Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Recent Fiction Less Than Five Years Old

Meet Me in the Parking Lot
Stories by Alexandra Leggat
  
Flannery O'Connor, Russell Banks and Jersey Kozinzky meet for coffee, hash browns and small talk about psychic exile and the best sort of knife edge to hack through a bothersome bit of bone. Odd, disturbing, violent material here--violence either explicit or always at the edge of the crystallized situations here--all of which are made more jarring with Alexandra Leggat's taste for terse sentences and abrupt endings.

It works, for the most part, and the arc through the stories, life inside cars, on dark streets, side roads, parking lots behind anonymous bars, presents us with any number of dazed, abused and high strung women and rattled, crazed, raging men enacting any number of strange movements and quirks. At best, these stories are an adrenaline jolt, speaking truly to the sort of flash that gives one the urge to leap in front of traffic, to challenge immensity of grave and incalculable danger. Fans of Joyce Carole Oates take note , as Leggat seems a likely and artful heir to her position as chronicler of the Imperiled Woman.

 

Still Holding
A novel by Bruce Wagner
 
There's something refreshingly unforgiving in Bruce Wagner's lacerating Hollywood satire; those readers who've had a love/hate relationship with the movie business, an attraction-repulsion dynamic that loves movies themselves and yet is sickened by the business culture that makes it possible, will find the nasty laughs here telling, truthful, and an overdue joy to read.

Anyone else who desire something redeeming to emerge from all the bad faith, a kind act or sacrifice arising from some forgotten reservoir of decency would be better off seeking less severe wit. Wagner mines the old joke about Hollywood that "underneath the tinsel there's more tinsel", and obviously appreciates Jean Baudrillard's theories on simulacra, where the slavish and stylized impression has replaced the real; set this heady abstraction on to the business of celebrity lookalikes and the community that arises among them, we get a twisting , fun house mirror of Hollywood , a parallel existence that mimes the worst and most inane features of the stars they imitate. Wagner, in addition, writes like a wizard who knows where all the bodies are buried and the garbage is dumped.

Oblivion
Stories by David Foster Wallace
 
At his best, David Foster Wallace is an astute chronicler of the often needless (and fruitless) complications characters create for themselves. In these eight stories, he outlines the absurdity, sadness, and sheer comic reality of the outer-edge of consciousness. Fashion magazine editorial boards, consumer research companies, and paranoid office situations are among the areas fictionally explored where human activity fractures into dozens of frantic, nervous tangents. Oblivion is a dizzying, daring set of tales - a riveting virtuoso performance. Ironic, yes, that Wallace's exhausting "maximalist" style, which seems dedicated to fitting everything in sight into a sentence that contains everything else, works best in his shorter pieces: the humor hits harder, the stretches of associations don't have time to die on the vine.



The Body Artist
A novel by Don DeLillo
 
DeLillo is perhaps the best literary novelist we have at this time, which the career-defining masterwork  Underworld  made clear to his largest readership yet: at the end of all those perfect sentences , sallow images and and long, winding, aching paragraphs is a narrative voice whose intelligence engages the fractured nature of identity in a media-glutted age.
 
The Body Artist  has him contracting the narrative concerns to a tight, elliptical 128 pages, where the Joycean impulse to have a private art furnish meaning to grievous experience is preferred over the dead promises of religion and philosophy. What exactly the woman character does with her performance body art, what the point is of her ritualized , obsessed cleansing of her body, is a mystery of DeLilloian cast, but it's evident that we're witnessing to a private ritual whose codes won't reveal themselves, but are intended as a way for the woman to again have a psychic terrain she can inhabit following the sudden and devastating death of her film maker husband. The entrance of the stranger in the cottage turns her aesthetic self-absorption , slowly but inevitably, into a search into her past in order to give her experience meaning, resonance, a project she quite handily ignores until then. The sure unveiling of her psychic life is a haunting literary event.
 
DeLillo's language is crisp, evocative, precise to the mood and his ideas: you envy his flawless grasp of rhythm and diction as these traits simultaneously make the cottage on the cold , lonely coast seem sharp as snap shot, but blurred like old memory, roads and forests in a foggy shroud.  A short, haunted masterwork.


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