Friday, October 19, 2012

The Sculptor by Gregory Funaro

I'm writing this one in adverse conditions.

Normally I write my assigned reading reviews waaaaaaay in advance, right after I read the book. I like to get things finished early and come back as discussions occur between my classmates and I find ideas worth stealing. I read The Sculptor months ago and couldn't quite get my mind around it. I knew it had a lot of problems and there were a lot of sour notes, but I couldn't quite a handhold into the discussion.

I haven't really dug into my classmate's opinions on this one, but I gather from the murmurings that this wasn't a popular read. I can't wait to get into their opinions but for now I have to grind out my own. This blog post is due by the end of today and I'm on a train to Albany in three hours. Bad, bad Joe.

Anyway, here's my hook: The Sculptor isn't really a psycho.


It's impossible to do what The Sculptor does if he was actually psychologically disabled.

Dude was organized, efficient, and he had no internal monologue that contradicted with reality. He was sane. He was evil, but he was sane.

He was supernatural. No one can move a 1000 pound murder tableau surreptitiously in the dark, I don't give a shit how big their lats are.

He was kinda like a fan-fic psycho. He had a token ka-raaaaazy back story but he was also obscenely rich and had a gigantic workspace and everything he needed for his kookadook murder parties. And he had perfect "sculpting" technique and medical knowledge and art knowledge and....yeah.

Professor Boss Man said something that stuck with me. This dude is a Batman villain. That's cool. I like Batman, but I recognize that "comic book reality" doesn't really cross over into our own. A character like The Sculptor would make a great Miller-era puzzle for the Dark Knight to solve. He doesn't work in a book attempting to ape the "real world."


What else?

Markham reads less like an FBI agent and more like what a sensitive artist would THINK that a smart FBI agent would be like. Also, his love affair with Cathy Hildebrant would have gotten his ass deservedly fired AND feels like it belongs in one of those corny romance novels where time traveling vikings join the Navy SEALS and fall in love with a woman in the Navy WEALS.

Look it up. It's totally a thing.

Oh, and Cathy Hildebrant. Man, she was kind of an asshole, wasn't she? I mean, dude, it sounds like your husband really was trying make amends and you were merciless towards him. Also, for an art historian, you sound a lot like a male was writing you and changed your character from an angry teamster at the last moment. It didn't help that your husband was the great squandered opportunity of the novel. The author could have said something interesting about marriage and fidelity and forgiveness. It really, really seemed like the dude was trying and the writer undercut it by making him a cad when we got into his point of view.

Also, as a side note. Half Korean, half German? Haaaaawwt. May certain exes of mine never read this post.

Anyway, I did like all the art stuff. I didn't know anything about the art of Michelangelo and he made that shit come alive. Lot of troubles around the edges, though.

Anyway, I'm out.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Misery by Stephen King

Of all the books I had to read for class, Misery is the one I felt the most apprehension about.

A story about a psycho running at me with a knife doesn't really rattle my cage. It's a situation that (thankfully) seems so far-fetched to me that I don't get a lot of anxiety over it. Having a conversation with a crazy person who is responsible for your safety is much more frightening.

Reading Misery was an intense experience.

Most of the people who read this blog know me in real life. I have a fairly over-the-top vibe and a big flapping mouth, but I don't actually deal with conflict well. Blame the screaming matches my parents got into as a kid or whatever cheap pop-psychology explanation fits best, but the long and short is that I prefer things to be peaceful. I want to be liked. I try to please. Sometimes that means rolling over and showing my belly.

The reason that I found Misery so stressful was because, if it were me in Paul Sheldon's chair, I would have done everything I could to make Annie Wilkes happy. I would have told her that Misery's death was simply a lead-up to a sequel where she comes back triumphant. I would have shmoozed her, gushed at her enthusiasm, and answered every one of her fan-girl questions with the answers that she wants to hear. Yes, Misery eventually chooses handsome Edward but keeps a special place in her heart for brooding, passionate Jacob. Yes, I will be writing these stories forever (although, come on, what kinda dude's dude writes Regency romances? The way Sheldon comes off, he should have been writing stories with .45s and tits) and I'm sorry that you found the swearing in my new novel so offensive. I'm trying to capture the streets my character comes from. In my next draft I will tone it down and add a modern Misery. Agony Velasquez, maybe.

As I was reading the book, I kept roleplaying what I would have said and how I would have placated her, but the simple answer is that she's unpredictable and crazy and sooner or later I'd have to stop placating her and start being assertive. The threat of death, mixed in with the threat of disappointing a domineering mother figure, rattled me in ways that I'm kind of embarrassed about.

King is a good writer.

It's trendy to trash King for his weird period in the 90s when his books were at the same time too personal and too bloated. It's trendy to talk down about him because the Uneducated Masses really dig him. When I first got to New York City and was struggling to get by, I knew that I could go to any Salvation Army, slap down a dollar, and have entertainment for hours. His stuff is ubiquitous and that means it's taken for granted. He writes about podunk towns and podunk people (snotty snort, eats some cheese), but the man knows how to capture humanity and human weakness. His images stick in the mind.

Having said that, his pulpy Tales From The Crypt roots sometimes work against him.

I gotta lay out the one petty issue I had with the book. It's the same problem I had with Apt Pupil, where the villain went from a small, believable sort of banal evil to an obnoxiously grandiose cackling lunatic. Todd in Apt Pupil starts off as just a teenager taking lessons in sociopathy from an old kook, then goes off and starts hacking up homeless people? No. Annie Wilkes is a mass murderer living in isolation? No.

There's a scene where trapped novelist Paul Sheldon finds Annie Wilkes' scrapbook locked up somewhere. He flips through it and it turns out that she killed enough people to fill a city. It stretches credibility and takes the character to a farcical territory. Given that the horror is so close and intimate, it would have worked better if she was just a lonely woman out in the woods whose identity was so wrapped up in her fictional avatar that she goes nuts.

I understand that people feel Annie Wilkes is a mean-spirited stereotype of the crazy woman or romance readers or obsessive fans of anything in general. Yeah, maybe. But people get weird about the fictitious characters they empathize with.


I gotta close this one out by discussing the circumstances I read this book in.

I'd been hearing about Misery for a long time. Everyone knows about the movie, which I tried to watch but just couldn't finish, and everyone says it's one of King's best tales. It's supposed to be of special significance to writers, too. A hundred years ago, I read an interview with Gothy horror writer Poppy Z. Brite and she said that Misery was one of the best how-to-write manuals she'd ever encountered. I was really looking forward to that aspect of the book. I HATE books on writing but making the mechanics of storytelling a part of the story weaves how writing actually works and impacts a human life. It's a Scheherazade piece and there's something weird about how thrilling the idea of keeping yourself alive by telling stories is. 

Telling stories keeps you going. I read Misery right after I lost someone I loved. I didn't want to write. I didn't want to love or fuck or dance or drink or do any of the things that defined my life. I wanted to lash out. I sometimes do, and I sometimes go dancing. Reading Paul Sheldon's story helps me work through my own.  

I doubt I'll read this again anytime soon. It was easily the most hairy book I read this semester. I like a good psycho story but I think I'll stick to nice, safe stalk-stalk-knife-knife-misogyny-religion-daddy issues stories. But it was the right thing for me to read at the right time.