Sunday, June 21, 2009

George Pelecanos

I never read crime fiction. In fact, I hadn't read any type of fiction for years. Then I watched The Wire. It was an obsession. Consumed, I watched the entire series in a few weeks. I devoted entire Sundays to it. Then it was over. My free time was too free. It became indeterminate, homogeneous, empty and anxious. Thankfully, Steve Dore recommended George Pelecanos.

George Pelecanos was a writer/producer on The Wire. He writes crime fiction set in DC. Its a lot like The Wire; realist stories of people- mostly men- caught in social, civic and institutional decay. His writing style is taught and mesmerizing. He also has stellar taste in music, which plays a significant contextual element in his work.

So, now I've got a new Sunday routine. I read a George Pelecanos book. I've read nearly everyone in Brighton Hove library. They have all been good. Some, like The Night Gardener, The Turnaround and Hard Revolution, have been superb.

Update. Today I'm reading Pelecanos' Hell To Pay. Here is an example of his themes and style:

Friends, relatives, police and print and broadcast media heavily attended Joe Wilder's showing at a funeral parlor near the old Posin's Deli on Georgia Avenue. At one point, traffic had been rerouted on the stripe to accommodate the influx of cars. Except for a few aquaintances and a couple of black plainclothes homicide men assigned to the case, few came to pay their respects to Lorenze Wilder on the other side of town.

The boy and his uncle were buried the next day in Glenwood Cemetary in Northeast, not far from where they had been murdered.

Because of the numbing consistency of the murder rate, and because lower-class black life held little value in the media's eyes, the violent deaths of young black men and women in the District of Columbia had not been deemed particularly newsworthy for the past fifteen years. Murders of young blacks rarely made the lead-off in the TV news and were routinely buried inside the Metro section of the Washington Post, the details consisting of a paragraph or two at best, the victims often unidentified, the follow-up nil.

Suburban liberals plastered Free Tibet stickers on the bumpers of their cars, seemingly unconcerned that just a few short miles from the White House, American children were enslaved in nighmare neighborhoods, living amid gunfire and drugs and attending dilapidated public schools. The nation was outraged at high school shootings in white neighborhoods, but young black men and women were murdered without fanfare in the nations capital every single day.

The shooting death of Joe Wilder, though, was different. Like a few high-profile cases over the years, it involved the death of an innocent child. For a few days after the homicide, the Wilder murder was the lead story on the local television news and made top-of-the-fold Metro as well. Even national politicians jumped into the fray, denouncing the culture of violence in the inner cities. As the witness at the ice-cream shop had mentioned the loud rap music coming from the open windows of the shooter's car, these same politicians had gone on to condemn those twin chestnuts, hip-hop and Hollywood. At no time did these bought-and-sold politicians mention the conditions that created that culture, or the handguns, as easily available as a carton of milk, that had killed the boy.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Virginia Woolf's Nose: Essays on Biography

So I picked this one up the other day...reflecting on why I keep reading biographies and also ties into my current examination of Virginia Woolf. Hermione Lee has written several prestigious full length biographies and she also wrote Biography: A Very Short Introduction --so she is clearly an expert on the subject. Her essay about Virginia Woolf reflects a complex understanding of the medium.
She starts off with the claim that biography is fiction. Her opening sentence plainly states,"Biography is a process of making up or making over". Secondly, she notes that facts are facts and do indeed exist and can be uncovered and documented. To illustrate her point she recalls an experience where a minor event in her life was once recounted (incorrectly) in another person's biography. Realizing that this tiny experience of having a moment in her life misrepresented is just a microcosm of what those who are 'biographised' experience on a much larger scale, she notes that biography is often felt as a betrayal by the living subject --and/or for those whose lives intersect with someone who has been biographised. She then quotes Ted Hughes as having once said "I hope each one of us owns the facts of his or her own life".
She writes:
"No wonder that such strong emotions of blame and anger can circulate around biography, or that it is likely to be seen, in the worst cases, as a form of betrayal. For those with an investment in a life-story (whether as relatives, descendants, friends lovers, colleagues, admirers, scholars or devoted readers) a kind of despair can be felt if what's judged to be an inauthentic version of the life gains currency and prevails."

She goes on to explore Virginia Woolf's life-story by reflecting on The Hours, in both movie and book form.
I was really fascinated by The Hours when I saw it, which was troubling because I didn't think it was that great of a movie. Still, I have watched it several times and think of it often. There are some kind of bad parts in it-- I actually think the whole movie is kind of a mess--yet still, despite the bad acting and melodrama, it captivates me as a profound meditation on suicide, life and mortality. I have read Mrs. Dalloway twice and yet it is The Hours that is stuck in my head. This is kind of a drag, honestly, and I feel a nagging urge to keep re-reading it until it is rectified.
Reading Lee's essay, I am reminded that The Hours was based on a novel by Michael Cunningham that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. I never read it. I'm thinking I should, but will probably just read Mrs. Dalloway again. First I will finish this essay by Hermione Lee and probably search out more of her writing on Woolf.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Don't Cry by Mary Gaitskill

my favorite living writer has a new book of short stories out. i've read several of the stories multiple times but haven't finished them all. some great stuff in this one. she just keeps getting better. i don't know how to evaluate fiction for a blog. maybe will write more about it later. just wanted to recommend this for summer reading.