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Lint’s first novel was published by Dean Rodence’s Never Never company in New York. The relationship between Rodence and Lint was one of complete mistrust, rage and bloody violence. When submitting work in person, Lint insisted on appearing dressed as some kind of majorette. ‘He was a large man and clearly wasn’t happy at having to do this,’ explains Fleece. ‘He blamed Rodence, was resentful. I still don’t know where he got the idea he had to dress that way when handing his stuff in.’
Obviously I had to come back for more.
Lint is the biography of a eccentric science fiction author named Jeff Lint, detailing his career writing for pulp magazines such as ‘Startling, Astounding, Baffling, Useless and Terrible‘ to his abortive animated show Catty and the Major and finally his retreat into reclusiveness, interrupted by the occasional obsessive fan. Steve Aylett describes the circumstances surrounding the conception of novels such as One Less Bastard, The Stupid Conversation and I Blame Ferns, as well as his controversial comic book The Caterer.
Aylett also discusses Lint’s series of failed marriages, including one union which collapsed when a presumed facial scar belonging to the author was revealed to be a sleep-crease and then there’s his fractious rivalry with fellow author Cameo Herzog, who goes out of his way to destroy the career of the bemused Lint. Success came tantalisingly close for the writer. His forays into entertainment produced scripts that eventually became Patton and Funny Girl – although the final screenplays were entirely different (George C. Scott is revealed to have been quite fond of Lint’s original piece Kiss Me, Mister Patton) He had less success with Star Trek, deciding to emphasise the essential boredom of Gene Roddenberry‘s future utopia with an episode titled The Encroaching Threat. While the teleplay was never filmed, Aylett shares with readers some highlights of the script including:
For the duration of ‘The Encroaching Threat’ the new character Chekov is said to be ‘flirting with McCoy’ and Sulu is repeatedly seen ‘lurking’ near a doorway while ‘sinister theramin music’ plays.
As it happens this book has been made into a film, a documentary in fact on the life of the mysterious Lint, with the likes of Stewart Lee, Jeff Vandermeer and Alan Moore appearing to discuss the legacy of the author. Here‘s one of the teaser trailers released.
This is possibly the funniest book I have read in….it’s the funniest book I have read! Jeff Lint is part Philip K. Dick, part L. Ron Hubbard, with a couple of other parodies thrown in to the mix as well. Aylett’s insistence on the writer’s genius, investing great meaning into his every utterance such as this line from his autobiography The Man Who Gave Birth To His Arse: ‘What I wrote then was a surrender to the bathysphere part of the human mind. Despite platitude universes beyond the door, I dealt in squalls of unimaginable intensity. I was in the fully-fledged moment. Happy and volatile, I roared through the labyrinth of bad gems,’ – making for a very amusing, neat satire of academic overanalysis.
One final story. While I was enjoying Lint on the train home from work one evening this young woman across the aisle started loudly conversing with a friend on the phone. I very quickly knew more than I cared to know about her social life, her education and opinions on said friend’s intelligence – so I, in turn, began to read from Lint, loudly and clearly, declaiming Aylett’s absurdist wonderland to the carriage at large.
I still maintain that my obnoxious performance was the more entertaining of the two.
Read Lint. It’s good.
The advance of regret can be so gradual that it is impossible to say, ‘Yesterday I was happy, today I am not.’ At no one moment did Lilia realize that her marriage was a failure; yet during the summer and autumn she became as unhappy as it was possible for her nature to be. She had no unkind treatment, and few unkind words, from her husband. He simply left her alone.
As an introduction to the writing of E. M. Forster I do not think I could have done better. After all, this novel marked his own debut and as such, here the reader witnesses his first attempts to construct a subtle and gripping narrative of social mores. However, for the majority of the book I was confused. Was Forster satirising these English toffs abroad, or did he in fact approve of their condescending snobbery? It was only after the book’s conclusion that I realized just what Forster had achieved – a genuine work of compassion, unrestrained in its perspective on human weakness.
When recently widowed, yet worryingly vivacious, Lilia Herriton agrees to travel to Italy to go on an extended tour of the sites, the in-laws breathe a sigh of relief. The attentions of certain suitors of the young woman raised the spectre of a scandal, which they could not abide, and they trust in the efforts of her companion Caroline Abbott to be a champerone in her travels. The Herritons calm is disrupted when a letter is received from Lilia informing the family that she had made a new match with a native of the Italian town of Monteriano. The youngest Herriton son Philip is sent to recover the family’s honour only to discover that it is too late. Lilia has already married Signor Gino Carella.
The news could not be worse. Not only has the young widow and mother left her child behind in England, with no apparent interest in returning, she has chosen to marry the wastrel son of the town dentist. Philip is humiliated by the encounter with the couple, his plan to pay off the Italian foundering when Gino realizes staying with Lilia is far more profitable. He also blames himself for the entire situation. After all, had he not been the one to first sing the praises of the Italian countryside and the mercurial character of its people? Had he not encouraged Lilia to go on her tour, filling her head with ideas of high culture and art – romance, the thing he yearns for the most?
Philip leaves Italy disenchanted, embracing the cynicism of his mother, while Lilia is left to her domestic life with Gino which soon begins to lose its charms. By finally defeating her upper-class and superior in-laws has she only managed to strand herself in a country estranged from everything she knows?
At one point Caroline Abbott accuses Philip of been unable to take a stance on anything – he insists on sharing everyone’s point of view. It is a critical moment in this book as it reflects Forster’s own stance on human nature, weak, fallen, lovable, hateful and doomed all at once. Apparently the narrative itself was inspired by a disastrous trip across Europe that the young man shared with his mother, with much moaning and complaining about migraines and bad food. That privileged perspective on Europe, the site of many an upper-class aristo’s ‘tour’, persists but there remains a genuine sympathy for these characters, enriching the material throughout. Gino in particular seems to be the archetypal spoiled brat, using a callow rich woman for her wealth, but Forster shows that the boy-man has his own charms and needs. Lilia is tragic in her desire to still live up to the standards of the Herritons even after she has finally escaped from them, while Philip’s wish to be an aesthete, indulging himself in high-falluting talk about civilization and Old Europe comes undone when confronted with the pain of real life.
This is a wonderfully judged and subtle work, a remarkable achievement for a first novel.
The Furs had been married seven years but had no children, a situation in those fecund days that caused them both grief. Mizpah was a little cracked on the subject and traded one of Bill’s good shirts to a passing emigrant wagon for a baby pig, which she dressed in swaddling clothes and fed from a nipple-fitted bottle that had once contained Wilfee’s Equine Liniment & Spanish Pain Destroyer but now held milk from the Furs’ unhappy cow – an object of attention from range bulls, rustlers and roundup cowboys, who spent much of her time hiding in a nearby cave. The piglet one day tripped over the hem of the swaddling dress and was carried off by a golden eagle.
Another first for me – I have never read Annie Proulx before today. I must confess that was a deliberate choice. I have some sympathy with the likes of B.R. Myers, who has argued that as a novelist she is representative of a certain turn away from genre fiction, yet another literati exploring the faultlines left by Woolf and Joyce with modernism.
On the other hand, I figured a book of short stories would be an interesting introduction to her style, that should it prove not to my liking, could be dispensed with quickly.
Fine Just The Way It Is I understand is another in a series of books by Proulx about ordinary folk living in countryside Wyoming. The tales featured here are set in various periods of American history, although two relate to the adventures of the Devil and his personal secretary, satirical visions of a Hell that is not all that far removed from the world we know.
Family Man opens the proceedings with a tale set in the present-day of an elderly man being visited in a retirement home by a young relation. She hopes to record his memories of their family’s past, something he only agrees to do with the understanding that this will be a true account of what happened, not some sentimental memoir. His life has led him to The Mellowhorn Home, with its insistence on group activities and a lack of privacy. One of the nurses even eavesdrops on Roy Forkenbrock’s account of his past. Ultimately his experiences, the history of his family (and the painful secret he chooses to unburden himself of) becomes just another trivial story, swamped in an age of sensationalist reality television.
Them Old Cowboy Songs returns to the pioneer era of 1885. A young couple make a stake on a plot of land and the man goes off to find work, leaving his wife Rose behind, pregnant and alone. The story opens with a chilling note that many folk who lived in these times ‘had short runs and were quickly forgotten.’ It makes for a timely warning as to the couple’s fates and the random dangers of the wild country. Testimony of the Donkey skips back to the present day and has another couple, this time separated by a spurious argument, with one of them leaving to hike on a mountainous trail by herself. What follows is a horrific description of the human body being subjected to exposure and crippling thirst.
Proulx has a reputation as an archivist of an idea of America, like McCarthy, unveiling some notional ‘true history’, of the country through the prism of fiction. Whether it be the cost of isolation on the pioneers, the prevalence of homosexuality among men left to themselves, or the slow erosion of identity caused by modernity. It is easy to see why her stories have proved so popular with Hollywood. She is offering a counter-point to their own mythology of the Old West, a shock to cinema-audiences who have grown bored with stories of cheerful manifest destiny.
So it was some surprise to encounter fantastical stories thrown into the mix here. There are the aforementioned ‘Devil’, interludes, I’ve Always Loved This Place & Swamp Mischief, as well as the bizarre The Sagebrush Kid, which is quoted above and slowly drifts into horror fiction.
Even when her stories fail to keep me gripped throughout, in each I found at least a momentary shock, a passage that impresses with its callousness, or randomness.
The jury is out. I am eager to learn more about Proulx.
Moulin told him of the fear of the disembodied voice. It terrified humanity in the eighteen seventies and it terrified humanity still. Hearing voices when there was no one there. A characteristic of mystical communion, of insanity. It was the preserve of the spirit world. The switchboard was a Ouija board to a sensitive mind and Chip should be aware.
I used to dream of becoming an astronaut. Then my cousin explained to me that if I did travel to the moon, an asteroid would punch a hole in my head.
That killed that dream dead.
Chip is a one-armed hotel receptionist whose best-friend is a one-legged cab driver. No one knows how Chip lost his arm. He constantly gives different stories behind the tragedy – shark attack among the more lurid examples. All that the people of the small town Chip has landed in know about him is that he is a) English and b) somewhat obsessed with shuttle launches.
As it happens, the town – and Chip’s place of employment E Z Sleep Hotel – is quite near a NASA launch site. The winner of a recent reality tv show, Sally, is on board the latest shuttle, courtesy of a bottled water company. The residents at the E Z Sleep Hotel are alarmed when Chip lets out a loud bellow to celebrate. As it turns out Chip has a very specific reason for having such an interest in space travel. See he has organised a very special party, with eight other guests. Most of them hate Chip with a troubling intensity. They are all, like him wounded, disturbed versions of their former selves. Through Sally’s memories we learn what happened to the group, while Chip in the present-day contends with an increasingly surreal assortment of hotel guests, including the owner of the E Z franchise itself, Mr Moulin, who has a very particular sexual fetish.
Cut-throat reality television contests, dementia, the Bilderberg group and some really foul-tasting mineral water, contribute to one very crazy night filled with mayhem and death. If Chip survives until the morning shift without losing another limb he will be doing well.
The majority of the book is occupied with long rambling conversations. This allows Nick Walker to indulge in blackly comic dialogue. One sex phone-line customer discovers that the ideal sexual fantasy is harder to acquire than he thought possible and Mr Moulin’s increasingly mad phone calls to Chip read like a parody of Hunter S. Thompson. The novel’s satirical targets are also hit hard and often. Reality television in particular is subject to a steady stream of mockery. The contestants rivalling Sally for her seat on the space shuttle are not even given names, in recognition of how the general public think of them – The Model, The Chef, The Radar Operator and The Comedienne. Hounded by a team of intrusive camera-men, the cast are each eliminated and left broken by the process. Sally is not so much the most suitable candidate, as much as she is the last one standing. Pointedly it is revealed that she was referred to by fans of the show as ‘The Black One’.
Unfortunately, despite the occasional chuckle, I found this book’s cynicism suffocating. Constant, needling mockery does not a plot make – the story contorts itself into stranger and stranger shapes. When members of the cast start suffering from more extreme injuries and/or death, it almost makes no impression at all. They have become cyphers, denizens of a bizarre and tortured satirical universe.
Maybe I’m getting too old for this kind of thing.
He was both veiled and exact. Selective, but not averse to giving a suggestive illustration. “Multiple killers have a thing, a way to kill effectively that they use over and over again. It’s like anything. We all do it. We use what works, and usually it’s the easy way. A killer learns on the job. He gets better at it. But he’ll do it the same each time. These two homicides were different. Different styles.”
I never really take the time to explain why I am a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. To me it’s a shibboleth. You either know why, or you don’t and nothing I can say is going to help. But let’s pause for a moment. One of the things about the show that I enjoyed was how much it poked fun at the faux-romanticism of vampire culture, that obsession with vampirism as a metaphor for transgressive sex. The figure of the vampire symbolises the union between sex and death. It is recognizably human, but also monstrous, unclean and threatening. Yet despite its ‘Otherness’ (oh yes I have read many academic papers on vampires – they’re terribly amusing, you should investigate them for yourselves) the vampire is also seen as a romantic figure, sexually attractive because of its forbidden nature.
Along comes Buffy The Vampire Slayer the television series, which presumably attracted fans at least initially who were convinced on some level of the above and only for the show to rubbish that whole notion of vampires. I even recall the protagonist Buffy Summers dismissively stating: “See, this is what I hate about you vampires. Sex and death and love and pain — it’s all the same damn thing to you”.
This brings me to today’s novel, which even in the title marries sex and violence. The protagonist Frannie complains at the story’s opening about her difficulties in teaching her English Lit. college class. Language fascinates her, the shifts and changes in local idioms. New York itself is a heaving metropolis of mutating language, such that she finds herself stopping and querying her own students on what they are trying to say. She has begun work on a dictionary of vernacular phrases, drawing attention to the number of slang words used to describe differences in race and gender, with a particular focus on female genitalia.
One evening in her local bar, she finds herself lost in the basement looking for a bathroom when she happens upon a couple performing a sex act in a secluded space. The man’s face is hidden to her, but she notices a distinctive tattoo on his wrist. He sees her, but does not interrupt his partner, allowing Frannie to watch. Embarrassed she retreats and goes home.
Later that week a detective visits her at home. A young woman has been murdered in Frannie’s neighbourhood. The description matches that of the woman she saw in the bar’s basement that evening. She keeps this to herself, for she has noticed the detective has the same tattoo on his wrist. Frannie rapidly becomes obsessed with the detective, an Irish-American divorcee whose vulgarity disguises a quick wit. With him she feels increasingly uninhibited, their relationship competitive both sexually and in their contest of wills. Has she fallen for a murderer?
Susanna Moore‘s novel prides itself on its uncensored use of language. The dialogue has the same uncaring regard to political correctness as the aggressive sex scenes. This points to the disinterested stance of the academic, seeing the substance of life as simply another stylistic quirk. Frannie is unable to separate her own circumstances from the literary experiments she sets her students. Her growing sense of fear and suspicion regarding Molloy only serves to heighten her attraction to him.
I reviewed a book with similar themes back in August, Dorothy Parker’s The Monkey’s Mask. That book also satirised the disaffected lives of academic theorists by introducing murder to the proceedings, but far more successfully than here. Another point of comparison for me was Anthony Burgess’ The Clockwork Testament, which also treated of idiomatic language overcoming the civilised veneer of collegiate discourse. Burgess was quite funny in his observations though, whereas Moore seems happy to merely present lists of offensive phrases. Parker’s writing was far more comfortable with its eroticism. Moore again seems to be trying to shock. The ‘loving submission’, of Frannie to her lover/potential murderer just removes any interest for me in her eventual fate.
Tiresome, pretentious and nonsensical.
He gestured to the fireplace, over which hung a large framed photograph of the billionaire Da Vinci Code author, signed personally to Jean-Noël. “Look at that chin – it is the chin of a genius.” He ran his finger down the cleft of his own and mourned its inadequacy. “Mind you, I thought Digital Fortress was a piece of shit.”
Way back in 2008, when folks asked me why I intended to move to Australia, I would mention an assortment of reasons, such as the good food, sturdy economy, availability of jobs – but also another factor which caused some consternation. Namely Australian television. I am not talking about Neighbours, or Home and Away, but panel shows such as Spicks and Specks, a very funny programme that’s half music trivia quiz, half mad-cap variety hour (half hour!).
It was the good humoured content that surprised me. I grew up with Irish sarcasm and cutting British wit. Satire is the currency of my home’s entertainment, with a fair dollop of black comedy and schadenfreude. Australia seemed to me to have embraced an entirely different comedic ethos, fair dinkum banter and harmless absurdism.
Which was how I first discovered Shaun Micallef. His delivery of lines, whether it be as a comedic player, or host of the show Talking About Your Generation, seems initially quite poised, until you realize he’s speaking utter nonsense. When I discovered he had written a novel, I had to investigate what genteel gonzoism he had served up this time.
So what is the book about? Well our omniscient narrator is attempting to tell us the story of Alexander Pruitt, murdered in 2005, only to be reborn in Cromwellite Britain in 1657. Which, through a series of plot contrivances involving time travel and the etymology of the word ‘twig’, it turns out is the period most suitable to him.
Of course as history itself is warped by the events described, our trusty narrator might not even get to finish the book we are reading, or sell the rights to Hollywood, with the maniacal Tom Cruise playing him in an eventual movie. So we have two races to the finish line here, Alexander Pruitt desperately seeking out the meaning of his existence, while torn between two periods in history (as well as a brief cameo in a third); and our narrator hoping to sell out as quickly as possible before his intellectual property is unwritten.
Throw in some Masonic conspiracies, a nice hefty dig or two at Dan Brown’s expense, badgers and Blade Runner, and we have ourselves a novel. Oh and just to top it off the secret identity of Jack the Ripper is also revealed.
If this book were to suffer the indignity of a high concept, I would describe it as P. G. Wodehouse meets Philip K. Dick. It is fitting that the head of Philip K. Dick has reappeared as an A.I. oracle. Perhaps someone should ask it what it thinks of Micallef’s novel. It is manic, absurdist fare, that doesn’t take itself seriously for even an iota of a second. Conspiracies are revealed to be vapid plots without rhyme, or reason. History itself is a mutable, simultaneous projection without purpose. And Tom Cruise is a very scary individual.
The narrator’s Hollywood adventure feels like a random digression, but by that point you have become used to the editorial spats asterisked at the bottom of pages, as well as parenthetical asides to the reader, assuring them that it will all make sense in the end. I laughed out loud when Cruise himself begins to interrogate the narrator as to his peculiar ‘omniscience’, over the proceedings of the plot. It’s a brilliant moment.
If I go any further I fear this review will collapse into a puddle of sycophantic loquaciousness. Needless to say, I quite liked it.