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A Book I Sort of Understand

Categories: This Writer's Life.
Introductory sidenote: In this blog entry, every word that I either had to look up because I didn’t know how to spell it or because I didn’t really know the definition, I’ve decided to put in bold. This will probably never happen again, so appreciate the brief foray into my ignorance revealed.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve done a lot of reading on this trip. Much of this can be blamed on the fact that I barely speak English well, and know no other language except “terrible, awkward, indecipherable” French (the quotes being the Big Cat’s, who, I feel the need to insecurely point out, is no linguist himself), so I spend much of my time in Prague with my head down avoiding eye contact with the hundreds of people in Wenceslas Square trying to hand me pamphlets or escort me to seedy strip clubs (“What’s matter? You don’t like women, hot, hot, hot?”).

Anyway, I just finished the book Glamorama by Brett Easton Ellis. The reason I bought the book was guilt, as I’ve never read anything by him, but, for whatever reason, whenever he comes up I inevitably tell people that I’ve read American Psycho because I’ve positioned myself as “the dude who always reads the book before seeing the movies”, which, if you think about it, isn’t that cool of a position to seek. Nevertheless in dutifully sticking to that role, I usually give the opinion that it’s better than the movie but it was “f*cking weird” and “surreal” but totally “skewering” of “the 80s”, a decade in which I have no credence to make an opinion mainly because I remember only one year, 1989, since I, at eight, was finally allowed to watch Alf and the Golden Girls (brief editorial sidenote: Blanche was totally a slut, but kind of hot?).

On top of that, in a few of my MFA workshops, people have been like, “Oh you totally skirted your style from Easton Ellis.” And I’ll say, “You can’t use the word skirt like that.” and they’ll say, “Yeah, I can.” and an entirely different semantics argument will take place. But the point I keep aimlessly circling and circling around is this: I needed to see what the deal was. And so I read the book. And I kind of don’t understand it.

For those of you who haven’t read it or don’t care, let me briefly synopsize: Victor Ward is a model and It boy in mid 90s NYC who opens nightclubs and has killer abs and lots of sex with his supermodel GF and some other chick. Everything in the first part of the book is about the “scene”, what’s cool, who was there, what’s trendy, etc, and Easton Ellis does a ridiculous job of capturing this world, making me think he had to spend a good deal of time “researching” it, to be able to render it so effectively. Everyone pops Xanax, and Klonopin and does coke and wears Gucci and Prada and eats sashimi and knows Christian Bale and Chris O’Donnell. Which really hit home for me, obviously, because–take away Christian Bale–and that’s pretty much exactly like my life.

But then during the second part, he is sent on a mission to find an ex-girlfriend by some random older man, and so he goes to Europe and all of a sudden he’s caught up in a world of terrorism as masterminded by an ex male model and there are horrible scenes of torture and now, to make things weirder, he is always being filmed by a film crew, which he consults after every action in the book, which makes it sort of meta, and surreal and imagined. Confused, yet? Yeah, well, me too, and I actually read it. Even when I finished the book, as things were revealed and I thought I got it, I didn’t have that “oh, i see” moment. I just went, “WTF?” and bought some Vanilla Caramel Brownie Haagen Daz.

So instead of really getting it, I’m forced to understand its value in the broader context of society. Like I get that it’s about the vacuousness of such a superficial life based almost solely on what and who you’re with, and maybe always having the film crew there further drives home the point that there is no real feeling going on, but, f*ck, I still don’t really get it. Don’t you hate that? Don’t you hate when you finish a 487 page book and you still feel like you should have checked the Cliff Notes? I know it’s sort of embarrassing to admit not “getting” stuff, especially in an MFA program where, if I really admitted all of the stuff I didn’t get, they’d probably revoke my acceptance. But the reason I wanted to point this out–other than as a cry for help– is because this is the game we play, not usually with popular fiction like Easton Ellis, but definitely with more literary work and especially with well known literary books.

Two blog readers, Rebekah and Rashida, both made dead on accurate and hilarious comments pertaining to this ridiculous charade on my Genuisocity post.  Rashida’s was: “Personally, I like to make up my own super-vague but semi-literate
sounding interpretations of any of the classics that I don’t get (or
didn’t read and just want to fake it in snobbish company). Most of the
time if you act like a street corner psychic and cater to the audience,
use some big words and leave the actual meaning rather loose, most
people will just nod their heads and say, “Hhmmm, I see where you’re
coming from,” or something else that translates into, “I didn’t get it
either but I’m sure as h*ll not going to be the only one here not
getting it!”

That, my friends, is an apt way to describe 50% of the conversations that go on in my literature classes. Now, to be fair, sometimes these conversations are interesting and well thought out, and actually leave me feeling smarter and more handsome, but a good amount of the time I will be called on with nothing to say, and start to talk having no idea where I’m going and end up concluding with something like, “But of course, (snobbish chuckle) Sherwood Anderson wasn’t quite as decadent a stylist as Fitzgerald, but therein lies the beauty of his prose. Wasn’t it Anderson who said, ‘Few know the sweetness of twisted apples?’ I think that phrase, in a nutshell, speaks for both itself and myself, simultaneously.” After which I usually excuse myself, go into the bathroom, and see how long I can stay in there before my professor will notice.

Ok. This post is getting out of control. If anyone has read Glamorama and wants to take a shot, please, please enlighten me. What is going on at the end? “Who” is he, really? And do all of Easton Ellis’s books end up leaving you feeling like this, despite my frustration, I kind of want to read another one. I mean, there are sex scenes.

Final note: This will be my last post from Europe. This weekend, I make my US debut for basically the first time in 2007 and I am both relieved and a little nostalgic. But it also means I’ll have my own computer, with its own American!!! keyboard, and the View, and California Pizza Kitchen, and real Boars Head deli meats, and Ben and Jerry’s Chubby Hubby and–sorry. Whew. I need to calm down. Someone get me a Xanax.

Just kidding, mom.

Join me next time when I attempt to reassimilate through watching 36 straight hours of Elizabeth Hasselbeck wardrobe changes.

Thank you for being a friend,

KA

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One Response to A Book I Sort of Understand

  1. OK, come on now, I think you’re being too hard on yourself with the spelling. I mean, who can ever really remember how to spell, ‘Haagen Daz’? I know I can’t!

    I have not read the book, but you know what I do when I don’t understand a book or a movie? I get really drunk, film myself and my friends being drunk, balance on a soda bottle for hours, set off some fireworks, go screaming through the neighborhood as if it were New Years Eve and then eat some Red Vines and pass out.

    How does this help, you ask? Well, it may take you into the mind of the author for just a wee bit in the hopes that you’ll have an epiphany and realize what the *bleep* he was talking about.

    Feel free to make up your own psychotic way of dealing it. :)

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