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Infinite Jest – A Review

August 10, 2012

“You have a chance to occur…To make for you this second world that is always the same: with always a purpose to keep this world alive.”  So says a wise old tennis instructor.  The key to understanding David Foster Wallace’s masterpiece is the concept of human agency: the gift of choice, and how, if you abdicate your responsibility to choose, “if you just love, without deciding, if you just do…Then in such a case your temple is self and sentiment.  Then in such an instance you are a fanatic of desire, a slave to your individual subjective narrow self’s sentiments.  You become a citizen of nothing.  You are by yourself and alone, kneeling to yourself.”  Addiction (the big theme of this book) is a way of hiding from real life.

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The Pale King – A Review

April 25, 2012

 
“Routine, repetition, tedium, monotony, ephemeracy, inconsequence, abstraction, disorder, boredom, angst, ennui – these are the true hero’s enemies, and make no mistake, they are fearsome indeed.  For they are real.”  So we are warned, by David Foster Wallace.  His novel, The Pale King, is a clerical epic, set in the catacombs of the Internal Revenue Service, where men and women fight against the “soul murdering” nature of their dreary, repetitive jobs, and the “true heroes” embrace boredom, as a path to bliss.  Wallace believes in enlightenment through wilful attention to complexity.  The enemy here is not tedium but the idea that the majority of life is tedious.  Boredom is the coward’s way out.  A hero welcomes monotony.

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Freedom by Jonathan Franzen – A Review

December 31, 2011

 
Of all the ways to write about America at the dawn of the 21st century, this is, undoubtedly, the most mediocre.  The phrase “swinging for the fences” is not apt to this book.  Like the dull lives of the middle-class characters it details, exhaustively, over 600 pages, there is very little to make the heart race in Freedom.  You don’t get the swagger of Tom Wolfe, or the indignation of Philip Roth.  What you get is Jonathan Franzen, the milquetoast to end all milquetoasts, painstakingly doling out all the pet peeves of America’s chattering classes.  It’s like reading a blog by the Normals, of Liberalton, where dissatisfaction is as endless as the stream of words.  For all the handwringing, it’s a miracle the author could type.

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Cosmopolis – A Review

July 24, 2011

I guess, if David Cronenberg can make a movie out of Crash, he can make a movie out of Cosmopolis.  Both books are about looming death and dirty secrets; the killing sweep of history.  This could be the film that springs R-Patz from his Twilight jail.  The protagonist here isn’t American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, but he’s the same slice of money.  As usual in Don DeLillo’s fiction, there’s no real interest in women as individuals.  Life is a dick-swinging contest for DeLillo.  He writes like Nietzsche crossed with Tom Clancy.  In every book, every man has the same anxiety: Am I big enough (to matter, on a cosmic scale)?  Who’s better than me?  Imagine a personal ad: Self-important man seeks answers.  Must be cryptic.  Violence preferred.

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The Final Testament of the Holy Bible – A Review

June 24, 2011

In the gospel according to James Frey, the Messiah comes to rid us of stories… “the Christ story, and all the stories like it, stories that enslave us, and oppress us, and destroy us.” He’s the Messiah of the streets – and he don’t need no books, or teachers, or stories that will necessitate an intellectual tradition. He’s a Messiah for the Twitter age. His message is 140 characters, max. He says: Love. That’s it! Don’t think about it! The same way James Frey wrote this book. He didn’t talk to any theologians, or read any books on religion. He just flipped through the Bible – and realised it was bullshit! Turns out, God doesn’t care what we do. He’s not going to judge us. Even half-assed writing will apparently be excused.

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Catch 22 – A Review

April 10, 2011

This book is a lament for the world we live in. It knows there is no victory over death. The best you can hope for, in Joseph Heller’s view, is to persevere. He is not a cynical writer, as some may claim, because a cynic doesn’t have sympathy with anyone else. Heller is more the way I picture God: he’s smitten with the human race. All the poor luckless bastards of the world are Heller’s people: the inefficient and the inopportune; the people whose minds have cracked; whose spines have dissolved; those who can scarce face the thought of living… They are the heroes of Catch 22. Here is an epic for the bungled and the botched. There are no great deeds, and no innocents are saved. The hero wins because he refuses to die.

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