A Hipster's Holiday
Ghosts re-mixed, Springsteen re-imagined, Moody returns, and a taxing bladder
BY RICCO VILLANUEVA SIASOCO
Was it inevitable? A Million Little Pieces - the rough-edged, drug-and-booze memoir of a twenty-three year old junkie, is Oprah's new book pick. Thousands of innocent housewives across the red states discussing heroin at their monthly book clubs? Has indie gone mainstream?
What was once underground literature has gone the way of co-opted trends like grunge, skate punks, and comic books (er, should I say graphic novels?). So for all you newbie hipsters (or grizzled hipsters less concerned with image and more concerned with subject), here's a chance to give the gift the keeps on giving: coolness.
The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders
(Riverhead Press, $13)
First, adjust yourself to the strange scenario of a country in which the entirety of one nation is, in literal terms, the square footage of its squeezed-in citizens. Now imagine that one of the characters is a transparent bladder who is taxing those poor citizens. George Saunders - a modern master who combines the satire of classic Twain with the postmodern funk of Rick Moody - repeats the success of 2000's Pastoralia in this sardonic novel about abstract characters, including the curmudgeonly aforementioned invisible organ.
The Diviners by Rick Moody
(Little, Brown, $25.95)
Speaking of Moody, he's just published his first novel in seven years: a spunky, overwrought but thoroughly engaging satire of Hollywood, depression, and brain concussions. Frequently referred to as the voice of his generation, Moody is, above all, a poet: his repetition is incantatory, his rhythms finely tuned to the nuances of the spoken voice.
Even Moody's predilection for the comma rivals the work of poets (see Carlos Bulosan, whose lines like "To, speak, of, the, interior, of, light,/Requires, speaker, broken, by, light" mirror Moody's work in rhythm and subject matter). The Diviners is perfect reading for the hipster intellectual in your life.
Bird in the Head by Ailish Hopper
(The Center for Book Arts, $35)
Hipster equals hard-to-get? If so, chapbooks may be hipster gold. For the last ten years, the estimable Center for Book Arts has selected the best contemporary poetry and published it in a 100-edition, signed, numbered, and letter-pressed series that matches visual presentation to lyric content.
Their most recent recipient, Ailish Hopper, writes poems with an ethereal, graceful touch: self-described as her "childhood poems," these are testimonies to her brain-injured father. Influenced by Chinese poetry, Meisner comments, "I wanted to imitate the silence, and the oddness, of my father's speech, and of being with him. To do that, I experimented a lot with minimalism, getting to the point of compressing too much at one point."
Deliver Me from Nowhere by Tennessee Jones
(SoftSkull Press, $12)
SoftSkull Press is the press of hipsters in the know. Among its all-too-smooth and intellectually impressive scribes are Eileen Myles (whose autobiographical novel Cool for You, is graced with a Nan Goldin cover model) and Matthew Sharpe (whose psychological novel The Sleeping Father was a surprise Today Book Club pick).
If you had to describe Deliver Me from Nowhere in movie terms, you might pitch it as Bonnie and Clyde meets Fargo with the minimalist touch of Raymond Carver. And it's got a built-in soundtrack - the spare, well-crafted short stories re-imagine Bruce Springsteen's 1982 album, Nebraska.
To Repel Ghosts: The Remix by Kevin Young
Perhaps the ultimate nod to hipster-ism, the remake is an ode to what has come before. Poet and prophet Kevin Young delivers striking, sardonic lines like "Basquiat stripped/labels, opened & ate/alphabets, chicken/& noodle. Not even brown/broth left beneath, not one/black bean, he smacked/the very bottom, scraping/the uncanny, making/a tin thing sing."
If the point of a remix is to revisit previous work with an eye toward the contemporary (think of this past fall's The Beat that My Heart Skipped - a remake of James Toback's '70s classic Fingers, but with a distinctly modern take), then Kevin Young has hit the mark. To Repel Ghosts is both a homage to the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and a work of art itself.
Wounded by Percival Everett
An African-American uncle and his nephew who happen to be horse trainers. Cowboys in the high Wyoming desert. A community shaken by the murder of a young gay man.
These are the details of Percival Everett's 16th book, an articulate thriller that confronts the mysterious clash of what is proper and what is reality. Though the subject matter is ripe for controversy, the prose style possesses the classical instincts of Henry James. With Wounded, Graywolf Press, one of the hip little presses that could, brings out yet another literary triumph.
The Better of McSweeney's, Volume 1
What can't those Eggers elves do? Instead of a "Best of" anthology, McSweeney's presents a "Better of," somehow dodging the question of how the crème of the crop was selected in favor of how it was sorted.
Fortunately for us, McSweeney's publishes more wheat than chaff. The Better of McSweeney's, Volume 1 contains rich rewards by a cast of scenesters including Jonathan Lethem, Glen David Gold, A. M. Homes, David Foster Wallace, Dave Eggers, Amanda Davis, George Saunders, Paul Collins, and William Vollmann. Can't decide who's the hippest of them all? This anthology has enough samples to please everyone.