Tuesday, May 17, 2011

those twin engines of all

So yeah, I finished Jane Borden's I Totally Meant to Do That recently, and because my own life is incredibly dull and full of apathy and pantslessness/frenzied productivity that I can't put into words, I will talk about this book. I actually bought it from her when she read from it at Atomic Books, and was pleasantly surprised to find that she's from my hometown. My write-up of the event kinda turned into a book review, so I'll try not to pull too much from it.

Jane's book is pretty much a memoir based around the transition from her debutante North Carolina upbringing (where my Catholic family wouldn't have been welcome) to her current semi-hipsterish life in NYC. Books like this get written all the time, but Jane is actually funny, which makes the familiar premise much easier to get into. It's also amusing to me that her parents wouldn't let her go anywhere near UNCG or Guilford College, while I spent a lot of time in those areas as a sullen black-clothes-wearing asshole teenager. Anyway, DigBoston.com's review of this book calls it "a crisis of location," which is exactly what's happening here - Jane spends a lot of time trying to figure out which culture she belongs to, searching for pieces of one in the other, and interestingly presents NYC as a city full of classless hedonists compared to the more elegant South of her youth. Given the South's cultural legacy in this country, that's a nice inversion of stereotypes on Jane's part.

I also, finally, finished The Intuitionist, which I skimmed in college and always wanted to go back and read again. It was Colson Whitehead's first novel, and it's excellent, creating an urban noir atmosphere fueled by the labyrinthine politics of elevator manufacturing and inspection, which are also an allegory for racial uplift. Whitehead's talent is creating a truly speculative setting that feels strange and unreal, but also plausible. In a world where speculative fiction = gimmicky nerd-pandering most of the time, his approach is really nice to see. He also commands a lot of vivid imagery throughout, even in sections that feel a little expository or overwritten - rush hour traffic doesn't always need a metaphor, ya know? But that's a minor quibble, and I think I'll be reading Sag Harbor, his most recent novel, once I get through some other ones.

And, y'know, once I bash my own novel into shape. It's getting there - a few troublesome characters are smoothing out, and I've gotten some good work in this week, with more to come. Progress!

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