Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Architecture Punk Rock Biosphere (#T.C. Boyle #Frank Lloyd Wright #City Gardens #Trenton #Randy Now #Jim Harrison #Katherine Dunn)

by Daddy X

Still carrying on my affair with T.C. Boyle. Two this quarter:

The Women

When I did a bit here a few months ago on Boyle’s Road To Wellness (about J.H. Kellogg), Lisabet mentioned another historically-based work by (IMO) one of our greatest living wordsmiths.

“The Women” follows, or rather effects, a reverse chronology of the wives of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Last wife first, and not much about the first. No matter. His rendering of these human beings spins off the page at times, especially in the case of the headstrong, morphine-addicted Meriam, Wright’s third love.

Boyle employs a unique introduction using a fictitious composite Japanese apprentice (Tadashi) who follows the narrator throughout the work and keeps him honest while one Seamus O’Flaherty, an American Biographer (Boyle himself) relates the tale. If my set-up sounds rather complicated, Boyle does a much better job of convincing the reader of the machinations, using Tadashi’s numerous footnotes.

Now don’t get rattled by the specter of footnotes. These are not footnotes that pull the reader from the story with some arcane fact or diversion from the story arc. They have real impact on the tale, and there will be times when you’re waiting for Tadashi to pop in with his often humorous Japanese take on the biographer’s account. 

Wright is presented as a pompous serial philanderer, a self-important, self-promotion scheme on two feet, in spats, wearing flamboyant clothes, driving exotic cars in long scarves, all balanced on his dick. He goes through wives in a pattern of sorts: first she’s the apple of his eye, then a discarded and vituperative source of payback that brings down trial after trial on the extended Wright family.

I’ve said enough. Read it yourself. You won’t be disappointed. Humor, pathos, love, hate, loss, gain, all delivered with the intensity of a tornado.

The Terranauts

Boyle’s latest. Momma X gave it to me for Xmas. One of those ‘can’t put it down’ deals. Just finished last week.

Opens with choosing the personnel of a biosphere to be closed then opened two years in the future. Competition is, well, competitive among the candidates, sixteen members of a ‘team’, half of whom would be sidelined until the initial confinement was finished and the teams would essentially trade places.

That’s the plan anyway. But as usual, not everything planned will come off accordingly. Problems arise. Air and exhaust systems malfunction. Heat and humidity. Problems among the crew. Problems outside the biosphere, in “Mission Control”.

But I’m not here to tell you the story. With this intro, you’ll probably imagine a ‘Lord of the Flies” scenario. You’re not that far off, though Boyle presents this aspect with enviable subtlety and style, employing three first-person accounts: Two people inside the manufactured environment, one still outside and jealous of those who made it in.

What makes me crazy about this Boyle dude is that he counters many of the dogmatic elements I rely on to write a story or do critiques on ERWA. He uses long sentences, often fifty words and more. He also uses one-word sentences. And everything in between. I don’t know if two of his longer sentences are ever structured alike. His prose flows so easily, I can comfortably read through all the extraneous and redundant words I would ordinarily try to avoid. His vocabulary is so complete, I learn new words in every chapter, most that are obvious as to the meaning so the reader doesn’t have to go and look them up. What the hell kind of talent is that? How could an author surmise so much and still get it across?

No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes

By Amy Yates Wuefling and Steven DiLudivico

Whoa! WTF? A first-run concert venue in Trenton fucking New Jersey? Where I grew the fuck up?

A couple of years ago, John Stewart (The Daily Show) featured the authors of this book on his show. Turns out that in his youth, Stewart had tended bar at the place. He went off about the wild scene at City Gardens, located in perhaps the worst neighborhood in a town that was, at the time, the acknowledged armpit of the east coast: Trenton, New fucking Jersey, (either version acceptable) my home fucking town.

In Trenton-speak, most sentences feature the word ‘fuck’ ‘fucked’ or ‘fucking’.

My parents would talk the fuck out of the big band era, when fucking Trenton (right the fuck between Philadelphia and New fucking York on Route 1) would host the likes of Basie, Ellington, and Artie the fuck Shaw. They and other luminaries had convenient Trenton on their fucking tour plans. Even in my time of early rock and fucking doo-whop, groups with top fucking 40 hits would be featured at every fucking weekend record hop. I saw The fucking Isley Brothers. Fucking Brenda Lee. Frankie fucking Lyman and the fucking Teenagers.

Whooooops! Sorry. I traveled back to Jersey in October. Guess my old speech patterns caught up to me. ;>)

Fuck—part of the appeal for me was that local aspect. Even though by the 80’s, when this book begins, I’d been gone for many years, still the fucked specter of Calhoun Street looms over my memories. In 25 years living in or near Trenton, I don’t think I ever got the fuck out of the car on fucking Calhoun Street. Fuck that.

I do remember the building that housed City Gardens. Back in the 40’s, it was the Giant Tiger, what a super market aspired to in those days; later A-1  Motors, a rip-off used car lot just up the street from “Big-Hearted Nat,” another fuck of a place to buy a car.

The authors have chronicled every drunken, violent, fucked-up, spaced-out  concert ever held at City Gardens over fifteen years, using conversations with performers, parents, regular attendees, bouncers, bartenders, and general hangers-on who remember details of each and every show, those details often of varying consistency. I have to wonder how much was lost to the ether.

 Names like Joey Shithead, Ween, Mel Toxic, Jello Biafra, Henry Hose. Bands such as The Ramones, (played there 22 times). Henry Rollins Band, Ministry, Regressive Aid, Sic Kidz, Dead Kennedys and on and on through the 80’s and into the 90’s. 

This book informed me of a style of music (and behavior) I was never privy to: Punk Rock. Hardcore. Metal. Skinheads. Slam dancing. Stage diving. Throwing bottles at the band. Spitting on each other. Punching people because it’s fun. Getting punched because it’s fun. Shudder. How fucking Trenton!

Randy Now, a mailman from across the river in Bucks County Pa., booked the bands, promoted the shows and kept the chaotic scene somewhat intact for 15 years. It seems he was loved and respected for providing a much-needed venue (1200 capacity) for upcoming artists as well as better-known performers traveling between Philadelphia and New York. If nothing else, meeting this tireless and dedicated individual in print made the read worthwhile.

At this point, I’d like to mention two writers we lost last year who have been influences, not only on my own desire to write, but on life itself.

Katherine Dunn

In 1989, Ms. Dunn wrote what at the time I thought was the ultimate novel: Geek Love, about the Binewskis, a down-on-their-luck carnival family. Rather than hiring expensive freaks, they decide to birth their own, plying the mother (Diamond Lil) with drugs, arsenic, biological waste, paint thinner and radio isotopes. This book is humor, philosophy, fantasy, action, romance, erotica all at once. Just imagine possibilities for Siamese twin girl pianists, coming of age joined at the waist.

I tried reading Dunn’s first two novels, Attic and Truck, both so stylized as to get in the way of the story. No matter, Geek Love shows an immense capacity for imagination and how human we are in our differences.
Dunn was apparently a singular person, by all accounts well-traveled, obviously intelligent, and worked as a boxing stringer for several newspapers. She took boxing lessons herself during her 40’s.

Jim Harrison

When I was told in 2005 that I’d have to do a year of Interferon/Ribavirin treatment to save my new, cancer-free liver from the ongoing ravages of Hep C, a good friend brought me a sack of Jim Harrison books.  The bag contained: Legends of the Fall, Wolf, Dalva, Sundog, Warlock and The Road Home. I believe I read The Road Home first, a big, semi-biographical account of a Midwestern family. After reading that batch, I then went out and bought A Woman Lit by Fireflies and A Good Day To Die.

Harrison, also a noted poet, writes of big vistas, setting his stories in the great plains of Nebraska or Michigan’s upper peninsula, never sentimental or cloying, but describing the changing ways we are affected by modernity. Just the thing for someone whose future is in question.

Though I can only aspire to these masters of our art, they both showed us what grand things could be done with the written word. 



  1. These are great reviews, Daddy X. I love how much you're obviously learning from each writer. Each review has its own tone that I'm guessing reflects on the book you're talking about and honors the writer who produced it.

    I think it's really interesting that you love a writer (Boyle) who uses techniques you avoid in your own work. Maybe it would be good to try some of his out for yourself and see if they expand your writing toolkit? On the other hand, I definitely read some people I really admire, but who do things I'm sure would never work for me.

    1. Could it be that we osmose leanings in style/structure without consciously realizing it?

      I have tried writing short pieces in the style of J.P. Donleavy, but unless someone knew I was attempting his style, they would probably think I didn't now what TF I was doing, jumping tenses and mixing POV and viewpoint.

  2. Someone with a very distinctive style can make me even think in that style for a short while, but generally not long enough for me to apply it to my writing. I suspect that influences from long, long ago when I was young and impressionable (or, in terms of osmosis, more permeable) affect my writing more. Although I do occasionally get a "sense of wonder" that makes me shout, internally, "I didn't know a writer could get away with that! Wow!"

  3. Have you read any of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books? They're set in (nineteen nineties) Trenton, and portray the place with both humor and affection.

    The Women is my absolute favorite Boyle book so far. It's a masterpiece of style, structure and characterization. The Terranauts sounds interesting, though. Boyle gives me hope, because he has no "brand" whatsoever. Aside from his fabulous craft, every book is different.

    1. I have tried Evanovitch but her work doesn't do it for me. Momma X, however reads her.

  4. I actually should have mentioned something about "No Slam Dancing, No Sage Diving, No Spikes. They say, now that rents are going up in Philly and New York, that Trenton is becoming a place where artists can afford to set up. Lots of abandoned factories and warehouses that go for cheap.


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