Friday, March 12, 2010

A book worth reading and re-reading


The fuss over postmodern style has blessedly subsided a while ago, leaving me with the opportunity to clear some novels from my bookshelf that  aged as well as I would have hoped. What had seem novel, bold, smart in the eighties and nineties now seems, well, contrived, faddish and tacky.  DeLillo , Pynchon and others are doing just fine for credibility , of course, and  younger writer's effort,  Chris Bachelder's Bear v Shark:The Novel, scores big with his 2002 debut novel. It was the po-mo laugh fest that the over-praised and under-edited Jonathan Franzen strained. "The Corrections".It answers what every Luddite might have been wondering about the long term effects of television watching on our much assaulted nuclear family.

In the future, the televisions have no off switch, nor do they have remote controls, because technology has gotten to the point that television no longer influences the culture, but IS the culture. Reality and simulation melt together seamlessly, without a trace of resistance from the archetypal family whose path we follow as they prepare themselves for a Las Vegas vacation to witness the much hyped Media Event of Bear v. Shark. Bachelder keeps a straight face through out most of this short but punchy novel, and displays an ear for the way television cant infiltrates our daily speech, and invades our dream life. Scattered through out the book are a heap of fast and savage rips on Mass Mediated news, sports call-in shows, flouncy entertainment under which nothing substantial resides. In this world, experts in the guise of pundits, jocks, philosophers, and academics all feed a an uncountably intrusive technology that renders every distraction and disturbance into an entertainment value, to be used until a new contrived sequence of illusion can be set in place.

Bachelder, demonstrating a brevity and incisive wit that trashes the claims made for the word-gorged "genius" of D.F. Wallace, writes surely, sharply, with his eye never off his target.  Though he does, at times, resort to the sort of post-modernism stylistics and cliches, such as having the author step out from the story to deliver some self-aware discourse on the limits of narrative's capacity to represent the external world fully, completely -- he has a novel or two to go before the lit.critese is pounded out of him -- our author finally reveals a humane side underneath the smart language, and issues forth a funny yet serious warning about our habit of relinquishing our thinking and our capacity to live imaginatively over to the hands of data-drunk programmers.