Monday, March 29, 2010

Apocalypse Girls 2: Hunger Games and Heroes & Villains

More dystopian fun! Apocalypse Girls 1 can be found here.

Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games is a publishing sensation. Since it came out in 2008, it has sold nearly 1.5 million copies. Obviously, this means we will be seeing a lot more YA post-apocalyptic novels over the next few years fighting the vampires and Potter rip-offs for shelf space in an ever narrowing spiral of diminishing returns.

After reading it, I can easily understand its popularity. Once you start, against all kinds of better judgment, it is simply impossible wrench the damn thing away from your greedy eyeballs. The heroine, Katniss Everdeen is smart and unsentimental. The world building is outstanding. The United States is long gone, replaced by the nation of Panem. The country is divided into twelve districts, a thirteenth was obliterated after a failed rebellion against the ruling Capital. In repayment for this disloyalty, every year the districts have to each offer up a boy and a girl (this is done by lottery) to participate in The Hunger Games, which is televised nationally, and obsessively watched by everyone. The games themselves are like a cross between Survivor and the Olympics, but with actual killing. The only rule (unspoken) is "no cannibalism". Last teen standing wins and becomes a pampered celebrity for life. As Stephen King pointed out in his EW review (with which I basically agree), this isn't the most mind-blowingly original premise. But to much of its school age readership, it will be.

As compulsively readable as the book is, it's not perfect. As with most teen novels, there is a love triangle, which after all my recent YA reading is getting increasingly irksome. My biggest problem with the book is with the action that happens once the Hunger Games begin. At times the action sequences began to drag for me. I'm probably a total fuddy-duddy, but amidst all the violence, I would sigh and say to myself, "Nothing is happening". Meaning that nothing is happening internally, no growth, no interesting thoughts, the plot isn't actually moving forward. It would get a little boringly filmic. And then I thought there was a failing of courage in Collins at the very end. This might be my predilection for heartbreak and misery raising its ugly head (again), but the ending felt easy to me.

All that aside, unlike with Uglies/Pretties, I already have the sequel sitting on my shelf and I'm really itching to start devouring it. Though she may occasionally lose her way, Collins is thoughtful and smart about the political and class structure she has invented, and the characters are compelling. Katniss comes from a brutally poor mining town in what was once what we would call Appalachia. No one from their district has won the Games in decades, as they lack the wealthy sponsors that help keep contestants from the more affluent districts alive. She is an appealing heroine, more complicated than most - filled with guilt and a crushing sense of responsibility.

And not everyone can write the teen lit equivalent of crack cocaine.

Heroes & Villains differentiates itself from the other books on this list in that it was written by Angela Carter. Literature-wise, she is the only serious heavyweight present, and as most people who know me are aware, she's my favorite writer of the last hundred years or so. I've been slowly rationing out her books so that I don't run out too soon, but I'm afraid I've read nearly everything.

Heroes & Villains was her fourth novel, published when she was twenty-nine years old in 1969, the year I was born. It tells the story of Marianne who lives in a tower in a town surrounded by woods, the daughter of scientists. In her post-nuclear world, outside the gates are Barbarians who according to current scientific thought have branched off from Homo Sapiens and formed a new sub-species. Mutated beasts (zoo escapees) also wander the forests.

It's difficult for me to write about this book specifically without writing about Angela Carter in a wider context - there will be more soon in a later blog post (tentatively titled "Angela Carter Was The Greatest Writer of the Second Half of the 20th Century and Anyone Who Thinks I'm Wrong Can Go Fuck Themselves"). She was a working class Scott raised in London, educated at Cambridge, a novelist, a scholar of fairy tales and literature, a short story writer, a critic, a translator, a writer of radio plays, a Socialist, a mother, a failed anorexic. She was also a Feminist of the most interesting, contrarian and least politically correct stripe. Her ideas on gender and colonialism permeate all of her work, and at one point or another she managed to infuriate everyone. She was a particularly thorny figure to the McKinnon/Dworkin sackcloth and ashes brand of feminism that was most prevalent in the 70s when Angela Carter was causing trouble. After all, this is the woman who wrote a book long feminist defense of the Marquis de Sade, and purposefully wrote a misogynist novel in the spirit of intellectual curiosity (which I'm kind of dying to adapt for the stage).

So, her teen dystopian novel carries a different sort of weight from the others, but it still fits in seamlessly. The first line of the book, "Marianne had sharp, cold eyes but her father loved her." is straight out of the world of fairy tales. Early in the book, Marianne runs away with one of the barbarians who attack her enclave: it's part desperation, part defiance and part a kidnapping. Life with the barbarians is a jumble of gypsy mythos, the American west (i.e. The Searchers, but here, no one cares for or is looking for Natalie Wood), baroque, gothic decay, and a large dollop of The Tempest. It's a heady mix, but in all her extravagance of language and legend, she never loses sight of the central question of otherness and identity. She plays with all sorts of tropes from myth and romance, most tellingly the constant and always disturbing one of falling in love with one's rapist. I have a feeling that the men reading this won't know exactly how pervasive this is, as they haven't watched enough soap operas or read enough best-selling romances. Think Gone With the Wind, Luke and Laura or even my beloved Buffy. When Angela Carter goes there, it is with such intent, one can almost see her looking up from her typewriter and saying, "Yeah. I fucking went there. Let's see where it leads." It's a strange, powerful book, though far from her best. The ending felt a little unfinished, with its strange evocation of Rousseau (actually, now that I think of it, both Rousseaus, which I'm sure was intentional).

Angela Carter wore her influences on her sleeve. But she never loses sight of what she's getting at, and why tropes and popular fiction are so meaningful. Similar in some ways to one of my other gigantic influences, Dennis Potter. It's no accident that genre moves people so deeply. Pop sensibilities are as valuable as any other, and more than most, I think. But going back to dystopia, and why girls at this particular moment in time seem so drawn to it. I really don't have any trenchant insights other than the obvious ones of teens wanting their alienated insides made literal. I think it's particularly tough times out there in the culture for girls. So much is expected of them, and so many of these things are seemingly contradictory: one of the most insidious is the myth of effortlessness. I mean, what wonder teen is effortless at anything at fifteen. I'm leaving boys out of this equation only because I don't know anything about boys. I do think girls are alienated from the center of our culture from their very core and maybe these books speak to that. All that aside, it is certainly an interesting time for literature aimed at young girls for which I am grateful.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


I've been looking at lots of art again, and coincidentally the two most recent shows I've seen have been all about paper and its various uses and manipulations. I made my first visit to the Museum of Design at their new Columbus Circle location to see Slash: Paper Under the Knife, and I'm so glad I did as it pretty much blew my head wide open. Two full floors of extraordinary works mostly made with paper and knife (or laser). Many of you might recognize the work of Béatrice Coron as she has had lots of artwork displayed in the subways. But the small posters on the F Train are nothing compared to her floor to ceiling black cut-out versions of heaven and hell (Hint: heaven and hell really don't look that different). She has endless tiny figures cut out of tyvek in a humorous, Boschian, ant farm like cross section.

My favorite by about a mile, though, were the series of about two dozen tunnel books by Romanian/American artist Andrea Dezsö. They are meticulous and beautiful little boxes, painted in jewel like colors. At bottom, much as I am moved by aesthetics, it will always be the marriage of aesthetics with narrative that leaves me breathless. She paints monsters, aliens, insects, little girls lost in the woods; cityscapes and forests. Every once in a great while I'll come across an artist who has seemingly reached into my skull and pulled out imagery or stories that seem to have been there already, unrealized and waiting and it never fails to bring me to my knees.

The evening before I saw Playing With Pictures: The Art of the Victorian Photocollage at the Met. I can honestly say that it's not really like anything else I've seen and I've seen a lot. It's three rooms full of pages of photo albums which have been meticulously (and beautifully) painted with photos cut out and collaged into surreal, creative and sometimes disturbing designs. The heads of women pasted onto the bodies of ducks. Acrobats, harlequins and spiderwebs with photos of family members and pets inserted into the designs. All the works shown were from the mid to late 19th century - in other words surrealism before most of the surrealists were born. Lewis Carroll meets Terry Gilliam.

All of these skillful and odd works were created by women, none were professional artists, and certainly with very little thought of public exhibition. They were created at home, from photographs of their husbands and children and dogs and parents. It was a time when women like these weren't called "talented", but "accomplished". Women of their class were expected to paint and play piano and sing and pour tea. They had accomplishments, they entertained in the evenings, they stayed at home. Aside from the obvious skill and charm of the images on display, something I found particularly thrilling were the madcap levels of whimsy and imagination demonstrated. It made me wonder what these women were like. They possess that strange Victorian surrealist morbidity that Edward Gorey capitalized on so interestingly for all those years.

Of course, the Metropolitan Museum is a magical place at all times, and I realized I haven't been going back as much as I should. They have music and wine on Friday nights still, and soon the roof garden will be open and sometimes you can see the falcons that live on the Upper East Side that occasionally swoop over the park. Of course, one could construe all of this as being unspeakably romantic, which just might lead one to walking for blocks down 5th Avenue on a warm spring evening, which would inevitably lead to kissing on a park bench until it got too cold and too late and everyone had to take the subway home. I mean, it might.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Monkey! Monkey! Monkey!

Who doesn't like monkeys? Bad people, that's who.

Here's another completely, utterly enthusiastic and totally biased theatrical endorsement: Piper McKenzie's Craven Monkey and the Mountain of Fury must be seen for many, many reasons. I have constructed a comprehensive list, so that there can be no excuses of any sort for missing one of the last few performances (ever, as far as I am aware) of one of the greatest pieces of monkey oriented theater I have seen.

  1. As stated above: Only bad people don't like monkeys.
  2. It is subtitled, "A Darwinian Martial-Arts Fairy Tale In Which Monkeys and Monsters Beat the Crap Out of Each Other." If this doesn't sound appealing to you, you are likely reading the wrong blog.
  3. Hope Cartelli. Some of you reading this haven't had the pleasure of making her acquaintance, which is unfortunate, as Hope is awesome. She co-conceived the piece with her husband, Mr. Cartelli (also known as Jeff Lewonczyk, also known as the director of this show). She also plays the Monkey's antagonist, the Vital Spirit.
  4. I've read more fairy tales than anyone you know. Trust me. I tend to get really irate at poorly done, know nothing interpretations of fairy tales based on vague ideas sparked by Disney and reading Bettelheim in some psych class in undergrad. I thought the fairy tale elements were great and true and completely satisfying.
  5. There is lots of monkey sex. If there are any creepy, uptight puritans reading this: do not fear! One could also interpret the action as coming down firmly on the side of a Darwinian argument for monogamy. The advancement in monkey-kind is made when the indiscriminate monkey orgy stops being so appealing to our Craven Monkey, as he has face to face sex for the first time with his Lady Monkey. The monkey sex is also completely hilarious.
  6. There is a squid. Again, if this alone does not make you want to see this show, you are likely reading the wrong blog.
  7. Qui Nguyen (of Vampire Cowboy fame) and Adam Swiderski's fight choreography is fabulous.
  8. Jessi Gotta is in it. She plays Lady Monkey.
  9. The costumes. To die.
  10. Jeff Lewonczyk's narration. It's dry, factual, British, and just like watching Wild Kingdom if you had taken a large amount of peyote.
  11. Monkeys! It's all about monkeys!
  12. Just go. I hear the final performances are selling out quick.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Chorine & Sailor

Another foray into color. An anonymous chorus girl quickly watercolored onto cheap paper. In case you haven't caught on, I'm using the "cheap paper" excuse because the painting is a little messy.

I've been in this enforced isolation because a dreadful cold (believe me. no one wants me around right now. I sound like Doc Holiday on a particularly bad day), so I've been working on all kinds of projects and schemes. Since the split from Virgodog, to be honest, I've pretty much been behaving like a sailor on shore leave. So maybe this forced inactivity for a few days wasn't the worst thing ever. I'm so capable of making terrible decisions right now, just being swept along in my newly rediscovered enthusiasm.

So, yeah. A few days of (cough, cough, cough) sitting around and writing things and making stuff was really okay.

But I'm so ready to jump back into my life, thank you very much!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

FRIGID New York: The Bike Trip

Just a few quick words about Martin Dockery's The Bike Trip, which is currently running at The Kraine as a part of this year's Frigid Fest. This is not an unbiased review as I know Martin - I wrote a horror short a few years ago that he acted in . Also, as I've said so many times here before: I'm not a critic.

His one person storytelling extravaganza of awesomeness is all about stuff like LSD and Martin's quest to recreate Albert Hoffman's bike ride during the world's first acid trip and about backpacking on the cheap in India and mostly about making meaningful connections with other people and one's own feelings and all that. Phew. The upshot of that champion run on sentence is that although, yes, the show is about doing LSD, it's about all these larger life things, too. Like all truly great storytellers, Martin is likable on an almost preternatural level. He envelops the audience in the shared experience of what he is creating up there on stage in a way that is truly special. Nothing feels forced, it never seems as if he is reaching for pathos or effects - it's a seemingly effortless ride. And like all things that are seemingly effortless, there was likely an enormous amount of time and work put in. That said, I wanted to tip my (metaphorical) hat to director Jean-Michele Gregory for her gorgeous and rightly invisible work here.

CORRECTION: Another point proving that I'm in no way a journalist. Jean-Michele, while she did in fact direct Martin's two previous shows, did not direct this one. From Martin:
Jean-Michele's direction appeared invisible on this production because she wasn't actually involved in it. (There was no director.) Or perhaps she REALLY was invisible, even to me. That said, JM has been a wonderful influence on me and my work, having directed 2 previous shows, so I wouldn't really mind if she got credit either way!

There are still a couple of performances left. More info here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Troll Lady vs. Boring Adonis!

Last night's open drawing was a completely riveting study in contrasts. Usually, the models are burlesque dancers (on one memorable Thursday we were graced with the presence of World Famous *Bob*), actresses, dancers and the occasional clown or Bindle alum. With the notable exception of one clown, the men tend to range from creepy to super creepy. Last night, however, was a deviation from the naked (or costumed!) norm on all possible fronts.

Okay. First the wondrous being I have named "Troll Lady". And I really, really do not mean that unkindly. She is a tiny, wiry, hairless (except for a tuft of blue hair on the top of her skull, hence the nickname), nearly androgynous being. I have no idea how old she is, but I would be shocked if she wasn't at least 70. Some of you may not know this, but art modeling is a reasonably physically taxing gig, so I wondered how this tiny little older person would fare. I needn't have worried. She started off in yoga poses for the two minute sketches. Fine. Not easy, but, like, doable. But then she continued doing yoga poses for the five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes. I swear, she never even broke a sweat. This woman has about 30 years on me and I'm pretty flexible (but, admittedly, a total yoga weakling) and there is no way in holy hell I could have done anything she did. She also seemed really sunny and altogether delightful.

Now on to whatshisface. Oh, right. Boring Adonis. He is, as his name implies, sort of perfect. He's basically Michelangelo's David made flesh. If Michelangelo's David was completely boring and forgettable. I mean, poor guy. Here he is trying to do his job and pose interestingly, and he's being completely upstaged by a tiny woman old enough to be his grannie. It's such an odd thing, isn't it? I mean sexual attraction of any sort. Here's this naked perfect boy person in front of me for about three hours and he left me completely and utterly cold. I saw him on the subway platform after class and thought to myself, "Hm. That guy looks vaguely familiar", before I realized I had just drawn, like, five pictures of him. Even my drawings of him are dull. Very academic and rote.

So, clearly, Troll Lady was the victor!

I just wonder who she is and where she came from. I picture her living in a tree trunk with other beings just like her. It could be possible, right?