Grotesques

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In literature, “grotesques” appear as strange objects, bizarre figures in darkly comic scenes. In Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson creates a series of sketches featuring small-town grotesques. Shut-ins, eccentrics and the morally unsound fill Anderson’s collection of stories. These characters are part of a long-tradition of small-town oddballs quite common in today’s television comedies. Really, the stories of Springfield, South Park & Pawnee are direct descendants of Winesburg.

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Cigarette Burns: Atonement

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I’m reigniting the “Cigarette Burns” series if only for this post on Joe Wright’s Atonement. It may see a more consistent return here and over at …said the blind man depending on other responsibilities thrown at Andrew at myself.

*Spoilers Throughout*

What are the stories we tell ourselves to move forward? What are the lies, the distortions, the platitudes we repeat and remember to let us live through pain, disappointment & drudgery? What are the benefits gleaned when we lapse from reality? What are the handicaps?

We make concessions as we age. We have to. The dreams of our childhood never blossom to their full extent. They rarely spring in even the smallest of ways. We can’t have beautiful faces and lithe bodies and endless adventure and everlasting love smashed together to build a long, perfect life. Our minds will drift into fantasy, into revised pasts and impossible futures if only to preserve our tenuous sanity. We’re doing ourselves a service by embracing imagination and refusing to let life’s potential meaninglessness wholly engulf our psyches. But what of those around us, in their own reveries? Who do we alter, who do we hurt by taking flights off the ground and soaring above reality?

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Strange Critiques

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The short story seminars I took in college didn’t unfold with the same series of bitter invectives and simmering resentments as portrayed in Wonder Boys. We, usually 12-15 of us, were almost uniformly polite, wrapping criticisms inside compliments as any traces of venom or hurt revealed themselves in nothing beyond bitten lips and downcast eyes. In the three different seminars in which I studied, only two stories were, in my view and most others’, perfect. One was a humorous story with a Southern Gothic twinge (the young woman who wrote it was a Flannery O’Connor devotee) and the other was a chilling look at warped domestic life in Malibu. All other stories required significant notes that were usually delivered by 20-year-old students in no position to offer sound advice (myself included).

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Boyhood and *Boyhood*

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Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s latest release, deserves the plaudits given in response to its unparalleled narrative ambition. Filmed during 39 days spread across 12 years, Boyhood marks American cinema’s most authentic coming-of-age feature thanks to the natural maturation of its principal actors including Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Lorelai Linklater (the director’s daughter) & Ellar Coltrane, the young man whose formation grants Boyhood its name. While Boyhood’s filmmaking structure alone makes it a exciting curiosity among contemporary releases, its contents will justify its status as a major cinematic standout for years to come. Boyhood’s understanding of growing up, such an obviously universal element of life, hasn’t been equaled since The 400 Blows.

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Novel Update: Realism and Post-Modernism

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I’m up to about 58,000 words (200-210 pages) and closing the final gaps in my story before I begin another sizable revision. Below are some barely-coherent, semi-cohesive thoughts on Richard Yates and literary post-modernism.

Richard Yates produced seven novels in his lifetime, none before the age of 36 and none after turning 60. His goal, as expressed multiple times, was fifteen, a mark he couldn’t quite halve. With poor sales and erratic levels of critical praise directed toward him while alive, Yates held little profile outside his novels. He wasn’t a notable journalist. He didn’t post thinkpieces in a variety of publications. He didn’t write criticism like his contemporary John Updike. He wasn’t a late-night favorite like Norman Mailer. Nor was he often interviewed, and Yates views on life and literature were, until Blake Bailey’s comprehensive biography on him was released in 2003, contained almost entirely in a 1972 Q&A with Ploughshares. He died in 1992, from emphysema, alcoholism and god knows what else, at the age of 66. I’m therefore cursed in choosing Richard Yates as my favorite author. Or should I say, I’m cursed to have Richard Yates’ work happen to move me in ways unmatched by other writers.

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Yates as a young man

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Luddite

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Though the book I’m working on takes place in the present (2012 to be exact), the technological advancements of my lifetime play a marginal role in the narrative. No one sends a text message, the Internet is barely referenced, characters don’t use iPhones…all these elements exist; I’m not composing some sort of parallel world untouched by Apple & company. But within the events of the story, they’re either on the periphery or wholly removed.

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Novel Update Part Whatever

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I’m in the process of filling in holes in my novel, which is a critical step but doesn’t provide much in the way of comprehensive passages worth reading out of sequence. I do think this recent piece, a 1000-word bit, should make sense by itself. Hopefully. I’m up to about 190 pages overall (the final product should sit between 210-240). Continue reading

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