AICN BOOKS! Frank Bascombe On REVOLUTIONARY ROAD And 6 SICK HIPSTERS!
Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here.
Somehow, I missed this in my inbox last week. My apologies to the great Frank Bascombe. It’s always nice to have a new book column to put up. I publish it because I enjoy reading it, and this month’s is no exception.
I’ve been desperately trying to tell everyone I know that No Country for Old Men is just the greatest thing since sliced bread and so far I think it might be catching on. I hope you can get out and see this masterpiece before it leaves the theaters. If you need something to read I can suggest these two titles.
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
Introduction by Richard Ford
A friend of mine told me that Richard Ford worships at the altar of Richard Yates, and if you read this book, as I just did…for the first time, I suggest you read his introduction after you’ve read the book. In doing so you’ll see just how bowled over Ford is by the novel and how severely this man’s writing has been affected by not only ‘Revolutionary Road’, but by Yates and the period in American History that not only pre-dates Ford’s work but this reader as well. Enough people told me to read this book; knowing how my tastes run, and it was good suggestion. It’s a book that’s been around longer than I have and it’s almost thrilling to read something that so many people say is important (almost), and I found it to be an emphatic impeachment of the human race pre-nineteen sixties, where this books ridiculously shallow characters preside, they wallow in their lost dreams, Frank and April, (hope springs eternal perhaps, as in april, and let me put it to you frankly). The Revolutionary of the title is a where they live, Revolutionary estates in southern Connecticut, a bucolic bedroom community that would be surreal if it wasn’t and exact replica of where I live.
Frank Wheeler will be played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the upcoming Sam Mendes adaptation, and I’ll be stunned if he can pull off the Yates version of the typical suburban man, early to mid twenties, a wandering eye, and filled with banal mundane urges to keep his job. Leo won’t, he’ll try, and I could be wrong, but the college educated Frank Wheeler is a true bore in the classic Ward Cleaver sense, stiff, humorless, egotistical and vain beyond belief (wait maybe Leo can do it, he was okay in The Departed). He’s taken a job at a company who produces an early form of the computer (a Robert Frank New York City), which is probably Yates telling his readers “watch out, this is a soulless endeavor, technology kills.” He trudges off to do his job, something that profoundly bores him and he admittedly dismisses all responsibility, shirks his job, and sleeps through his days. The offices are perfectly described by Yates, cubicle walls overseen by miles of fluorescent lights, I’m not even the slightest bit surprised to find out its where Yates once worked. Frank finds him self on the path to rapid promotion after doing almost nothing and doing it with his eyes closed, another symptom of the office culture. Why promote someone with ambition? Why seek out someone who asks questions? Why not promote someone who can take orders without question?
The novel starts with April flailing around like a fish out of water, Yates says she was once a talent, but the circumstances she finds her self in; a local play in the nothing little community theater in anywhere USA, (it’s Connecticut, but Yates is telling you that you can fail anywhere), and when she realizes mid performance that she’s an abomination she turns to hot garbage and becomes toxic to everyone around her as she can’t stand Frank and her best friends pretending she was the opposite, because even in the worst of circumstances you need to put on a front. April Wheeler (will be played by Kate Winslet, a beautiful improvement from what Yates offers), is ready to admit that she’s living in a bogus and phony shell, this life she leads is a joke, she never wanted to marry Frank, he’s an asshole, she’s a formerly beautiful woman who has unwittingly been hoodwinked to masquerade as a subhuman housewife in a mold that can’t be very far off accuracy wise, even back then. April knows how to fix this problem, “We’ll move to Paris!”, seriously, that’s her idea, she brings it to Frank like a new found puppy who will fix everything, it’s so God damn silly and farfetched that Frank can only fall asleep at the sounds of this caterwauling nonsense. The ills of her life are in full bloom; kids who don’t know they’re nothing more than a by product of a time when it was “the thing to do”, suburbs and a husband who screws like a zombie and drinks like a fish even tossing her a few ill timed cracks to the cakehole, which is to say April and company, all drink, smoke and eat like people who know tomorrow isn’t coming. Why Yates flaunts this? It’s basically how I hear it was at the time. April knows Frank could be good at something if he only had time to think it through, Paris would do that for him, and while she became a secretary overseas he would wander the parks and think, while the kids learned French. You find me a woman besides April Wheeler who would say that, even aloud, in today’s world or back then, and I’ll eat my hat. What about the rent? What about the bills? What about…everything?
Frank beds his secretary and has the balls to go home like nothing happened, and even worse return to the office the next day ignoring this secretary who thinks stupidly (and typically) that he’ll leave the safety of his gilded cage for her and the microscopic dingy existence that she calls a life. It’s sickening and sad, truly sad, it will make you cry and its bitterness will hang on you like the smell of burnt hair. I was stunned by the corners these people painted themselves in, which I could hardly believe they didn’t once pass a mirror and see their reflection and jump back with morbid shock.
Yates is really saying that the 50’s were bad, and that the 60’s were something unknown eventually filled with insane change or as Peter Fonda’s Terry Valentine puts it in The Limey;
“Did you ever dream about a place you never really recall being to before? A place that maybe only exists in your imagination? Some place far away, half remembered when you wake up. When you were there, though, you knew the language. You knew your way around. That was the sixties. (pause) No. It wasn't that either. It was just '66 and early '67. That's all there was.”
Frank and April didn’t know how different the future was, as they were still stuck in an armature that’s never changed and may return like an advance party of locusts on a sticky August afternoon. Perhaps each decade has a ‘Revolutionary Road’, Yates standing in the sixties looking back to the Cleaver’s of the 50’s, and then a fallow period, a winter of cathartic dispelling, and… okay, perhaps Bret Easton Ellis with ‘Less Than Zero’, and Jay Mac with ‘Bright Lights Big City’ then Rick Moody in the 90’s with the ‘Ice Storm’. These novels with Yates bitter vision can assume their rightful place in a time capsule for future generations to place on their reading lists as insightful meditations on America. It would almost seem unfair not to include Richard Ford’s Bascombe Trilogy as it would certainly hold a place in that same time capsule. But there are others, perhaps Sorrentino’s ‘Trance’, or Josh Ferris and his masterpiece ‘Then We Came To The End’, even Dana Spiotta’s ‘Eat The Document’. I’m not sure, it all seems so depressing, the Yates part that is.
6 Sick Hipsters by Rayo Casablanca
I get a ton of requests from people who read this column asking me to read their books. I think it’s great that you wrote a book, really, I do, and it’s an incredible achievement, I can speak to that personally, but 99% time I’m not going to read it. Mostly because I pick my own books and make the decisions before hand, so it’s pointless to email me and ask me to read your book. A great deal of the books I’m asked to read are self published and I just won’t review them since they’ve not gone down the avenue of an editor, proof reader and publicity and marketing department, and more importantly if a reader of this column wants to buy that self published book good chances are they can’t (I’m sure it’s easier now, and you’ll tell me how easy it is in the talkbacks). That being said I made an exception; actually it’s the second one I’ve made in seven years. Rayo Casablanca has been in touch with me off and on over the last few months mentioning that he’s got a book forthcoming, I was hesitant at first since I just don’t have the time, but then I checked out the Kensington catalog for Summer 2008 and found Rayo’s book listed right next to the ‘Great Cock Hunt’ (I forget the author), which made me laugh, plus the catalog copy likened Rayo’s book to Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis which got my interest. Rayo sounds like he’s got some Chuck in him so I told him to send it along with no promises.
I don’t ever read a book in two days. Ever. Okay, sure, I read ‘Tomcat In Love’ in five days, but I was obsessed. Not the same thing, but Rayo got my attention with some very high minded and severely detailed prose which is as addictive as it is palatable. The title may throw you off, ‘6 Sick Hipsters’, it doesn’t roll off the tongue but it does stick in your mind. I couldn’t put this down and that’s a good thing.
There is a man, a bad man, something like a combination of Jim Carrey in the Cable Guy and John Lithgow in Raising Cain who is stalking the “hipsters” of Williamsburg, NY circa right now. He’s known to drive a jeep and is immediately given the name Doctor Jeep; he’s in town to kill some hipsters. It sounds funny right? It is and it isn’t, more like a Philip K. Dick homage to the days where everyone lived breathed and eat pop culture, nostalgia isn’t a catch phrase it’s the air these characters need to survive. At the core sits Harrison, a gangly paleontologist who is a confessed died in the wool rationalist, which is perfectly refreshing for anyone not willing to buy the hype thrust at us everyday in the media. He forms a love relationship with the nearly blind Beth Ann, a curvy little creature who is keen on knitting, it’s the new black, the “in” thing for her to do and the only past time that reminds her of something normal. Harrison introduces her to his pals, his little click of hipsters. Interspersed within this brilliantly revealed relationship, (although it is very pubescent, lacking maturity or any kind of non geek experience which is the point) are the murders of a teen aged pop star a comic book nerd with the assorted geek stereotypes thrown in as examples of a culture that’s gone off the rails in the most ridiculous fashion. Slowly Harrison and Beth Ann discover a plot to kill many of their friends, a hysterical character named Wolfgang who is mused into his own doom, and a futuristic image named “T” who seems to have all the best lines in the book, especially the scene about drowning which for me was a close to perfect as a flashback can get.
Essentially in a nutshell Rayo seems perfectly willing to lead you by the hand through the recent history of all this pop culture, rounding out every character with a quirk, tick or an obsession which makes for a lot of; “Oh right, I remember when that was big.”
This plot? Why does it exist? How did we get there? Or here? It’s a more in your face version of what’s come before it, which is to say, Rayo is holding a mirror up to society and announcing loud and clear that the “man” and his marketing ploys aren’t so easily consumed and should be explored with a fine tooth comb instead of allowing it all to wash over us. He’s hoping that his characters can become an avatar for a type of change that would take the piss out of the powerful and return it to the powerless, to subvert perception and make reality, well…reality.
Rayo saves some of the best parts of the book for those last hundred pages and you’ll be begging for the pages to turn faster when you realize that the man behind the curtain has fixed it so you think everything has been one way your whole life and come to find out, it’s been exactly the opposite. Rayo borrows heavy from Dick (even a line that you’ll know right away), Lethem, and more importantly Chuck P, who I think this book should be dedicated to, since it reminded me of a very funny, highly charged version of Fight Club, which is the strongest compliment I can pay any book.
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Dec. 4, 2007, 8:52 a.m. CST
Richard Yates. I tore through his stuff about ten years ago. Revolutionary Road is definitely the most disturbing. I also highly recommend The Easter Parade. Yates has such a knack for hitting you in the gut with character bits that ring way too damn true to your own psyche at times, and then pushes them right over the edge. Great stuff.
Dec. 4, 2007, 1:58 p.m. CST
What goes unmentioned is the Coen's actually improved on the book's ending with the wife's call.
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