This week has been awful. But at the end of it, I dropped my chemistry class, so maybe the rest of the semester will be less awful. Ironically, although I’ve been busy, I seem to have made it through a suprising amount of media works. There’s nothing that I particularly want to promote, or have the energy to write a full review of, so I’ll just give quick reviews here.
Jeff Lemire – The Complete Essex County
Essex County is a stark story expressed in stark style with stark technique. Interestingly, if I had to pick a single phrase to describe it, it would be “a Canadian 100 Years of Solitude comic book.” I don’t want to discuss the story for fear of spoiling it, but the graphic novel spends a lot of time showing what extended periods of lonlieness and solitude do to people emotionally and relating that to the geography and culture of rural Canada.
All of this is rendered in Lemire’s rough, monochromatic ink style, which perfectly illustrates the empty isolation in which most of his characters live. One powerful sequence shows the seasonal transitions on the farm, and we see that nothing changes, whether it is snow as far as the eye can see, corn rows as far as the eye can see, bare furrows…
Another aspect of the comic that I found interesting was the way in which it resembled Southern Gothic literature. This is not a perfect parallel; there is no Canadian analogue to the Civil War and race relations are much different there, yet as in Faulkner the rural isolation, long history, and buried secrets made me feel like I was missing something in every panel I read. I felt like because I am not from Essex County, I couldn’t really understand what was going on. Fortunately Lemire is humane and exposes those relationships (in a very exciting way, no less).
I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, but the story gives plenty to think about and some of the artwork is worth it on its own.
Ned Rorem – The Paris Diary
Ned Rorem was a young, beautiful, gay, American composer who ran around in Parisian expatriate and artistic circles in the mid-1950’s. In short, he was the person that I wish I could be at the time that I wish I could have been. I was surprised to find that he does not talk a whole lot about his work, but there are some personal insights into other composers of the time that I can’t imagine one could find anywhere else, and Rorem’s youthful, neurotic narration is entertaining and provoking in its own right. I did find the untranslated use of French somewhat annoying (thanks, Babelfish!) and at times I felt like I was intruding into Rorem’s beautiful-people problems (“It’s much harder to maintain one’s reputation for being pretty than for being a talented composer”), but I’m just bitching so that this review doesn’t read as me drooling all over myself.
Arturo Perez-Reverte – The Club Dumas
As I was reading this, I was struck by how similar this book is to Matthew Pearl’s The Dante Club. Both involve clues embedded in the works of historical writers. Both involve brushes with the occult. But Dante is superior in every way to Dumas. It should be mentioned that Dumas was published a full decade before Pearl’s book, but in this case originality does not trump execution. Skip Dumas, read Dante.
Neal Stephenson – Quicksilver
This is my latest stop on my quest to read all of Stephenson’s works. Honestly, the book is just too long for me to feel comfortable reccomending it to anybody. It’s not that I don’t think it’s good (I do!), but at 900 pages (and don’t forget that it’s the first installment of a trilogy), I don’t want to be responsible for wasting anybody’s time. If you’ve liked anything by him before, you’ll probably like this.
The Big Sleep
It was weird watching this; I’ve seen so many neo-noir and parodies of the Bogart drawl, casual sexism and L.A. cool epitomized in this movie that I felt like I had seen it before. It seems to have scared me off of The Maltese Falcon, however. As one of the few people of my generation that has read quite a few of the classic pulp mystery novels, I can tell you that Bogart fits as Phillip Marlowe, but is completely wrong for Sam Spade.
Meh. I was high and it wasn’t as scary.