Literature

The Man in the Woods by Shirley Jackson

Although, passing away in 1965, the exquisite author Shirley Jackson still persists as one of our great 20th Century American writers. Even after her death, she leaves us with many unpublished works. Her adult children have been wading through all of her papers and unpublished stories have been found. Last year, the New Yorker magazine ran a previously unknown story called, “Paranoia.” With this week’s issue, a story taking root in mythology and fairy tale was published. This new Shirley Jackson story is called, “The Man in the Woods.” It is also available to read in its entirety online.

themaninwoods

Admittedly, the story reads like an early draft. It is indeed short and the ending is lacking the hard resonance that Jackson’s other works released during her lifetime have. The final sentences give a glimpse, however, to the tone and path she wanted to take. With that all said, “The Man in the Woods” doesn’t disappoint.

It is a short story that unleashes a lingering terror from the first page. Shirley Jackson was always wonderful at making the reader feel on edge without being blunt. Christopher is compelled to start walking into the woods out of the mere fact that he has nothing better to do. He is joined by a nameless cat who Christopher playfully asks, “Where we going, fellow? Any ideas?” As he continues on into the woods, Christopher finds himself at a crossroads, not sure which path to take. Jackson sets up a story that feels very familiar in the realm of fairy tales (well, the kind of fairy tales that really are horror stories with grim outcomes and any notion of “fairy” is wholly misleading). Christopher comes upon a small stone cottage where a trio of mysterious people live. The occupants are strange with their speech and they are not completely able to pick up on the humor in casual conversation.

Regardless of the draft quality of the story, I am still delighted by Jackson’s ability to construct a foreboding environment. She clearly is taking a cue from fairy tales and folk myths (one character’s name is possibly Circe; what this tells the reader about her, though, can be debated). It is this enigmatic quality of the narrative that is the big draw.

When you’re done taking a peek, the New Yorker also included an interview with Shirley Jackson’s son about discovering her unpublished stories and other topics.

An Amateur’s Field Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Has anyone else noticed the newish zombie trend slowly permeating through our books, movies, and television? Perhaps, this is just a backlash from the fatigue we all have from sexy teenage vampires. My interest in zombies has never been particularly high, but I can’t help but notice some of the more recent offerings. These aren’t your run of the mill Romero zombie tales.

I am no expert (hence the amateur status given to this post), but I thought I would share my run-ins that have bucked my previously held opinion of zombie fare.* The creators have tried to upend the standard lore of zombies and produce something new. For me, it all began with The Returned, a recent French television series.

zombies - 1They aren’t mumbling, half-wits motivated solely for brains. No, the revenants of this small French town return as if nothing has happened even though some have been deceased for decades. They want to return to their normal lives, but with every new episode, stranger behavior and occurrences unfold. There are clearly secrets buried within the living, too. The Returned is a television adaptation of a 2004 French film called They Came Back (French: Les Revenants), which seethes with the uncanny and eerie. This slow burning film makes you feel completely off-kilter. The returned are not quite what the living expected and the business of what to do with this sudden inflation of undeceased residents is a perplexing burden. Let’s not mention all of the not sleeping and midnight meetups by the undead who seem to be planning something. Both of these zombie servings offer a different picture, which include complex emotions and simmering questions.

zombies - 2

It’s often noted that the 2002 British thriller, 28 Days Later, was the zombie film that reignited interest in the living dead. It took me ages to finally see it (due to my aforementioned disinterest in zombies), but when I did, I was impressed. It definitely was akin to those 1968 zombies, but it did do something different–the zombies were not slow walking  groaners. They were fast and strong making the post-apocalypse landscape even more terrifying. But we’ve moved on a little from these serious creepfests…

The genre has seen its own comedic interpretations with the fantastic Shaun of the Dead (that bar scene with Queen playing always gets me) or the slapstick horror of the New Zealand zombie flick, Black Sheep, which centers around the genetically mutated sheep that have secretly been created on the outskirts of a family farm by scientists looking to birth savage carnivores instead of docile grazers. Has anyone else seen this? I feel like I’m the only one. Shall I tempt you with the trailer? Also, we cannot forget Zombieland, a film that sees gun-toting Woody Harrelson driven to find a Twinkie in a zombie-filled world.

But this new zombie is flashing its teeth in writing as well. Isaac Marion’s debut novel, Warm Bodies, is narrated by R who isn’t your mamma’s zombie. Marion is writing from a zombie point of view–something which often is not a feature. R spends his days very slowly walking around a former airport with his other zombie cohorts in post-apocalyptic Seattle. He is bored, can’t remember his name, and on a recent hunt for brains, he meets Julie, a member of the living. R has a deep inner monologue and can relive memories of those whose brains he’s devoured. As the book goes on, R starts to become more human-like. He can string more than a couple of syllables together and his body movements are less restricted. Warm Bodies has been labelled a zombie romance, which it is, but it was also enjoyable to read as a new take on the zombie genre. There is also a 2013 film adaptation that is fun to watch as R goes through his zombie existential crisis.

Of course, there is horror maestro Joe Hill’s short story, “Twittering from the Circus of the Dead.” Honestly, I was skeptical at first because the entire story is written in a succession of Tweets by a teenage girl on a road trip with her family, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was a real joyride. The 140 character Oulipian constraint makes for some side-splitting moments. The whole time, the girl is tweeting her family’s car ride even when they make a wrong turn leading them to the Circus of the Dead–a circus manned by zombie entertainment. Even when her own brother is turned, she can’t help but be surly and she remains tweeting till the very undead end.

TYME2WASTE He’s not very good at being a zombie. He isn’t even trying to walk slow. He’s really going after the ringmistress. 9:04 PM – 2 Mar from Tweetie

zombies 3

“They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”

Zombie stories and resurrections have been around for centuries. The mindless brain-centric menace can trace its roots to West Africa and Haiti where many myths and stories shape our present day zombie. The mainstreaming of the word began in the late 1920s and exploded with the release of the 1932 Bela Lugosi picture, White Zombie, based on William Seabrook’s book (note: his Wikipedia page states, “[W]as an American Lost Generation occultistexplorer, traveller, cannibal, and journalist.” Maybe, one of the best entry openings on the site?).  

I proffer that zombies became more than just the living dead with Richard Matheson’s I am Legend. We can argue that the creatures are really more like vampires, but this is my blog, so I win. They’re zombies. In his 1954 novel, Matheson popularized the notion of a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by an unknown contagion. This is really a must-read even outside of the zombie wheelhouse. (Let’s all just agree to forgo the recent film adaptation for the sole reason that the filmmakers totally throw out the idea of what “I am Legend” means in the book). Matheson’s excellent book won’t be the last to elicit a dwindling world where war, disease, and other man-made epidemics will be our downfall.

Newer zombies are regularly shown as staying awake all night long. Their inability to sleep and their weary-eyed restlessness is often highlighted. Even in Karen Russell’s new novella, Sleep Donation, which is not strictly a zombie piece, compares the insomniacs to zombies. They are rendered insane by the sleeplessness and an epidemic is raging through the world. A cause is not given, but it is obviously a metaphor for society’s anxieties (also, commenting on the fact that with every progressing day, we are less likely to pull ourselves away from our various screen devices that have been show to interfere with sleep).

Even in the horror-comedy schlock fest, Jennifer’s Body, a bit of commentary is going on. Although, Jennifer is not explicitly labeled a zombie (more a demon), she comes back to life to wreak havoc on the high school boys who objectified her. It is a ridiculous and absurd film that is pretty great and it tries to tap into the portrayal of women in slasher flicks (the execution can be questioned at times, but still admirable, for lack of a better word). Roger Ebert wrote in his review, “As a movie about a flesh-eating cheerleader, it’s better than it has to be.” It is a suitable addition to a genre that is already highly saturated with male voices.

zombies - 4

Supernatural works are often stand-ins for society’s very real fears and worries. Letting go and grief seem to be apparent themes in The Returned and They Came Back, and we are seeing it again in the new US television series Resurrection (based on the 2012 novel, The Returned, which has nothing to do with the two French works, but also deals with long-dead people returning to a small town. Read the Slate article to clear everything up). Also, in all three, the revenants are unable to sleep, denoting them as the other and keeping from the very human function that visits us every night. I have not read Jason Mott’s novel, but I’m curious if anyone else has an opinion on it.

Our new zombies are often having existential crises. They keep their heads high and ruminate on their fates. Sometimes the world is destroyed by a disease, but many times this is not the case. R doesn’t remember how he lost his sense of self. Did this new, distracted world just think itself into zombieism? Many iterations don’t sleep. They can be found walking aimlessly and unblinking with plenty of time to think. They seem harmless at first, but when more come, the true monster shows its face. They might not always be guttural, fleshy cannibalistic heaps anymore. As readers and watchers of these new zombies, we often become enthralled by this different approach to the genre. The stories are evolving with our own present world, for the good and the bad. Our anxieties are being manifested in post-apocalyptic worlds filled with modern creatures. No matter what, though, zombies are always a human creation. They are mutating and overcoming us until we must send in Brad Pitt to rid of us of our World War Z.

Now, I am off to watch Cockneys vs. Zombies to add to my zombie arsenal. Do you have any to add? They are certainly plenty of zombie films, but are there any more works of fiction that are just begging to be read? Does anyone else notice that many vampire books are written by women, but zombies seem to be the playing field of men?


* Sorry Walking Dead fans. From the one random episode I watched last year, this series solidified my previous held disinterest in Zombies and their ability to bore with me the main focus being on walking back and forth slowly.

Appendix

1. Images [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]
2. Zombies are such a trend now that there are zombie-themed apps, including a jogging “adventure,” called Zombies, Run!
3.  A short list of zombie films starring Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price.
4. Many thanks to Helen for recommending the television series The Returned. The TV series airs on Sundance Channel and can also be binge watched (recommended) on Netflix. They Came Back can be watched for free in its entirety on Hulu. Although, I recommend finding the DVD for the extra “making of” documentary.
5. Never utter these words during a zombie apocalypse.

 

No Rest for the Writer

the-day-after-1895

weary reader rest
not for too long when you pick
your head up rejoice

****

In celebration of National Poetry Month and in response to Time For Poetry, a haiku by this tired writer and reader who is trying to muster up some stamina for two book reviews that are due to editors soon (books I still haven’t finished reading) and trying to look at my own manuscript with its final 10,000-20,000 words being narrowed in on. I can’t help but feel like this perfect Edvard Munch painting.

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland

the transcriptionist

The Transcriptionist was not what I expected and I mean this in the best of ways. It is a New York City novel, but resides in unknown places and lives that have yet to be portrayed in fiction.* Lena is a transcriptionist at the New York Record–a position that seems a relic in our digital age. In 2003, the city is living in a time that seems both close and faraway to the present day reader. Post 9/11 concerns are red hot (the staff of the Record  are absurdly given “escape hoods” in case of further mass emergency) and the daily news cycles whirl around Lena as she sits alone on the eleventh floor transcribing recorded interviews and reports from abroad.

She lives in this shadow state, always reading the news she knows over the news that makes it into print, and not just reading the shadows, but also living in them, somewhere between waiting and searching. This is what chills her…

Lena lives alone in a room she rents where the sink is also in her room. She keeps to herself and even the one person, Russell, who speaks to her socially at work thinks her name is Carol (a mistake she leaves uncorrected). Lena is filled with words and language so much that her conversational skills are composed mostly of quotations.

But then everything changes. A news report on page 3 of the Record catches her eye. A woman is mauled to death by the lions at the Bronx Zoo one night. The death is a suspected suicide. Lena sees the woman’s photo and identifies her as the blind woman who spoke to her three days prior on the city bus. With a migraine, Lena didn’t pay the woman full attention, but now in death Lena is rapt.

The parallels that Lena finds between herself and the dead blind woman, begin to make her move out of the shadows. Words and language compose her life, but as she attempts to find more information over the death, she quietly begins to unravel the mundane life she had been living and the contradictions at the Record and the world around her.

In Lena, debut novelist Amy Rowland has constructed a character that is able to see beneath what has become everyday life. As a former transcriptionist herself, Rowland provides wonderful information and details on the goings-on of a major newspaper. She portrays a liminal space where technology and the human touch are still needed. The Recording Room where Lena works is still made up of audio tape, telephones, and people. Dictations are important and the accuracy of a person’s ear is paramount to correct copy. Lena is part of the Record‘s “institutional memory.”

Lena finds in the blind woman a person who can see more than anyone else. Before reading the short news report, Lena would have continued on in her mundane, liminal space of the shadows until she faded away and was forgotten. Instead, she wanted to learn things and in doing so, shook herself from the trappings of her solitary and almost obsolete life (and employment).

The Transcriptionist is a novel that finds its energy in the forgotten and unknowable. It is not the glamour of New York City that entices the reader, but the monotony of a single person’s everyday life and the subsequent search to find comfort and meaning. Lena finds her solutions in language. She is able to finally see other people’s failings in their use of language and reactions to it. We have our memories, but when we, too, are gone, it is language that is left to carry us away from being forgotten.

This novel will be released in the US on May 13, 2014 by Algonquin Books.


*Although, completely different NYC stories, part of me had a similar indulgent feeling when I read The Rules of Civility.

 

The Bureaucrat’s Recommended Reading List

The unending and illogical madness of government bureaucracy didn’t truly hit me until I worked for the government. For one year, the term kafkaesque permeated my life and my unfortunately battered psyche. Sure, I had read plenty of Kafka’s works up to that time, but they didn’t resonate in the same way until I found myself running in circles only to ram head first into a wall of slow policies and paperwork covered in absurdity resulting in bad handwriting and 4:30 martinis. But this sort of insanity can be found in other works by other authors as well.

Bureaucrat's Reading List

According to Merriam-Webster, Kafkaesque is defined as :  of, relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especially :  having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality <Kafkaesque bureaucratic delays>

***

Catch-22. “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” One of the great American novels of the 20th Century, Joseph Heller’s World War II-set narrative finds bombardier Yossarian caught in an illogical roundabout that exams the insanity, idiocy, and other problematic facets of war.

Metropole. When a linguist boards the wrong plane in Budapest, he arrives in an unknown city where he can’t seem to understand anything anyone is saying. There is excessive queuing and official information is constantly changing from one day to the next.

The Passion According to G.H. A claustrophobic, ecstatic stream of consciousness begins when the maid quits, leading G.H. to go into the former employee’s room to find it spotless save for a cockroach that she goes on to kill. Language, memories, and philosophies are tangled around the lifeless vermin for inspection.

Invitation to a Beheading. I’ve always maintained that if you covered up Vladimir Nabokov’s name on the front cover and gave it to a new reader, they would immediately assume it was written by Kafka based on the style, tone, and premise. In an unnamed country, Cincinnatus C. is sentenced to death by beheading for being found guilty of “gnostical turpitude,” an undefined crime.

The Joke. This is Milan Kundera’s first novel and written during the brewing Prague Spring. Ludvik is sentenced to hard labor after sending a friend a joke written on a postcard that pokes fun at the communist regime. He is turned in and his trial is nothing more than a kangaroo court. 

The Garden Party.  The young Hugo is sent by his father to a garden party to meet a local bureaucrat who his father is certain will employ Hugo. The party-goers mistake him for a seasoned employee and soon Hugo is put in charge of liquidating the liquidation office. He fools them all by quickly mutating his language to that of the bureaucracy.

The Castle. This list wouldn’t be complete without Kafka, right? There are so many to choose from, but The Trial and The Castle are always cited as the most “kafkaesque” of them all. K. is a land surveyor who has been summoned to an unnamed town. He keeps trying to get into the castle to speak with a mysterious and unseen official. Paperwork and the unknowable are just two blockades to his pursuits.

These are just a few selections. Do you have any further recommendations?

Selected dialogue from The Garden Party,

The Garden Party

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

all the birds, singing

Isolation, buried secrets, and what lurks in the shadows are the unquestionable foundations upon which this novel is built. Jake Whyte lives on a remote British island, tending to her sheep on a farm she purchased three years prior. She keeps to herself except for the occasional visit from Don, the previous shepherd who owned her farm, and who doesn’t leave a chance to remind her that she really should ingratiate herself into the rest of the rural community, instead of staying alone at her farm.

Jake seems content with her solitary life, but then a recent spate of worrying days have befallen her. She has woken up to the unpleasant fact that her sheep are being killed at night. Not only are they killed, but they are gutted and sliced open, giving the reality of it being a fox too much doubt. Everyone in the town seems happy to agree that it’s just a wild animal, but Jake can’t get past the brutality of the killings.

Once the reader becomes sufficiently comfortable even in this most sinister of circumstances, author Evie Wyld pulls the narrative back in time to Jake living in her native Australia. She is a drifter working as a hired hand on a sheep farm with other unattached youth. Wyld goes back and forth with alternating chapters between the present day of the English farm to scenes from Jake’s past. An interesting facet of the background chapters is that they unfold in reverse. This was reminiscent of the 2002 French film, Irréversible, which was told backwards with the horrifying event having already taken place, leading the characters and the viewers to do the painful yet necessary task of looking at everything that had already been. Wyld employs the same technique, resulting in Jake’s adolescent years to be reverted back to an earlier, more naive state — or is she really that naive, could be another question.

The present day story took a while to build in tension. Even with the gruesome sheep slayings, no real threat enters until a mysterious stranger named Lloyd arrives on Jake’s property. He clearly has his own secrets, which he is happy to hide and with this man’s new presence, the shadowy threat becomes more prominent to Jake, who might see the killer around corners or off in the dark distance.

Utilizing a non-linear narrative for the alternating chapters was an intriguing choice. It pushed the secret of Jake’s past and how she ended up where she now is in a way that, perhaps, would have fallen flat. Part of this second narrative was toeing the line, however, with being tired and played out. I won’t reveal elements of this plot, but All the Birds, Singing could have been easily placed with all of the other recent media and entertainment that finds its plots in the sexual abuse or exploitation of young women. An author can write whatever they desire, but there is such an overload of this plot nowadays, that it made the novel feel like just another one of these. It wasn’t particularly original in this aspect, nor, in its execution.

The more engrossing part of the novel was in the present day. The threat is unknowable and not quite corporeal. Mysterious strangers with their own pasts is too good, but like the threat, the ending to this storyline is never fully formed. Recently, I find myself drawn to literature and movies that leave me with less than concrete answers and conclusions. With that said, however, this path can only be a success when other notions and ideas are a part of the narrative. Wyld didn’t build a world where I was capable of inserting my own philosophies and form unspoken possibilities. There were no connections to be made…unfortunately.

This was a difficult one in that my excitement was letdown. The writing is crisp and solid, and Wyld does an adequate job of making Jake’s sheep farm eerie.

“This is a wild place, there could be all sorts of animals you don’t know about–”

Both plots in the novel are wild places, yet, they don’t make up for that fact that something was missing. Nothing was ever quite realized. The fact that the book had an interesting premise and was populated with instances of intrigue and unknowing didn’t make up for the large portion that was tired and stale in the contemporary conscience. This uneveness left something to be desired.

This novel will be released in the US by Pantheon Books on April 15, 2014.

 


**I’m curious to know others people’s opinions on the overload of plots in movies,  television, and books in regards to the aforementioned sexual exploitation components. Of course, this has always been around in our entertainment (re: Law & Order: SVU), but lately I think we’ve just been inundated with this. To me, it almost feels cliché and an easy path for a creator to take to add gravitas or horror to their work. With that said, I love Twin Peaks and the recent True Detective, so perhaps I am just spouting hypocrisy.

 

Horns by Joe Hill

Horns by Joe Hill

I first heard about this book last year when I read it was being adapted for film (photo above showing the main character portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe). The novel’s premise seemed right up my alley. It is a blend of the fantastic, horror, absurd, and revenge, which novelist Joe Hill pulls off so very, very well.

Ig Perrish wakes up after a night of drunken debauchery to find that horns have sprouted out of his head. While still in the fog from the night before, the reality of these horns can, of course, be questioned because “it wouldn’t be the first time he’d confused fantasy with reality, and he knew from experience that he was especially prone to unlikely religious delusions.” However, Ig and the reader soon realize that his world is no longer normal. Are the people he encounters seeing the horns or are they oddly invisible to others? Everyone starts to tell Ig the unfiltered truth, even divulging deep, dark secrets and feelings.

But what is said to Ig while he is adorned with these new horns is usually filled with disgust and vitriol, because the year before, he was accused of raping and murdering his girlfriend, Merrin. The power of the horns are even more useful as Ig tries to uncover what really happened to her.

The novel is filled with dark premises and reprehensible secrets, but Hill’s writing takes the despicable and winds absurd humor around it that is delightfully indulgent.

Lee and Ig had been friends in another life, but all that was behind Ig now, had died with Merrin. It was difficult to maintain close friendships when you were under suspicion of being a sex murderer.

As the novel goes on, Ig continues to metamorphose both with the powers the horns give him and through the author’s language, choosing to even further equate Ig’s new anatomy with that of a devil. He is the dark confessor for all of those who lent a hand in condemning him during the investigation into his girlfriend’s murder. I also think it’s an interesting idea from the writer’s perspective to introduce a conceit that allows for the unrestrained revealing of information. Joe Hill writes, “It was, perhaps, the devil’s oldest precept, that sin could always be trusted to reveal what was most human in a person, as often for good as for ill.”

Horns plays a lot with the idea of Church (big C), and the dichotomies between good and evil and what is godly and what is damnation. Ig is an anti-hero, both marked as one by the horns and the difficulties arising when archetypes are ripped apart and redesigned. This is an entirely absorbing novel and the ending (which I shan’t give away!), had whiffs of a plot point in Twin Peaks. Whether this was intentional or not, I do not know, but I enjoyed the possibility.

I am curious to see the film adaptation. Does anyone know further information about release dates?


 

*Top images from Wikipedia and IMDb.

 

The Lyric Inspired Kurt Cobain Reading List

This past weekend marks the 20th year since Kurt Cobain’s untimely and unfortunate death. Nirvana is a band that I have always loved and I’m disappointed that I can’t just jet set to Paris to see the current exhibition of Cobain’s final photo shoot. So, for the moment, you’ll have to put up with my Nirvana inspired post today (but it has to do with books, I swear!). Sure, Cobain had shrieking lyrics and mumbled lines, but that doesn’t stop Nirvana from being wicked awesome.

kurt cobain

  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman I’m so tired I can’t sleep/I’m a liar and a thief (Pennyroyal Tea)
  • The Double by José Saramago - I’m not the only one, Aaah/I’m not the only one, Aaah (Rape Me) 
  • The Myth of Icarus In the sun, in the sun I feel as one/In the sun (All Apologies) -
  •  The Crucible by Arthur MillerIf she floats then she is not/A witch like we had thought/A down payment on another one (Serve the Servants)
  • The Children of Men by P.D. James With the lights out, it’s less dangerous/Here we are now, entertain us/I feel stupid and contagious/Here we are now, entertain us (Smells Like Teen Spirit)
  • The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling - Underneath the bridge/Tap has sprung a leak/And the animals I’ve trapped/All become my pets (Something in the Way)
  • The Lottery by Shirley Jackson - Take your time, hurry up/The choice is yours, don’t be late (Come As You Are)
  • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk -  I’m so happy/’Cause today I found my friends/They’re in my head (Lithium)
  • Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell Is there another reason for your stain?/Could you believe who we knew stress or strain?/Here is another word that rhymes with shame (Blew)

B SIDE: Because Cobain was such a fan of the Pixies and influenced by them, they shall be included on this list as well.

  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia PlathYour head’ll collapse/If there’s nothing in it/And then you’ll ask yourself/Where is my mind? (Where Is My Mind)
  • The Lover by Marguerite DurasYou’re looking like/You’ve got some sun/Your blistered lips/Have got a kiss (Bone Machine)

**Top images from Wikipedia.

 

100 Years of Bohumil Hrabal

hrabal duo

Okay, maybe I am a few days late, but let’s blame my oversight of celebrating Bohumil Hrabal’s 100th Birthday on some recent jet lag that I’ve been experiencing. March 28 marked the 100th birthday of great 20th Century Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal. He is the author of one of my favorite books of all time, Closely Watched Trains (Czech: Ostře sledované vlaky). He has numerous books and short stories, but for some reason, this one has always stuck with me. I’ve read it several times, penned a grad school paper on it, and have enjoyed the 1966 film adaptation that went on to win an Academy Award.

There is something that draws me to Czech writers. I was lovingly teased for it in my student days, but their affinity for portraying the absurd and humor in even detrimental circumstances is what attracts me. For example, in Closely Watched Trains, the main character is a young train station guard in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. As Nazis come through by way of the station and resistance fighters target the trains, young Milos is completely preoccupied with getting laid and when he can’t perform, he attempts suicide. I know, a little dark, but funny. The reader sees the threats that surround Milos and his country, but he’s too busy flirting with the ladies and worrying about his sexual dysfunction.You must read this book and when you’re done, watch the movie which is available in the Criterion Collection, for Hulu+ subscribers, and in two-parts on Dailymotion: 1 | 2.

Hrabal is so cool that a bust of him resides on the wall of U Zlatého Tygra (At the Golden Tiger), his favorite bar in Prague, where he even took President Clinton and Madeleine Albright to for some pilsnerplease pardon my crummy photo; it was dark that day

U Zlatého Tygra

He’s considered by many to be one of the greatest Czech writers of all time. Even with my limited reading selection of that country, I shall be so bold as to agree. I am terribly delighted to have recently received a galley of a new English translation of one of his books to review (unfortunately for this blog, I will be writing for another publication, but maybe I’ll put a quick write-up here next month).

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you a wee bit. Although, Hrabal needs no convincing from me. I mean, when the man had his 80th birthday, the whole city came out. In honor of what would have been his 100th birthday, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty put up a handful of photos from over the years. Take a look here, which includes the photo below from the film set of Closely Watched Trains (Czechoslovak Press Agency).

closely watched trains

 


**The top images are from Wikipedia.org.

Distractions : Which Beat Generation Writer Are You?

I usually loathe all things Buzzfeed, but I was totally suckered into their Which Beat Generation Writer Are You? quiz. Perfect for a Friday distraction. Which writer did you get? My result is: Charles Bukowski.

beat writer