Saturday, April 3, 2010

Bachelder and Boyle Spoil the Party

Tortilla Curtain
a novel by TC Boyle

Culture clash is the theme in Tortilla Curtain , and leave it TC Boyle to go beyond the abstract curtain of statistics, policy wonkery and three-hankie tragedy mongering and provide the reader instead with a contradiction that is harshly comic; well off Southern Californians, nominally liberal in their politics, are forced to deal with an illegal couple who are in the most dire situations. It works to the degree in that the suburban pair preferred to have their causes at several layers of removal , preferring safe memberships in organizations forever raising money for non controversial progressive causes; a check or a credit card donation was the exercise of their social responsibility, an acceptable penance for what is largely a consumerist lifestyle. Boyle does not sugar coat, euphemise nor glorify the awful trials and fate of the Mexican couple that had stolen over the border looking for a better life. Against a backdrop of  sunshine, opulence and Conspicuous Consumption, Boyle tenders life at the margins, at the edges of glittering downtowns and cascading suburbs. Boyle is stinging and blunt in the way he describes the ordeals economic desperation that drives good people. He is unsparing at offering up a priceless, painfully recognizable banter of a privileged psychology that inspects the hard facts of injustice and responds by trying to worm their way out of any sense of responsibility for others less well endowed.


U.S.!
a novel by Chris Bachelder

Chris Bachelder is a lovable prankster who likes to turn the nicely fitting glove of literature inside out. while the rest of us are looking for meanings and various forms of significance in the interior decorating of conventional fictional devices--to this day, we all yearn to have poets and novelists to tell us The Truth-- Bachelder prefers to spray paint on the props and show us the cluttered backstage of these settings. And better yet, he rather likes in tying the shoelaces together of the pompous, the serious, the bizarrely sanctimonious. "U.S.!" has him imagining a world where the true believers in an American Socialist Revolution manage, through some vaguely revealed ritual of magic realism, to bring the dead activist novelist Upton Sinclair back to life; back to life the poor, steadfast, solemn socialist does, looking increasingly awful and putrid at the edges, going on the lecture trail, writing and publishing more of his cardboard narratives, trying to convince an amazingly uninterested citizenry the exact nature of what's killing them. Nothing comes of this, as expected, and the intrepid Lewis finds himself talking himself hoarse , only to find himself being killed violently and then ingloriously resurrected yet again.

A surreal fish-out-of-water story, Bachelder has a perfect ear for duplicating the static prose of the late novelists, and excels at demonstrating the striking contrasts between those who think that literature can make populations shed their entrenched and deeply rooted versions of Bad Faith and rise to the selfless cause of The Common People; this is a story of where the idea of the progression of history toward a final and just time, intersects with a culture where history does not end anywhere at all. Rather, it splits off into many tributaries, a crossroads every five metaphorical miles. Sinclair Lewis, tragicomic figure he is, stops at each of them, scratching his head as to which road to take.