Saturday, October 3, 2009

In his book Awake in the Dark, Roger Ebert writes that "A movie is not about what it is about. It is about how it is about it . . . ." This is a useful way to think about something I just finished and something I've recently begun.

Since this occurred to me while reading the latter, I'll start there: David Eggers's novel/memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is supposedly about his parents' deaths and the resulting effects on his family, but it's really the title that tells you what it's about by revealing how it's going to go about its business. The details are not the issue, but rather the effect the story will have on you and how impressed you'll be by the work itself. However, Eggers immediately, in the hilarious prefatory matter, undercuts this aims and tells you that parts of the book don't work very well and that, yes, he's reductively aware of his own self-consciousness about this story. As it turns out, how he goes about telling this story has, so far, less heartbreak than humor and less genius than . . . well, again, humor. It reads like sitcom writing. He attempts to break your heart through the juxtaposition of ironic distance and horrible details—though this actually results, for me in any case, in a sense of irony rather than emotional connection. These, though, are the subjects of the book.

Thomas M. Disch's On Wings of Song . . . I'll admit, I don't know what he wants the book to be about. I think he wants it to be about the facades that people construct and the falseness of dreams. But the book goes about this in such ham-handed fashion and with such an inconsistent tone and voice (not to mention a plot that loses track of itself) that the book is about how not having a clear vision results in derailment. That's what happens to the character; that's what happens to the book.

Read a good, small short story from Bonnie Jo Campbell's collection American Salvage. I have no idea why I ordered this at the library. This happens from time to time. Thus I find myself in the odd position of having a wish granted though I'm not conscious of any lingering desire for the a-wished object.

I'm working on two short stories simultaneously, though I hadn't planned to. (This also happens from time to time.) "Machine Age" is an old idea I've written about several times; I'm hoping this approach gets me somewhere more final. The newest thing, on which I've only written the opening, is "Rhetorical Lad." Both have adolescent protagonists. Hm. A consequence of teaching middle schoolers?

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