Monday, September 26, 2011

Richard Finishes Cloud Atlas and Prepares to Drink PBR at Replay

Now that all the excitement over next month's choice has died down, let's get back to some pompous ramblings about Cloud Atlas and the nature of time and history, shall we?

The last time I taught Intro to Fiction, we read a series of books that dealt with history and cultural memory, all of which (to varying degrees) explored time as something more cyclical than linear (those books: Morrison's Song of Solomon; Foer's Everything is Illuminated; Diaz's Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; and Eugenides' Middlesex). Cloud Atlas could certainly be added to the mix (though I probably wouldn't inflict it on hapless sophomores).

For all its undeniable suggestions of reincarnation ("Does death always make you so verbose?" What do you mean 'always?'"), Mitchell's novel is ultimately more interested in historical cycles, in civilizations reaching a peak, destroying themselves in the process, and starting over again. "Eat or be eaten," is Dr. Henry Goose's Darwinian guide to life (and, given the the novel's cannibalism and processed clone meals, it often applies quite literally).

What I love about the latter half of Cloud Atlas is how Mitchell conveys a notion of forward momentum even though we're moving backward in time, imparting a very cyclical notion to the reading process itself (for instance, as Louisa Rey's section ends, she begins to read Frobisher's letters). And, as I surmised in an earlier post, Frobisher's musical composition certainly is meant to mirror the novel's structure, as Frobisher himself describes:

"In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmickry? Shan't know until it's finished."

Oh, Mitchell! You clever, meta bastard. You made for a good start to the PBR Book Club. See you kids at the Replay on Thursday at 8:30!

Best Dirty Joke:

"His favorite position is, uh, called 'the Plumber.' You stay in all day but nobody comes."

And October's Book Is...

Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann
Scenesters, apparently the phrases "Bloated. Self-indulgent. Cliched." and "equal parts pretentious and poetic, bratty and poignant" really spoke to you. Or maybe it was the Twilight reference. Whatever the case, Anthropology of an American Girl is October's clear winner. I'm trying not to secretly resent you all for picking the 597 page book.

Actually, I'm pretty stoked that there was a lot of buzz about this book in the comments, and am excited to see some new scenesters prowling around Mass. with the (597 p.) PBR Book Club book shoved awkwardly into your back pockets. This one was a big seller last fall, so go snap up your copies at Raven and The Dusty Bookshelf ASAP. Lawrence Public Library still has one copy on the shelf, too, if you, unlike Courtneybelle, aren't compelled to collect books you've read like trophies for a serial killer.

We'll announce time and date for October's meet-up, well, later; in the meantime, come on down to the Replay at 8:30-ish this Thursday to drink beers and pretend you read Cloud Atlas.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pretentious Picks for October: Holla at the Ladies

Hipsters of Larryville: what do you want to read with your PBRs in October? Here are three very pretentious, very postmodern books -- each by talented authoresses -- that have been on my to-read list for ages. I think I secretly know which one I want to read most... but leave me a comment with your top pick, and we'll get this party started.

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The NYT book review calls it an "unclassifiably elaborate novel." That sounds so pretentious and postmodern! Loosely, its about kleptomaniac former punk rockers, journalists & record execs. Let's see what else the review has to say: "The narrative feels as freely flung as a bag of trash down a country gully." "Egan's essential challenge to herself is to see how wide a circumference she can achieve while still maintaining any sort of coherence and momentum." Fun! This book won lots of prestigious awards that you're probably too hip to care about.

Real World by Natsuo Kirino
Real World is Heathers meets Natural Born Killers on 'roids. In a world peopled by teenagers, the kids are mad about the "total idiots" who force them to attend prestigious high schools, and they worship the rare iconoclast who takes a stand. At the center of Real World is Worm, a teen killer who talks his four female classmates into writing a manifesto for the crime he's committed. From the NYT book review: "He'd like it to be 'something creative' rather than 'introspective,' a 'cool' and 'incomprehensible' poem or story. Otherwise, his readers might conclude he isn't the disaffected nihilist he imagines himself to be." So postmodern! Natsuo Kirino has declared Flannery O'Connor her favorite American writer, and in this book's worldview there is no possibility of forgiveness or salvation.

Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann
The reviewer from the NPR books blog seems pretty damn reluctant to have liked this book. "Bloated. Self-indulgent. Cliched." "And yet," she laments, "there is something so beguiling, so charming about the book." The teenage heroine, Eveline, is "equal parts pretentious and poetic, bratty and poignant" (perfect!), capturing exactly the thought processes of an introspective teenage girl as she goes through regular, teenage girl stuff: drama club, romance, outgrowing high school friends. The best part? Anthropology of an American Girl earns a comparison to Twilight for its totally implausable love story. Perfect for those of us who are (ironic) fans of sparkly vampires! This one's long, but apparently totally addictive -- and, of course, pretentious.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Richard, On Reincarnation Theories and Getting Reacquainted With Sonmi and Cavendish

If you can successfully ford the "Sloosha's Crossin' " section, the pace of this thing picks up significantly. We're now revisiting the characters of the first five sections, in descending order. As Bananasuit has pointed out, all of those sections ended with a "cliffhanger," of sorts, so these new sections open with a bang and push forward with actual momentum.

The second Somni section is especially rewarding, filling in some of the blanks of exactly how "The Fall" came about and hinting strongly at my earlier theory of reincarnation. Sonmi has a sudden "memory of blackness, inertia, gravity, of being trapped in another ford. Where was it? Who was it?" Well, it would certainly seem to be Louisa Rey plunging into the river. Later Somni hopes that she'll be reincarnated into the Abbess's colony: does she become Meronym? All of these people, of course, possess the recurring comet-shaped birthmark.

It all sounds good, but upon further reflection, it doesn't quite hold up. If Louisa Rey is merely a character in a manuscript called Half-Lives, she can't fit in with these "real" characters, can she? And when Cavendish's section resumes, Mitchell gets all meta on our asses, as if chiding us for buying into these reincarnation theories. Cavendish, the editor, threatens to cut reincarnation references from the Rey manuscript (which suggest that Rey is the reincarnation of Frobisher) because such references are "far too hippie-druggy-new age."

So, I can't say I've cracked open the mystery box yet, or if this will ever be possible, but I'm enjoying the downhill slope that will eventually lead us back to Adam Ewing's journals.

Favorite line:

Cavendish: "She was widely read enough to appreciate my literary wit but not so widely read that she knew my sources. I like that in a woman."

Best euphemism for male genitalia:

"Her furry fawn rubs up against my Narnian-sized lamppost and mothballs."

Drinking game:

A shot and a PBR every time Mitchell obnoxiously references the title ("What wouldn't I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable. To possess, as it were, an atlas of clouds.").

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Courtneybelle's Cloud Atlas Cliff's Notes for Lazy Scenesters

Are you a scenester who desperately wants to read Cloud Atlas but just can't find the time between PBRs at the Replay and PBRs at the Tap to keep up with its demands?

You're in luck. Courtneybelle has composed this handy Cliff's Notes version for the first seven sections! Enjoy.


The Map of My Emotional Responses to Cloud Atlas
By Courtneybelle
Or Cliff’s notes to Cloud Atlas

Chapter 1
Blah, blah Human teeth
Blah, blah Is this Moby Dick or Huck Finn?
Pig heart? Are you Lord of the flies now?
Blah, blah The Moriori = Maori (?)= Whale Rider= Frackin’ Moby Dick again!
Moriori=Maori (?)=Baadaaasss tattoos + obscure genocide= legit reason for hipsters to read this
Blah blah What?! No ending? Lazy twat.

Chapter 2
Blah, blah Man whore
“Girls fascinate in different ways. Try ‘em one day.”
Scuppered, onanist, escutcheons
Claude Debussy was a slut?
Yada, yada Is faith a theme I’m looking for?
“The devil, Sixsmith, is in the pronouns.” I know, right!

Chapter 3
Ooh! Film noir, cool, he can write his own screenplay.
Blah, blah nuclear science something whatever
“swindling sperm gun”
Blue suede suit? Are you sure?
Corporations are bad, sure, that’s true.
Oops! Boys try to kill clever girl reporter. Big shock.
Is there a bridge in the first two chapters? Is that a thread I should be looking for?
I’m still in, but we better go somewhere soon.

Chapter 4
Cavendish. Nice name. Do you publish books AND make pies?
How come you can say “shat” but not “c***” or “F*****g?
Throw a guy off a building, sure, that happens.
Blah, blah Financial failure, family failure, (soon enough bladder failure)
Drugs-oh, yeah I thought there was a reason we were reading this.
“…and a memory from a university Halloween Ball cracked
on the hard rim of my heart and the yolk dribbled out-“
Yes, we ALL want to be Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Blah, blah more incarceration/conspiracy
Wait? Was there a bridge?

Chapter 5
Oh, you better be fucking kidding me with this?!
Future bizarro corporation world
Blah, blah who talks like this IN AN INTERVIEW?
“Humor is the ovum of dissent,…”
Blah blah Brave New World, 1984, Aeon Flux (animation, not film), The Island, Equilibrium

Chapter 6
Okay, now you’re just being a dick (with this dialect crap)
Blah blah Post apocalypse, everyone is smelly, goats
Same island from chapter 1 and Sonmi, from chapter 5, is their god. Okay, sure
“the Ship-woman she’d got that vin’gary stink o’ Smart…”
Blah blah Noble Savage, Hero’s Journey
“…see you’ll b’lief in a mil’yun diff’rent b’liefin’s if you reck’n jus’ one of ‘em may aid you.”
Faith again. “Old Georgie” has me stumped- WTF is up with that?
Conspiracy/Incarceration again
I can do without child rape, if it’s all the same to you, jackass!
Meronym turns baadasss.
Bridge again.

Chapter 7
FINALLY, we’re getting somewhere
Sonmi from Chapter 5 goes down the rabbit hole to Blade Runnerville
Gets a face change a la Alien From L.A. (What? What? Where my peeps at?)
Hae-Joo gets better (hotter) by the page, “These are the tears of things.”
Sonmi gets wiser by the page- similacrum
Soilent Green is made of people! It’s people!
OF COURSE Big brother is killing you and feeding you to yourselves
But OH, SNAP!!!!
Sonmi= Jesus ?!?
“but if you knew about this…conspiracy, why did you cooperate with it?
Why did you allow Hae-Joo Im to get so close to you?”
“Why does any martyr cooperate with his judases?”
HA! Good one! Circle of life, bitches! Bridges and water
Whew! Now that I think the author has some point, I can finish this Godforsaken book.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Richard Has Crossed the "Sloosha's Crossin' " Section and Plunges Deeper into the Clouds!

[full of spoilers, as usual]

So this section is basically a post-apocalyptic western. If Cormac McCarthy fused The Road and Blood Meridian together and decided to write the whole thing in a ridiculous made-up dialect, it might resemble "Sloosha's Crossin.'"

I'm not a particular fan of dialect (I tossed The Help aside pretty quickly because I couldn't bear the author attempting to appropriate those African-American voices). Mitchell, at least, is up to something sort of interesting with his use of dialect (annoying as it is). We're several hundred years beyond the Sonmi section at this point, long after some horrendous unspecified cataclysm known as "the Fall," and the remnants of civilization exist in various tribes. Our young hero, Zachry (the Brave!), speaks in a slangy ungrammatical fashion that is perhaps meant to suggest language evolving back into a more "civilized" form. Post-Fall civilization has forgotten its ancient gods, and now worships Sonmi (wow, she must have really Ascended!) and fears Old Georgie, a Satanic figure who will eat your soul with a spoon if you don't watch out! Most of the section concerns Zachry's relationship with a "Prescient," a group who live on an island somewhere and have preserved knowledge of the world as it once was. As Zachry says, early on, "This ain't a smilesome yarn," but despite some nasty, nasty brutality, it does work its way to an ending that's at least somewhat hopeful, seeming to reach out toward us as readers and invite us in: "Hold out your hands. Look." Presumably this is as far as we will proceed in chronological time (based on section headings) so, in a sense, we have reached not THE ending, but AN ending, reinforcing the novel's theme of interconnection and the cyclical nature of history.

Random observations and questions:

Obviously, we're meant to connect Zachry's tribe to the Moriori from the Adam Smith section (civilizations predicated on peace).

Storytelling is emphasized throughout, once again, with several stories embedded within the larger narrative, much of which (we are told) may well be unreliable (just a bunch of "musey duck fartin'").

Cloud Atlas, we know already, is a musical piece by Frobisher but it's also a description of the novel's themes: "Souls cross the skies o' clouds crossin' skies o' the world" (302).

So what about this recurring birthmark? Are those characters all the same character, reincarnated?

I like the fact that Zachry's culture uses "horny" as a verb and a noun at various times: "We'd got a feverish horny'n for each other, see...". I will be employing this grammatical structure in my own vocabulary.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Holy Hell, Reading Right Along...

God I hate sci-fi. Better plow right ahead through "An Orision of Sonmi-451" so I can pretend it never happened. But first, a few quick thoughts on "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish."

I'm happy to see that Mitchell is back to his zingers in full-force with the character of Timothy Cavendish! Started marking up my copy like an overachieving Mormon girl in high school English class again (I can say that because I was one).

Here we see a return of my three favorite motifs! Broken clocks, weird dreams, and golden geese. Just after Cavendish boards the train to "Hull," he complains about his broken watch: "My watch was stuck in the middle of last night." Ensue pot smoking hallucinations and Alice in Wonderland / Dante's Inferno references. Here Cavendish winds up in a nightmarish Lynchian hell, an echo of Adam Ewing's descent into the irrational, time-less hog heart's pit in the South Pacific. Also, we've got great lucid dreams about little boys who turn into Nancy Reagan. And finally, Cavendish's golden goose: "I, yes, I, had exclusive rights to this platinum goose with a bad case of the trots!"

Mad props to Nog for laying out the nested structure of Cloud Atlas thus far! To that I'll add that each vignette ends in some sort of horrible transitional state -- drinking poison to ward off brain-eating parasites; a botched cuckolding with a gun in the mix; an (attempted?) assassination & impending nuclear holocaust; imprisonment in a bizarro old-folk's home.

And my favorite snippet of the whole damn book so far:
"When your family is all tucked up asleep in your snug little beds, he'll slide into your house through the crack under the door and eat--your--puppy! ... He'll leave its curly tail under your pillow and you'll get blamed. Your little friends will all scream, 'Puppy slayer!' whenever they see you coming. You'll grow old and friendless and die, alone, miserably, on Christmas morning half a century form now."
See you on the other side of Sonmi-451!

PBR Book Club: Author Trivia Edition (Mitchell Was Nominated for the 2006 Bad Sex In Fiction Award)

Sure, David Mitchell is most often praised to the heavens with lines such as this:

"His best-known book, “Cloud Atlas,” is one of those how-the-holy-hell-did-he-do-it? modern classics that no doubt is — and should be — read by any student of contemporary literature" (NY-Times).

But did you know he's also been nominated for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award for 2006's Black Swan Green?

Behold this passage if you dare:

"If Dawn Madden's breasts were a pair of Danishes, Debby Crombie's got two Space Hoppers. Each armed with a gribbly nipple...

Tom Yew got on her and sort of jiggled there and she gasped like he was giving her a Chinese burn and wrapped her legs round him, froggily. Now he moved up and down, Man-from Atlantisly. His silver chain jiggled on his neck.

Now her grubby soles met like they were praying.

Now his skin was glazed in roast pork sweat.

Now she made a noise like a tortured Moomintroll...

Her fingernails'd sunk salmony welts into his arse.

Debby Crombie's mouth made a perfect O."

Yes, we've quoted this passage before on our other blog, but how could we resist this rerun in connection to PBR Book Club? We simply could not.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

As Richard Reads Full Speed Ahead, Bananasuit Considers Luisa Rey's Fashion Choices

Ladies, I'm disappointed in Luisa Rey's fashion choices. Blue suede suit? Worn twice??

The women do get a little more interesting in the "Half-Lives" chapter of Cloud Atlas. Finally, they have back stories, and thoughts! Although Luisa's still a young, naive object of desire (god knows why, in her blue suede suit...), she's got some bite. Witness this sassy comeback to her creepy boss:
"If Bob Woodward had told you he suspected President Nixon had ordered a burglary of his political rival's offices and recorded himself issuing the order, would you have said, 'Forget it, Bob, honey, I need eight hundred words on salad dressings.'?"
Oh, snap!

But my favorite females in "Half-Lives" are: 1) Janice from Esphigmenou, Utah, that "stony matriarch" with a "mountainous bust" (Is Mitchell just really horny? Hard to believe if you've listened to audio of his lilting British accent...) who subdues Luisa's hotel-managing-assailant and then tells a weird little ghost story, and 2) Fay Li, that stone-cold business woman who transfers her horny co-worker to the middle of Kansas in the middle of January. Damn!

Three chapters in, and we've left some of the earlier dream-motifs behind. But what seems to be a common thread are the wanderers, travelers, characters on the fringes who are slinking their way through borderlands.

This chapter was a little slow, and not nearly as charming as Frobisher's tale. But I hear there are bananasuit-wearing billionaires just around the corner. And, more boners!

Richard Grapples with An Orison of Sonmi-451

[Read after Section 5]

This section is presented in an interview format, as an Archivist collects the testimony ("orison") of an Ascendant clone called Sonmi-451. Whaaaaat? Yeah, we're in the future, and I'm not always great at parsing science fiction so feel free to correct any errors.

Mitchell's futuristic vision is a bit like Wallace's ultra-consumerist future in Infinite Jest. In Jest, time itself has been sponsored by corporations ("The Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar."). In Cloud Atlas, ads are projected on the face of the moon ("Hae-Joo said an AdVless moon would freak him out") and objects are referred to solely by the corporate names (automobiles are "fords" and all movies are "disneys," no capital letters). "Dewdrugs" keep people looking young and the service economy is staffed entirely by different kinds of enslaved clones ("fabricants"). There's an Abolitionist movement afoot to free the clones and apparently some clones, like our protagonist Sonmi-451, are beginning to develop a stable consciousness and transcend their environments (to become "Ascendent."). War's a-brewing, most likely.


It's certainly easy enough to link these ideas of freedom and slavery and civilization back to Adam Ewing's adventures among the savages in Section 1.

The connection between this section and the previous Timothy Cavendish section feels clever, certainly, but maybe a little forced, unlike the previous connections. However, it sort of resonates thematically in more interesting ways, since Somni-451 and Cavendish are both sharing their tales while imprisoned.

For the perverts:

This section has a tentacle porn reference ("The octopoid rapine on 3D distracted him.").

Favorite line:

Sonmi-451 sees an illustrated book of fairy tales for the first time and describes Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in this fashion: "Seven stunted fabricants carrying bizarre cutlery behind a shining girl."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Richard On Storytelling and "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish"

[Spoilers galore; read after Section 4]

Like many/most postmodern novels, Cloud Atlas is concerned with the idea of storytelling and with foregrounding its own narrative devices and trickery. Let's review for a sec. Section 1's journal of Adam Ewing is discovered by Robert Frobisher in Section 2. Frobisher's letters are read by Sixsmith in Section 3 and by Louisa (who shares a comet-shaped birthmark with Frobisher: what in hell?). And Section 4's Timothy Cavendish, a publisher, is reading Half Lives: The First Louisa Rey Mystery (as I surmised in a previous post, it's indeed a manuscript).

Okay, let's talk Section 4. "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish" sounds like a Poe title, and indeed Poe's "The Black Cat" gets a nod at one point, but perhaps the true genre of this section is a bizarre (and very funny) variation on a certain kind of B-movie in which the sane hero is mistaken and imprisoned (the genre is also directly referenced). Whereas the first three sections were (relatively) straightforward takes on journals, letters, and mystery novels, respectively, this section seems to me the most obviously "post-modern," full of dense wordplay and clever (obnoxious?) self-referential moments such as Cavendish professing a disdain for "flashbacks, foreshadowing, and tricksy devices" which "belong in the 1980's with M.A's in postmodernism and chaos theory" even though his own writing (and Mitchell's) is full of such "tricksiness."

Points for discussion:

The similarities between Frobisher and Cavendish are intriguing: both are on the run and end up engaged/imprisoned in strange, farcical situations.

Best euphemism for male genitalia:

"Prince Rupert and the Boys failed to stir."

Favorite line:

"Sometimes the fluffy bunny of incredulity zooms round the bend so rapidly that the greyhound of language is left, agog, in the starting cage."

And for Bananasuit, a reference to a banana suit:

" malcontent author wore a banana suit over a chocolate shirt and a Ribena tie."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bananasuit, on Liking Frobisher In Spite Of Herself

Courtneybelle is a genius -- Frobisher is totally a 1930s Euro hipster.

So guys, Frobisher's just making up his exploits to make Sixsmith jealous, right? We must discuss over PBRs.

And I agree -- despite my best efforts to dislike the cad, Frobisher's just too hilarious and lovable. My favorite scene is just after he sells the rare books (&c.) to Jansch and exclaims "Sweet bird of solvency," then blows his wad on new spats, a sharkskin cigarette box, and beers. Adorable. And he slays me with his truisms: "Whoever opined, 'Money can't buy you happiness,' obviously had far too much of the stuff.'" So true!

Other glimmerings of doubles & pairings: Jansch calls Frobisher "a naughty goose who lays such illuminated eggs." Are we to infer parallels between Frobisher and Dr. Goose of the Thomas Ewing journals?

And fellow readers, I hope you appreciate the restraint I'm exercising in order not to discuss feminism in the context of Mrs. Crommelyncks and equestrian transformation motifs in The Mabinogian & Ukrainian folklore. Can't wait to meet Luisa Rey in section three!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Courtneybelle on Letters from Zedelghem / And Thoughts On Section 3: Half-Lives: The First Louisa Rey Mystery

Here's Courtneybelle's fun take on "Letters from Zedelghem":

Regardless of breasts, I feel ill-qualified to comment on Letters from Zedelghem from a feminist perspective. I will say this section of the book appeals to my love of the "superfluous man". I never felt that one should spend the energy to think of the acts of a superfluous man as either praiseworthy or despicable, which is why I can't take pains to dislike Frobisher. Suffice it to say that I can see that this character has more than a little in common with the shiftless, meandering spirits of the hipster generation or "generation why". Well, more in common than just Venereal disease.

"That love loves fidelity, she riposted, is a myth woven by men from their insecurities."

Well bespoke! While this is certainly a popular sentiment among females, it always puts me off. Sisters, don't you know what crazy, possessive freaks you are right now? I'm open to the possibility that the ladies presented so far haven't had many redeeming qualities because we actually don't have that much to recommend us in the first place. I'm not going to fault the author for that, yet.

I can't lie, I admire the moxie of a person who can straight out call Claude Debussy a man-whore.

My Favorite Line from section 2:
"Faith, the least exclusive club on Earth, has the craftiest doorman"

Lastly, as a lover of individual words, I must admit the damnable author has caused me to forgive him for using the word "hamlet" twice in the first chapter. By using two of my all time favorite words in this chapter, onanist and escutcheon, he managed to pull me begrudgingly back to the possibility that this book might go somewhere.


[Read after third section]

In the third section, titled Half-Lives: The First Louisa Rey Mystery, we shift from the first person journals and letters of the first two sections and into a standard third-person format. Straightforward, with brief chapters. Is this a piece of a novel(even though it seems to be telling a story with real characters?) And who's writing it? We don't know. Yet.

The link to the second section is made immediately apparent here (hello, Sixsmith!) so there's no clever mid-section reveal (though we do learn what Cloud Atlas refers to, which is nice).

Bananasuit will likely be pleased by the emergence of a plucky female heroine, Louisa Rey, a reporter who's toiled too long covering trivial gossip and finally gets her chance to break a major story involving a nuclear plant cover-up (if she's not rubbed out first).

I remain most intrigued by the idea of "interconnection." Why does Louisa Rey possess the same birthmark as Robert Frobisher? The ideas about shifting identity are occasionally mirrored by the prose itself. One short chapter begins with a character who sits at a hotel bar and "watches yachts in the creamy evening blues" and ends with another character who sits at the same hotel bar and "watches yachts in the creamy evening blues."

Memorable moment:

During a bit of snappy repartee, Louisa refers to an ex-boyfriend as a "swindling sperm gun."

Best description of America thus far:

"...our denuded, heroic, pernicious, enshrined, thirsty, berserking American continent."

Bananasuit Examines the Women of "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing"

Readers (all four of you!), we're having a lot of fun with the PBR Book Club, and what we'd love is to get a lot of different responses to the various sections of the novel and create a collage of voices worthy of the book itself. Get in touch if you'd like to write something.

Here's our co-captain Bananasuit's take on the first section of the novel. Come watch her shotgun a PBR at our first meeting on Sept. 29 at the Replay!

"Yes, I will shotgun a PBR! Although what I'd like to shotgun is a martini. I'll save that one for the Pig.

Clearly, in the first seafaring section of Cloud Atlas, we're situated in a masculine realm. Let's inventory the female characters encountered so far, shall we?

1. That corpse in petticoats, Marchioness Grace, who's going to be gifted a set of cannibalistic dentures via Dr. Goose.

2. Your run-of-the-mill sullen maids and whores at the service of the seamen.

3. Mrs. Evans, that dull churchlady who retires to her kitchen duties after serving Sunday dinner.

4. Widow Bryden, a frigid old sow who requires "Dr. Quack" to frisk her, for medical reasons.

5. Kupaka's wife, who naively serves Kupaka the poisonous fish that will send his slave Autua to the whipping block.

What really fascinates me, in this first section, is the clashing of a rational world, governed by clocks, statute books, and soup tureens, with a more "indelible, fearsome & sublime" cthonic realm, where clocks stop working and rotting hog's hearts hang from trees. Will Adam's mysterious parasite make him surrender to this realm -- ruled by slaves, cannibals, and whores -- or will he learn, as the conquistadors before him, to manipulate and subdue the magical for his own unimaginable power & riches? Stay tuned.

My favorite line from Section 1: "Torgny, give me your gift instanter or, by the hinges of hell, you shall regret the day you crawled from your mother's [my quill curls at recording his profanity]."

And my favorite character: Boerhaave, that brutish first-mate, who's first introduced on page 7, sitting "amidst his cabal of trusted ruffians like Lord Anaconda & his garter-snakes." The ultimate villain. And, he's Dutch!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Cloud Atlas: Letters from Zedelghem

[Read after Section 2]

I can tell the great joy of this book, for me, is going to be the revelations of how each part fits together. I'm a fan of interconnecting storylines in film (I love Altman's Shortcuts and PT Anderson's Magnolia especially). There's a certain thrill that comes from seeing how the pieces unexpectedly lock into place. So I loved the moment where we finally learn how this section's narrator, a music-obsessed, bisexual scoundrel named Robert Frobisher, connects to Adam Smith of Section 1. I won't spoil it here.

Section 2 departs from the journal of Adam Smith and offers up the letters of Robert Frobisher. Ah, the epistolary novel. Having been forced to make my way through such tomes as Fielding's Pamela during Ph.D comp exams, I'm not a particular fan of this genre. But Frobisher's letters (to someone named Sixsmith) have a great, almost musical rhythm, to them, relaying the story of how he insinuates himself into the role of amanuensis for a legendary ailing composer named Ayrs at Ayrs' estate in Zedelghem and the two begin to compose together (while Frobisher conducts an affair with Ayrs' wife).

Favorite line of this section:

"Bedroom farce, when it actually happens, is intensely sad."

Point of discussion:

Is the music of Ayrs and Frobisher meant to mirror the novel's own way of linking past and present? Frobisher states: "Musicologically, he's Janus-headed. One Ayrs looks back to Romanticism's deathbed, the other looks to the future...Watching him use counterpoint and mix colors refines my own language in exciting ways."

Is there more "doubling" in this section, as Frobisher begins to almost transform into Ayrs?

Pretentious poetry reference and wordplay regarding the "cliffs of Dover":

"Dover an utter fright staffed by Bolsheviks, versified cliffs as Romantic as my arse and a similar hue."

Best piece of advice:

"When insolvent, pack minimally, with a valise tough enough to be thrown onto a London pavement from a first-or-second floor window."

Coming soon to PBR Book Club:

Bananasuit (or possibly Chip) applies a feminist perspective to Frobisher's shenanigans. What do we make of a whole slew of rather misogynistic comments that emerge especially near the end of this section?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cloud Atlas: Thoughts on "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing"

[No major spoilers, but those who actually plan to read the novel should probably not read this post until completing the first short section of the book. Those who are not planning on reading the novel should probably just skip to the end for the jokey stuff.].

So I'm pretty well-versed in the young contemporary hotshot writers. I've read some DFW (yes, I made it through Infinite Jest). I've read some Franzen and some Lethem and some Safran-Foer (the Jonathans, as they are often called). I've read some Chabon. But this is my first real experience with David Mitchell (I think I read a few pages of Black Swan Green once and got bored).

What I've gathered over the years from encountering Cloud Atlas reviews is that it's essentially composed of interrelated pieces that inhabit different genres (from the old-fashioned seafaring adventure to pulp-fiction to post-apocalyptic sci-fi). The first section offers up selections from the 19th century journal of Adam Ewing, an American notary embarking on a journey home from the Chatham Islands. We're talking some flowery and ornate language here, folks, with a shout-out to Melville as early as pp. 10. Our group member, Courtneybelle, who is not a fan of Moby Dick, will probably be displeased. But it all seems fairly straightforward, so far, with the exception of a single footnote that appears unexpectedly and displaces the sense that we are reading a present-tense journal by alerting us to the existence of the journal's curator and (possibly?) editor.

Thematically, the first section probably recalls Conrad as much or more than Melville. There's some not-quite "doubling" going on with Adam and a cannibalistic tribesman named Autua (who's a bit like Melville's Queequeg). When Adam first encounters Autua, who is being lashed, Mitchell offers up this unexplained tidbit: "The beaten savage raised his slumped head, found my eye & shone me a look of uncanny, amicable knowing." Note also a passage later where Adam dreams that "not English but the guttural barkings of an Indian race burst from my mouth." Readers, we're ready to talk pompously about colonialism and race. Brush up on your Edward Said.

Random thoughts:

--Obviously there's an interest in the roots of civilization in this first chapter, with an embedded tale about whether a society predicated on non-violence can survive (the answer seems to be no). Presumably the novel is eventually headed toward some post-apocalyptic civilization. Taking us from the beginning of time to the end of time is so hip right now! (see Malick's Tree of Life as current example and, in its bizarre and ultra-quirky fashion, Miranda July's The Future).

--There's at least one good dick joke, with a character who insists on referring to Adam, the scribe, as "Quill-Cock."

--Dr. Henry Goose is also a funny name.

--The section of the novel ends in mid-sentence: obnoxious!

Best pretentious, postmodern sentence so far:

"Occasionally I glimpse a truer Truth, hiding in imperfect simulacrums of itself, but as I approach it bestirs itself & moves deeper into the thorny swamp of dissent."

Signs and rumors:

--Someone pointed out that the PBR of our club could also stand for "Postmodern Books (at) Replay." Wow. This book club is surely meant to be.

--Each meeting of the book club will be called to order with the recital of Frank Booth's immortal words from Blue Velvet: "Heineken? Fuck THAT shit! PABST. BLUE. RIBBON."

--Bananasuit will shotgun a PBR before each discussion.

Who's got stuff to say? Leave a comment or get in touch and write for us.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Larryville's PBR Book Club: Chapter One

What Larryville needs is a group of scenesters who read pretentious tomes and other relevant hipster texts and gather infrequently to talk about them (drunkenly) over PBRs at the Replay and the Tap. So this blog will offer occasional posts about what we're reading (written by us or maybe the bananasuit librarian or maybe others if any of you will actually agree to join us).

First choice: David Mitchell's 2004 Cloud Atlas.

Our first meeting is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 29 at 9:00 at Replay. So read Cloud Atlas before it becomes a shitty Tom Hanks film directed by the Wachowski brothers and join us and Bananasuit if you will.

From the New York Times review: "On one hand, Mitchell's strategy is boldly antithetical to what most narrative-driven novels have been up to since Cervantes. On the other hand, what Mitchell is doing is basically James Michener's ''Alaska'' with an I.Q. transplant."