Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Like Looking Into a Mirror: A Review of Marigold

Hey, you’re a fairly decent person stuck working a shit job but doing your goddamndest to eke out a life worth living. However, you find, more often than not, that existence under modern capitalism feels suffocating, crushing. Other people are difficult to relate to and largely incomprehensible. Your worklife ranges from denigrating to soul-rending. Bills pile up in spite of your spartan lifestyle. You take on a second job, maybe a third. You watch Seinfeld reruns with a homeless person. You routinely contemplate suicide. Well, Marigold by Troy James Weaver is the novella for you. 

It’s maybe more a mirror than a book, so brace yourself.

Marigold is the story of a “thirty-something floral salesman” struggling to cope with the sheer horror of everyday life. For many, I’m sure, the story will be as relatable as it is bleak. It is intensely uncomfortable, absurd, and beautiful. It is emotionally devastating and full of existential dread. It is the absolute best of contemporary literary fiction.

Marigold is written as a series of short vignettes that range from a few lines to a few pages. This makes the novella an extremely easy read, despite the fragmentary nature of the narrative. Troy James Weaver, more than any author I can think of, accurately captures the rhythm of modern existence through his writing. Yet, at the same time, his prose tends to communicate a dreary, dreamlike quality, which in the past has led reviewers to compare his work (particularly, his novel Visionsto Harmony Korine’s films. I think the reference is warranted in regard to both Visions and Marigold. That said, for me, Marigold called to mind more the writings of Charles Bukowski and Sam Pink (there’s even a passing Bukowski reference early in the novella). But in my honest opinion, Troy James Weaver brings a level of seriousness to the table that neither Bukowski or Pink ever conveyed. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bukowski and Pink. Troy James Weaver, though, just seems to be doing something a little more true-to-life, a little more visceral.

If you’re a real person, you most certainly understand a few things. Our society is shit. Our economy is a massive human meat grinder. Most contemporary literary fiction is utterly insufferable.

Troy James Weaver’s Marigold, however, is exactly what the world needs right now. It is a bittersweet antidote to all that ails us in this miserable human moment. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Slick, Seedy, Sweaty: A Review of Triple 9

Meet this group of corrupt cops in Atlanta, Georgia. You’ll love them. They're very diverse, and Jesse Pinkman is among them. They do “jobs” for a Jewish-Russian crime syndicate—things like robbing banks, stealing government information, etc. They’re damn good at what they do because most of them are military veterans. Their employers—the syndicate, not the Atlanta Police Department—are a bunch of fuckin’ assholes though. Despite the squad’s top-notch work, their money is regularly withheld. New, more difficult “jobs” are mandated before any payout. These cops, they’re ultimately terrible guys, but we relate to them. They’re like working-class criminals and their arc is compelling. 

Next, meet Chris Allen, played by Casey Affleck. He’s a cop who's new to the rougher side of Atlanta. He’s pretty legit though. He takes his job seriously and begins to hit walls as he unknowingly interferes with the operations of the corrupt officers mentioned above.

Meet Jeffrey Allen, played by Woody Harrelson. He’s Chris’s uncle, also a cop. A seasoned vet. He has his vices, yes, and he’s a massive cynic, but he’s also pretty serious about upholding the law. He dispenses gritty sage wisdom like he gets paid extra for it.

Now imagine a bunch of very tense, violent conflict between all these characters. It’s cooler than I’m making it sound. I promise. Just know that Triple 9 is fast-paced, violent, lewd, and generally out of control.

Triple 9
also offers a lot in the way of aesthetic. The story is interesting, sure, but what really brings the movie to life is the atmospheric stuff. Notice the bright fuchsia-and-chartreuse color motif that repeats throughout the movie. Notice how much the city of Atlanta is a character. Notice the weird tidbits, like Woody Harrelson sporting a werewolf mask in his office, under dim neon lights.

Artistically the movie is sharp. Story-wise, it’s like cut-rate George V. Higgins (which isn’t a bad thing at all). Also, on the note of George V. Higgins, the film contains an amazing bank robbery scene in which the recurring color motif calls to mind the bright orange ski parkas from the bank robbery scenes in The Friends of Eddie Coyle. This film reminded me of the novel in other ways too—that, and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. In fact, if you like Eddie Coyle and Spring Breakers you’ll probably enjoy Triple 9, at least on some level. It’s a slick, seedy, sweaty crime piece with great aesthetics.

Now for my problem with Triple 9. Watching it, you get the sense that the filmmaker might be something of an unwitting xenophobe. How? The film is brimming with shitbag characters—but there are gradients to the shitbaggery. And that’s one of the best aspects of the film, the moral nuance of it all. However, I couldn’t help but notice that the characters who prove to be most decent are all white Americans (with the exception of Woody Harrelson’s Asian-American assistant—but she's a fairly minor character). Yes, there is an extremely sympathetic Black protagonist, but even he endorses the abhorrent murder plot to which the film owes its title. The movie’s most diabolical characters are all People of Color or “other”—Russian, Jewish, Latino,
immigrant. That said, the story does suggest that the Department of Homeland Security operates in sinister collusion with the Jewish-Russian syndicate, and nothing says WHITE AMERICAN ESTABLISHMENT quite like the DHS. So I dunno.

At any rate, I wouldn’t let this issue stop you from seeing the movie. Just be aware of it going in.

Okay, I’m gonna go reread The Friends of Eddie Coyle now.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Dirtbag Stuff With Heart: A Review of Zero Lives Remaining

For those of us who lived through the 1980s, this cover makes a lot of promises. For me, personally, it evokes vivid memories of browsing the local video store with my dad and little sister, passing through the horror section, and marveling at the depraved artwork on the VHS cases. My sister and I regularly begged my dad to rent Ankle Biters, Critters 2, and Monkey Shines. We were completely obsessed with the movie Pigs, based solely on its revolting cover.

We caught Critters 2 on TV some years later. We agreed, it was fairly disappointing.

Unlike Critters 2 though, Zero Lives Remaining is not a disappointment. Scroll up, take a good look at the book’s cover again.

Here,” the artwork seems to whisper. “Just like good old times at Front Row Video, I promise. Just like Pigs. Just like Critters 2. Only this—this is actually gonna deliver.”

And it does. Exceedingly.

Zero Lives Remaining is the story of Tiffany Park, a teenage video game virtuoso who spends much of her time at Funcave, an arcade-pizzeria, where she dominates games like Ms. Pac-Man and Street Fighter Alpha. Video games, pizza—sounds rad so far, right? Well, meet Chris Murphy, 
the story's antagonist. He's a dumpy teenage nĂ¼-metal fan with a crush on Tiffany. Chris clings to Tiffany like a lost, racist puppy, commenting incessantly on the fact that she is Asian, calling her names like “China Girl” even though he knows she is Korean. Chris Murphy is not rad. He is, in fact, a complete piece of shit. But just wait. Turns out Funcave is haunted by the ghost of Robby Asaro, a guy who accidentally cooked himself in the kitchen's pizza oven back in 1989. In 2014, living as a ghost inside Funcave's arcade games, Robby considers Tiffany as something of a daughter-figure in his life. 

Er, afterlife. 

Anyway, weird shit starts happening at Funcave as Robby’s ghost takes measures to protect Tiffany from an increasingly offensive and stalker-y Chris. Soon, Funcave is thrown into total chaos, and the book’s wider cast of characters—including the porn-addict owner of the arcade-pizzeria—finds itself in the thick of some ghastly mayhem. Expect lots of ghost slime.

Both hilarity and gore ensue.

Zero Lives Remaining is a quick and effortless read. The book’s author, Adam Cesare, writes in a style that is both lean and smooth. Not sure if it’s more an art or science, but Cesare’s got it down. My first exposure to the guy’s writing was the 2012 novel Tribesmen. One of the things I loved most about that book was the way that Cesare managed to subvert stereotypes with his characters and deliver some pretty solid social commentary through what was essentially a gore-filled cannibal-horror romp. And Zero Lives is no different on the subversion-and-commentary front. Cesare’s got a good thing going. His works are certainly classifiable as dirtbag stuff—but dirtbag stuff with intellect, loads of heart, and complexity. How he walks simultaneously among such disparate worlds, I haven’t a clue. But let's hope he keeps it up. 

Definitely check out Zero Lives Remaining. If you’re anything like me, it’ll have you at the cover.