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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Ozark Fun and Horror

I just finished James Dickey's Deliverance (yes the book they based the movie upon.) I'd never read Dickey, and now have a fair amount of respect for his writing. It's a good book, with the theme flowing through like the river cuts the county. Man tries to control nature, to impose his mark, but nature is stronger, breaking man's back, his leg, his spirit. It takes a day or so to breeze through, and some parts are a bit long like the climb up the rocks, nevertheless it's worth the time. Compare it to the movie too, one exposes the other. They play Wildwood Flower in the book, Duelling Banjos in the movie, the book has more pre-story and more police-work at the end. Mainly the story flows quickly, sharply, with good words, with strong details, with force.

The other southern book i've started is Bastard Out of North Carolina by Dorothy Allison. (Also made into a movie) I really don't get this type of book. I'm nearly fifty pages in. Anny meets Fanny who talks about Granny who asks about Lanny who meets Bananny. Then Lanny sees Granny who asks about Glen who talks about Anny because she knows Ben, who talks about Len and Wren. Fifty pages. Fifty. So far there is not a drop of plot. It's like someone's diary of the last all-family reunion. You know the scene, you meet 200 relatives you never knew you had and you forget them as quickly as you met them. Afterward you ask yourself what prompted you to attend the damn thing. In that event plot doesn't matter either -- was there meaning in the fact you got the hot dog first and the soda second? This book is like that, we meet so many useless people we don't know who to worry about. Every plot detail seems arbitrary and eventually irrelevant. It sure is a current style, though. Finally it might not be so god-awful if the details were consistent, but when the big deal in one chapter is the courthouse burning to the ground (they all celebrate) and two chapters later they go to the courthouse, well it's sloppiness at its best. Likewise, one spring day has thunderstorms, rolling clouds (ok that's consistent) but then it has a moon with a halo (typical of fall, not of spring) and a sunset that shimmers blue (they do not shimmer blue -- read Minnaert Light and Color in the Outdoors.) Finally the story is narrated by a 7ish year old girl who has a vocabulary and memory like an educated adult. I think of this book and then I think of a masterpiece like Middlemarch or even Middlesex and ask myself, how did literature get to such a debased point?