erasing clouds

Book Reviews: Björk, Dan Fante, Neil Gaiman, Chuck Palahniuk

by anna battista

Björk, Björk (Little-i Ltd./ Björk Overseas Ltd.)

As Rick Poynor says in his article "Cyber Björk," "If there is a single quality that defines the essence of the modern pop star, it's her ability to surprise the audience by constantly refreshing and remaking her public image." Icelandic queen of music Björk lives up to this concept: since she first appeared on the stage of the world to launch her solo career, she has reinvented herself, twisting and turning her image. She's appeared in her videos as a singer, a cyborg, a bear and she's also successfully played at being a Cannes starlet. The woman responsible for writing amazing lyrics and tracks which melt in an ocean of sound can now be discovered in a book. Part collection of photographs, part cut-up diary and collection of interviews, the book is a journey, image by image, through Björk's world and career. Photographs, images taken from her videos, art by the hip Me Company, interviews and a chat between David Attenborough and Björk plus extracts of books and stories from Icelandic writers are all enclosed in this fashionable tome, that opens with a mental story from Reykjavik by Stéphanie Cohen. Celebrate the queen of weirdness, celebrate Björk. {}

Dan Fante, A Gin Pissing, Raw Meat, Dual Carburattor V-8 Son-of-a-Bitch from Los Angeles (Wrecking Ball Press)

Italian writer and director Pier Paolo Pasolini once wrote that if a poet doesn't manage to scare his readers anymore, then it would be better for him to run away from this world. What kind of use can in fact be a tamed poet to the human race? Apparently, Dan Fante knows this well: his first collection of poems by the unpronounceable title, A Gin Pissing, Raw Meat, Dual Carburattor V-8 Son-of-a-Bitch from Los Angeles, shows that he literally aims with his works not only to scare, but also to scar his readers, biting their minds, hearts and souls with his words: indeed, Dan Fante's poems are a poetic ebb and flow revolving on the readers conscience. Hookers, ex-wives, alcoholics and last but not least the ghost of the author's father, John Fante, populate all together Dan's poems, poems which sometimes have the power of turning into little movies themselves recounting scenes from his reading in Italy, his life in L.A. or his efforts at writing and at getting published, a thing which doesn't make him only happy, but orgasmic, as he says in one of his poems, "I just realized/I'm making a buck/at the thing I love most in the world/I'm a real/no-shit/honest-to-Jesus/writer."

Sometimes the poems have a title, sometimes they don't or their title is just a date (like in the case of "6/11/93", which is actually the last page of Dan's first novel Chump Change), sometimes they are a furious dream of bodies, buried in the darkest chambers of memory, but what is most important is that Dan Fante manages to avoid the trap of falling into a dangerous pitfall: the people portrayed in his poems never end up being a mere part of a giant American carousel, they are not all part of a fuzzy nightmare directly out of a bottle of the reddest wine, possibly his father's Chianti, probably his Mad Dog's 20-20, they're just his friends, they're just the real people he met in his life. And the poet himself becomes his text, not only for a mere narcissistic obsession, but also for a hunger of realism and truth which can't stand the idea of a writer being separated from the act of writing. All the poems are written in a free style sort of verse, and in each of them the characters are well delineated and vivid and the poet's words become a torrid war of feelings that will surely pierce your soul and that will prove you that the bitterness of the world has only given Dan Fante the strength to go on and face the challenges of life. Honourable mention goes to the poem "To Mark" a sort of manifesto that symbolically closes the collection.

Pasolini thought that a person who wants to be a poet will need a lot of time: hours and hours of loneliness are in fact the only way to form something which will be strong, vicious, free and to give a style to the chaos. The poems collected here go from 1983 to the year 2000 and that has surely been a lot of time for Dan Fante to find his poetic voice, after all he writes, "My mission/why I write/is/to/change/the/world/Hey, don't laugh/I bet it's working." Who knows, he might be right. {,}

Dan Fante, Spitting Off Tall Buildings (Canongate)

Not all the writers have enough money to support their artistic career. There were honourable examples in all historical periods and in all kind of literature: Dickens worked in a shoe polish factory, Cendars practically toured the world doing in his life the most disparate jobs, from piano player to whale hunter; Strindberg was for a period a librarian, Mallarmé a teacher, Breton a proof-reader, Hawthorne a customs officer and Melville a sailor. And if Jack London went to Klondike to look for gold, writer wanna-be Bruno Dante goes to New York to look for a job.

So, here's another chapter of Dan Fante's Bruno Dante saga which sees its protagonist going from one job agency to the other, temping and begging for some shitty job, carrying on a pointless life that will only encourage Bruno to drink more and write less. Staple-puller, theatre usher, night manager in a hotel, window cleaner (the one and only job which will give him an instant satisfaction, that of spitting off skyscrapers and other assorted buildings), Bruno seems to be lost in a maze of temp agencies and in an unfamiliar territory, till he gets what it looks like the perfect job, driving a cab. Unfortunately for him even this last experience reveals for him slightly disastrous when he gets mugged and pretends of having VSD, Victim Stress Disorder. So, will Bruno find Oz in the end? Find it out yourself in this compelling new adventure by Dan Fante. {}

Neil Gaiman, American Gods (Headline Book Publishing)

Shadow is going to get out of prison, when he gets the tragic news of his wife's death in a car crash. On his way to her funeral, Shadow meets a mysterious figure, Mr Wednesday, who offers him a job: escorting him in his missions and defending him from possible attackers. Shadow reluctantly accepts to become Wednesday's busboy, way before knowing that Wednesday is nobody else but an incarnation of the mythical God Odin. The truth in Neil Gaiman's novel is almost unbelievable: Wednesday is in fact trying to put together all the other gods that came to the States with the people who emigrated from their lands. Yes, you understand well, when people started going to the States to find new fortunes, may they be Vikings or Irish immigrants, they brought with them in their minds gods to worship, gods they consequentially abandoned as the years passed, and who populate Gaiman's book and the American towns Shadow passes through, incarnated as prostitutes, taxi drivers or undertakers. There are Irish leprechauns, ifrits and pixies, gods and other assorted divinities Wednesday plans to put against the new American gods such as the Internet, the Media and so on. A sort of day of judgement lurks in the way for Shadow, an apocalypse which will come to nothing in the end apart from a series of more or less painful revelations especially for the main character. Meanwhile, in the background, the story develops through highways and tunnels, motels and dreams, damp abandoned houses and weird farms and through great narrative interludes.

The plot, involving also a deranged Loki, is much more complicated and it can be said that Neil Gaiman has not only built an American geography since the characters go from county to county, from state to state, but also an incredible mythology and hagiography. Honourable mention goes to Horus and Anubis which in Gaiman's book have been re-christened Ibis and Jacquel and own a funeral parlour.

Gaiman, better known as the creator of the acclaimed graphic novel Sandman, proves with American Gods he's a master story teller, he has created a novel that shows a deep knowledge of mythology, but also a great fancy and a virtuosity of language. Funny, intriguing, enchanting and sometimes disturbing, this is a fucking great book. Are you looking for the boundaries of Neil Gaiman's fantasy? Sorry, East, West, North and South his fantasy's simply boundless. (www.headline,, www.hodderheadline,com}

Chuck Palahniuk, Choke (Jonathan Cape)

A Chinese proverb says that if you save the life of a person who's choking, you will be obliged to take care of this person for the rest of their life. This is the personal law Victor Mancini, the protagonist of Chuck Palahniuk's latest book seems to abide by. Victor's life is indeed an endless replaying of the same scene: he pretends to be choking in a restaurant, somebody saves him, this somebody becomes his personal baby sitter and, consequently, a permanent money source. But the plot would be reductive if it would involve only this little trick. Among the other things in fact, Victor, who attends sexaholics anonymous meetings where he ends up in anaesthetising himself with even more sex, also works in a theme park, Colonial Dunsborough, where drug addicts and average losers shamelessly replay life in colonial times. Comforted and consoled by the other losers he surrounds himself with, Victor lives his mediocre life, visiting his mother at the expensive clinic where she's hospitalised, retracing his childhood, writing his memories as the fourth step of his twelve steps recovery program requires and falling in love with a fake doctor. Accepting his responsibilities and getting away from his old life and habits are difficult and improbable things for Victor, and when the book closes you'll still be wondering if he'll ever do it.

Though Choke resembles in many parts Fight Club, this is another Palahniuk novel that will sell like crazy, thanks also to the author's intriguing writing style, then it will be turned into a film and will raise more interest for Palanhiuk's next novel, Lullaby. Lucky man. {}

Issue 8, January 2002 |

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