calzephyr: (books)
When I read that Any Empire was Nate Powell follow up to Swallow Me Whole
, I assumed both books were related and ordered both of them. The only relation between the two is that they are set in the fictional (?) Southern US town of Wormwood and trace the development of its young characters. Swallow Me Whole is by far the more abstract one. Make no mistake, these are two very writerly graphic novels, not very readerly at all. Trying to divine more meaning from them after the first couple of passes gave me a headache, so I was content to let my teacher to do all the explaining for Any Empire.

I liked Any Empire better, possibly because it was more accessible and familiar with its 80s setting. Part One concerns little neighbourhood boys, Lee and Purdy, who have an odd yet typical friendship with other neighbourhood boys. They are all obsessed with playing army, comics and establishing a pecking order. Sarah, the main female character, overlaps with this gang of boys when she discovers that someone is mysteriously killing turtles. Part Two catches up with the three of them as young adults and the direct impact their childhood has had on each of them.

Rather than discuss the plot - it would be too easy to give away the book - it's easier to look at some of the themes and motifs that run throughout. Boxes and containers are repeated constantly, and another motif becomes apparent after the events in Part Two. There are pushes and pulls between large open spaces that intersect with fantasy and reality. Time is rather fluid. Purdy is an interesting character who goes from one pecking order to another when he joins the army. There are also some deep allusions to fascism that might be easy to miss. The pervasive theme of militarism as part of everyday life is what the book is ultimately asking along what the the effect and meaning of living in such a culture is. There's a neat reference to a 1939 anti-war cartoon that gets changed up a little in the book.

While Any Empire is a quick read and uses text sparingly, that doesn't mean it is an easy read. The ending is a complete puzzler at first. The best that Alex could explain it as what happens when when the only outcome is the worst possible outcome, the last possibility for a hopeful outcome is to diverge into fantasy, which the characters often did as children. As such, I found the ending lacking in closure and unsatisfying. It could be an effect of reading too much work with ambiguous or abrupt endings as of late. The ending becomes more clear and realistic once one realizes that a clue dropped twice in the book is a real thing - which makes it even more uncomfortable.
calzephyr: (procrastinating)
My art history class watched this locally made movie as part of our theme on place and identity. I thought it was mostly just OK and by the end of the film I felt manipulated as a viewer. About halfway through it becomes apparent that there's something not quite right with the subject of the film, the Moss family, and that the film is more of a mockumentary than a documentary. The title comes from the title of Le Corbusier's 1935 book on urbanism.

Interspersed with scenes from the daily life of the suburban family is commentary from authors and experts on urban planning, including the very amusing James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency. Less of the family and more of the experts would have been more interesting to me.

Read more... )
calzephyr: (Default)
I finally finished Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje, one of the books assigned for English 317. At its heart, it's about the collision of mental illness and creativity and uses fictional elements of jazz musician Buddy Bolden's life to illustrate this. The work can be thought of a series of photographs (photography is a minor theme) as Ondaatje uses the cut up method and various narrators to tell the story of Bolden's life, acquaintances and institutionalization. The "Slaughter" in the title actually refers to a town of the same name, the last town Buddy Bolden passes through before reaching the state mental hospital. I didn't care very much for the book. It was not the stream of consciousness style, or the cut ups or the lack of traditional narrative. It was just mostly confusing and tedious. It was so confusing that my teacher noted that three essays that used the book got one vital part wrong - it's Bolden who slices the nipple off his wife's lover, not the other way around. The one thing that has always bothered me about Ondaatje's novel writing as opposed to his poetry is that it lacks authenticity. A rich personality like Bolden deserves more than flat characterization. The man just seems like a total bore that buggers off for two years screwing his friend's wife while he stays at their house. Bolden's two year disappearance could have been used to great effect in moving the plot along as his friend Webb tries to find him, but the opportunity is squandered.
calzephyr: (Default)
LOL, can you all imagine me wielding an acetylene torch?


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