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Go out with you? Why not... Do I like to dance? Of course! Take a walk along the beach tonight? I'd love to. But don't try to touch me. Don't try to touch me. Because that will never happen again. "Past, Present and Future"-The Shangri-Las

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Book Larnin'

I recently finished Plus by Joseph McElroy. It's bit like 2001: A Space Odyssey as reworked by Samuel Beckett. It's a demanding text, formally complex, but I was close to tears by the end. The protagonist Imp Plus has been voluntarily disembodied, then reembodied in a mysterious bioengineered form that he/she/it must explore in an accelerated and alien version of the exploration we all make of our bodies as we grow and change. His changes happen quickly, and eventually he comes into a three-way conflict with his "parents" on the earth (Imp Plus is in orbit around the earth in a satellite) all of which leads to a Star Child transformation. I checked this out from the library, and hope to have my own copy someday so I can mark it up with crabbed, incomprehensible marginalia. I came close to giving up on the daunting text, but I'm awfully glad I stuck it out; the demands of the style force one to undergo a perplexing journey which parallels Imp Plus's journey. I don't know when I've felt so glued to a character; each page took as much effort as 3-5 pages of the average novel, but this became one of those "I don't want it to end" reading experiences. The good news is that McElroy has written a great deal more.

I've also started reading two old paperback novels I enjoyed as a teen in the Eighties: Stinger by Robert R. McCammon and Glory Lane by Alan Dean Foster. The former is about a dried-up Texas town that gets invaded by aliens; the latter is about a punk, a preppy and a valley girl type who wind up on a Spielbergian space adventure. I'm not far into either one this go-round since I've decided to restrict my reading of them to a specific context: to keep our neurotic cat happy I occasionally put him in harness and take him for strolls around the back yard (any more outdoor freedom than that and he tends to wind up having to go to the Vet.) Paperbacks are an ideal reading format for these strolls, so... once or twice a week I'll spend an hour or so with one of these adolescent favorites. I suppose I'm trying to crack the code of what I liked about these entertainments; they're both greasy kids' stuff, but I think I can glimpse some seeds of my later interests in these books. Stinger so far puts a lot of effort into setting up a dying Texan town; the author may be trying to entertain kids with a corny good vs. evil monster story, but he's interested in small-town angst, a subject I find much more interesting than monster fights nowadays.

Glory Lane's opening follows Seeth, a listless punk, as he wanders another small town, looking for fun and commenting acerbically on all he perceives. Since the days when I read this book a hundred times I've touched down with more deeply rooted punk sensibilities than a pasteurized portrayal like Seeth, but back in the 80's something with the stink of real punk would have sent this privileged Presbyterian fleeing to the exit. Seeth made me laugh as a high schooler, though, and left his mark: protagonists who can't stop with the witty social commentary still figure in my reading, from Humbert Humbert to his cousin Charles Arrowby and Martin Amis's own Self. I recently enjoyed Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand, who blends punk sensibility, social commentary, small-town (or village) angst with a remarkable rumination on art, memory, rebirth. I suppose my reading of it was made possible by my enjoying of those earlier entertainments.

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