Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Holy Gas Prices, Batman

I just decided to fill up my gas tank. It took me three tries to find a station with regular. It cost $2.74. The attendant said yesterday it was $2.57 and tomorrow it will be $3.03. Over $3? I'm sure glad I have a fuel-efficient Honda Civic. And it still costs me more than $20 to fill up. Sure makes me glad I moved last weekend and not this weekend.
I could add a whole political rant to this about how oil CEOs are making billions and still can't cut the price, but I'll leave that you. And remember, W gave them all another tax break.
I suggest taking the train.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Moving Rant

I just moved from Boulder, CO back to Rockaway, NJ. Why, you ask? Because the lease on my apartment was up and I didn't have a job in Boulder. So, I'm now sitting at home awaiting job offers.
Anyway, the 26 hour drive from Boulder to Jersey sucked. Fortunately my goal of getting out of Kansas on the first day worked. Too bad there was a huge thunderstorm the second day in Missouri (which apparently stretched into most of Kansas and part of Illinois). I must admit, I was bored out of my mind for most of the drive on I-70 and I-80. Why aren't there more radio stations on the highways? The most radio I got was either country or NPR. I'm not a fan of country music and I can only take so much classical music from NPR.
But it's nice to be home in a way... except for the lack of people I know and the humidity. I think I need a desert climate.
And again, if anyone has a job offer for me--preferably in writing or editing--please contact me. I really need a job. I want to go somewhere different. Pacific Northwest sounds nice. Just don't send me to Kansas.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Corporate Criticism

I have a serious gripe with a news agency in New Jersey. I received a phone call yesterday afternoon asking if I could come in tomorrow for an interview. Of course I can't, I live in Colorado for the next week. So I told the woman my situation and asked if it'd be OK for me to interview on the 29th. She said she'd get back to me because she'd have to look at the schedule. Two hours later I received this e-mail:

I wanted to follow-up with you regarding your application for the
Assistant Editor – See the News before the Rest of the World job.
While your qualifications are excellent, it
has been determined that there are candidates who are a better fit
for this position. Should the requirements for this job change or if
we identify other jobs, we will notify you.
Thanks again and best of luck,
Sorry folks, but I smell a skunk here. I don't think I'd want to work for a comany that sends out e-mails like this to potential employees whom they originally deem qualified.
So, if anyone would like to offer this writer/editor/proofreader a quality job (I'm not talking big salary, but rather respect), please e-mail me. And for other reference, my Web site has a copy of my resume.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

[Note: this is a review that I wrote a few years ago for class and recently found it in my files. Thought some readers might like to see it.]
As a novel, Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho is overrated. Not only that, but it is also a poor attempt at creating a work of art. I must admit that American Psycho has few — if any — redeeming qualities. The only redeeming quality I can think of is that it can be slightly humorous in its attempts at being artful. The greatest questions it raises are: how could any company consciously publish this and even then, how could it ever become so popular?

Most novels — at least the better ones — are easy to become engrossed in; this novel is not one of them. One of the reasons for this might be because I did not realize that it was a first-person narrative until the fifth page. There is also the wonderfully vivid descriptions of the appearance of everything that sounds more like an ad campaign than a story. I understand that the main character, Patrick Bateman, has an obsessive-compulsive personality and that in his high-class society image is everything, but his descriptions are excessive and boring. At one point he describes his morning routine in a five-page paragraph. I do not believe I have ever read such a long and meaningless paragraph in my life. If there is only one way to lose a reader it is by being excessively long winded. Usually when an author uses an abundance of description s/he will make it sound interesting or poetic to keep the readers’ interest; Ellis fails to do this in his approach.

The dialogue in American Psycho is not much better than the description. It is not drawn out exactly; it is simply repetitive and meaningless. For the first hundred or so pages Bateman and his friends only talk about image, restaurants, and having sex. None of these subjects are discussed tactfully or with much of a purpose. Usually dialogue is used to aid in character development, but in this case it is not necessary as all of the characters are almost identical. All of the men in the novel look similar, act similar, and have similar jobs. They are all self-centered, materialistic misogynists. Meanwhile all the women are beautiful, materialistic, and unintelligent.

In his character descriptions, Ellis fails to explain the motives for the pompous and sometimes stupid actions of the characters. He does not let the reader know of the characters’ pasts. There is also much confusion between the characters. First of all, many people call Patrick Bateman by numerous other names because he supposedly looks like ever other character. Secondly, because all the characters look and act similar, the reader has a problem remembering who is who. By doing so, he causes every main character to be unsympathetic. The only characters for whom the reader feels sympathy are the bums, waitresses, and murder victims.

Another problem I have found is that the novel is written in the present tense. I believe Ellis’ motive for this is to prevent foreshadowing and incorporate more suspense and surprise. However, I also believe that by doing so he is alienating the audience by leaving them in the dark so to speak. If Ellis’ purpose is to surprise the audience, he has failed. By portraying Patrick Bateman as an unsympathetic and almost repulsive character he evokes no emotion or surprise in the reader at the disgusting actions.

There are also some detail problems with the text. The character of Patrick Bateman is obviously obsessive-compulsive and yet he has a maid, eats out regularly, brings his blood-stained clothes to the dry cleaners, drinks heavily, and abuses cocaine. These do not connect well with an obsessive-compulsive personality. Simply with the drugs and alcohol, the character would have been dead from an overdose long ago. As for the maid and the dry cleaners, an intelligent murderer would not use either because of the threat of being caught. I understand that the maid and dry cleaners are a sort of status symbol for him, but it is just common sense that he would not use them.

One criticism of American Psycho is that it contains inappropriate graphic violence and sex. This is a valid criticism as it does contain a large amount of unnecessary graphic descriptions. The sexual content of the novel is more appropriate for an issue of Penthouse than a nationally distributed book. The graphic violence depicted seems to me to be a how-to murder and maim manual. I cannot decide whether or not this novel belongs in a library or an adult bookstore. The question is: Should this have been censored? The simple answer is “no.”

Just because this novel is disgusting and repulsive in content does not mean it should be censored on a national level. That would be defying the First Amendment rights of the author. However, the publisher of the novel should have used some discretion when considering the text. It is their job to eliminate works that do not fit their moral expectations or quality. But, since it was published it is the public’s duty to persuade people from not reading it because of its content. The best possible way to censor a work such as this is to not tell people of its violent or sexual content but rather to explain how poorly written it is. A work of this quality should not have been published simply based on the fact that it is not work of even mediocre quality. The only reason that this novel sold as many copies as it has is because people protested its publication and labeled it pornography. As right as these protesters were, they neglected to state that the novel was also poorly written. Simply by declaring a book disgusting, vulgar, or pornographic, etc. causes people to read it because “they want to know why it is disgusting, vulgar, etc.”

Monday, August 08, 2005

Lagging Behind

Yes, I'm sorry. I haven't been reviewing as much as I should. But I am currently searching for a job. I must be out of my apartment by the end of the month and I still don't know where I'm going. If you have a job offer, e-mail me or something.
However, this week I will try to start a little 20-something's guide to Boulder, CO. Since I am probably leaving the city, I could leave everyone with a little something to remember me by. Other than that, I hope to finish Samuel R. Delany's Nova shortly, and write a review (so far it's looking like a positive review). Let me know if you have any book/movie recommendations for the future.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Over There

I have now watched the first two episodes of the hyped new FX series "Over There." I have to admit that it is, so far, unimpressive.
The first episode made sense--getting to know the soldiers as they say goodbye to their families and understanding their respective family situations. First episodes of TV shows are general forgettable and unnecessary in long-run of a show. However, the second episode should build a great deal more on the characters that are introduced in the first. This series failed to do so.
There were quite a few characters to remember in the first episode (in fact, I can't recall many of their names or nicknames). There were half the number in the second. This brings the question: What happened to the other characters? What about the two women and their dilemmas in combat? They disappeared in the second episode--aside from a brief moment at the beginning.
I am having a little difficulty with the character "Smoke." This is the inner city, black man who tends to turn any conversation into a racial debate. It's fine that they have a character who is proud of his heritage, but this one is also against all others--he's anti-white and anti-Arab. He has no respect (or any hint of it) for anyone but his own. And they didn't balance this out with an Arab-hating white guy. But just to be safe, they added the educated Arab American.
It is almost impossible to connect to any character yet. They are all superficial. The series seems to make its aim at fictionalizing news reports without any human element. I'm sure I've read about all the action that's happened in the show so far. All it has done is put a nameless face on the war.
I should mention that there is one character who is almost sympathetic--the soldier whose name can't be remembered, but he's the one who got his leg blown off in the first episode. A viewer can see how bad his emotional state is and sympathize with his predicament. However, there is still not enough to connect with him.
"Over There" is just a show about a war--retelling everything we've read in newspapers and watched on TV news. There is no connection to the audience, which is exactly what they claimed to do with the show. To be successful, a show must have a human element. The writers of the show are forgetting this. I will continue to watch it, at least to give it another chance for redemption. If it doesn't get better in the next week or two, I'm changing the channel.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Something Gorgeous by Junior Burke

Something Gorgeous from Farfalla Press/McMillan & Parrish 2005. 389pp. ISBN 0971466890.
This is the first novel from playwright/songwriter Junior Burke--published through a small press in Boulder, CO. Burke takes the title from The Great Gatsby, which he also uses as a reference point in many portions. For readers unfamiliar with F. Scott Fitzgerald's work, some allusions won't appear as important as they should. However, there is no need to reread Gatsby as it will not reveal much hidden meaning in the story.

Burke's version takes place in the 1920s with settings as farspread as Germany, Kentucky, Chicago, and of course Great Neck, NY. The central figure of the novel is Ritz--a pseudonymed womanizer who lies his way into business and personal deals. He is accompanied by his love interest Faye--a high-class Kentucky girl. There are also a few historical figures to go along with the fictionalized--there is Harold Meyerstein bootlegging liquor during prohibition and post-WWI German nationalist Eckhart, with whom Ritz makes bootlegging deals to make his fortune.

Keeping with the Gatsby theme, Burke's characters are mostly unlikeable sorts and only serve the purpose of being interesting. The most likeable of all is Judith, a professional golfer, who helps Meyerstein with some "errands" on her rounds through tournaments. Even though they are an unlikeable bunch, they occasionally have redeeming qualities in their frail emotional states. Burke manages to develop the characters so that their personalities fit--even if you wouldn't want to befriend any of them.

The novel contains a few songs, originally written lyrics from Burke, that fit with the time period. Much of the language makes it clear that he is a songwriter with a musical style in his prose. His descriptions of places and events are vivid--attributed to a long list of resource materials and travels.

Through it all, Burke keeps a consistent tone that fits the time period and class of the characters. He provides the seedy moments of high-class life of the Jazz Age that many writers of that time were reluctant to portray. It just goes to show that after 80 years more details of life can be made public in literature to create a gorgeous work of historical fiction.