a falling short of yourself." (page 126-127)

On freedom:  "Unless, like Thelma and Louise, you plunge off the side of a canyon, there is no escaping the everyday.  What Lawrence's life demonstrates so powerfully is that it actually takes a daily effort to be free.  To be free is not the result of a moment's decisive action but a project to be constantly renewed.  More than anything else, freedom requires tenaciousness." (page 138)

On personal credo: "You'll regret it:  there are worse mottoes to live by.  Successful people say that it is stupid to regret things but the futility of regret only increases its power...Looking back through my diary is like reading a vast anthology of regret and squandered opportunity. Oh well, I find myself thinking, life is there to be wasted." (page 169)

Just the tip of the iceberg.  Funny, personal yet universal, clever, intelligent, challenging:  I couldn't put this book down and, given the massive fine I've incurred with the NYPL, I'll probably have spent the equivalent of two copies by the time I return it.  I regret nothing.

With its focus on process, this memoir serves as almost a pseudo-AA meeting of sorts for the aspiring author: by reading Dyer's account of his struggles with writing made me, at least, feel as if I wasn't the only one having the same day to day issues just trying to write, and to be the version of myself I want to be.

Rubric rating: 8.  I've already scoured the library for everything Dyer's written.  So excited to start The Ongoing Moment, where Dyer tackles photography and photographers.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review: The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

title: The Orphan Master's Son
author: Adam Johnson
pages: 443
genre: literary fiction
published:  Due out January 10th, 2012
source:  I received an Advanced Readers Copy from Random House
 in exchange for an honest review.

Close your eyes. Imagine, if you will, a country whose only law is the whim of its leader, a leader so self-aggrandizing and delusional that he would ask his people to believe that even the country's doves are patriotic enough to take a bullet for him.   A country that has installed mandatory loudspeakers in every home, loudspeakers that provide a constant barrage of propaganda and lies.  A country where anyone can be picked up off the street at end time and sent into the fields to perform hard labor.  A country where parents' fear can overshadow the love they feel for a child.  

Welcome to Adam Johnson's North Korea.

In an interview with Richard Powers, Johnson says the following:

"...North Korea is real.  And to read the agonizing accounts of its victims is like swallowing stones.  One of the striking things about these accounts is how much is missing--there's often little emotion, reflection, or expressions of personal desire.  Which brings us back to trauma narratives, a hallmark of which is the way their narrators can get stuck in a kind of survival mode that takes precedence over voice, memory, and insight.  When life is about survival, rather than being human, people are less able to speak in terms of yearning, growth, discovery, change and so on.  How do you gain a deeper understanding of a person who's been taught that expression is dangerous and that emotions can get you killed?  What do you do when the only person who can tell a story is the least able to do so? This is where the limits of nonfiction become visible.  And it's where we must turn to fiction, which focuses on what deprivation does to identity, memory and basic humanity."

The Orphan Master's Son tells the story of the role of identity and memory and it's affect on an individual's humanity, as well as the collective humanity and identity of a nation.  Johnson weaves the tale of the incredible life Pak Jun Do and his trials as pseudo-orphan, kidnapper, soldier, state spy and later, master impersonator.  

Love story, thriller, coming of age story, this book was EVERYTHING and has all the elements I look for in my literature: 
  • lyrical prose
  • compelling and dynamic characters
  • strong narrative voice
  • inspiring plot and electric actions
The world Johnson creates is so bizarre, so cruel, so dangerous that it's hard to look away.  I especially loved the second half of the book, where Johnson drops a giant talent bomb on the reader and demonstrates his absolute command of narrative and voice.  Each character, each moment WORKS in a way I haven't experienced in a piece in a long time.  When it comes out in January, move The Orphan Master's Son to the top of your "to read" pile!

Rubric rating: 8.  I will definitely be checking out Johnson's other works: Emporium, a short story collection, and his novel, Parasites Like Us