Moon Palace by Paul Auster

Moon Palace is about a young man who is orphaned at a young age.  Throughout the novel, Marco Stanley Fogg, tries to find himself in the world.  The events largely take place in the late 60’s early 70’s, but as the narrative bounces around the story expands to the early and mid 1900’s.  Much of the early novel is spent building Fogg up to be an unreliable narrator, so it’s hard to say what happens and doesn’t happen in this novel.  If you believe, Fogg, then you buy into the entire convoluted story involving Thomas Effing and Solomon Barber.  If you don’t, you begin to doubt everything that Fogg has said.

The stories of Effing, Barber, and Fogg all bear some similar resemblances.  All of the men go through periods of transition physically where their bodies define them.  Fogg becomes disastrously skinny, his body morphing into something skeletal and gaunt.  Effing is trapped in his body by the loss of his legs and sight.  Barber, has the opposite problem of Fogg and has ballooned to 350 pounds.  These changes in appearance end up defining the men and their relationships with those around them.  This further plays into the moon motif; however, it might be seen as a little heavy handed.

Another thing the men share in common is that they are all on their own near their early twenties.  Effing’s father dies while he’s young.  Barber’s father disappears before he’s born.  And for Fogg, he has no idea who his father is.

In the end, no matter what you believe, this is all Fogg’s story.  For me, I believe he’s invented the entire thing or embelished events to provide a greater context for his own life.  All of the men’s stories are too similar to be original, and while Auster asks us to push coincidence to the side and believe that things happen for a reason, he also contradicts this request with lines such as, “never take anything for granted.  Especially when you’re dealing with a person like me,” spoken by Thomas Effing.

The entire relationship between Effing and Fogg is so full of lies and half truths that it permeates everything.  That said, Auster’s writing is compelling.  It reads fast.  The characters are memorable.  The only downside of that is the sparseness of setting and descriptions of what characters are feeling.  Auster glides over descriptions choosing to narrate page after page in a way that tells the reader what’s happened but doesn’t show it.  Perhaps, if he choose to show more the book would have stretched well beyond 300 pages.

Overall, this is an interesting novel.  I almost want to page through it again, because it’s hard to tell if there is a lot of depth to it, or whether the number of thin narratives overlapping each gives the illusion of complexity.

Ever Since I’ve Known You, You’ve Been Reading Infinite Jest

What is there to say?  I’ve managed to plow through the last of Infinite Jest and am relieved.  Relieved because now I can start reading other books and at a faster rate.  What is there to write about a 1,000 page monster of a novel?  Obviously, there’s a lot one can say.  For me, right now I feel like maybe there’s too much.  Where do you start?

I don’t want to be a spoiler for my friend who’s still reading it, so I won’t give anything away.  But, what I’m really curious about is the ending of the novel.  What happens?  What are other people’s take on it?  How does it relate to Hal in the beginning?  So, I’ll poke around and see what other people have written about it, but if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear your ideas.

Picking Up Where I Left Off

Tonight was the first time in a while since I’ve sat down and started to think of the Donnie and Sam novel.  I found myself asking questions about the characters again.  What motivates them?  Who are they, what do they dream?  Questions that may seem silly, but then again, need to be asked.  When I was writing a lot last earlier this year, it seemed as though I really knew the characters.  I believe I still do, but as I’ve changed, I wonder how they’ve changed, or how my understanding of them changed.

It’s funny.  I’ve been putting off writing some because of a computer hate I developed for my old laptop (Toshiba Satellite from 2001).  Some of that I’m sure was a lame excuse.  However, I recently got a Macbook Pro and writing seems more enjoyable on it.  Just the layout on Apple’s word processing software is nicer, the screen goes black so your left with just a white area resembling a piece of paper and your text.  Also, tactilely the machine feels better.  Something that is fun to use, and enjoyable to use, encourages use, right?

Pushcart Nomination

My essay “The Night Janitor’s New Son, Racing the Midnight Train, and Thoughts from across the Ocean,” has been nominated for a Pushcart.  Thanks goes out to Christine McDermott for the nomination, and for publishing the essay in Regarding Arts and Letters.

Indianapolis (Highway 74) by Sam Shepard

Sam Shepard’s short story “Indianapolis (Highway 74)” is infused with haunting images and a sense of not quite being lost, but instead being adrift.  The basis of the story is quite simple.  Two people meet by coincidence after not seeing each other for forty some years.  Nothing stellar or original with that.  What makes this story though is the narrator’s voice and perspective.  It opens with him, “crisscrossing the country again, without much reason,” and pulling off the highway because of a snowstorm.  Nothing seems to be under the control of the narrator, not even his own actions.  The weather forces him to stop.  The TV in the lobby is stuck on channels blasting out a background of violence, which the hotel clerk is unable to change, and whether or not a room is available all depends on someone else canceling their reservation.
It’s here that the woman enters the story, Becky Marie Thane.  She walks by him and he feels “immediately sad for no reason.”  When she comes back down to the lobby, she calls out his name.  “You don’t remember me, do you?”  “We lived together for a while.  Don’t you remember?”  These questions from Becky, and Stuarts inability to remember further add to the sense he is adrift and disconnected.  The questions keep coming and it seems that Becky is enjoying seeing Stuart squirm.  He thinks, “There is no escape.”  As memories finally begin to come back, Stuart is again aware of sadness.  The present background of violence from the TV is mirrored in his memories as he thinks of Martin Luther King, and riots in Detroit and L.A.
Where is Stuart going?  “Just passing through,” he says.  It’s as if he has no idea about anything.  The story then takes a bizarre emotional shift and we see that Becky is also in a sort of limbo while staying at the hotel.  Both characters use this word.
As Stuart eventually departs, (the potential guests will be there soon), he declines Becky’s invitation to stay in her room.  However, on the road, he’s again flooded by memories and images as the snow blankets his car and he drives blindly in a whiteout.  The story turns here as Stuart makes a decision.  He decides to drive back to the hotel.  How have things changed?  Have they changed?  Again he’s fearful of an emotional breakdown.  We never know why Stuart is driving across the country.  We can assume there’s no one at home, since he takes his dog with him, and the pet seems to be his only real connection.  He even wonders if he’s “finally broken all connections, without really wanting to.”  The story ends with a shift in Stuart.  The reader doesn’t know exactly what has happened, but it seems that Stuart is beginning to face the past, or to remember.  By not telling us about Stuart’s past, it creates a sense of mystery and adds to the feel of being in limbo.  Where better to be in limbo than a waiting room as well?  The setting and word choice create a stifled, controlled atmosphere that helps readers identify with Stuart’s need to escape, even if he has no idea where to go.

Sketch of Night

The windows glow in blue flashes
bright white muted
by frequency, not curtains
or haphazard mini-blinds.

The neighborhood resembles a string
of malfunctioning Christmas lights,
the trees bare,
as people sit in darkened rooms
waiting for the next burst
to stream across their rapt faces.

— Mobile Post

Sketch of a poem

The scratches in the brown back
of the leather chair
will always be there
a testament to the chaos
of coasters
shielding the coffee table from concentric rings
moments mapped in the finish
the repetitiveness of a mug in the corner
the allure of two wide stemmed wine glasses
interlocking in empty space
the glossy magazines whose pages cover
the noise of potential conversations
with a disinterested gasp, rapid
as clumps and sheets peel off
the thumb’s grain, a slow woomp woomp
not at all like the blades of a helicopter
lifting off and over a desert landscape.

— Mobile Post

Andre Agassi: The Most Important Minor Character from Infinite Jest

Playing tennis with a loaded gun pressed to the side of his head, Clipperton, is a memorable, sad character which causes readers to laugh at his outrageous acts even though they end so tragically.  While Andre Agassi hasn’t had nearly such a tragic ending as his story comes closer to the end, the recent revelations about his past seem like something out of Inifinite Jest.

High on crystal meth, freaking out over getting his wig bobby-pinned the night before the match, he’d be an instructive example to Hal Incandenza of what can happen to those who make it to the Show, but can’t deal with the stress.  I’ve been reading this novel for a few months, and it’s been rewarding on many levels, one being my renewed interest in playing tennis; however, it has changed how I view professional athletes.  No longer do I see them as the in control people we watch performing on a field, who seem barely contained on television screens.  Now, I seem them as more human and of being plagued with issues regarding performance, aging, lack of confidence, and anxiety.  Andre Agassi seems to feed into that view as well.  I don’t know too much about his story besides the snippets that appear on every news source this week, and I don’t really care to know anything more.  All that struck me was how unreal the news seemed and how closely it mirrored the depictions in Infinite Jest.  In many ways, he’s changed the way I read the novel.  If one bizarre element can happen, how unbelievable are the rest?

Welcome to O.N.A.N., everyone put on your Swine Flu masks!

Cycling through the Bull Shit

If you’re a cyclist, chances are you’ve had someone roll their car window down and yell something insulting.  After a while, you start to lose track of how often this occurs.  Of course there are the major ones that stand out, like the time I was on the Delmar Loop and a guy in a pickup truck screamed at me non-stop through an entire light change.  Obviously, I’d ruined his day.

Last night, while walking bikes home through a residential neighborhood, someone yelled at us for not having lights.  We were walking.  We were technically pedestrians.  Are we all supposed to carry lights at night?

Later, I started thinking about accountability and anonymity.  It was dark.  The man was in an SUV.  He could simply spout his rage and drive away.  Who would know?  Would he have acted that way in front of his co-workers, his boss, or his family?  Anonymity lets people act how they normally wouldn’t.  There are positive sides to this, like an anonymous tip in solving a crime; however, there are also negative effects.  Cars especially provide a means to be anonymous.  People are encased in steel, plastic, and glass.  Hidden and out of contact.  There is no face to face context.  Through a series of turns or pressing on the gas, the driver can flee at a high speed.

What would have happened if I’d taken his anonymity away?  What if I published his identity?  How would that change things?  Cyclists aren’t dealing with rational people.  The people who become angry might already be heading toward road rage.  It can be dangerous enough on a 16 lb bike while riding along a 2,000 lb car.  Now imagine that car being driven by someone out of control.  So, what can we do?  Sure, there are the standby’s like, be vigilant, and be courteous.  Does that change anything?  Do cyclists need to work more on educating drivers, on creating bike lanes, and awareness?

Overall, the bicycle is a wonderful invention.  It provides easy, clean transportation and keeps people fit.  Instead of being at odds with those who commute on bikes, drivers should be thankful for the reduction in carbon emissions and traffic, as well as the increase in parking spaces.  Next time a driver yells or cuts you off, maybe you should take out your camera or phone, snap a picture or video, and post it online.  Anonymity can work both ways.

– Psychosocial and environmental factors associated with cycling for transport among a working population, Bas ed Geus et. al., Health Education Research, Vol. 23 No. 4, 2008.
– The Effects of Trait Driving Anger, Anonymity, and Aggressive Stimuli on Aggressive Driving Behavior, Patricial Ellison-Potter, Journal ofApplied Social Psychology, 2001. 
– Models of perceived cycling risk and route acceptability, Parkin et. al., Accident Analysis and Prevention Vol. 39, 2007.
Anger on and off the road, Brian Parkinson, British Journal of Psychology Vol. 92, 2001. 
– Cyclists and motorists vie for limited space, By Charles Lewis, National Post, September 1, 2009
– Anonymous Group, accessed Nov. 5th 2009,