Tin House #50 – A Review

I finally finished the ever interesting Tin House this week. As usual, there were some excellent pieces and some that, while not bad, weren’t as interesting. The big piece in the issue was an excerpt form Michel Houellebecq’s newest book, The Map and the Territory. I’ve only read Platform and found parts of it interesting, this piece, as is the case with most novel excerpts, did little to interest me, or better said, I would like to read his book in spite of what I read here. On the other hand, Maggie Shipstead’s You Have A Friend in 10A mines in some way similar territory as Houellebecq, but makes it a little more interesting. Essentially, it is the story of a Katie Holmes like actress who is trying to survive the escape from a Scientology-like group. It is a dark picture of control, a story one knows or thinks one knows after passing the magazines at the checkout counter so many times. She had several rhetorical touches that made the story interesting and lifted it above the cringe worth stories of drugs and depravity that can come from this subject. Eric Puchner’s Little Monsters was a nice change of pace, telling a science fiction story of a race of young people who are manufactured and who kill any older adults who were created through sexual intercourse. It isn’t exactly a new idea, I know there is a Star Trek story along those lines, but he brought an impressionistic sensibility to what could have been cold science fiction. And as the two young characters learn to take care of a dying adult, the transformation doesn’t bring about a revolution but does cast the brutality of their lives into a new light. The best story of the fictions, though was Quintan Ana Wikswo’s The Little Kretshmar, a story about a couple learning to deal with their disabled son. What set the story apart is Wikswo strips the story down, removing all temporal and physical baggage so that it is just the actions or results of actions that exist.:

For now, the rings dangle on short strings around their necks. When they lean over the little Kretschmar, the rings swing and dangle. But the little Kretschmar cannot see them, nor can he grab at them. The rings swing in peace as the little Kretschmar rolls to the left, and then to the right.

It is all a reminder of the sauna, of Saturday, of sex and disgust and shame. He will no longer look at her rich, high breasts. She turns away when he unbuttons.

And they avert their eyes from the little Kretschmar when he cries, and tuck the rings inside their shirts.

The accumulation of the little pieces, almost devoid of emotion are more arresting, and do not weigh the story down with the extraneous details about time of day or the color of the sun.

The best piece of non fiction in the issue was Sonia Faleiro’s piece Leela, The Mumbai Bar Dancer. The opening is an excellent example of stretching the essay form. Faleiro starts off in what is third person but is really a playful first person between her and Leela, a kind of dance that Leela plays out with all her clients. It gives a great sense of Leela because it characterizes her, lets her act and speak on her own (even though this is just an illusion), instead of a description of her. She manages to capture more than just the working conditions, but a sense of Leela.

Gasoline by Quim Monzo – A Review

” target=”_blank”>Gasoline
Quim Monzon
Open Letter Press, 2010, 141 pg

I’m not sure if Gasoline is a funny book or an annoying one. Knowing that Quim Monzo is a bit of a joker (reading one of his weekly columns in La Vnguradia made that obvious), should help me conclude the former. But that is outside of the book and doesn’t really make me desire to conclude the later. Gasoline is a relatively brief read, both in pages and complexity, and the actual experience of reading it was not unpleasurable, but for much of the meandering obsessions and love affairs that fill the book I had one thought: who cares. Perhaps if I was a painter I would have enjoyed it, found a way to relate to the characters, that popular, though limiting, mechanism of evaluation. Yet after each episode where one or the other of the Catalan doppelgangers stalks someone, or drinks too much, or has an affair with someone, all the while the art world sings his praises, all I can think is, yes, artists can live messed up lives; point taken. If Monzo wanted to take down modern art he would have done better to follow Michel Houellebecq’s bit from Platform.

So what about the book? What was it that caused me such consternation? The story follows Heribert Julia as he tries to paint new paintings for an upcoming a new exhibition.  Caught in some sort of painter’s block he spends his time sleeping, drinking, and finding obsessions. He does everything except paint. For a while he stalks his wife, convinced she is having an affair. In perhaps the funnest part of the book he creates a disguise one store at a time as he follows her, eventually dressing as some sort of strange clown that makes him completely recognizable as he passes her. In one brief section he decides to buy collectible stamps, spending thousands on them. Then pages latter he changes to rare coins, spending even more, and then as he did with the stamps, he places them in the closet. Between the drinking and shopping he plots his next sexual conquest. His marriage is a disaster and it never seems like they are interested in being together or even care if one has disappeared for a few days, as if their lives have taken divergent paths and they live together out of habit. His undoing, though, is when he starts a new affair and in a moment of passion in a museum he knocks a bronze statue on his himself and ends up in the hospital days latter. He certainly will not be finishing the paintings for the shows, and one can only assume his role as the most important Catalan painter in New York is over.

The second part of the book follows Humbert (most of the characters have first names that start with H), a younger Catalan painter who has taken the New York art world by storm. Humbert is also married to Heribert’s wife. Obviously, the two painters are meant to be opposites and reflect different creative processes. Humbert keeps  six or seven note books with different ideas and is constantly writing them down. Often they can be pretty pedantic: “Still life of different types of glasses and mugs;”or “The city, by night, as seen from the air: millions of tiny white, blue, and yellow dots.” Humbert is always working or going to the gym. He is obsessed with movement and avoiding the traps of Heribert. Eventually, though, he begins to have an affair with his wife’s friend’s daughter. They travel around, staying in hotels, drinking, all the while Humbert worries that he isn’t going to keep up the pace of work. The book ends with Humbert getting into bed with his lover on New Years Eve.

The book feels unfinished, a collection of incidents put together, but without any good reason for writing them. Sure the art world can be messy, but the book doesn’t really help me understand that. At the same time Monzo eschews psychological insights, which is fine, watching a collection of actions is not a bad approach and too much pschologizing can get tedious. But the insights the book itself leaves you with are just as flat as the character’s lives: I do this, then I do that, and then I might get obsessed about this; who knows, life is just one long collection of unconnected events. Unfortunately, it is not so much a tedious assemblage, for some how the book wasn’t painful to read, but it seems to want to dispense with something that isn’t that important to begin with, the art world. And Monzo is dispensing, too, with the idea of psychological insight, but his replacement, a light, episodic comedy falls flat. Monzo makes me long for Bernhard, where nothing really happens, but at least you know there is something behind it all. In Gasoline Monzo is just the class clown who has to be funny by compulsion, not because he has something fascinating to say.

If someone can point me to another work of his to convince me otherwise I will give him another try, but for now Quim Monzo’s Gasoline is the end of the line.

Gasoline
Quim Monzon
Open Letter Press, 2010, 141 pg

I’m not sure if Gasoline is a funny book or an annoying one. Knowing that Quim Monzo is a bit of a joker (reading one of his weekly columns in La Vnguradia made that obvious), should help me conclude the former. But that is outside of the book and doesn’t really make desire to conclude the later. Gasoline is a relatively brief read, both in pages and complexity, and the actual experience of reading it was not unpleasurable, but for much of the meandering obsessions and love affairs that fill the book I had one thought: who cares. Perhaps if I was an a painter I would have enjoyed it, found a way to relate to the characters, that popular, though limiting, mechanism of evaluation. Yet after each episode where one or the other of the Catalan doppelgangers stalks someone, or drinks too much, or has an affair with someone, all the while the art world sings his praises, all I can think is, yes, artists can live messed up lives; point taken. If Monzo wanted to take down modern art he would have done better to follow Michel Houellebecq’s bit from Platform.

So what about the book? What was it that caused me such consternation? The story follows Heribert Julia as he tries to paint new paintings for an upcoming a new exhibition.  Caught in some sort of painter’s block he spends his time sleeping, drinking, and finding obsessions. He does everything except paint. For a while he stalks his wife, convinced she is having an affair. In perhaps the funnest part of the book he creates a disguise one store at a time as he follows her, eventually dressing as some sort of strange clown that makes him completely recognizable as he passes her. In one brief section he decides to buy collectible stamps, spending thousands on them. Then pages latter he changes to rare coins, spending even more and then as he did with the stamps, he places them in the closet. Between the drinking and shopping he plots the next affair he can have. His marriage is a disaster and it never seems like they are interested in being together or even care if one has disappeared for a few days, as if their lives have take divergent paths and they live together out of habit. His undoing, though, is when he starts a new affair and in a moment of passion in a museum he knocks a bronze statue on his himself and ends up in the hospital days latter. He certainly will not be finishing the paintings for the shows and one can only assume his role as the most important Catalan painter in New York is over.