Posts Tagged ‘Gordon J.’s Picks’

Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician by Daniel Wallace

November 7, 2014

There is precious little that can be said about this book without spoiling some or all of it. But if Vertigo taught us anything it’s that sometimes, even if you know where you’re going to end up, you still want to know how you get there. Here we go.

Henry Walker, an African-American magician (who may or may not be African-American) now fallen on hard times, is haunted by the Faustian deal (if that’s really what it was) he made as a 10 year-old boy with a mysterious man man who introduced himself as Mr. Sebastian (who may or may not have been the devil incarnate). This is a story about magic–stage magic, tricks with cards and doves and fire–so nothing is as it seems. Not even the magic.

In true Daniel Wallace fashion, the story is not so much told as it is shaped out of things done and left undone. The truth of Henry Walker’s life probably (possibly) lies somewhere between the different versions of the story of his life–stories he told and which are now retold. Rudy the Strong Man’s story parallels and overlaps with JJ the Barker’s story and Jenny the Ossified Girl’s story, which shape out some of Henry’s past, and a late-arriving private detective with a story of his own succeeds in clearing away the last of the fog and mirrors. But it may be too little too late, as Henry himself has disappeared (so think, then, of the tales told at a funeral).

It’s a Southern gothic fairy-tale, told in many voices, complete with a traveling circus, magic (which may or may not be real magic), and a deal with the devil (maybe). But this is no magic trick itself. There is no illusion at its end.  Rather, we learn how the trick was done, which breaks the spell.

Then there is only a stripping away, a sad decay that reveals plainness and ordinariness under peeling paint.

The illusion is that there was an illusion at all.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Daniel Wallace will be visiting the West Regional Library on Thursday, November 13 @ 7 p.m.  Click here to register.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

August 21, 2014

House of LeavesBefore we begin, I need you to imagine, as clearly as you can, the interior of a nautilus shell. You’ve probably seen one cut into a cross-section: a long spiral of rooms opening from rooms opening from rooms, onward and onward. Or, better still, think of the infinite view that comes from a mirror facing a mirror or the visual feedback of a video camera viewing its own live feed on a television screen. Bear these things in mind.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is the book I would like to tell you about. It is a novel about a scholarly discussion of a film, The Navidson Record, which is about a photojournalist’s attempts to document the sudden appearance of a dark, cold, featureless, labyrinthine complex of rooms, hallways, chambers, spiral staircases, and outright mazes (remember the nautilus?) that has appeared in his family’s house. Elderly, blind scholar Zampanò had been writing an academic critique of this film—until his death, at least. Here, then, we are presented with Zampanò ‘s manuscript of his critique of this documentary along with interviews and transcripts and editors’ remarks and documents related to the film—and now with added annotations and autobiographical footnotes by the finder of the manuscript: one, Johnny Truant, a Los Angeles tattoo parlor employee and all-around unreliable narrator.

No, House of Leaves cannot be called a “simple” book—not in storyline nor in structure. Visually, too, the book is a maze, with unconventional typesetting, different fonts for different narrators, coded messages in colored words, and footnotes within footnotes. Nor is it a happy book, generally speaking (most would categorize it as horror; the author has referred to it as a love story): angry Johnny Truant writes like a refugee from Fight Club, Zampanò came to a mysterious and violent death, the explorers of the house fall victim to desperation and insanity, and the house itself growls.

It is not an easy book. It is not a simple book. But what maze should be simple? A maze without turns would in all ways always be a hallway. Be ready. But try the maze.

“Well, now, after all that thinking, wouldn’t it be fine if we could take a little trip? We will do it. I know a game we all like to play inside la casa, the house.

“We will play hide and seek.”

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The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

August 15, 2014

The Crying of Lot 49Imagine if you can what it is like to have no possessions at all. Nothing. Very few people are able to imagine such a thing, to have nothing at all. Well let us, you and I, try to imagine something a hundred times harder: not just to have nothing at all but to have no reality at all.

Oedipa Maas, a California housewife, is unexpectedly designated the co-executor of her former lover’s estate. In parsing the late Pierce Inveriarty’s tangled assets, Oedipa becomes entangled in a complicated historical mystery, and in the process, she potentially unearths a centuries-old conflict between two mail carrier companies (Thurn und Taxis and the Tristero) kept secret by a shadowy conspiracy. Maybe. In a set of rare stamps, in an obscure Jacobean play, in overheard conversations, in wastebaskets scattered in San Narciso, Oedipa finds what might be evidence for the Tristero’s existence. Might. Drowning in or perhaps rising to new heights of paranoia, she finds herself torn between belief and disbelief, with signs and symbols all around her and nothing to guide her. And this is only about half the story.

You don’t need a degree in Jacobean theater, theoretical physics, or the history of postal systems (although this reviewer will admit to carrying out research on the United States Postal Service for a class project because of this novel) to enjoy the story here, though all these things figure into the story. For the real perfectionists who enjoy chasing down references (I know you’re out there because I see you at our weekly meetings), just keep Wikipedia and Google handy and you’ll be fine. For that matter, there’s a Pynchon Wiki out there too that really gets down into the nitty gritty.

For those of you who are concerned about the reputation and various paraphernalia that hangs around Pynchon’s name, fear not: this book is short and more accessible than Gravity’s Rainbow (his magnum opus, let’s not lie) or Bleeding Edge (his latest contribution) while still being as Pychonian as Pynchon can be. By which I mean by turns absurd, paranoid, musical, countercultural, and surreal.

And besides, the real rule when it comes to Pynchon is just this: hang on and enjoy the ride.

P.S.: write and tell me what you think; if you’ve read this book, you’ll know how to send it to me.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.


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