Saturday, November 10, 2007

Quick Takes: Frank Warren, Jonathan Lethem, Joe Lansdale

A Lifetime of Secrets, by Frank Warren: This is easily the best and strongest of the four PostSecret collections (except possibly the first). A Lifetime of Secrets is quite a bit longer than the previous two collections and this is its strength. More content for the dollar. Organized in a sort of chronological order from secrets about childhood to secrets of old age, A Lifetime of Secrets is exactly what the title says. If the PostSecret website is something you enjoy, you’ll like this. Getting glimpses into these most personal secrets, hopes, fears, betrayals, sorrows, griefs, and things kept hidden – both serious and silly – is part privilege, part curiosity, but almost always fascinating.

You Don’t Love Me Yet, by Jonathan Lethem: A brief, lightweight novel from Jonathan Lethem dances around an almost up-and-coming band and follows the bass guitarist through her life and job as a Complaints line phone operator (not for a company, as an art project, people can call and complain about anything) uses the complaints for lyrics and the rise and fall of the band and various personal issues. At times the novel is as interesting and good as it can be, mostly it is not. This is minor Lethem, unfortunately. The man who wrote Motherless Brooklyn, and The Fortress of Solitude is not here. The man who wrote Gun, With Occasional Music and As She Climbed Across the Table is also not here. Though short, You Don’t Love Me Yet reads like a Woody Allen meets Don DeLillo (think Great Jones Street, not his stronger work) meets Dave Eggers (The You Shall Know Our Velocity Eggers, not the earnest and intelligent and quirky Eggers from his memoir) mish mash. Lethem has been one hell of a writer and will be again, but this is a misfire.

Retro Pulp Tales, by Joe R. Lansdale (editor): Joe Lansdale brings together a collection of contemporary authors writing stories in the style of the pulps from the 40’s. Overall this is a fun, stylish collection, but after reading a handful of stories by interest began to wane. Norman Partridge’s story at the end is worth the price of admission, but the overall styling started to grate just a little bit. The fun part of this collection is that we’ve got stories that feel realistic (yet sometimes with that sepia tone of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), yet there is a bit of weirdness happening just off the page that is influencing the story and our reading of it. I believe this is a much praised collection, and rightly so, but the pulps are also not my kind of story and not what truly interests me as a reader. Still...worth checking out if only for the Partridge story.


Andy Wolverton said...

I completely agree with your thoughts on the Lethem. After reading Motherless Brooklyn (one of my all-time favorites) and Gun, I was expecting much more than this one delivered. I listened to it in the car, so I don't really feel like I lost a lot of prime reading time. Oddly enough, though, this one might make a pretty good (but still lightweight) film.

Anonymous said...

I haven't finished You Don't Love Me Yet but at about halfway through, I'd have to agree with you. At first I thought it was mostly my distaste for arty effete types (such as are portrayed in the book), but it just isn't drawing me in.

Joe said...

Don't discount that distaste, because I share it (I also have a big problem with novels about high society rich people), but all the same You Don't Love Me Yet still isn't nearly as good as Lethem's other work.