Microviews Vol. 43: Murder, Mephistopheles and Michael Jackson

on Monday, October 28, 2013
Murder in Mississippi by John Safran
Spare a thought for the unfortunate kebab at the pointy end of a John Safran TV skewering. Life in the wake of having your idiocy/bigotry/ineptitude unveiled like that must be quite the burden. However, for white supremacist nutjob extraordinaire, Richard Barrett, TV exposure was the least of his problems. Soon after Safran's prank - which, incidentally, never actually went to air - Barrett up and got himself murdered. By a black guy. In rather homoerotic circumstances. Not quite the Confederate flag end he'd envisaged, methinks. Murder In Mississippi sees Safran return to the scene of the crime in an attempt to make sense of this very peculiar death. Believe the hype and it's a modern day In Cold Blood, but Safran is no Capote and the killer, Vincent McGee, is certainly no Dick Hickock or Perry Smith. That's a good thing, though. If this was mere homage it wouldn't be half as interesting. Safran is in a position that Capote could only have dreamed of - not only does he get to know the murderer but he also knew the victim. That Safran is an outsider - pasty, Australian, Jewish with a grating lisp that you won't be able to get out of your head as you read - allows him the kind of objectivity that even his most desperate attempts to insert himself into the narrative cannot diminish. As usual, he is an idiosyncratic joy. It's hard not to love his bumbling attempts to ingratiate himself with the various major players (several of whom have still not forgiven him for the original TV prank), the way he plays and is played in equal measure or the moments of childlike wonder and realisation that only he could bring to this kind of enterprise. And while Safran may not reach the most fulfilling of conclusions, the journey makes for a fascinating exploration of masculinity, Southern social fragility and the very strange machinations of the American criminal justice system.
4 Out of 5 Green Dot Cards

A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam
Several chapters into A Beautiful Truth I was reminded of that case a couple of years ago where some woman had her face ripped off by her friend's pet chimpanzee. Then my mind wandered across to Michael Jackson and his tragic chimp, Bubbles. Point being, it's never a good idea to keep a chimp as a pet. One way or another, one of you is going to get run over by a tractor. So too here - a passable mishmash of simian sociology, political commentary and good ol' soppy sentimentality that never quite strikes the right balance - I could feel those monster wheels rolling back and forth throughout. The chapters later in the book when the hand-raised pet is given to a research facility are powerful, but it washes over quickly. I get it. We're all the same. Be nice to animals. And stay away from Michael Jackson.
2.5 Out of 5 Tick Pickers

Youth Without God by Odon Von Horvath
In what might have made a pretty decent Marx Brothers moment, Odon Von Horvath was killed in Paris when a tree under which he was hiding was hit by lightning, causing a large branch to fall directly on his head. To add ironic insult to fatal injury, he was only in France because he had fled Austria after the Anschluss to escape likely persecution (if not murder) by the Nazis. And so it is that his death has eclipsed his work, which is a shame really because Youth Without God is a marvellous little book. A fierce interrogation of minor rebellion against a totalitarian state, it centres around an unassuming schoolteacher suddenly thrown into the thick of it when he reprimands a student for a racist comment. Labeled a traitor and cast aside, things only get worse when he is implicated in a murder. Youth Without God is a sharp and unforgiving little book. There's a slight whiff of redemption towards the end but it is little consolation for the branch Horvath has already dropped on your head.
4 Out of 5 Goose Steps

The Facades by Eric Lundgren
Molly Svenson was Trude's most celebrated mezzo-soprano until one night, after a performance, she just vanished. Now her poor husband Sven is left zipping around the city in a desperate attempt to find her. The police aren't really getting anywhere, friends aren't being particularly helpful, and their dropkick son has fallen under the sway of a ridiculous cult. It's all very disjointed and unsettling, which is exactly the point. This is a book about displacement, full of absurdities and comic flourishes, where nothing is quite as it seems. Trude itself is a masterful creation - a labyrinth conceived by a mad architect who wanted the city to function as some kind of grand puzzle. It's a shame, then, that Lundgren runs out of steam towards the end. The denouement is a letdown and, while you might be sad to leave Trude, you'll have stopped caring about that neurotic whinger Sven.
3.5 Out of 5 Curious Incidents

The Implacable Order Of Things by Jose Luis Peixoto
Twins joined at the finger, giants, wise centenarians, cuckolded shephards and even the devil himself populate a remote European village in this dark fable of love and longing, revenge and philosophical ponderings. Jose Saramago rated it (and, let's not forget, the belicose Nobelian rated my favourite find of the year, Carlos M. Tavares). And that title... what a ripper! Alack, alack, I just couldn't connect. I so wanted to love The Implacable Order Of Things. The devil knows I tried. But there was a certain coldness that made my bits shrivel up any time I tried to get close. I'm sure Peixoto is capable of great things - his imagination is a garden of delights. If only, like the old Tin Man of yore, he had a heart.
3 Out Of 5 Linked Pinkies


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