Carolyn Kellogg has a post on the LA Times Jacket Copy blog about novelists who’ve tackled September 11 in their fiction. Kellogg mostly focuses on Paul Auster’s new novel, Man in the Dark, in comparison to Don DeLillo’s Falling Man, but she also provides a handy list of other novelistic treatments of the topic.
I haven’t yet read Auster’s novel (which has been getting mixed reviews), but DeLillo’s book (which I’ve blogged about before) has definitely stayed with me in the year or so since I read it— and particularly the scene in which one of the novel’s central characters participates in a war protest march, and observes that one man in the crowd is shouting out not about the war, but about the fact that it happens to be Charlie Parker’s birthday:
He was almost looking at her but not quite and then moved on to say the same thing to a man wearing a T-shirt inscribed with a peace sign and in his reproachful tone she caught the implication that all these people, these half million in their running shoes and sun hats and symbol-bearing paraphernalia, were shit-faced fools to be gathered here in this heat and humidity for whatever it was that had brought them here when they might more suitably be filling these streets, in exactly these numbers, to show respect for Charlie Parker on his birthday.
The astonishing, powerful, and fundamentally American achievements of Charlie Parker are held up in contrast with the ugly, aggressive, and badly wounded American nation that has become lost in its suffering, grief, and horror in the wake of September 11. It’s a moment that encapsulates what’s wonderful and awful in the hearts and souls of Americans—and which pines for an America that would continue to fulfill the astounding promise of its history, at a time when much of the meaning of that promise seems to have been forgotten.
In the New Yorker, James Wood uses the occasion of the release of Marilyn Robinson’s new novel Home (a sequel to Gilead) to thoroughly examine Robinson’s religiosity, and the ways in which her largely secular-minded audience might fall short of fully embracing the old-fashioned Calvinist strains in her writing. Robinson’s work, Woods writes, is “theologically tense and verbally lush in a manner that is almost extinct in modern literary discourse,” something closer to akin to what we might expect from Melville than from a contemporary writer. Wood goes on:
But Robinson is illiberal and unfashionably fierce in her devotion to this Protestant tradition; she is voluble in defense of silence. She loathes the complacent idleness whereby contemporary Americans dismiss Puritanism and turn John Calvin, its great proponent, into an obscure, moralizing bigot.
I’ve wondered a bit about the enormous popularity of Gilead myself—the book makes for a very unusual literary bestseller, given that much of its length is given over to serious theological inquiry of a sort that I wouldn’t think would resonate with the secular liberals who make up much of the audience for literary fiction. I fit in that category, and though I admire Robinson’s prose very much, and found myself intermittently fascinated by the father-son conflict in Gilead, I definitely did struggle with connecting to the book’s religious content. So: I’d imagine Wood’s probably right that at least some readers had a similar experience with Gilead—but then again, its sheer popularity would suggest that many other readers did not encounter similar problems. Perhaps Wood is underestimating the curiosity of Robinson’s secular readers—or maybe he’s underestimating the number of religious readers who’ve been drawn to Robinson’s work.
Wood does have many positive things to say about Home—which covers many of the same events as Gilead, but from different perspectives. I’m torn as to whether I’ll pick this one up or not—I do think Robinson’s Housekeeping is a terrific book, but I’m uncertain that Home will have any more to offer me than Gilead. I’ll be curious to watch the reactions of other readers and critics over the coming weeks.
CBC News (link via Bookninja) has an interview with Charlie Kaufman, in which he discusses the relationship between his work as a screenwriter and his new role as a director. Kaufman’s latest project, Synecdoche, New York, was originally intended to be another Kaufman / Spike Jonze collaboration, but Jonze had to step aside due to his commitments to work on Where the Wild Things Are.
In the interview, Kaufman discusses his fears that the experience of directing might re-shape how he approaches his writing, because he now knows more about the practical challenges faced by a director, and thus might choose to discard some ideas in a screenplay-in-progress out of fear they might be too impractical or expensive to actually film. I typically think of writing as being a process limited only by your own imagination and personal discipline—so I can imagine that it would be a little disorienting and frustrating, in creative terms, to suddenly find yourself limited by the constraints of the special effects budget or the number of hours of good light in a day.
In any case: this is definitely a film I’m eager to see.