It was different then. You could be standing by a burned-out lot, waiting for no one and nothing, not even for a lonely red bus. You’d be just there, studying the rubble of a building along Avenue C. Charred bricks and shrieking plasterboard, a bathtub naked on its side, and through its drain, a lone sunflower, sulfuric yellow and furred like a honeybee screwing upward toward a whirling yellow sun.
Whew! What an impressive opening paragraph. The sense of looking backwards in time, the gritty setting, the psychological outlook of the novel are all set-up here, in three quick lines. Beyond that, Tuten manages to cross-purpose verbs and adjectives so well - the shrieking plasterboard, the naked bathtub, the sulfuric sunflower. All these unlikely descriptions don’t jar the reader, as they might under a less-deft hand, and instead instill this sense of old New York and Alphabet City- forgotten, desolate and harsh. Plus, ending with a metaphor about a sunflower and a bumblebee.. talk about a tired, dead horse but somehow he ends up imbuing this sense of sex and grime. Well done.
The book continues in this vein of desolation and grit, flashing back and forth between Van Gogh’s 1890s France and New York City, circa 1900s. The main character is an 18 year old morphine addict time traveler named Ursula and while all of this sounds fairly zany, Tuten’s strong prose allows the reader to make leaps of faith inside the narrative.
Once you are on board with the idea of time travel meets historical fiction, Tuten then moves into writing about mental illness, from the perspective of the mental ill aka Van Gogh. While many novels avoid the subject all together, Tuten tackles it in a lyrical, refreshing way by allowing the reader in Van Gogh’s consciousness. While Van Gogh is narrating, objects grow when they are not supposed to and paranoid delusions are full-force. The prose grows increasingly fraught and tense as the novels continues, mimicking the devolution of Van Gogh’s mind, which culminates in the painter’s suicide.
The other difficult subject matter that Tuten tackles in this short novel is writing about art. Now, Tuten’s work is informed by art in general so that he would discuss art is not unlikely, but the way he does it is extremely well-executed. Although he describes Van Gogh’s paintings throughout the novel, focusing on lines and color, the reader never feels compelled to look at a rendering of the painting in question, instead finding it sufficient to experience the art through words only. It is almost as if Tuten writes the paintings.
All in all, a great read and highly recommended for anyone even slightly interested in the avant-garde.
In this week’s installment of Bookends The New York Times asks the question: Can a book ever change a reader’s life for the worse?
[so I went to hong kong 4 years ago and have all these awesome pictures. this is the tian tan buddha, on lantau island. although the buddha part was pretty touristic, the island is beautiful and fairly remote. think water buffalo wandering the streets, clam digging at the beaches, jungle everywhere.]
It is a great question. Firstly, because I love anything that advocates the power of books. People talk about social media or movies or video games poisoning the minds of kids today and while yes, reading is an AMAZING hobby, to say that it can’t be bad is to say that it is somehow less influential.
Part of me fears that as reading becomes, in the eyes of others, more of a hobby for betterment rather than a way to unwind and relax, we might move towards books that only serve purposes: novels with positive plots and outcomes, stories that teach lessons or self-help books. And while I was a huge fan of Aesop’s Fables (the ultimate self-help book), I don’t like the idea of all my reading being positive. Some books have terrible moral values or tragic ends, the hero doesn’t always win. Flaubert’s Madame Bovary comes to mind. And even though that book is a comment on women’s rights and the lack of agency in a woman’s life, Emma Bovary was no peach. By any stretch of the imagination.
So I would say yes. Let our books change us. For better or for worse. Bring it.
Taking a page (har-har) out of the Strand’s tumblr I am going to start posting quotes from books that I am reading. I have been keeping a quote booklet for the past five years or so, and figure this will keep me curating further.
She was the kind of girlfriend God gives you young, so you’ll know the loss the rest of your life.
Right up there with Bob Dylan’s Sara lyrics: “So easy to look at, so hard to define.”
As for the book, I adored it. The weird thing was, I was not expecting to like it at all, partly because it was SO POPULAR in 2009. I know, I am a snob.
But, after living in the DR I felt like I needed to check out Diaz because he is Dominican-American. And let me just say, OH EM JEEEE. Not only was The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao compelling from a narrative standpoint, but Diaz wove heavy bits of heavy Dominican history in quite adeptly. Plus, the way he uses slang and switches perspective throughout was top-notch… Bottom line, Diaz is amazing.
[so sometimes i wonder why i moved.]
1) Your cat is seriously freaked out.
2) You have thought about becoming a minimalist and just leaving all of your possessions. Fuck that family heirloom vase and fuck shoes. Who needs shoes?
3) You keep moving the “special” spot for your passport. The chair? Great. No, but what if it falls off? How about the table? What about in the kitchen?! And on, and on.
4) The scale is out and you are HOPING none of the luggage weighs in above 50 pounds. Because you are already planning on wearing your winter boots and winter coat on the plane. In July. See Number 2.
5) You’re having a reoccurring dream about having a house in the countryside. With two dogs and a horse. And babies. And no boxes.
6) You’re allocating hours to pack and then somehow just end up watching Season 6 of Castle again, because you haven’t paid for the internet for the last two days.
7) Despite pretending that you are not really moving to yourself, you have told houseguests to “Excuse the mess, I am in the middle of a move.”, for the past three weeks.
8) Friends pop by and ask if there is anything you don’t think you want? Like those speakers? Or what about your iPod? Seems too bulky to carry on the plane.
9) The little pile of “things to throw in at the last minute” is now bigger than your suitcase. See number 4. Fuck.
I wrote a more PC version of this here, where I catch up with a real-life minimalist who, get this, hasn’t had a couch for the past three years. Check it out and share any of your own moving horror stories in the comments below.