Monday, May 28, 2012

The Family Fang

Kevin Wilson
The Family Fang

Picador UK, 2012

The whole life if the Fang family is the continuing art. Caleb and Camille Fang from an early age forced their two children, Annie and Buster, against their wishes to take part in carefully-planned installations. The novel dives back and forth in time: Wilson shows childhood of Annie and Buster, and the main story lays in about our days, when children have grown up and live separately from their parents.

Annie has become quite a popular actress, not a superstar, but a rising star. At the beginning of the novel, she appeares in another film where she has a major role. A few minutes before shooting the next scene Annie finds out that she needed to be shot topless, though in scenario, there was nothing said about it.

Buster became a writer with two published novels, and he’s earning a living freelancing in journalism. The editor of a men magazine offer to Buster to write an article about the soldiers, inventing weapons, shooting with potatoes. Buster has flown to Nebraska, where he’s met the four veterans of the war in Iraq - the inventors of potato weapons. Soon everyone in the life of Annie and Buster goes awry, and they have to return to the parental home.

«The Family Fang» is a novel fragile and funny, but Wilson’s humor is timid, based on half-tones. The beginning of the book is particularly charming, highlighting key points: theparents are freaks, and children, too, turned out to be weirdos. Theme of fathers and children here is politely filed. Parents with their despotism, irrepressible desire to shake the world, to make art out of life have poisoned Annie and Buster’s childhood, deprived them from communication with peers, deprived them of choice, but caused hate to them. But at the same time they helped the children to step into the world of art. Children, of course, went in the opposite direction, choosing "dead" art, but the childhood trauma gave them a good push.

Wilson also affects another topic: Does freakness excuse tyranny and cruelty, even in part? Does the artist has right to evil, if it is evil for the good of art? Caleb and Camille believe that they have that right.

The writer of the book outlines the most colorful characters, and children, of course, are much prettier than their parents. We see Annie and Buster's at the peak of their career, and then when their lives on the contrary, go downhill. The novel is called «The Family Fang», but as a whole family the characters never appear before us. Fangs is a kind of feeling, a state, but not a single unit of four.

Wilson, with the ability to create a haunting atmosphere where parents vanish, leads us to wonder what has happened. But the second half of the book is weaker than the first. In the final, you want something explosive, a Bang! But instead of a bang Wilson gives us a soft clap. The final doesn’t fit to the whole narrative.

Nevertheless, Wilson has written a very moving novel, full of strange humor and memorable characters. Definitely, I will keep an eye on this author in the future.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

two books on homicide

John J. Miletich
Homicide Investigation
An Introduction

The Scarecrow Press, 2003

David Simon
A Year on the Killing Streets

Canongate, 2009

Popular culture strongly altered our perception of the police murder investigation. Since the 50s of last century in fair amount of output TV police dramas appear on the television screens. Films about homicide investigative work appeared even earlier. It is now difficult to find someone who was not even superficially familiar with the work of a police detective. Awareness of a person in homicide investigation seriously affects the reading of books, in the center of which is murder, whether it is fiction or nonfiction.

Anyone who watched not even “CSI”, but something more pop, is unlikely to be interested in the «Homicide Investigation» by John Miletich. The book seems to written for those who live in a parallel world, and never have seen a murder investigation on the screens of the TV or in theaters. Here Miletich writes a whole chapter about collecting evidence, and we already know about it in some detail. Here Miletich describes the types of weapons, and there is nothing new for us. And there Miletich writes how detectives cope with the daily violence in their work. Anyone who watched the high-quality TV shows about city homicide already knows about it.

Miletich too dry expounds the familiar facts, repeating what has long been wound into our heads. At the same time when the author comes to something not too well-known for the mass culture products consumers, it still is not very interesting. The book, however, is not completely useless. Miletich gives an interesting statistic, but the most exciting chapters foresight is at the top of the book - chapters about the murders in the criminal world. Hired killers, open contracts, the destruction of evidence, the destruction of the body etc - not that it had been a secret, but to read once again spread out on the pages this information is always useful.

Plenty of examples save the book, illustrating the dry theory. Miletich tried and strewn the book with detailing all sorts of murder and subsequent investigation, not often successful.

Can you become a homicide investigator after reading this book? I doubt it. When you wait too long that Miletic now will reveal the secret initiation into a detective, the book suddenly ends, leaving us high and dry.

«Homicide» by Simon is quite opposite of «Homicide Investigation». «Homicide» reads like a novel. David Simon has packed into his book so much that it can be enough for twenty novels. However, we face only one book, of a thickness of 600-odd pages. But this is the case with thick books when you’re enjoying all 600 pages, and then you want another 600, and then another 800. You really live with this book. It read slowly, so that you’re living one year in the deadly streets.

Moreover, «Homicide» is a book the least about the homicide, but it is about everything else. About «Homicide» it is impossible to say what it is about. About whom as well. About the lieutenants, sergeants and homicide detectives? Yes. Or about the dead yos, murdered children, the stupid or merciless killers? And about them, too.

Reading this book, you ask yourself the question: where is Simon? Was he that entire year invisible, was he a ghost wandering in the department and collecting information? How does he know all the details, because he's never got in the frame of his own camera? Epilogue provides an answer to these questions, but it's still a phenomenal job. So much to merge with the department and still remain an observer.

After reading «Homicide», of course, you can’t just become a detective, but you can feel what it means to be a detective, feel the relationship between dead and alive. Everyone has a right to know his murderer, as everyone has a right to know his parents.

«Homicide» is a unique book, but despite this, you’re still dreaming about something like this to become a yearbook: «Homicide '89», «Homicide '97», «Homicide '2012». For the past two weeks that have passed, as I finished reading the book, every day I keep hearing how bodies fall on the pavement. Incredible.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

American Hardcore

Steven Blush
American Hardcore
A Tribal History (2nd edition)

Feral House, 2010

I should start with that: this book is an absolute must-have for all fans of hardcore. Stephen Blush did a great job, took more than a hundred interviews, listened to hundreds of records, found hundreds of flyers, compiled a detailed discography of American music of the suburbs.

The book consists of four parts. In the first author tells about the birth of hardcore movement, the second one focuses on the groups themselves, by region, in the third section the book reveals the principles of the DIY-culture, and the final one tells the different versions of why the hardcore ceased to exist in the form in which it was originally. As I’ve written above that Blush "tells" I was cunning. Fragments of text written by the author there are minimized. Blush just writes short «glue pieces», as if leading the participants to their stories. Book by 90 percent consists of fragments of interviews with musicians, promoters, artists, fans who did hardcore in the early '80s. Juggling quotes are always a dangerous thing, but there is no criticism to the author.

The book not only tells "how it was" through the eyes of the participants, but also helps to understand some important things about the hardcore.

Punk is not equaled hardcore. If British punk bands played daring music at the time, they somehow belonged to the music industry. Punk bands had a team of producers, they were signed to major label, promoters of the record companies booked tours for them. Hardcore was completely DIY. Musicians themselves recorded and sold their music, without the producers went on tour, barely scraped for gasoline and for food.

Even the most hardcore stars at the time were little known outside of the subculture. The names of Henry Rollins, Jello Biafra, GG Allin etc which now seem loud, but when hardcore was born and grew, a hardcore group did not gather stadiums. The group played in front of 15 fans, and it was fine. Over time, the emphasis has shifted, and those groups that were the most famous and influential became half-forgotten, and less popular in the early 80's bands became popular now.

Hardcore was not only music, it was a movement. The book details the idelogy, the stylistic divisions between hardcore fans, and the constant feud between members of the movement.

Hardcore came from the suburbs, and the movement embraced not only the centers of culture, but also all the major states. Regionally hardcore was very different, and the «American Hardcore» opens your eyes to it. You have to understand the specifics of the region to understand the music that was created in the region.

After the release of the book Steven Blush had a lot of complaints, mostly related to the fact that he spoke disparagingly of those groups that have ceased to play hardcore and started playing something else. We should understand the author: if you had been in an subculture from the very roots, and then you saw how it all had broken down, you are inevitably drawn to something familiar, to that you once loved.

Of course, some bands in the book are devoted whole chapters to, and some only a paragraph, but the book is not rubber, it is impossible to please everyone, and it is impossible to add everything. It is difficult to say whether the book will interest a person who was never in hardcore, but for hardcore fans, this book is indispensable. «American Hardcore» has become my reference book for a long time.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Who is Mr Satoshi?

Jonathan Lee
Who Is Mr Satoshi?

Windmill Books, 2011

Robert Fossick, or just Foss, at the very beginning of the novel becomes a witness to his mother’s stroke in the yard of her home. Once a successful photographer, Foss still can not recover from the death of his wife during their trip to Greece. Mourning, our hero firmly hooked on all sorts of pills to calm his own mind, and now his mind is in a constant fog. He has a slow reaction; he does not leave home for weeks, and he has long abandoned photography, living off the royalties for reprinting his old photographs.

Before her death 80-year-old Foss’s mother Alice casually blurts out that after she dies, he’ll need to deliver a small parcel to a Mr. Satoshi. There is an address in Japan, but it is incorrect. Foss hasn’t not attach much importance to his mother’s words, but at the funeral the photographer is approached by a woman named Freddie, a friend of the deceased, and she reminds Foss about Mr. Satoshi, noting that for Alice this is very important. Foss still has to fly to Japan, where to find Mr. Satoshi a Japanese girl Chiyoko will help our protagonist.

This fragile history, something reminiscent of the S. Coppola’s film, "Lost in Translation", sometimes is almost slipping into melodramatic fiction of not too high quality, but the sense of language saves Jonathan Lee. Plot-wise the film and this book has some similarities: both take place in Japan where a man and a woman with a difference of age meet each other under not normal circumstances, between them some feelings flash but they are afraid to identify these feelings. In the novel Foss and Chiyoko don’t lose themselves in translation. Chiyoko even better speaks English than English protagonist.

Dialogues in the book are one of the most powerful elements there. Meeting of slowliness and taciturn of Foss with the mobility and ardor of the Japanese girl gives birth to hilarious examples of dialogue between the characters. Thу plot line of the relationship between Foss and Chiyoko adorns the novel. But the main storyline – the search for Mr. Satoshi – is somehow predictable and melodramatic. Finding of love of the last one of relatives is a theme quite beaten and not worthy of such an excellent stylist like Lee. He feels the episode, he finds the necessary consistency of style when he wants to portray the dope in the head of the main character, he is able to convey emotion in one sentence. The style of the author is a steam locomotive pulling for a worn-out plot.

The fragility of relationships and emotional rehabilitation, these topics Lee reveals with all possible grace. Looking for Mr. Satoshi, the hero of the novel at the same time seeks an answer to the question of who he is himself and he is the man as he was several years ago.

This book is not without flaws, but Lee masks them with elegance.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Richard Ford

Ecco, 2012

For the Parsons family everything began not with a crime, but one crime has forever changed their lives. Dell Parsons was a 15-year-old boy at the time when major events of the book happened. He remembers every detail of the events of that summer, when he is already 65 years old.

From the first page the narrator tells us what has turned his life and the lives of his twin sister and his parents upside down. Della's parents, Bev and Neeva, robbed a bank, although, according to Dell, they were probably the last people on earth, of whom one might have thought that they would be armed robbers.

Della's father, Bev Parsons, was a military pilot, participated in the Second World War, and after 1945 was transferred to a desk work, in the rank of captain. Della's mother, Neeva, was the daughter of Polish immigrants, a teacher with a Jewish appearance. Together with two children twins Parsons did not stay anywhere for long. They lived in small towns, where military bases were located, and where he Bev served. The family was so used to wandering, and that no one really thought that they would settle in one place.

Dell’s sister, Berner, was the opposite of his brother. She was taller that him, with boyish good looks, intelligence and self-willed. They never had friends; they were friends only among themselves. The family stopped in the town Great Falls in 1956, where they lived until the spring of 1960, when the central events of the novel happened.

This is a great book, not crumbling under its own weight. Richard Ford paints his picture slowly, but the main part is known from the beginning - an armed robbery would be committed, and will forever change the lives of one family. Thus, here is more important "how" and "why" rather than "what will happen next." Details, that is what matters, and Ford is just a master of details. The protagonist Dell recalls the smallest details of that fateful summer, with such precision and certainty, as if it was he who kept a diary, not his mother.

The narrative about the past from the present results here for a stunning effect. 15-year-old boy at the time knew nothing, understood nothing and didn’t know what to think. This ignorance is what Ford transfers matsrefully. But at the same time telling the story, as a 65-year-old man, the protagonist knows the causes and consequences and adds in the narrative a judgment from adult’s point of view. What then seemed a trifle, and there wasn’t obvious, 50 years later it is quite obvious. So, uncomplicated adolescent mind is clouded with doubts and regrets of an elderly person. At the same time, 65-year-old Dell does not allow sentimentality and anger in his story. He does not play the game "what if ...". There is no if, for all that had happened, it is already happened. Dell has never been the kind of person that changed his own fate.

Looking at Dell and his sister, we can easily view the differences between them. She is more experienced, close to the living, sentient life, but not tending to the material side of life. Dell is a much more passive, obedient (in response to his father, he always calls him "sir"), he is interested in bees and chess, those things, which are unlikely to ever be useful to him in life. When after his sister’s escape he is still waiting for a mother’s friend, he has no hope for the best; he just gives himself to the discretion of fate. However, in the final part, we see that no matter how different are brother and sister, how they seem dissimilar, their fate is about the same. According to Ford, the fate is God, from whom there is no escape. We try, wrote Ford in the final sentence. We try, but all happens how it’s needed to the fate. We can only try. It’s ineresting to see that neither Dell nor his sister had any children. Childhood trauma has left its mark. Brother and sister did not take responsibility for future generations.

Ford chose such method of storytelling that allowed him to reveal the possible motives of his characters. The author first describes an episode from the point of view of 15-year-old Dell, so much remains a mystery in each episode. And almost immediately, Ford once again describes the same scene, already with all the details that the 15-year-old boy could not have known. This structure keep a reader always in tension (the main thing here is motive, detail, depth of style), and gives the author place to think about fate.

Canada in the novel is a kind of metaphor. Dell’s escape was against his will, Remlinger’s escape was a conscious choice. But they both are the same people as they were before Canada. "Canada" is a state of mind, an internal runaway. But on whatever side of the border a person stands, he remains what he was. People do not change because they do not govern themselves. They are in the hands of fate.

This story is so emotionally gripping that it is hard to imagine anything more perfect. Ford actually had given the name "Canada" to hitherto not named state of the soul, and for this we should be grateful to him.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Land of Decoration

Grace McCleen
The Land of Decoration

Chatto & Windus, 2012

Imagine a book written from the point of view of a girl, whose mother died in childbirth and whose father a member of Jehovah's Witnesses. This will be this novel by Grace McClean.

Ten-year old Judith Maclean creates in a room in the house where she lives with her father John, The Land of Decoration. The girl builds in the room improvised miniature city in the image and likeness of one, which she lives in. Judith is building houses, roads, animals and people. It is the end of the summer, and the girl has to go back to school and she does not want that. She imagines there will be heavy snow, and throws a toy snow to the Land of Decoration. In a day really heavy snowfall begins in the city.

Father of Judith is a sectarian. He and his daughter regularly go to meetings, read and discuss the Bible, make all the instructions, give up all life pleasures, and often go from house to house, handing out leaflets and urging people to change cheir minds until the end of the world begins. Judith, too, believes in God, but because she is still a child, she does not understand many things and asks many questions. When the same way snow fall again with her desire, Judith begins to think that she has a gift and God uses her to perform miracles. When a girl tells her father about it, the father is angry and tells her she to not invent incredible things. A few days later, the girl for the second time causes the snow. She truly believes that she has made a miracle, but the father does not want to hear about it. Judith seems that her father does not love her. He really does not hug his daughter, does not walk with her, holding hands, does not to say that he loves her. John is still traumatised by the death of his wife, who agreed to give birth and save a child and give up on her own life.

Judith soon begins to hear a voice in her head. That voice is none other than God. God asks her to help him to become his instrument on Earth, and Judith, of course, agrees.

The choice of the protagonist in the role of a ten years old girl has allowed the author to kill two birds with one stone. Actually, this choice and keeps the whole novel. It is extremely entertaining to get inside the family of sectarians. The naive child, while blindly believing in God and at the same time calling into question many of the seemingly obvious to all adult things related to religion, lives with her father, whose way in religion is similar to the way of her daughter, at the end of the novel casting a voice of God out of her head. They both eventually realize that religion entangles the human mind and requires a person to adapt to the faith, and behave not as a life situation demands, and both of them refuse to religion. To behave with dignity is possible without religion.

We see how the girl thinks that she creates miracles, and this creates additional suspense: the reader almost til the end can only guess whether this is her gift or just a series of coincidences. Cut off from the outside world in large part because of religion, Judith replaces the real world so that she created her own. Judith, in essence, is a god herself - the god of the toy city, as to confirm that later in the book, she begins to hear God's voice in her head.

In «The Land of Decoration» by the end takes place the transformation of the two main characters. It's real people, not pale shadows of people. The girl’s father, John, repents, that all this time he has been trying to bury his grief after the death of his wife in God, not paying enough attention to his daughter. Judith in a little time in her life has become aware of many adult things including her father’s life: she’s thought that he did not love her, but his life was just so damn hard to him.

The novel is written not without humor. The author makes the reader smile in those cases when little Judith faces the world of adults and does not understand anything in it.

A memorable light novel.