I’ve paid insufficient attention to contemporary fiction as I’ve aged out of the demographic. I recently chose to read a batch of new fiction because of recommendations and references; in many cases these were eye-opening lollapaloozas, elegant debuts, starred reviews, short list that, finalist this and winner of the prestigious other, often hilariously funny, flawlessly composed, and at times astonishing in artistic experiment and daring.
I’m not always looking for what most people would think you’d read a novel for, the story, the characters, the setting. I’m looking for language, how it is used by the writer either in description or dialogue, to learn what the author knows, and how good the author is. Sometimes I follow the plot. And the sexy parts.
From Everything Must Go by Jenny Fran Davis. Basically a love story told through emails and journals and blog postings, convoluted in the way a precocious 17- year- old’s life would seem to be. The way they express themselves. Their take on the world they’re inheriting. The way they posture through language. It’s quite an achievement to keep that bratty attitude and the language that reflects it working for so long in an unusual format that is like such a perfect fit. There are some “gaspingly funny” sequences.
Then continuing the whiny self-indulgence. “Caffeine was my exercise.” From My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, about a privileged twenty-something who wants to sleep for a year. She’s just tired. Her ennui is self-centered and amusing, her inventory of pharmaceuticals our society has developed is extensive, and the author creates some wildly comedic minor characters.
Janet Fitch’s novel Paint It Black is set in southern California during the punk rock scene of the 1980’s. It has the earliest publication date of any of the books I’ve discussed recently, and in that little bit of time that has gone by the book has attained “classic” status. Because much of the music and geography she describes is familiar to me I particularly enjoyed this. There’s a clinic on literary devices, there are cogent similes (“like bloodhounds on the scent of human imperfection”) and a carnival of smart mouth throwaway lines.
And as this three-post series started with a Covid 19 reference, now let it end with one. Janet Fitch’s main character attends a lot of live music shows in many venues. After taking a break from the scene, she returns to the mosh pit, and it all comes back: “they were all a body now, the crowd, and Josie was part of it. She had forgotten about this, the narcotic of the crowd. This is why you came to hear music.” The narcotic of the crowd. I hope that doesn’t get lost in the recovery.
© 2020 Randy Stark