Saturday, August 25, 2012

Apostle of Epistles pt. 1

I watched a gripping film recently that some of you who subscribe (but never comment except in email!) may have seen titled We Need to Talk About Kevin.  I noticed on the menu list that there was contained within, an interview with the author of the  novel about which the book was written.  With a desire for eager consumption, my daughter and I selected this option.  We were to be grievously injured by it. Not only did this detestable (in my opinion from 30 seconds of an interview) woman seem to have a narrow view of motherhood, postpartum depression, and mental illnesses in children, but she also opened her mouth and vomited all over the epistolary novel!

I had intended to read it, as everyone who spends more than 5 minutes in serious conversation with me knows that the portion of air I breathe that is not my children belongs to Les Liaisons Dangereuses and the subsequent movies it spawned.

However, the author, with her spewing verbiage on camera, turned me off. She stated her book was tested to some readers and it was suggested that she make it a series of letters so she simply "stuck Dear" at the beginning of each chapter and " Love," at the end. "And there you have it. An epistolary."

To write an effective epistolary, one must needs employ such a thing as talent, rather than the childish idea that letters begin with Dear and end with Love.  Epistolaries, likewise, need not be completed with letters.  Epistolaries may rely upon only what one is told in a series of legal documents discovered in the briefcase of a dead man.  An epistolary may tell its story through the eyes, and diary,  of a young girl, hiding for her life in the middle of a deadly crusade against her people.  Furthermore, an epistolary's story may unfold through newspaper articles, the importance of which may increase to the reader as the page number in the publication decreases and becomes a very vocal portion of the story itself!  And the writer of the epistolary novel must have eloquence that may be ignored in typical modes of conveying stories to readers.

So, I have decided to come up with a list of epistolary novels that will get you on your feet if you decide to check out this unique and exciting form of literature.  And this time, tell me which ones you like, or reasons you don't like them!

Historical Fiction

1.  Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
2.  Dracula by Bram Stoker
3.  Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
4.  I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
5.  Clarissa, or The History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson
6.  Poor Folk by Dostoyevski
7.  The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder

For Young People

1.  Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
2.  Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks
3.  The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
4.  The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson
5.  Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
6.  Don't You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey by Margaret Peterson Haddix
7.  Kathleen, Please Come Home by Scott O'dell


1.  Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding
2.  Diary: A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk
3.  Fan Mail by Ronald Munson
4.  The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie
5.  The Documents in the Case by Dorothy L. Sayers
6.  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
7.  Overqualified by Joey Comeau

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Thirst by Andrei Gelasimov

Nope, it isn't a vampire story. Well, not in the traditional sense.  Although there is much consuming, burning, and living in darkness.

Thirst is a short novel from Russian author Andrei Gelasimov. In 2001, Andrei self-published a story A Tender Age on the Internet and instantly became one of the most beloved Russian literary figures of modern day.

In a nutshell and on the surface, Thirst is a story that we've seen many times.  A young war veteran returns home changed, physically and emotionally, only to find that life has gone on without him.  Haunted and without the psychological tools to adjust, he goes through the motions, never really analyzing how he got where he is and how to become part of the world again.

Interspersed with flashbacks of his childhood, his time in the war, the rebel attack that leaves him scarred, the story tells of Konstantin's life and the few people with whom he feels a tenuous connection.  Along with two other young men who were in the war with him, our hero leaves the safety of his solitude to search for a missing friend, the man who pulled them all out of the burning APV, leaving Konstantin for last, to burn the longest.

But symbolically, it is something more.

Konstantin, better known as Kostya, is the one with this thirst.  But it isn't just a thirst.  It's a thirst. With all the drinks around, he never seems quenched.  This is because he doesn't even know that he's thirsty.

The story opens with Kostya drowning in a mountain of vodka bottles, seals unbroken, so numerous that they cannot all fit into the fridge, or into the kitchen, taking up the windowsill and the dirty clothes hamper.  Wallowing in his solitude, Kostya continues with his life.  The reader gets the feeling that he has come to grips with his appearance, which is never described.  What he has not come to terms with is his life before the fire.

And then the quest.

Isn't there always a quest in the best stories? A quest for a ring, a quest for a chalice. The prize is not always the most important part of the journey.  Sometimes it's the getting there.

Seryoga is missing.  Seryoga, the young soldier who pulled the company from the burning vehicle, who took them all to safety, but left Kostya for last.

Genka and Pashka have arrived in the midst of Kostya's disarray to take him on a journey to find Seryoga whose apartment has been taken over by disreputable homeless people with whom Seryoga had associated.  Despite having Pashka and Genka, who had become quite successful (even driving American SUVs) after the war, Seryoga remains on a path of destruction. Money slips through his fingers like water.  His associations are less than desirable.  Even Kostya has found a measure of success, although it is not as lucrative financially or emotionally as Pashka's and Genka's. Could Seryoga's haphazard drift through life be a reenactment of that haphazard trip from the safety of cover, across the bombed streets of Chechnya, to pull out his wounded brothers? Only this time, Seryoga is leaving himself behind, not Kostya. Leaving himself to burn in the wasteland of Moscow.

And into that wasteland Genka and Pashka drag Kostya to search for the man who let Kostya burn.

No reason or trace can be found of their fellow.  But along the way, Kostya is forced to deal with the father he has not seen in twenty years.  This great, looming man-behind-the-curtain who abandoned Kostya and his mother for a younger woman, who became the father to two new children that he never was to Kostya.  And that father finds that he must come to terms with Kostya or lose him forever.

And back on the road, following clues, asking questions, running into ghosts of the past, always with the wicked shadow of Chechnya clouding out the sky.

Always, Kostya looks at the passing world from behind the mask of the war, the face the fire gave him, and the protective glass of the SUV, an almost magical war tank itself, large and expensive and part of a world that is removed from him.

 Despite the water that has been prevalent in his life, Kostya has never been cleansed.  Not from the ocean, not from the melting snow, or the flood of vodka that begins in his apartment and carries him to Moscow.  And where was all this water, all this liquid that permeates the story, when Kostya was burning?

A man without a face.  But it wasn't stripped away just by the fire.  It was taken by his father's betrayal, his mother's love of a man who was less than fatherly to young Kostya and her eventual drifting away from him.  One could not be a man if he didn't have a face.  Different men made different faces as they drank their vodka.  They all made different faces at each of the women they looked upon.  And Pashka and Genka, who drifted in and out of Kostya's life as if with the tide, consuming not only their own vodka but the vodka that Kostya has bought for himself?  They carried with them the memory of Kostya's face before the fire, a face that Kostya has even forgotten he had.

With many quests, the hard-won treasure can be disappointing, can show up so easily after a difficult journey that it leaves the knight bewildered and exhausted.  The Great and Powerful Wizard can turn out to be an old man, just as lost and just as much on a quest for home as the haggard band of comrades who find him.

And often, like that little girl from Kansas, what the hero is searching for all that time could end up being right under his nose.  Or in the mirror.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Pontypool's Secret PULP Origins! (Pulp Fiction Part 4)

I intended to address fans of the tantalizingly written novel, but if you've just seen the movie, that works, too.  Most of us were rendered speechless in 2008 with the release of the movie Pontypool, set in the town of the same name in Canada, wherein a zombie-like virus envelopes a county, spreading through the bacterium of words. However, unbeknownst to some, a novel preceded the movie.

The movie Pontypool took one chapter late in the novel and centered around it and the limited connection with the towns surrounding that were falling rapidly into chaos.  Even more unbeknownst to move fans,( and to me until a friend bestowed upon me the short story written by H.P. Lovecraft's cohort Henry Kuttner in 1943) Mr. Tony Burgess, author of Pontypool, most likely did not have divine inspiration when he came up with his tale of semantic terror.

Enter Mr. Henry Kuttner, pulp terrorist. He deserves a post all his own, so I will not go into detail about him now. However, his story is another story.

Nothing But Gingerbread Left.

In the story, a professor and one of his grad students are having a discussion while the professor's teenage son sits in the background muttering a silly schoolyard sing-song rhyme that gets stuck in their heads.  At the forefront of their minds is the war in Europe and the spread of Hitler's propaganda.  Both scholars, who are German-as-a-second-language speakers, devise a scheme wherein they will use the pattern, rhythm, and particularities of the German language to write a nonsensical verse, say it for a group of German prisoners of war, and analyze the results.

Results, to whit, that are the undoubted origins of Mr. Burgess' Pontypool novel.

The link below provides a skip over to the short story in whole. There are some annoying errors in format, but these are easily ignored, for the most part.  The story is very short, 15 or 20 minute read for us logophiles, 5 or 10 for everyone else. If you have to ask why it takes some of us longer, then praise the lord that you are not damned to read blissful words and phrases three or four times, then call up a friend and read them aloud for as long as the friend will tolerate it.

Opinions? Comparisons? Curses?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bugs Bunny: Master Logophile?

With confidence, the suave woodland creature exits his home and strolls across the plain armed only with a quick wit and a business card. You've seen the exchange. You know its verbiage by heart. But do you truly understand?

You may ask yourself how on earth a gray rabbit could be more intelligent than 98% of the human beings who walk to and fro upon the earth.  You may answer yourself with the following.  "I heard...but I did not comprehend!"

When Bugs Bunny traipses across his front lawn to meet his new neighbor, the ever-starved Wile E. Coyote, Supergenius, he is accompanied by a most keen awareness of the English language.  He raps upon the door with the back of his knuckles, the way only the debonair can accomplish.  "Are you in, Genius?" he calls out.  With a lift of one carefully coiffed eyebrow, he treads the path that only the great have tread before.  "Are you in, Capable?" Which leads him further down the winding trail of acidic wit, wherein he loses the pause and dives straight in for the kill.  "Are you insolent? Are you indescribable?"

So let me follow this wild hare and pose to you the question of, if a cartoon bunny can understand basic elementary prefixes, why not great authors and speakers across the English-speaking world?

I will start at the beginning.  We have all read, and many of us (myself excluded, of course)have used, the word "ingenious." I've heard ejaculations such as "That is an ingenious invention!" on television commercials.  I've read in otherwise praiseworthy novels "He was a foe of ingenious wickedness."  I have heard people say of coworkers "He is rather ingenious" and I've wanted to say in return, "Possibly, but you most assuredly are!"

I will get to the point.

Definition:  in-
A prefix meaning "the opposite of"

Definition: incapable-the opposite of capable
Definition: indescribable-without words or meaning to provide description
Definition: inept-the opposite of adept

Waiting for it...
Waiting for it...
You see where I'm going, don't you?

Definition: ingenious-the opposite of genius.  Or it should be.  Right?

Everything about the word screams opposite of genius!
Sadly, one of my major hang-ups in wordage leaves me very dissatisfied.

Ingenious should follow the same path that Bugs began.  But it does not! It makes me want to scream!!

Ingenious, frustratingly enough, is not a word that uses "in" as a prefix. It comes from the Latin word ingeniousus which means "intellectual or talented." While genius and ingenious seem to negate each other when spoken, notice the difference in spelling, for one thing.  Also note that ingeniousus has also been spelled engenious. This is the root word for "engine." But this does not give satisfaction, either, as the "en" in engenious is not a prefix.  The prefix "en" is added to verbs to make them nouns, as in "engulf."

So, all this logophilia frustration builds into anger and a sense of betrayal by one of the master speakers of the childhood years of budding word-lovers everywhere! Did Bugs spit in the face of our desire for a perfect and orgasmic language? Did he thumb his cute wittle nose at our starving spirits seeking satiation in the musicality of words?

I believe not.

While Bugs was making what seemed a very concise link between words, which turned out to be grievously incorrect, what he was actually doing was making a quick-witted pun on the linkage and aural play of word usage and custom.  He did not betray us, beloved logophiles! He taunted our rigidity, forced a crack in the surface of our polished veneer, and drove us to question him, ourselves, and our destiny as feeders at the trough of linguistics.

The most important lesson an intelligent person or beast can learn is to make light of themselves. As followers of Mr. Bunny know, he is quite a logophile and possessed of an awareness of what lies beneath the surface of those around him.  He did not misstep.  He led us into the darkness without a dictionary to light our way so that we may pioneer in ourselves an oasis in the desert. Take the knowledge that he imparted in the origin of words and use it to make your world a little brighter.  And know that Bugs Bunny will remain the common man's champion in the arena of the ingenious.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Finite Number of Alternatives to "Countless"

Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Monday Mechanics. Well, actually it is the first episode. Or quite possibly the only episode. Only time will tell! So stick with me while I pull up my well-used and much-loved soapbox.

One word more than almost any other will turn my stomach and make me rethink my decision to read a particular book, article, or correspondence: Countless. It is in many of my favorite books and stories. It exists four times in the first 1,500 pages of the Game of Thrones. Lestat uses it to describe things in The Vampire Lestat and I’m fairly certain that Louis used it a few times in the preceding Vampire Chronicle. It is akin to the misuse of the pronoun “I” in my list of words that make my skin crawl.

Here’s why.

For one thing, nothing is countless. If it is a substance that can be numbered, it can be counted. You may not be able to count that high, but someone can. You may have to go to work and take a break from counting flowers on the wall. You may lose your place while counting the stars. But they can be counted. Take my word for it. It would take a concerted and well-choreographed effort between scientists across the universe, but it could be done.

Having said that, is there anything wrong with the word countless? Not really, I say hesitantly. Other than it feels rather sloppy and rushed. Each word counts. Each word provides an opportunity to nourish the starving, offer a branch to the reader plummeting over a crevasse of mass-market verbiage. Don’t let those moments zip passed!

And if you are counting them, they are “numbers”, by the way, not “amounts.” Amounts are measured. Rod Stewart had the right of it when he said “My love for you is immeasurable, my respect for you immense.” And Javert used restraint when he implied that the stars, while we do not know how many they are, still have a number, though they are “scarce to be counted.”

So, should you find yourself tempted by the word countless, borrow one of these options instead, depending on the way you are planning to use it. Okay, so a couple of these may have been used only by Clark Ashton Smith or H.P. Lovecraft, but what can ya do? I’m a sucker for arcane language.

• Vast
• Many
• Unnumbered
• Abundant
• Untold
• Endless
• Seemingly infinite
• Multitudinous
• Numerous
• Uncounted
• Myriad
• Uncalculated
• Astronomical
• Massive
• Bounteous
• Legions
• Eternal
• Boundless
• Immeasurable
• Incomprehensible
• Scarce to be counted (or numbered)
• Extensive
• Without end
• Numberless
• Immense
• Limitless
• Googol
• Incalculable
• Incognizable
• Unknowable

Saturday, April 21, 2012

They Call Me Mellow Giallo (AKA PULP FICTION Part 3!)

We all live in a giallo submarine, giallo submarine, gi--oh...hey! I didn't see you there.

Yep, it's that time again! PULP FICTION time!

So, what's this giallo stuff I'm talking about? Glad you asked! Now, I'm not here to give a dissertation on the meaning and reason of giallo literature and movies. I know most of you are smarter than you look. I'm not going to compare and contrast one director with another. I just want some of the hundreds of people a week who read my post on Marble Hornets to get a taste of something different. And as you know, I've been writing here and there on pulp fiction.

While we were over here in America dreaming of the jungles with Tarzan and Britain was fighting communism with Bulldog Drummond, Italy was producing its own pulp fiction (though a lot of it consisted of translation into Italian of English-language mystery and crime novels) on fairly cheap stock with yellow (giallo) covers.  And just the same way that the chicken follows the egg, the giallo book gave birth to the giallo movie.

I will interject that to Italians, giallo means something different than it does to Americans. We would not, for instance, look at film and consider Psycho anything but a high-quality masterpiece of American cinema. So I won't go there. I'll talk about giallo movies from this neck of the woods.

So, if you're an American, what does an Italian giallo have in store for you?

 Dario Argento's Opera 1987
Damsals, sans braziers. They may scream, they may plead for help in badly dubbed and overdubbed English and it may seem to take them HOURS to die, but they will do it clothed in flimsy lingerie, plunging necklines, or startlingl and unsettling slashes of light.

Mario Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much 1963
Music, sometimes known as noise.  Of course we all know that Italy is proud of its opera. And music in a giallo is essential. So most giallo films will scorch your ears off with the sounds of opera, classical, heavy metal, or in the case of Bird With the Crystal Plumage, what-the-heck-is-that-racket.  And there are times when the music plays such an important part that it takes on an actual role in the film. Check out Dario Argento's Opera for some brilliant use of ear-splitting metal when you least expect it (well, until after the first kill).

The killer. You probably won't see him, but his scenes are extended.  The murder scenes are the longest scenes in the giallo film.  They usually get no more graphic than a gallon of 1970s scarlet paint splashed across a wall, a back, or a bed sheet, but they're long. And who is this killer? Only time will tell. All you'll know is that he is one of the men (or could it be a strong woman?) who may be sweet on the starlet or trying to solve the murders.  Did I mention that there is always a string of them? Murders, I mean.
Umberto Lenzi's Paranoia 1968

Paranoia.  And as we all know, just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.

Black gloves.  They're everywhere. Holding knives.  Reaching into coat pockets.  Snapping photographs. Pulling back curtains.  Who do they belong to? Why does everyone seem to be wearing them? Are they in this year?
Dario Argento's The Bird With the Crystal Plumage 1970

So, do these qualify as pulp, aside from the fact that the books were printed on cheap paper? Let's see what we have.  Crime? Check. A mystery? Check. Exploitation? Check!  Epic battles? Well, yes, in the form of the time-consuming murder scenes. Check! Exotic locales? Well, Check if you consider that you're American and have not likely been to the wilds of Italy where many take place. Heroic adventures? Check! Except the heroes and heroines may not see it as such. A bit more sleezy than we're used to, but pulp nonetheless.

Put all these things in a pot and mix them up and what spills out is a giallo, for better or worse. Mind you, these are not action movies or cop adventures.  That's a different story for a different time.  For now, if you're interested, and want to expand your pulp experience, take a look at some of these listed here and let me know how you like 'em.
Massimo Dallamano's What Have You Done to Solange? 1972 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Celebrating April with a Poop-Eating Grin!

As April's annual Hate Week is drawing to a close, I would like to offer you this moment to celebrate with reverence by observing the following video, which, incidentally, I find less full of hatred than the average newscast I am forced to witness on my twice-daily trips to the break room from Monday through Friday.

It's strange what people think is important enough to name a day for and what they find to be a cause to celebrate. There is almost nothing left to petition as a holiday.  And just how does one celebrate some of these days? Some are easy. April is National Kite Month.  That's a no-brainer. It is also Orthodox Holy Week. But if you just can't get enough out of the month by forsaking meat on Fridays and dying hard boiled eggs, I present to you other days and ways to honor the month of April.  (Also for those who shy away from actual physical activity that would be required in assisting a kite to mount the wind.) In other words, here is a list of films to help you beat the doldrums and get in the mood for springtime frolic and fun!

International Cesarean Awareness Month Rather than post graphic photos of my cesarean scars, I suggest an evening of fun-filled romping with the lovely Ms. Dahl.  No stitches required. (A l'interieur, AKA Inside [2007])

National Farm Animals Day,  which falls on April 10th, should be celebrated with a viewing of the beloved musical from Belgium, Calvaire (The Ordeal), from 2004.

 And don't forget International Louie Louie Day, which falls on April 11th.

And a topic that should be through the lips and over the gums of all concerned citizens, Global Child Nutrition Month.

And for those more adventurous partiers out there who want to be a part of the action, rather than sit docile on their rumps, celebrate Boomer Bonus Day with a marathon game of Fallout: New Vegas!

This list has been brought to you in part by Irritable Bowel Awareness Month and this guy: