Monday, December 13, 2010

378. Glamorama – Bret Easton Ellis

History: This book was published in 1990. Fans have noted similarities to the Ben Stiller comedy Zoolander. Ellis stated that he is aware of the similarities, and went on to say that he considered and attempted to take legal action.
Plot: Glamorama begins with a fast-paced social comedy sending up Manhattan's hectically empty celebrity scene. The hero, Victor Ward, is a male model with a sexy smile, cubed abs, and part of a degree in experimental orchestra. He can recite the exact length, in seconds, of every pop song ever recorded, but doesn't know the difference between a platypus and a platitude ("One's a . . . beaver?" he attempts).
Contacted by a mysterious stranger who seems to have wandered out of a Pynchon novel, our himbo hero is offered a bundle of cash to go to England on a secret mission that has something to do with a former girlfriend. Then the story gets REALLY weird with supermodel terrorists, doppelgangers, altered identities, bombings, torture, an omnipresent film crew, a film-within-a-film crew and, inexplicably, copious amounts of confetti. Nothing, however, is what it seems, and soon poor Victor is sucked into a nightmare world of high fashion, international terrorism, and global conspiracies.
Victor Ward, novel's lead character, had previously appeared as Victor Johnson in The Rules of Attraction (1987). In Glamorama, now an "A-list model, would-be-actor and current "It boy"an uberstereotype of the male model, His lifestyle is the extreme of everything the current culture worships: he can't avoid thinking in brand names and image and speaks with lines from pop songs. Victor is terrified by the coldbloodedness he encounters when he becomes embroiled in international terrorism. As an unintelligent narrator, Victor (through his inability to comprehend his situation), underlines how the world of celebrity in Glamorama is inescapable. Compared to other Ellis' protagonists, Victor is less "sensitive and insightful" but he is nevertheless an "[un]sympathetic protagonist (in his own way, he's as morally bankrupt as ... Patrick Bateman). As narrator, Victor's perceptions sum up the glamor world's disconnection from what the rest of us consider "real life"...Everything he sees is a brand name."CNN speculates when Victor begins speaking to the novel's "film crew" (one of its literary devices), that this could mean that the character is schizophrenic. The mysterious F. Fred Palakon first appears a quarter of the way into the novel, when pays Victor $300,000 to track down his former Camden classmate Jamie Fields, a double-agent working in the terrorist organisation with which Victor becomes involved. It is never clarified exactly which political organisation Palakon appears to be working for; he even appears alongside Senator Johnson, Victor's father, a United States Senator with ambitions to become President. Of Palakon, 'the director' says "We've been through this a hundred times... There is no Palakon. I've never heard that name. Victor's girlfriend Chloe Byrnes is a supermodel and a recovering drug addict. Alison Poole, the main character from Jay McInerney's 1988 novel Story of My Life, appears, having also previously appeared in American Psycho in 1992. In Glamorama, Alison is "[Victor's] boss's girlfriend (another supermodel). Bobby Hughes is a successful male model and the leader of his international terrorist group. Lauren Hynde from The Rules of Attraction also reappears, having become a successful actress with ties to Hughes' terrorist organization.
Review: Seven years in the works, the novel is 482 pages of conceptually ambitious social satire; a scathing look at the society of the spectacle. The novel plays upon the conspiracy thriller conceit of someone "behind all the awful events", to dramatise the revelation of a world of random horror. The lack of resolution contributes to Ellis' artistic effect. The obsession with beauty is reflected in consistent namedropping; this satirizes Victor's obsession with looks, and perhaps is indicative of the author's own attraction to glamor.
Ellis drops names in Glamorama so often that Entertainment Weekly describes "Nary a sentence... escapes without a cameo from someone famous, quasi-famous, or formerly famous. In fact, in some sentences, Ellis cuts out those pesky nouns and verbs and simply lists celebrities." Namedropping and commoditization have a depersonalizing effect. In parody of how people now think in modern terms, Ellis lists "the songs that are playing in the background, or even quoting them, as he does with Oasis' "Champagne Supernova"; in effect, the novel is provided with a movie soundtrack. As such, the book feels at times like a movie, and sometimes more specifically, a snuff film. New technology such as photo manipulation software (e.g. "PhotoSoap for Windows 95") are featured in the novel. This creates an ironic situation in which Victor, the character obsessed by appearances, is haunted by fake images that appear real which implicate him in a murder; it becomes hard to tell what is real in the 'modern' world. As such, "meaningful identity is obliterated"; this furthers the recurring joke from American Psycho wherein "characters are always getting confused by their friends with other people, with no noticeable consequences".
In our post 9/11 era, where people who “look” like terrorists are racially profiled whereas fashion models, who could be just as twisted, slide by unnoticed, the potential for danger is everywhere.
Opening Line: “Specks – specks all over the third panel, see? –no, that one –the second one up from the floor and I wanted to point this out to someone yesterday but a photo shoot intervened and Yaki Nakamari or whatever the hell designer’s name is --a master craftsman not - mistook me for someone else so I couldn’t register the complaint, but, gentlemen -and ladies -there they are: specks, annoying, tiny specks, and they don’t look accidental but like they were somehow done by a machine -so I don’t want a lot of description, just the story, streamlined, no frills, the lowdown: who, what, where, when and don’t leave out why, though I’m getting the distinct impresssion by the looks on your sorry faces that why won’t get answered -now, come on, goddammit, what’s the story?”
Closing Line: “The future is that mountain.”
Quotes: "The better you look, the more you see."
Rating: Okay.. monotonous at times, ridiculous story line.

377. Giles Goat Boy – John Barth

History: This book was written in 1966. It is a satire and allegory of the American campus culture of the time.
Plot: It is centered on the hero, George Giles, and his rise from farm animal to Grand Tutor of the New Tammany College. The book is set in a vast university that is a symbol for the world. The novel's protagonist, Billy Bockfuss (also called George Giles, the goat-boy), was raised with herds of goats on a university farm after being found as a baby in the bowels of the giant West Campus Automatic Computer (WESCAC). The WESCAC plans to create a being called GILES (Grand-Tutorial Ideal, Laboratory Eugenical Specimen) that would possess superhuman abilities. Billy's foster father, who tends the herd, suspects Billy of being GILES but tries to groom him to be humanity's savior and to stop WESCAC's domination over humans. His quest is singularly to be a hero, but the tale is a multifaceted one of his becoming. Numerous mythological and Christian allegories make his fate seem almost predestined, regardless of his innocence. Parallels to everything from the Cold War to 1960s academia to religion abound. A hypertext encyclopedia also figures into the novel, quite presciently given the 1966 publication.
Review: Giles Goat-Boy is a farcical twist on human history. Structured loosely around Otto Rank’s theories about the ritual wandering hero and Joseph Campbell’s “chart for a perfect mythological hero” (another obsession of Barth’s), the book tells the story of a would-be Messiah raised by goats who launches on a voyage of prophecy and discovery in a giant University, which is really the world in microcosm. the novel proper, which tells how George Giles was born (possibly a computer accident) into a goat herd, made his way into New Tammany College (the world of men), became Grand Tutor and prophet of the West Campus (the Western world as opposed to the Eastern) and, like Don Quixote, Candide, Leopold Bloom, etc., sought the meaning of good and evil, innocence and existence, action and identity, passion and thought.
The message of the syllabus is ambiguous -- except perhaps that absolutes are noncognizable, that thinking is a passion and most passionately expressed in humor, and that, except for these, the world is going to hell. Fortunately, it won't get there because -- Mr. Barth proves once more -- old jokes never die, they just lie in wait for resurrection. The jokes here -- sexual, scatological, gastronomical, existential, political, linguistic, literary conventions and parodies -- can be traced to Rabelais, "Tristram Shandy," Lewis Carroll, Joyce, Nabokov, the Beatles and Bennett Cerf, among others, which should given an idea of the truly astonishing flavor of this lemon meringue pie of a book.
Opening Line: “George is my name; my deeds have been heard of in Tower Hall, and my childhood has been chronicled in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.”
Closing Line: “Passed, but not forgotten, I shall rest.”
Quotes: “Al Chikiel my green loins called as she followed after him: poor pretty doe fretful to be bucked, hie here if it’s a beast you’re after!”
Rating: Awful. I got to page 100 and put it down.