Microviews Vol. 46: First Cab Outta Hipsterville (Brooklyn Is Burning)

on Tuesday, December 10, 2013
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
This is not a review. It's an intervention. It has come to my attention that all you vegan, tapas eating, latte licking hipsters in the hermetically sealed borough of Brooklyn think this book nails life. Newsflash. Your life, maybe... and that's why we need to talk. Granted, there's a certain charm in this tale of a slightly less neurotic Woody Allenesque schmuck stapling his penis to various popular installation pieces (if only that were literal!). And yeah, there are some shrewd observations about modern dating and romance. Hell, there's also some flashy writing on show, some cutely humorous set pieces. But Nate Piven is a total douche. His friends are douches. Their lives are boring, unless you think navel gazing (peppered with pettily jealous asides) is some high octane sport. And before you get all up in my face about how this is brilliant satire and I just don't get it... Hop on a train and get the fuck out of Brooklyn. It's killing you.
3 Out Of 5 Ironic Beards

Carnival by Rawi Hage
Rawi Hage is the best author I've never raved about. Strange, profound yet joyously readable, you can't help but love everything he does. Carnival is probably his weirdest book to date. It's just plain nuts. More so, it is a sensation. There isn't a plot, as such. It's a guy, Fly, who drives a taxi around some unidentified city during their big, month long carnival. He picks up various customers, gets glimpses into their mostly fucked up lives - crims, prostitutes, clowns, revolutionaries, you name it. You also get glimpses into Fly's life; his childhood in the circus, his strange friendships and even stranger relationships. As the carnival gets into full swing things become increasingly chaotic and disjointed. There are wonders aplenty, a murder, even moments of quiet contemplation. Whatever. Don't worry about the story. It's all about the thrill of the ride. Just brilliant.
4.5 Out of 5 Rigged Meters

Dirty Work by Gabriel Weston
Whenever I meet a nurse or nursing student I can't help but ask whether they ever dabble in a bit of manual disimpaction. Yeah, I know it's childish and disrespectful but, well, so am I. Of course I've never given much thought to the procedure itself until now when, about a third of the way through Gabriel Weston's sophomore effort, beleaguered OBGYN abortion specialist Dr. Nancy recounts her early days in the profession. Let's just say, if you are squeamish, this ain't the book for you. Weston, herself a doctor, goes into the finest detail of some pretty intimate medical procedures. The physical revulsion you may or may not feel is, however, a secondary consideration. This book is about abortion and it is likely to be troubling for people on both sides of the debate. Perhaps it is to Weston's credit that she never really picks a side - it is clear that Nancy feels abortion is a right and a necessity, but her freezing up and almost killing a patient thanks to a crisis of faith/confidence/ability (pretty much the central event of the novel) suggests a certain sympathy for the other view. Personally, I found this moral ambiguity troubling rather than brave or challenging. It's almost as if Weston was falling back on the saying from which her title might be drawn: It's dirty work but someone's got to do it. Hmmm... I don't expect some sort of proselytising from a novel dealing with this important a topic but a greater degree of moral courage wouldn't have gone astray.
2.5 Out of 5 Rubber Gloves

Dashenka or The Life of a Puppy by Karel Capek
Leaving aside Kafka who, it must be said, transcends nationality, Karel Capek is my favourite Czech writer. His masterpiece, War With The Newts, is one of the smartest, most terrifying, yet hilariously playful books ever written. Over the years I've pretty much exhausted his ouevre, so I was rather excited to find this during one of my random internet author searches. While it is by no means a major work, Dashenka is a sweet kids' book about the first few months of a puppy's life. It is divided into three parts. The first is a descriptive narrative to which anyone who has raised a puppy will relate. The frustrations, the joys. Next comes a strange little cycle of tales (sorry) that Capek concocts as bedtime stories for the dog. It's sly and whimsical - using a dog in the same way we invent stories with a child hero for our kids. Last, there's a series of photos that Capek took of the real Dashenka as she grew. Given this first came out in 1933, it's no small feat (again, sorry). Dashenka belongs with the peculiar subset of pet literature by great authors - Steinbeck's Travels With Charlie, Lessing's Cat Tales, Ackerley's My Dog Tulip - that will hardly go down as their greatest works but still manage to stand on their own as charming reads for completists and animal lovers alike. Man, I've softened since I got Louie.
3.5 Out of 5 Training Pads

The Machine by James Smythe
JG Ballard and (early) Iain Banks must be looking down at James Smythe from wherever they are with some serious paternal pride. Three books in and the young Englishman has confidently taken the disturbing speculative fiction baton and run with it. Indeed, The Machine is a typically Banksian near future (or possible alternate present) mindfuck that will be welcomed by anyone who bid the great Scotsman farewell long before he died. It is, but for a few very minor characters, a two person show. Vic McAdams went off to war and was nearly killed by an IED. Brought back to England, he was plagued by PTSD and, after some violent episodes his memory was saved to a hard drive then wiped clean. Years pass and his wife becomes dissatisfied with the husk of a man lying in some hospital so she decides to bring him back home and restore what was taken away. Trawling the internet, she finds one of the memory machines on the black market (an old model of course) and sets it up in the spare room. Needless to say, the the rebooted Vic might not be all she had hoped for. The Machine is a fascinating exploration of what makes us who we are, asking some pretty big questions in classic speculative style. Are we the sum of our experiences and memories or is there something more? Would a blank canvas hardwired with our "minds" turn out just the way we did? Smythe's answers are profoundly disturbing. And yet the book doesn't quite work. It's as if he hasn't yet struck the depth of heart that made Ballard or early Banks so earth shatteringly good. Let's just say, then, that The Machine is a cerebral triumph of the most unsettling kind. Maybe that's the point.
3.5 Out Of 5 Hacked HALs


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