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AICN BOOKS! Frank Bascombe On SHINING CITY And NOW YOU SEE HIM!

Published at: Feb. 27, 2008, 6:07 p.m. CST

With ‘Gone Baby Gone’ Ben Affleck has made a searing and daring first feature that takes incredible risks and nearly pushed me over the edge while bringing me to tears. I’m sure the studio behind that movie begged him to change certain things; the end for starters and what happens at the 90 minute mark. I’m glad he didn’t. But I told my wife never to watch this movie. I take back a lot of things I’ve said about Ben Affleck over the years, and Mr. Affleck if you’re reading this now, I apologize. You’re a hell of a filmmaker. You nailed Boston to the cross and you’ve made sure everyone knows what a great actor your brother Casey is. I’m fairly over the moon about a couple of things these days, book, movie and music related. The new Interpol record, ‘Our Love To Admire’, is a savage brilliance. Adam Goldberg’s performance in ‘2 Days in Paris’ is nothing short of incredible. He breezes through 90 minutes while deftly dealing with the cougar like performance of Julie Delpy, who isn’t shabby herself. Goldberg has been a potent force on the perimeter of Hollywood for years going back to ‘The Prophecy’. I love watching him not act; he’s so naturally easy going and funny. I’m sure it’s supposed to be this way, but God, is he great. A couple of books; one getting excerpted in the New York Times magazine section, ‘The Lemur’ by Benjamin Black and ‘Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name’ by Vendela Vida. Both are amazing in their own way, but Ms. Vida has basically redefined the path of contemporary fiction with this novel, or rerouted the path it’s currently on. She delivers with chiseled prose a wonderful and emotionally involved novel about a girl looking for her parents and finding her true self in the process. There isn’t much old fashion emotion in the post modern novel these days. It’s been replaced with schmaltzy sentimentality via Danielle Steel or John Grisham. That’s fine if you want chocolate milkshakes all day. But Ms. Vida delivers a wide spectrum of ideas and emotions, worth every moment of your time. Benjamin Black, well, what can you say, this book soars, a reverse of the Vida novel, in its restraint and the wonderfully muted detail’s of New York City, class, wealth and just how far away you and I are from being rich. Each week I wait for another excerpt.

It’s Not A Secret Unless I Tell Someone Shining City by Seth Greenland Bloomsbury

It’s thrilling to get in on the ground floor with a writer, and I was fortunate enough to hear about ‘The Bones’, Seth Greenland’s stunning debut a few summers ago. It was the Mamet quote that got me to pick it up and from there it was a rip roaring good time. But we’re not talking a rainbow of Skittles here; it was a brutal evisceration of the Hollywood class system which at times was off color but savagely honest. Then I waited. And waited for the next book, finally it came along and much to my surprise it will be released this summer. Greenland has grown up a little bit, not that his debut was kiddie stuff or cotton candy in anyway, but he’s matured his narrative, slowed it down, and not surprisingly shown an incredible amount of restraint and patience. More sizzle and less flash. ‘Shining City’ starts off like a scene from ‘The Bones’, but then drops into a lower gear and moves like a bad case of gray hair. We gyrate with a man who is overweight, chin deep in grade ‘A’ working women and maintaining his extravagant lifestyle with oldest trade known to man. But we don’t know what or who he is, really, until later. Greenland then peels the onion on modern life, slowly and painfully we dip into Marcus Ripps life and it’s all good, well timed, and middle of the road. It’s a grind, lets be honest. And this is where the book takes a turn for the interesting. It’s not often that modern man, contemporary man is painted with such painful colors. Greenland gives a perfect picture of domestic bliss through Marcus, but he’s anything but normal. You see, I saw him trapped, and it isn’t played like that in the book, but he’s wishing for more money, he’s content with what he has; wife, kid, job, strangling debt, and his surroundings his jailers. But as they say, when you’re in a hole…stop digging. There were details about Marcus avoiding a hangover by taking aspirin the night before and the weather playing a part, both seem to be symptoms of a man recognizing his environment and terrain, extenuating the happiness from the surrounding dread. Slowly he maneuvers through his life knowing the pitfalls, and gauging risk versus reward. Marcus receives a windfall which comes in the form of sweet and sour. He loses one thing that was holding him down and gains another that will allow a personal reinvention. Middle aged men in America today are rarely ever given this opportunity and with a keen eye on financial security (meaning; not having to worry about money ever again) Marcus tears the rearview mirror off and goes blissfully into the life as pimp. That’s right he runs a team of call girls in Los Angeles. Running parallel to this story is Jan, his wife, who has realized that she’s running her own business into the ground and dragging Marcus down while she wears gilded blinders. Jan has a business partner that is slightly stereotypical, but yeah, there is that thing called stereotypes… for a reason. This storyline and all the characters that come home to rot make a delicious story all the more meaningful and relevant. Initially you thought things were going off the rails into areas that weren’t necessary, but Greenland reminds us that good fiction keeps all the balls in the air for a reason. Marcus starts to make money, real money, and Greenland enjoys this turn of events almost as much as his hero. Jan jumps up the social chain in her community while Marcus drives and wears the fruits of his labor. But these people aren’t stupid. They’ve been conditioned by an environment where the rich get over and the poor, well…they take it on the arches. Marcus knows the real world will all go away if he zigs when he should zag. For someone who seemed pinned down by his circumstances, mainly a long time job as a bean counter and a manageable amount of revolving debt, he plays his hand just about as well as could be expected. Marcus was at a crossroad and he didn’t even know it. What Greenland examines in this wonderfully insightful and slightly sneaky novel is what America is all about, well (what it’s become), in that commerce isn’t always nine to five, and if it goes off shore, you should turn what you know upside down and look at it from the other side of the street.

Now You See Him by Eli Gottlieb Morrow

I’ve been complaining about literary emotions missing their mark in contemporary novels, whether it’s the minimal narrative details or the purposefully muted prose that finds its way into most everything I read and even the writing that I do myself. It’s there and happening plus editors are finding ways to make it flourish. I’ve told a white lie, my father has mentioned to me that he doesn’t see enough emotion in fiction these days (I’m paraphrasing) and feels that someone like Benjamin Black is being synthetic and surgical in his descriptions. There is nothing wrong with that kind of economy if you ask me, but he does make a point just the same. So when a novel like ‘Now You See Him’ comes along and delivers one long brutation of emotions I have to tell you about it. If a story moves quickly I sometimes look under the hood just to see what might be the cause of such slickness. Mr. Gottlieb finds ways to tell this story with a mixed up non linear narrative that shows his uncanny powers of storytelling. I’ve always been a fan of this kind of novel, agents and editors like to say they don’t get it (you’ve lost me…I was engaged and then you flashed back…why does anyone care? Things I’ve heard about this kind of narrative), but someone is doing it so there has to be gold in them hills. The writing is beautifully sad, his hero Nick Farmington seems to be midlife crisis, holding his own and examining the details of his life with shock and horror at who he’s become. The event that gets this boulder moving is a best friend, a literary star local boy who kills his girlfriend, bullet to the brain, later turning the gun on himself, well, that’s what we’re supposed to believe. This book is about fathers and sons. How one boy can transpose his life into the body of another, a kid he idolizes and live a life he never had. Nick begins to mourn his dead friend and in doing so poisons the well of his own life so thoroughly that he can only fold in on himself where he desperately grasps for answers in the most darkened corners of his past. He realizes that his family, two beautiful children and a darling wife are not what he wants. His dead pal Rob Castor has a sister he finds himself attracted to in more ways than just carnal. Gottlieb toggles back and forth between Nick’s life and the fallout of his marriage, death of a friend, professional jealously and self loathing that has no peer. We go back in time to hear about tragedy, brutal realizations of what he thinks he knows actually aren’t what happened. Rob is a ghostly guide for Nick, and it’s something strange and mythic that keeps Nick from losing his mind. While visiting his father in chapter 21, (I sight this chapter because it is one of the finest father/son conversations I’ve ever read, mostly because it seems like Gottlieb sat witness to conversations between my father and I.) we realize that Nick and his parents couldn’t be farther apart. The truth of this novel cuts deep and leaves its inhabitants dismembered and changed for ever. Mr. Gottlieb has written a fantastic novel which dives into rarely traveled emotional depths, life, love, hatred, and the feelings you get when you don’t reach the stars you thought were so close. He does it with a savvy ear for dialogue and an amazing eye for the simple truths that surround us. Got something you’d like me to read? -- Frank Bascombe

Readers Talkback

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  • Feb. 27, 2008, 6:08 p.m. CST

    yep

    by indiebum

    first

  • Feb. 28, 2008, 7:21 a.m. CST

    wow

    by OnusBone

    Who'da thunk that a book review talkback on a movie review site would be so dead?

  • Feb. 28, 2008, 7:46 a.m. CST

    I love these columns

    by jerryreedisking

    I never post here, but I just wanted to say keep it up, Frank. I always look forward to your columns, even if the comments are more sparse. Thanks for the recommendations, and I think I read "The Bones" based on a previous column. Good stuff.

  • Feb. 28, 2008, 1:34 p.m. CST

    Don't mistake an empty talkback for a lack of interest

    by hst666

    I read your posts regularly