Monday, May 31, 2004

Lisa Moore, Degrees of Nakedness, 1995.

I've forgotten why Ms. Moore's collection of short stories was recommended to me; that's one of the unfortunate disadvantages of meaning to blog about a book, and then putting it off for three-ish weeks.

So. Her book is weak. It has flashes of description and characterization that are quite good, but for the most part, she's far too concerned with sex and far too little concerned with trying to tell an interesting story well. The stories reflect an obsession on the part of the narrators, an inability to fully comprehend what sex means--if it does--and what role it should play in their lives.

There are, as I said, a couple of moments that work fairly well.

From "Sea Urchin":
This is the sad thing about loving. It's a skill, like working up a clay pot on a wheel. As though the form is slipping to life by itself, the hands slicked with juicy mud are doing all they can to contain it. Just the tiniest squeezing of muscles in the hands keeps the pot perfect. It's such a shock to throw a pot for the first time and see how unsimple it is, to have it skew, deform and collapse in seconds, against what you expect.(30).

It seems to me that while this passage doesn't share a new analogy, it spells out the analogy well. It's a simile that really does work, and invites repetition: it shares the messy delicateness that is trying to love, trying to maintain a relationship, and it does so simply and without over-elaborating upon the idea.

A real problem with these stories is evident just after the point that this passage comes from: the slipshod nature of the jumps from one idea to the next, intended to create juxtapositions that ask the reader to make sense of some oddly related ideas, instead are jarring and startling to the reader. I wonder if perhaps the speaker hasn't fully made sense of the relations herself, and so the disconnects remain disconnected, rather than linking smoothly.

In "Haloes," Moore uses a line that I find intriguing: "the haiku is like a finger pointing at the moon. It's important that it's not a bejewlled or perfect finger. It only points to something" (136). While it seems to me that this is the idea behind each of Moore's stories, I'm inclined to argue that the person pointing needs to have some sense of the "why" behind the pointing, and I'm not convinced that that "why" is present in these stories--or, in fact, that the finger is pointing at something worthy of consideration.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Glenn Yeffeth, ed., Seven Season of Buffy: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Discuss Their Favorite Television Show.

This collection of twenty-two essays begins with some degree of promise, examining certain aspects of Buffy. In particular, Nancy Holder's "Slayers of the Last Arc," is a piece that argues that the final conclusion of the show works well both artistically and in the context of the show as a whole. While I'm more tempted by its seductive appeal to Joseph Campbell's outline of the quest myth (from Hero with a Thousand Faces) as an explanation, it is one of the few pieces that doesn't fall into the trap that most of the rest do. That is to say, it has a clear argument and it doesn't just follow a story--it uses quotations from the show to argue a point. It's a real essay!

The other extreme--and I won't pick on a particular author or essay, here, are the pieces that say, wasn't Buffy great? Don't you miss it when X happened? Who really was Buffy's best boyfriend?

So. Some decent essays, some crap. Much like those essays that you'll find online--and in short, spend your time looking for interesting pieces there; unless you can get this Yeffeth book from the library, it's not worth the price of purchase.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Ian Fleming, Casino Royale.

When I was a kid, I loved the idea of James Bond. I'd heard of him--and even seen a couple of the movies--and still wasn't allowed to take the books out of the library. Not their restriction: my mom's. She thought it wasn't yet age-appropriate material. Or so she always said: she never mentioned that they're poorly written, unexciting books, too.

Casino Royale is where Bond made his first appearance in print. It's a slow, plodding book--the first half deals with Bond trying to beat a Russian spy at Baccarat, and the second half is him recovering from being tortured--and setting up SMERSH as his future antagonistic agency. The entire book is a plodding exploration of the philosophy and psychology that Fleming creates to explain Bond. That is to say, the whole book sets up the rest. Whether they're better, substantially, is hard to say: the extensive descriptions that are so much a part of Fleming's style do not provide a background of excitement necessary to a spy/thriller novel, in my opinion.

Stick to the movies.