Monday, April 16, 2012

In Which Richard Comments on Book 1 of A Very Minor Prophet (Whilst Drinking a PBR)

Being a Southerner and a literary type, I'm reasonably well-versed in Flannery O'Connor, and one of my favorite O'Connor characters has always been Hazel Motes from Wise Blood. Poor old Hazel wants nothing more than to escape from God, but that's complicated by the fact that he's always being mistaken by a preacher. So finally he gives in to the "calling," except he calls his church the "Church of Christ Without Christ." This being an O'Connor story, however, Christ is most definitely going to enter the picture.

In A Very Minor Prophet, James Bernard Frost acknowledges an O'Connor influence with this epigraph, a Motes' quote: "The only way to the truth is through blasphemy." And it's certainly easy to see more than a bit of Hazel Motes in Hynes' dwarf preacher Joseph Patrick Booker, though Booker's project is different. He doesn't want to do without Christ, he just wants to reappropriate him, to wrest him out of the Bush-era Evangelicals' grasp and get rid of the mystical mumbo-jumbo and re-establish Christ as a friend to the freaks, the kind of dude who'd happily hang out with the zinesters and the anarchists and the PBR-swillers, keeping Portland weird. Booker's first follower, and our faithful scribe, is one Bartholomew ("Barth") Flynn, a lapsed Iowa Catholic and current Portland barista whose cynical zine is floundering until Booker's sincerity gives him a whole new subject matter.

On finishing Book I, I'm curious to see where Hynes is going with Barth. Will Booker's sermons (miracle-free though they may be) end up rekindling his religious faith? And will he finally hook up with Mercyx (a great character!), whose tough exterior is harboring a few secrets I won't reveal here.

Random observations:

--I wasn't sure I'd dig the zine elements of the book but they're working for me on the whole. As Barth transforms Booker into a "character" in his zine, it's like we're witnessing the process of creation unfold.

--Can't wait to hear Bananasuit's feminist reading of Mercyx!

Memorable quotes:

"You see, what I want is to start a retro faith, a sort of a time meld between Galilee and the Summer of Love, minus the patchouli."

" was inspiring to read things that would never make it into mass-manufactured print."

"...her Chesterfields and Hefeweisen puke mixing with my Stumptown and PBR puke."

And look at Brad Dourif ranting and raving as Hazel Motes in John Huston's film of Wise Blood (please watch on Criterion!):

Saturday, April 14, 2012

"The Coffee of Christ" & Rexall Drugs

When our book club first had this little indie zine hybrid book pitched to us, the publicist made sure to mention the PBR.  She omitted, however, to mention "The Coffee of Christ."  Hmm!

A third of the way through, I'm liking the deranged midget apostle Booker, and his faithful scribe, Bartholomew Flynn.  Booker's biblical rants are truly hilarious, but also sincere, and it's a mix that's working out for me.  I could see myself waking up at noon on a drunken Sunday morning for a communion of "The Coffee of Christ" and a Voodoo Doughnut, especially if there were PBRs afterwards.

I'm enjoying Frost's descriptions of Portland, and my interest was piqued on page 64 as he describes all the coffees shops dotting Portland which were formally "Rexall Drugs" pharmacies.  Commence Google image search!  Here are a few photos of the former Star E Cafe on Alberta Street, which was once a lovely little Rexall Drugs:


I don't know if Barth's "Mecca Cafe" actually exists (the internets say "no,") but I imagine it would look a lot like this.  Yeah, I'd work there.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Karen's Digression: Who is the guy on the front cover of our book?

Front Cover of our book painted by Bronzino
The new catch phrase on the back cover of our new book/zine is "hipster love."  Also on the back and front cover is a picture of a naked man affected by dwarfism.  Who is that guy?

His name is Morgante, and he lived in the Medici court starting around 1540 working for the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo I de' Medici. According to Vasari (the first art historian), Morgante was clever, learned, and very kind.  Although he was seen as a possession, the Grand Duke called him "our beloved dwarf" and granted him land and the right to marry.  He was a faithful companion to Cosimo I de' Medici, and while he was asked to perform entertaining tasks, he also accompanied Cosimo on many diplomatic trips.

Evidentially, many dwarfs were in the Medici Court. Called "nani," the dwarfs entertained and amused, being the subject of fascination, laughter and ridicule.  Morgante’s case was no exception. Records testify that he was often mortified because of required tasks such as fighting naked with a monkey.

The images for our front and back cover of our book are taken from a painting by Bronzino which has a front and a back side.  On the front of the canvas, Morgante holds an owl. Morgante was employed as a bird catcher, and the owl helped him catch birds. On the back side of the canvas, Morgante holds birds caught from hunting.  The two sides of the painting show time; before and after the hunt.

Although the man in the painting was referred to as Morgante while at the Medici Court, this was only a humorous title based on the character Morgante, a giant from the 15th-century epic poem by Luigi Pulci.  Morgante's real name was Braccio di Bartalo.

Note: information for this entry was taken from "Discovery News", Sepetember 2010 "Naked Dwarf Again Revealed in Painting"
Sculpture of Morgante

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Me and You and Every Anxiety We Know

Well I guess I was just hardwired to dig Miranda July's writing. I liked both of her feature films - they weren't quite perfect but each of them was fascinating and hard to look away from. Somehow it seems to work for me even better in literature form, though after reading "Nobody Belongs Here More Than You" I would really like to see what she can do if she stretched out into a longer literary form.

I think what I like most about reading these (other than the fact that I feel like she is my long-time top-of-the-favorite-authors-list Richard Brautigan reincarnated as a modern woman) is that she is essentially delivering a stand-up comedy line in a cerebral context and using it to talk about familiar and serious issues in a way that feels like exploring an alien landscape that immediately becomes familiar as the crest of each rise is crested and each draw traversed. Her comedic timing is fantastic and the steady dose of wry observation and knowing cynicism tempers the fluctuating nostalgia-sentimentality-sincerity flow.

She does also enjoy playing with societal boundaries – nothing too brow-raising but she pulls you along to perspectives you probably don’t consider most days of the week.

For some reason the following line leaped out at me and apparently it grabbed Richard as well (what are the chances of a single line out of an entire collection of short stories making such an impression on multiple readers?), though my focus was more on just this couplet:

"I got up and stood alone in the hallway and pressed my face to the wall. It was wood-paneled and smelled like pee, as so many things do.

That sums up much about July that I like: The moments that happen alone (or when feeling alone), the real details tweaked to exploit telling, briefly incongruous associations to paint a complex sense-picture with great economy of words, and again, the comedic timing.

She does indeed seem to return repeatedly to scenes where someone is seemingly stuck in time. In fact, this seems to be a primary element in her more recent movie "The Future" where time is being held up for a seeming indefinite arc of story. Perhaps it is some sort of statement about the modern condition but as I encountered these (in one of them she is poised with one foot in the freshly drawn bathwater, the other out, and she ponders just staying frozen like that until the person that just left the house never to come back returns), they resonated with me more viscerally - I've had such moments before and even when I don't indulge them in the end, there are others that I notice as their potential rises and falls in the stream of consciousness flowing by.

Her obsession with behavioral detail is enjoyable to witness, as in The Shared Patio where she's not sure if the landlord explained to the couple downstairs that in fact their patio really was supposed to be a shared patio for her (the persona, and she writes from a variety of these) to use equally, so she marks on the calendar when they use it so she can match them in terms of patio-sitting time and then goes and sits for a while then crosses out the mark now that both parties are commensurate:

"Sometimes I lag behind and have to sit out there a lot toward the end of the month in order to catch up."