Seattle-born poet Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s newest book of poetry, entitled Selenography, is something of a collaboration with Califone singer Tim Rutili. Wilkinson supplies the words while Rutili’s polaroids accompany each poem. Wilkinson’s poems read like vague sketches, and side by side with Rutili’s dreamy photos, they often send the mind down strange highways. There’s an organic, natural feel to the material, which forgoes any real sense of intention by opting for image-driven abstraction: “the river was/ easy incomplete but it/ took us/ like twigs/ polaroids of the papier-mache/ wolves/ you hear your name in/ the current?” The strength of Wilkinson’s material lies in its malleability. Each poem will evoke something different in each reader, and Rutili’s haunting images infuse more mystery rather than uncloaking any finite truths. Like a barely ajar curtain in the window of an old house, its pull is in its lack of transparency, in the stories behind its walls. – Capt. Obvious
Sidebrow Books: Joshua Marie Wilkinson – Selenography
Richmond Fontaine lead singer and author Willy Vlautin dares to write about the kind of people that society sweeps under the rug and he does so with unflinching honesty. Where his previous novel The Motel Life was a bleak account of two young brothers on the run after a tragic hit-and-run accident, Northline centers around 22-year old Allison Johnson, a pregnant alcoholic who flees Las Vegas and her abusive speed-freak/skinhead boyfriend Jimmy Bodie for a new life. She ends up in Reno where she regrettably puts up her child for adoption, finds an apartment, and takes on two jobs: one as a midnight-shift waitress at a local diner, and another as a telephone solicitor for Curt vacuums. Throughout her various struggles and bouts with self-doubt, Allison finds solace and encouragement in her imaginary conversations with actor Paul Newman. Vlautin’s prose throughout is simplistic and unsentimental and he tackles even the most disturbing imagery with a stark and honest pen. Allison is about as flawed as they come, but her struggle to attain even an ounce of self-worth is endearing despite her many stumbles and fuck-ups. After a life full of letdowns, Allison encounters a handful of decent people ranging from an old trucker who lost his son in a car accident to her new love interest Dan Mahony, a good-hearted yet similarly emotionally scarred regular at the diner where she works. While the threat of Jimmy finding her looms throughout, Northline ends on a hopeful (if not desperate) note, and at this point we’re really pulling for Allison. A quick and easy read at 192 pages, Northline is a moving account of someone just trying to attain some semblance of happiness. – Capt. Obvious
Amazon: Willy Vlautin – Northline
Though he may have shuffled into the mainstream consciousness only recently for the film adaptation of his novel No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy has been penning novels for years. Anyway, don’t let the Oprah Book Club stickers scare you off—McCarthy is one of the most important contemporary fiction writers, and he’s worth taking a look at.
The Road, McCarthy’s 2006 effort, earned him a Pulitzer. The novel explores a blistered post-apocalyptic American wasteland and two characters struggling to survive in the wake of an unspoken cataclysm. McCarthy wisely eschews the details of the disaster and lets the characters take precedence. The protagonists, a father-son duo, also remain unnamed. Dialogue between the two is as bleak as the landscape—they mutter only a few phrases at a time. Their only motivation is survival. They trek south in slim hopes of reaching the coast and its warmer climes. Weathered by perpetual rainstorms and severe cold, they plod through town to town through the charred American wasteland in search of meager food rations. Nothing grows in the ruined countryside. No wild animals stir in the wilderness. The sun will likely never shine again in either of their lifetimes. McCarthy’s true prowess rests in his ability to fully immerse the reader in his ruined landscapes with only sparse descriptions. We feel the cold when freezing black rain drives the man and his boy under their plastic tarp. We feel the terror when they encounter roving bands of cannibals, and it makes us appreciate what we take for granted on a daily basis, if only for a short time.
If McCarthy’s novel possesses a weakness, it lies in the narrative’s sheer predictability. Most likely, readers will never be surprised by anything the selfless father character does or says. He tells his son that they’re the “good guys,” and save for a few ancillary moral crossroads, these two are never in danger of turning astray. Consequently, many will be able to predict the ending after the first few paragraphs. While this leaves me somewhat disappointed, I’m also grateful that McCarthy doesn’t attempt any corny plot twists. His narrative emerges as a sobering and strikingly realistic experiment in post-apocalyptic survival and human willpower. — Kilgore Trout
Amazon: Cormac McCarthy – The Road
Being that this is the first Murakami novel I’ve read in its entirety (I’ve a bad case of ADD), my observations come without any presumptions or expectations. I must admit though that I’ve heard After Dark described as Murakami-light, and detractors have called it thematically inferior to his previous works. While After Dark is relatively short at a brisk 208 pages, it’s plot manages to weave together a variety of characters in a very Robert Altman sort of way, though perhaps with looser and more fragile thread. Taking place over the course of 7 hours from midnight to dawn in Tokyo, After Dark is a lonely work revolving around the desolation of modern life. Murakami’s emphasizes the disconnect between humanity and modernism by often describing the reader’s point of view as a camera angle. This adds a particular sense of surrealism to the work, but it also prevents the reader from being fully involved with the novel’s characters. Perhaps this was Murakami’s intent. Nonetheless, Murakami writes potently and his detailed words carry the ability to transport the reader to another realm of consciousness. Murakami’s characters represent the disillusionment of the younger generation, which paints the author as sort of a postmodern version of Salinger. Still, After Dark is not without flaws. Murakami’s prose is too cryptic at times, and he spends no time tying up loose ends or offering any sort of closure or explanation. In fact, we’re left with an unsatisfying feeling by the end of the book, and we must rely wholly on our own assumptions and interpretations. Once again, it’s probably Murakami’s intent, but it detracts from the poignancy of the material and it leaves the story as seemingly underdeveloped. While After Dark is certainly readable and it presents some interesting themes, it ultimately comes off as an experimental and flawed piece from an important author. — Capt. Obvious
Amazon: Haruki Murakami – After Dark