We saw Man's Last Great Invention last night and will be seeing them again this weekend for One Song Sunday.
The flier really explains it better than I can.
I've never been good at, nor do I particularly like, taking pictures. Thankfully I wasn't often behind the camera this past weekend so it gave me plenty of time to practice my smirk.
I actually had to crop myself out of this picture. Given the angles, there's no way they could have seen the absurd look on my face, but I'm pretty sure everyone in this picture was laughing at me anyway.
Then We Came to the End
Joshua Ferris's debut novel is good. Very good. So good, in fact, that I'm really having a hard time coming up with anything to say about it other than repeated assertions of its quality. Which is not to say it's a shallow book, but rather it's just a satisfying one, the rare novel that I find myself unwilling to look into too deeply out of the fear that I'll find an excuse to enjoy it less than I did.
The story of an advertising agency struggling through the post-dotcom malaise, Ferris's novel lays out a smartly satirical version of the modern American office. Despite contemporary attempts to make it something else through coffee bars and Aeron chairs, the office in Then We... is still a work place, its inhabitants still workers. That they love work as much as they loathe it is something they are constantly aware of even if they are not quite capable of admitting it to themselves. Their desperate struggle to keep their jobs through the economic downturn seems to have made them subconsciously aware of the fact that despite their varied, half-hearted interests (writing, pranks, adultery, etc.) their jobs are all they really have.
The collection of workers, age 25-35, a "generation that hasn't seen war," speaks in the first person plural, a very clever narrative device that allows the book both the intimacy and anonymity of an office. The reader knows just enough about the characters to tell them apart but is unable to follow them home or really know them beyond the fuzzy truth of office gossip. It works remarkably well, but also very differently than, say, The Virgin Suicides, another book in the first person plural. Whereas that book was about the collective gaze's ability to destroy, this book's collective is one of shared consciousness. By looking inward rather than outward, the mass narrator of Then We... uses the limits of its construction to mimic the limits of individualism (and individual knowledge) in a deceptively impersonal work environment. It's just as effective as The Virgin Suicides, but in exactly the opposite way.
What both books share is the lack of accountability the 'we' allows. Decisions are made but no one makes them. Betrayals and friendships are formed but the reasons can only be guessed (and then gossiped). The emotions are equally shared, making every moment of sadness or pleasure small and universal. Not surprisingly, the most successful character is one who intentionally keeps himself out of the group and finds himself climbing up the corporate ladder (his reasons for doing so are spelled out painfully in a long conversation, perhaps the book's biggest misstep).
The narration is not without its drawbacks, however, but Ferris proves himself to be a remarkably instinctual writer who shifts the novel just when the voice begins to wane. It really is an impressive feat to keep all of the balls in the air as he does, and by the time the book heads into its final pages, the 'we' has become a character of its own which he also makes pay off nicely in the book's nostalgic and melancholy ending about how much we can miss people we barely even knew.
*Waited an hour to try on tuxedo. Told be fellow tryer-oner that if my shoes were white my tuxedo would be dope. Considered arguing this point but ultimately agreed to the declaration of dopeness.
*Avoided being upbraided by the priest at the rehearsal. This was more difficult than it sounds. Not everyone was so lucky.
*Listened to my grandmother talk extensively about Grey's Anatomy. She seemed to think the season finale was a good one, for what it's worth.
*Played pool. Lost to Heather. Discussed merits of relativism. Checked into hotel by finding the safe with my name on it making it the most James Bondian of any hotel experience I've ever had. Best Western in Tulsa now second.
*On point with rings. No official sign of respect from the priest, but he knew I was good. Walked back down the aisle and then saw a lot of people who sort of looked like me.
*Bus. Oh, Jesus.
*Provided effective dead weight in darts.
*Entrance. Roast beef. Beans. Toast. Handshakes. Dancing. Hugs. Good night.
*Home just in time to fall asleep in order to nap long enough for Dave's party. Started to rain but not before I was able to provide effective dead weight in bocce.
*Lights went off. Found out that Dave and Neal have an old boombox that saved the party. Started to reconsider the number of candles we have.
*Ate some peanut butter and chocolate Poppycock. Felt good about it.
Happy Birthday, Dave.
*Washed off burrito that someone threw at my car while at Dave's. Went to see Indiana Jones. Started to reconsider this whole Shia LaBeouf thing.
*Pined for Season Three of The Wire. Non-Wire entertainment and general exhaustion resulted in sleep at 10:30.
Favorites for My Brother's Wedding Awards
Steak and Fish (tie)
Best opening line of my toast:
"As the McNultys taught us about marriage..."
Best Activity for Those Not at the Rehearsal Dinner:
Best Remaining Question from Redbelt:
Who ended up paying those bills?
Best Fake Spoiler:
Indiana Jones dies
"Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"
On Editing a Novel #6
SETTING YOUR NOVEL. It's likely that your first draft took place in an uninterrupted white landscape without any detail whatsoever. Or possibly a castle. When redrafting, your goal should always be to do more: more uninterruptions, more white, more spires.
Think of the world of your novel as your playground. That's not to say you'll only need teeter-totters--though you will--but also trees, clouds, grass, war, benches, buildings, etc. Still not getting it? Let's see if a simile helps (see #11 USING SIMILES IS LIKE USING GOLD). Think of it like television, like black and white, one-dimensional television.
But not just any setting works for any novel. Ask yourself some questions about your characters to get a sense of what time period they're living in.
Do they say 'thee' and 'zounds'? If so, you'll need some armadas.
Do they eat dinosaur? You'll probably need some larger than expected mosquitoes.
Do they wear armor? If so, you can just stick with the castle.
Do they shoot people with lasers? That's so awesome.
Do they ride horses? You'll need some saloons and consumption.
Do they wear poodle skirts? Describe a clean neighborhood of ranch houses (but only in black and white)
Once you have your setting nailed down, populate it with things you see around yourself like toddlers, light, and floor.
The Thirteenth Tale
This was another work book club pick and based on the early buzz around the water cooler (ed note: we don't actually have a water cooler) it's going over a lot better than The History of Love. That's a shame because THoL has a bit more weight to it, but it's hard to resist a gripping mystery, especially won with such reverence for the books it's liberally borrowing from.
Apparently a lot of people felt this way as this book was huge. Or so I'm told. Despite being a Times #1 bestseller with favorable reviews, I'd never heard of the book when a coworker suggested it. There's probably a lesson there about the sometimes arbitrary distinctions that separate commercial fiction from literary fiction. This book, like a lot of the books that get picked for book clubs just like mine, doesn't straddle that line as much as it refuses to stake a claim. Its language isn't the most artful but it's mostly graceful and compelling. Its plot is a mystery with a strong gothic element, but it's literary rather than sensational, purposefully following in the tradition of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre (nearly to a fault). Ultimately, it's not a book I'll find myself mulling over years later or returning to, but it's a book that more than deserves its successes, literary or commercial.
To put it another way: there aren't enough books that work this well to spend time worrying about its literary value. It does exactly what it means to do, even if it all it means to do is tell a good story.
There's a place for that on my bookshelf.
Update: Odd. Two hours after I wrote this post I came across an essay by Michael Chabon defending entertainment in literature. He, as expected, says it better.
Redbelt plot synopsis.
Redbelt runs a failing jujitsu dojo. One night, a harmless but drugged-out lawyer wanders into the dojo and misinterprets a jujitsu student's rather aggressive efforts to take her jacket as an attack, picks up his gun (did I mention he's a cop? He's a cop), and immediately fires it--vaguely in the cop's direction--breaking Redbelt's window. Everyone freaks out and a lot of heated conversations occur about how this should be "covered up" since everyone erroneously assumes that they'd have to charge the lawyer with the attempted murder of the cop. The cop decides nothing happened and Redbelt is so overwhelmed with his bromanship that he decides to make the cop a black belt.
Later that same night, Redbelt goes to a club to ask to borrow money. He also wants to make the club pay the cop who apparently had done some security work for them but was never paid. That doesn't really matter. Okay, maybe it does. It's unclear. Anyway, Redbelt ends up saving Tim Allen in a fight. Tim Allen is a movie star who rewards Redbelt by inviting him to dinner and giving him a $20,000 watch. Redbelt, whose honor won't allow him to do, well, anything, gives the watch to the cop to make up for recommending him for that bouncer job that he never got paid for. Or something. Anyway, Redbelt goes to dinner with Tim Allen and a host of Mamet regulars and he and his wife make significant business and personal connections with them. At the end of dinner, Redbelt regales everyone with an ancient Japanese jujitsu tradition of picking colored marbles to determine handicaps before a fight.
The next day, the cop comes in and tells Redbelt he's been suspended. Turns out the watch Tim Allen gave Redbelt was hot. Some talk ensues. Everyone agrees the watch was hot. Way hot.
Some other stuff happens, but just know that Redbelt goes to dinner with Tim Allen's manager. No wait. Hold everything. First, Redbelt meets the drugged out lawyer in his dojo because she might want to learn how to fight. She freaks out and we don't know why until she screams that she was raped. Redbelt then reenacts the rape without her consent and shows her how to escape from it. This cures her rape, I guess. Anyway, that happens.
So the dinner. Redbelt tells Tim Allen's manager (Joe Mantenga) that the watch was hot and that it got his buddy in trouble. Joe Mantenga says he'll take care of this right away, gets up from the table, never comes back. Redbelt apparently waits for hours. The next day, Tim Allen and his wife have changed all of their phone numbers and nobody will return Redbelt's calls. Redbelt's wife blames Redbelt. Oh, and they need money. Like, a lot of money.
Redbelt notices that his ancient Japanese fighting tradition is suddenly being used in an ultimate fighting championship-esque promotion. He gets the lawyer to go with him to threaten a lawsuit against the fight promoters. While there, he sees Joe Mantenga and realizes that's who stole his idea. Before they can arrange a settlement, however, the evil promoters pull out a file full of evidence about the window shooting and say that if Redbelt doesn't drop it that they'll make sure the cop is kicked off the force for not reporting a crime and that the lawyer goes to prison for attempted murder. Redbelt is bummed but not...
...as bummed as the cop who kills himself. There's a suicide note that leads us to believe he did it so as not to dishonor the dojo. It's unclear why he'd feel this way (the watch?) but whatever. The cop's wife is really concerned about her bills. She appears to have several bills which she gives Redbelt. Redbelt really wants to help her pay these bills so he decides to enter the ultimate fighting championship thing.
So he's going to sell out his honor. But then he learns the fight is rigged for him to win so he'll get the money and go away. He can't do this so he leaves.
But then he comes back and fights his way through the security guards so he can get to the ring and tell the crowd how everything is fixed. But then the world's greatest fighter (oh, which is his wife's brother, you should know that) stands in front of him. They fight and everyone in the arena watches. It gets broadcast in extreme closeups around the world. It's unclear what is happening until Redbelt wins. No one makes a noise. You know how sometimes when something shocking starts happening and you don't really know what's going on but it keeps building and getting more and more exciting until it ends in a moment of sublime catharsis and you feel absolutely no desire to exclaim or clap or move? It's like that.
Anyway, Redbelt gets a hug from the lawyer who is apparently now better than his wife. Oh, I should mention that his wife was the one who sold Redbelt out to the fight promoters. I guess because she wanted to make clothes with Tim Allen's wife. I should have mentioned that before. I think Tim Allen and Joe Mantenga wanted this information in case Redbelt blew the whistle on that one time they bought a hot watch (if only the cop hadn't gone to the one pawnshop in the world that doesn't take stolen goods he'd still be alive and paying bills).
That's not really the point now anyway. This is the climax. Redbelt climbs into the ring and asks for the mic to be lowered. Oh, and a guy who is the greatest fighter ever is there and suddenly appears in the ring to give him the redbelt. Oh, before that he got a different belt we know is worth $250,000 from a different fighter as he walked to the ring. This was either before or after he got hugged by the lawyer. It was a long walk to the ring. I may have left out a few other major plot points (the magician!) but that pretty much covers it.
Well, I guess now we know why Johanns stepped down as Secretary of Agriculture when he did. It's not just that he wanted to run for the senate--though that was surely part of it--but also that he wanted to avoid having any association with a farm bill that would put him squarely between his constituents and his president.
Oddly, the president is mostly right on the farm bill though why he wants to fight subsidies and giveaways when it comes to farmers and not, say, the oil industry, erodes whatever high ground he might have on the issue. Everyone knows the farm bill is a bidecadal embarrassment but there doesn't seem to be any logic in taking a stand on it and it alone unless you are a lame duck president desperately searching for one positive in a legacy of criminally reckless (and just criminal) government.
Johanns was savvy enough not to stick as Secretary of Agriculture long enough to have to fight the losing side of this battle--a side he almost certainly disagrees with--but ultimately it might be the only way he loses this election. Johanns's greatest weakness is that he's an empty suit who seems to purposefully camouflage himself in his own blandness in the hope that no one notices he's slowly climbing the ladder. In his wake, he leaves a job unfinished and questions unanswered, but everyone forgets about it until his name pops up on the ballot for his next job. Quitting before the farm bill was passed calls attention to himself as just another political opportunist. Serving in the cabinet of a president who wanted to eviscerate a bill putting money in the pockets of Nebraskans calls attention to himself as a just another political opportunist. Forcing his competitors out of a primary by using his party connections calls...you get the idea.
It all leads to a pretty easy argument for a smart, principled candidate to make: It's one thing to not finish the job, but it's something else entirely to not finish the wrong job.
I've been working at my current job for exactly two years as of today. Sadly, I barely even remember starting. Let's take a look back at those heady days of 2006 and remember what was going on:
Mission Impossible III beat out Poseidon at the box office, a disappointing showing that most of us still haven't gotten over. I can't remember if Tom Cruise was officially crazy yet. I think this was maybe when it was starting as he's been crazy for at least a year plus his baby needed 9 months to gestate inside the spaceship.
By the way, that last joke is totally going on my demo reel for The Best Week Ever. That's a show, right?
• Bush To Call For National Guard to Patrol U.S.-Mexico Border
• Report: Global Warning Could Kill 184 Million in Africa
• Bush Administration Asks Judge To Throw Out AT&T Spy Suit
• Verizon Sued For Sharing Phone Records with NSA
• New EU Law Allows U.S. Gov’t To Access Europeans’ Phone Records
• U.S. Helicopter Shot Down in Iraq; 2 Dead
• Iraq Bombings Kill 47
• Report: U.S. Deployed Mentally Ill Soldiers to Iraq
• U.S. Blocks Access for Red Cross to Secret Prisons
In other words, nothing we needed to worry about.
That Raconteurs album came out! You know, the one that was okay but only okay because you wanted it to be good because you really liked the people in the band but then when you heard it you thought this is why the Damn Yankees didn't work and man I wonder what Tommy Shaw is up to. You know, that one.
This one is a doozy. And not because it's interesting.
On this date in 2006 the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Colorado Rockies 5-4 in Denver. Of course we all remember that, but what we may not remember is that both the winning and losing pitchers are now Kansas City Royals. Brett Tomko and Ramon Ramirez are both cogs in what has been a very good Kansas City pitching staff this season.
How they were able to shake off the lingering resentment of one early season game in May 2006 to come together on a team in a completely different league, we'll never know.
Stock Photography Review
In honor of local primary election day--America's favorite non-holiday!--I figured it was time for a brief stock photography review of patriotic images.
Linking your company, self, or jazz fusion band to blind patriotic rage is one of the safest ways to reach customers while assuring you won't attract the anger of Bill O'Reilly. There are a lot of different angles you can go with though to ensure you're attracting the right demographic of Americans.
Yep, that's pretty much what we look like. I think I even own that haircut.
This photo really captures the toting.
It's perfect if your business is a private security company or a funeral home. See, this guy--let's say he's a bit of a maverick but likes to dress casual--will do anything to protect that mournful, sun-drenched symbol of glory behind him. Why? Hard to say, though presumably he's vehemently against Puerto Rican statehood. Anyone wanting to add a 51st star is going to need an even bigger gun (and a needle, thread, and cloth star).
The best thing about this photo is that if you Photoshop out the uzi it's pretty much a Ralph Lauren ad.
A quickly growing market!
The fact that there is a series of stock photos for this is horribly depressing. Use only if your company sells shame and horror.
Let's go out on a positive note with a non-disillusioned soldier in a poorly conceived uniform:
Ah, there we go.
I don't know what I like more, that this photographer's idea of a uniform consisted of a khaki shirt fully buttoned or that this might actually be what three-star generals wear on the weekend.
Fake uniform or not, the guy with the uzi is going to be pissed when he finds out this joker stole his flag while he was out buying white t-shirts at the GAP.
The new 580 Split has a lot of fantastic work in it and at least three pieces by current Lincoln residents including my good friend Tyrone. His pieces are great (as are Josh's poems), and it's only my story dragging down Team Nebraska. The story's about a town that floods when a dam breaks which is something that was always promised when I was a kid but never actually happened.
I also have a story in the new Southern Indiana Review which continues my trend of appearing in journals with 'South' in the title. There's also a lot of great work in this one, and it's a really beautiful journal, too. Oddly, my story here also mentions a flood, but it's really about chicken rearing and fire starting. Appropriately, it's titled "The Pyromaniac's Chickens" and is a very, very old story. Like heating up Easy Mac in a dorm room old. Like excited about a new Weezer album old. Like smuggling beer in a duffel bag old.
You probably get the idea.
You should really pick up those journals for the work of the other writers and the fine editors who put them together. I feel very lucky to have appeared in those journals at all. Like smuggling beer in a duffel bag lucky.
Heather's sister Chelsea is in an all electric guitar classical music ensemble called Los Angeles Electric 8. They've just released their first CD which you can find out about here. They're pretty much amazing.
Guess which one Chelsea is. Go ahead, I dare you.
So The Cupboard is back as a quarterly pamphlet series, and while I'm sure you'll be hearing a lot more about it in this space, I thought I'd post our call for submissions in case you didn't see it elsewhere. Please send us your work or help us spread the word.
By the way, I think this call for submissions is the first time we've said who our first author is going to be. We couldn't be more excited about it. It's going to be a really incredible volume and we feel very lucky to get to share it.
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS
The Cupboard is a quarterly pamphlet of creative prose published in Lincoln, Nebraska. Each volume features a body of work by a single author in a uniquely designed chapbook format. Our first volume will be out in June and features Samedi the Deafness author Jesse Ball.
We are currently looking for prose submissions of anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 words. Submissions can be composed of one piece or multiple pieces. We make no demands on content or genre with the exception of verse poetry, which we don't publish. We read fiction and nonfiction and are happy to see collections that include both.
There is no reading fee for submissions, and simultaneous submissions are allowed. All submissions should be sent as email attachments to submit [AT] thecupboardpamphlet.org. For more information, visit http://www.thecupboardpamphlet.org.
So if you care about such things, VQR got themselves in trouble--at least as much as one can get oneself in trouble in the tiny little world of literary journals--by posting snarky comments their readers had made to slushpile submissions on their blog. They've now been removed, but take my word for it when I say the comments were petty, smug, inane (one claimed that the inclusion of a prose poem was a personal affront), and probably a more or less acurate representation of what gets said at most literary journals swamped with submissions. The difference is, most journals have the decency not to make a public spectacle of mocking their target audience with wholly unfunny faux-revulsion written by nominally qualified undergrad/graduate students.
That's not to say the comments themselves bothered me that much. It's not what I would allow to be written about submissions if I edited a journal--and I obviously wouldn't make any comments public--but in my time reading for a journal I probably said worse things to other bored, frustrated readers. In that sense, I think Mr. Genoways's couching of his apology in the journal's frustration at inappropriate submissions is fair enough. It's hard to read 20 short stories in a sitting and have 5 be offensive, 5 be genre work, 5 be insanely boring, and 5 just be insane.
But pretending that the frustration about the kitten poetry and wish fulfillment stories the journal receives is actually a larger frustration with American literature is just disingenuous. He writes, "However, I do think that the comments, if not their public airing, are a fair response to many of the submissions we receive and accurately reflect the righteous indignation that we often feel as readers." Again, it's not my journal to run, but I find it callous to say that mocking your audience is "fair" whether or not the authors ever read it. That's small potatoes, however, to the ultimate point of the response which seems to be that VQR and their army of undergraduate and graduate student readers are the last bastion of hope in American letters. That's certainly overstating it, but I have a hard time believing that anything about this insensitive but very small misstep calls for a "mini-manifesto" or a dialogue about "what ails American literature."
I like VQR. I'd probably like their staff. I hope they keep trailing the zeitgeist with issues about superheroes or robots or whatever for a very long time. I feel bad about my own smug last sentence. What I don't like, is pretending that doing the arduous work of weeding out the 9/10 submissions that are all some level of crazy leads to frustration about the state of American literature rather than frustration over the fact that someone in prison sent in their Ninja Turtles fan fiction and there is an obligation to read it. That has nothing to do with American literature.
I read at a journal that received a large number of submissions, and in my time there I didn't say "Yes" to single story I read. And I read a lot of stories. Probably some of the same ones that some poor soul at VQR had to read. There were some crazy ones. There were some competent but dull ones. None of it had anything to do with what "ailed" American literature and even if it did, I certainly didn't think myself, as a graduate student, capable of being able to pinpoint the story or poem that would fix it. Which I guess is the point. If VQR is frustrated with their submissions, they should stop taking them. If they want to try to shake up literature, god bless them. I hope they do.
But those "indignant" comments weren't trying to do that and nobody should pretend they were.
The thing Mr. Genoways doesn't seem to get is that nobody wants the self-satisfied, juvenile writers of the mean-spirited comments to decide anything about the direction literature is headed. And, thankfully, they won't. It's a lot of fun to be an MFA student guarding the gate to a venerable institution, but by the time those students are submitting stories that earn curt rejections from journals, their ideas about what literature should and can be will have either changed or they'll have stopped writing completely.
What Mr. Genoways wants in writing is out there. It may not be in every piece published by the Virginia Quarterly Review (ed note: or on my computer), but maybe he should ask himself why that is rather than fretting about the state of American letters. After all, if his readers are so prescriptive about what is good that they can't imagine it being in the form of something like prose poetry, then VQR is fostering the problem not fighting it.
So I know I'm about as late to this party as Daniels was late to fully support an investigation into Avon Barksdale's drug empire, but my god The Wire is great.
This, by the way, may just be the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone: So the first disc of The Wire had three episodes on it after which we were hooked on the show (and to dropping references to the show) like McNulty is hooked on justice. The second disc came from Netflix and we planned it so that we would watch one episode the day it came and two the next day. (By which I mean we planned it like Bubbles and Johnny Weeks planned to rob that copper truck). So it's the next night at about 10:45 when we finish the second episode on the disc and realize that even though every other disc in the season has three episodes on it, Disc Two only has two episodes. We freaked out like America freaked out the first time Omar kissed Brandon. It's honestly the most depressed I've ever been in my life. Happy ending: Heather and I drove to Blockbuster five minutes before it closed to pick up the next two discs with Netflix delivering the final disc of the season. I really wish I had a Wire reference to go out on here.
It's entirely likely that I just didn't watch a lot of TV for many years and so it's just an illusion created by Netflix and internet streaming, but there really has been an incredible increase in the amount of high-quality programming on TV. In fact, if someone argued that mainstream TV programming has eclipsed mainstream film as a place of narrative innovation, I'd agree like Judge Phelan agreed to a warrant to wiretap public phones near the housing projects.
Yeah, that's the stuff.
Anyway, it's easy to look down on television but this really is a place where some of the best stories are being told at the moment. A lot of it is certainly HBO's influence. They seemed to be the first to realize that with DVD (and now the internet) that dramas could have longform plots without losing audience. When ER was the best show on television--think about that for awhile--the show clung desperately to an episodic structure with a few loose tangents to the point that it ultimately went off the rails when storylines were exhausted and everyone realized there wasn't a plan. Same thing with The X-Files.
Comedies got onboard as well and while the ratings haven't been there yet, it's impossible to argue with the brilliant, single-camera reinvention of the sitcom done by shows like Arrested Development and The Office. There was a time when some poor souls had to watch Perfect Strangers and while we still have our share of Balkis out there, at least there's 30 Rock.
These new shows aren't trying to be mini-movies but are now free to be something closer to serial novels (any prospective Ph.D.'s reading this should feel free to jump all over that dissertation I just started for you). There are certainly problems with the comparison--I'm pretty sure Dickens never had to write around Fagin walking off the set like Mr. Echo on Lost--but by and large the work being done has space for the short and long plots like no other medium. Only a handful of movies a year are able to develop characters and set a tone with the precision of television's best. I'm too scared to even do a comparison with novels.
As scared as Pryzbylewski was when he hit that kid.
The Pink Institution
It's a horrific book in the best sense of the word. The characters are sketches but their devastation is real, and it's a hard book to read without thinking of modernists classics (mostly Faulkner) that get every last bit of sadness out of each word. It's a book of beautiful language which, in this case, doesn't mean poetic or rhapsodizing language but rather an innovative use of the page's white space and words that cut. The writing and the physical presentation of the book--complete with old photographs and text from a ball program--work so well together that it's easy to image the fragmented text dilapidating in conjunction with its story.
I haven't spent much time on that side of the Mason-Dixon line, but books like this one (not to mention Barry Hannah and Larry Brown, etc.) make it hard to believe the Civil War has ever really ended. Saterstrom's work which isn't so much about the South as it is the Southern condition. The story of four generations of a family told in 140 sparsely worded pages, the book works in cycles of abuse, alcoholism, and neglect. Each generation repeats the last one's mistakes, and even as modernity slowly breaks into the novel the characters remain mired in an antebellum angst which they pass on to the next generation.
As you might have gathered, it's a dark book. The characters get scarred early and seem to spend the rest of their lives making sure their own children get hurt worse than they did. But it's also a quiely beautiful work that stands apart from a lot of contemporary literature. It reads like a classic that people have been reading for a long time, and one imagines they will be.