Monday, April 25, 2011

The Cannonball Read III - Osaka Slide: #8 - Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk

Note: This is the first of five reviews in the Author Appreciation series, which is currently showcasing the work of Chuck Palahniuk.

It's so good to be reading Palahniuk again.  Honestly, the man's one of the best authors of his time and he continues to be consistently entertaining, whether he blows your mind or doesn't.  That's not saying that his non-mind blowing works are less inferior, it's just that Chuck focuses on one of two things: the characters or the plot.  Snuff is one of those books where he focuses more on the characters, and in his doing so he makes the actual plotting seem more interesting than it would under more traditional story telling methods.

Cassie Wright wants to die...or at least that's what it seems like when she agrees to film a 600 man gang bang in a bid to secure her position in the annals of Porn Star history.  What began with a casting call lead to a room of 600 guys standing around: primping, preening, preparing, and waiting for their shot with Ms. Wright.  Throughout the day's events we're privy to four perspectives:

- Mr. 600, aka Branch Bacardi: One of Cassie's former co-stars, also looking for a boost.
- Mr. 137, aka Dan Banyan: A washed out TV star who wants to jump start his career after some sordid rumors.
- Mr. 72: a kid wants to save his mother...who's performing in the room upstairs from him.
- Sheila: the talent wrangler who put this whole show together.

Each individual contributes a rather interesting piece to the overall plot of the book, which isn't all that complex, really.  Where the complexity, and the beauty of the story, comes in is with the characters.  We see Mr. 600 reminisce about the old days and how he deals with aging.  Mr. 72's coming to terms with some rather messed up family issues, and ultimately try to resolve the impotence caused by them.  Mr. 137 talks about how fame's fickle finger found him, and how it threatens to leave him due to his life choices to chase it.  And Sheila...well Sheila's the only person who knows what's really going on, and she's playing it close to the clipboard.  Through these four people, we get to know Cassie Wright.  Her life, her times, and her ultimate place in history. 

Palahniuk knows how to write for multiple voices just as well as he does with his stories that deal with a singular protagonist.  Instead of one person's emotional baggage, we get that of four people.  Four people who constantly interlock and collide as they vie for their own personal moment of fame, which will contribute to Ms. Wright's very own fame itself.  The author explores the themes of fame and aging, as well as just how screwed up your family can make you, in parallel tracks that run at the same time, but ultimately collide in the end.  The wisdom of our parents influences us to do the things we do in life, and not only does Chuck see this, but he exploits it for all of its darkly comedic and dramatic worth.  If anything, this feels like Palahniuk's most sentimental work since I read Choke, the only difference being it eases up on the darkly comedic and veers a little more towards the dramatic.  It's not a mind blower, but Snuff is still an entertaining examination on the twisted condition that is fame, and just what it does to us (and those around us) in the long run.

Up Next: Book Two in the Palahniuk Appreciation Series, Pygmy

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Coming Soon: The Epic Summer of 2011!

Ah Summer, the time of surf, skirts, sand, and sweltering heat.  It's also the time of the year that everyone is most relaxed and at the same time most energetic.

What better way to commemorate the Summer than to have another special reading project!  From June 1st until August 31st, it's going to be nothing but epics here at TBK.  For the sake of tracking, here's my definition of an epic:

"A huge story, sprawling wide expanses of distance, time, and/or cast, that is AT LEAST 700 pages."

That in mind, throughout those three months I will be reading nothing but epics.  (Except for a couple of possible comic breaks and the latest Chad Kultgen and Lev Grossman releases.  Have to stay timely somehow.)  There isn't a definitive schedule in the works, but the three tentpoles that are going to hold this marathon up are:

The Passage: A Novel

Infinite Jest

Gone With the Wind

Other than that I've been considering others such as The Stand, A Game of Thrones, Under The Dome, and Drood.  (However, suggestions are welcome for entries in this epic undertaking.)  Epic Summer becomes Epic on June 1st.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Cannonball Read III - Osaka Slide: #7 - The Secret Year by Jennifer R. Hubbard

This isn't Kings of Colorado, I know.  After overloading myself with Jersey Shore literature, I could hardly settle myself into a story of redemption through horses and hard time.  So I moved onto JWoww's book, in hopes that I may slay that beast and be done with the Jersey Shore kids for good.  That didn't happen either.  I couldn't even get through James Franco's short story collection, due to the fatigue I had put myself through.  After the sprint I'd done for the beginning of this quest, I needed something simple.  Something light that would alleviate me of the weight that I had taken on.  In the words of a good friend of mine, I needed something borderline trashy.  What I went with was The Secret Year: a book that's not so much trashy as it is steamy, and even then it is mildly so.

Undoubtedly there is sex in the book, but it's not so smutty that you need to take a shower after reading it.  Our narrator throughout the story is Colten "Colt" Morrissey, a teenage boy who confides to the audience about his secret year long relationship with Julia Vernon.  It's not that Colt and Julia don't like each other, it's just that Colt comes from the poor side of town and Julia is from the rich side.  Now before you say, "Hey, I've read this book before", the book's description itself even sells the book as follows:

"Take Romeo and Juliet. Add The Outsiders. Mix thoroughly."

It's the perfect summary for the story that unfolds as Colt recalls the events that occurred after Julia's death in a drunk driving accident.  Shortly after her funeral, he receives her secret diary, consisting of letters all written out to him.  These letters give Colt insight into what Julia was thinking about during the span of their relationship, as well as how she really felt about him.  What he sees is a portrait of a girl uncertain as to whether she should stay with the boy she truly loves, or continue to date her boyfriend.  As Colt reads on into Julia's thoughts, personal developments end up spurring sociological developments, culminating in a big "rumble" towards the end of the book.

Which is precisely why I can say I like the book, but I don't love it.  For starters, The Secret Year really sells itself on the love story aspect, when it really comes off as a more uneven blend of Hintonesque social tension and romantic entanglements.  That's not to say that the book isn't an enjoyable read, but it's not exactly the most consistent in tone and story.  Also, the book moves so fast that by the end of the novel, I was expecting at least another 10 to 20 pages wrapping things up.  Instead, the book just kind of ends, which is fine if you're trying to use that as a metaphor for the fleeting nature of Julia's life.  By the end of the book, it's as if we truly are in Colten's shoes: we've hit the end of the text, we want to know more about what we've just finished reading, and we're surprised it ended so abruptly. 

The Secret Year starts with a forbidden love, but ends with a rumble, and somehow two plot lines feel like they should have been separated into their own books in order to truly flourish.  It would be nice if Ms. Hubbard could revisit this world, because while it isn't the most polished product (it is a debut novel, after all), it has enough flashes of depth that it would be fun to see her further hone her craft and deliver more tails of The Black Mountain kids and The Flats kids.  If anything, I would like to see her give a little more resolution to poor Colt, because the kid deserves it.

Up Next: Author Appreciation Marathon #1- Chuck Palahniuk.  In no particular order...
 - Snuff