Friday, May 24, 2019

Summer Reading Recommendations

Summer's coming. Time to trundle out the 40-gallon barrel of SPF90 sunscreen and spread it frosting-thick over all exposed flesh to deflect those dastardly UV rays. And don't forget to have fun... Here are my reading recommendations for this year's hot times (click to buy at Bezosland):
We begin with singer-songwriter-poet Leonard Cohen's second and last novel, 1966's Beautiful Losers. If Ralph Ellison can be considered a major American novelist solely on the basis of Invisible Man (and he can, obviously), then Beautiful Losers marks Cohen as one of Canada's major novelists. This is the Great Canadian Postmodern Novel, and if Cohen had not shifted into a performance career, he might have been the Canadian Thomas Pynchon. Next, we catch a transatlantic flight at YYZ (cue the Rush instrumental) and land in the terrible, horrible, no good Portugal of Antonio Lobo Antunes' savage imagination. Tragically timely, The Inquisitor's Manual is the great Portuguese novelist's masterful anti-fascist novel; we might think of it as an Autumn of the Patriarch for the Salazar regime. And we might think of its monstrous, and terrifyingly human, central character, Senhor Francisco, as a prescient satire of the current occupant of the Oval Office. Fleeing from that dread thought, flying back to Canadian freedom, we pick up Alice Munro's only novel (a novel-in-stories, of course), Lives of Girls and Women. If you're looking for a female equivalent of Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, this is it. Munro's kunstlerroman is really that good, and it deserves to be much more widely known and read. After Munro, we soar back across the ocean, rent a James Bond sports car, and shift into a radically different imaginative gear for Ballard's High Rise. A great, imaginative, well-written, surrealistically vivid, cinematically lucid science fiction novel, this is also a good social allegory, an interesting dramatization of the intersections of technology and psychology, and, I would argue, a knowing parody of structuralism that is simultaneously a self-deconstructing structuralist horror novel. (I'll explain the last part, briefly: A novel so binary with regard to gender, told entirely from three male points-of-view, permits--indeed, provokes--a deconstructive reading. The male-centrism encourages a female-centric counter-reading. The novel's demonstration that the original gender binary and its reversal both lead to hellish domination thus radically destabilizes the gender binary upon which the novel only seems to be built.) Yes, Ballard pulls all of that off, and does it in under 200 pages--the mind boggles... And we bring our boggled minds back to earth at last with Lisa Halliday's Asymmetry. Last year, this novel received some rather voyeuristic attention in the bookchat media due to its first part, a roman a clef about the author's affair with Philip Roth (apropos of which, Roth gave Halliday the ultimate good review, telling a friend, "She got me."). But Asymmetry is much more than its first section. Unlike virtually all the Brooklyned and Iowaed novels swelling the litfic cybershelves these days, this is a genuinely, and interestingly, original work of art. Formally, it's a dialectical novel, following a strict Hegelian triad: the first section, the 'Roth' narrative, constantly and deliberately risks a descent into chick-lit vapidity; the second section is an absolute negation of the first; and the briefer third section attempts a synthesis. The whole is one of the more remarkable American novels of recent years. Enjoy....and stay out of that damned sun.

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