Tag Archives: american psycho

A Clockwork Orange

I’ve long discussed the merits of reading over, say, movie-watching. Typically, my thesis is that the written word can be pulled and prodded in different directions and thus the imagination is not limited by such realities as the director’s vision, the actor’s abilities or the advancements in CGI. This could actually prove detrimental for certain reads but, luckily, I have also argued that in books the “scary parts” can more easily be muted or skipped over entirely – think Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho.

What then, did I think of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange? I have never attempted to sit down and watch Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange – the various scenes that I have been privy to over the years were enough to ensure I wouldn’t. Gene Kelly’s iconic dance in the rain is forever ruined, the tony restaurant in Calgary named Model Milk conjures an image that is, I assume, completely unintended and a jock strap will never ever be just a jock strap. Thanks to Kubrick.

So, knowing all of this, why did I subject myself to the written version where I’ve already argued our imaginations are free to run wild, unchastened? Like Burgess’ protagonist Alex I guess I thought “evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate.” I cannot know what I am objecting to if I don’t first subject myself to it.

And, in essence, this is what Burgess so masterfully writes about. The first hint of the power of his writing comes about 20 pages in when, after being so frustrated to start, the reader all of a sudden finds himself interpreting a slightly foreign language. Set sometime in the future, Burgess alters the dialect of English that Alex and his droogs speak: much like teens today, certain words are replaced by monikers known only to them. Initially, this is a challenge for the reader. While some substitutions are easy to comprehend – “this must be a real horrorshow film if you’re so keen on my viddying it” – others don’t follow so easily: “I lay all nagoy to the ceiling, my gulliver on my rookers on the pillow, glazzies closed, rot open in bliss, slooshying the sluice of lovely sounds.” But somewhere amidst the Rousseau-like message of Burgess, the ultra-violence, and the never-ending rape scenes the dialect becomes idiomatic.

The book is often touted (or banned) for being “a nightmare vision of a not-too-distant future” and while I would not encourage a 12 year old to read it, that very summary is the reason that rational, able-to-think-for-themselves adults need to read it: “Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses to be bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?” Like the truly great reads that have persisted and will continue to persist for generations, A Clockwork Orange must not be read at face value. The shock should shake your grey matter, forcing underused neurons to fire, neurons questioning our actions our freedom of choice and our moral integrity.

As Alex would say, “What’s it going to be then, eh?”

~ kate

Geek Love

I finished the book Geek Love by Katherine Dunn a few days ago but have been unable to write about it. Not for lack of want or opinion or time (no more so than usual anyway) but rather because I simply needed a break from it.

It took me about a week and a half to read this book – much longer than it would normally take me to snap off a 300-or-so-paged book. In part this was because Ms Dunn’s writing is so dense that reading 30 pages often felt like reading 100.  Countless times I found myself reading and rereading sentences: “The terror hurt good and I nursed it and played it like a loose tooth” does an incredibly effective job of communicating the neurotic-fixation the character has undertaken but it also forces my grey matter to fire in a new way. My cogs don’t move so fast.

The other reason this book took me awhile to read was because of how often I had to put it down out of sheer flabergastedness (yup, technically speaking). The only book I can think to compare Geek Love to is Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. Both books center on a hard-to conceptualize character with obvious personality issues, both books shocked and stunned me from time to time and both books contain way more than meets the eye.

Geek Love is a sort of Machiavellian tale told from the view point of Olympia a blind, albino, hunchbacked dwarf. Her family runs a circus of freaks where the family members are the main attractions. Their status as freaks was born by their father’s hand – he doctored his wife with insecticides, radioisotopes and amphetamines while she was pregnant with each offspring – and it is solidly entrenched in them as their reason for being on Earth. To be normal is to be nothing.

Olympia reveres her older brother Arturo for whom she acts as a sort of personal assistant and confidante.  Arturo is the oldest child in the Binewski family and was born with flippers instead of limbs. His aqua performances combined with his bombastic messages leads him to become somewhat of an oracle for his spectators/band followers. Olympia idolizes her brother to the point of mortifying extremes: she bathes and oils him after his performances, attacks the ladies who frequent his bedroom in the middle of the night in an effort to protect him, washes behind his testicles when he develops a fungus from being in the water too long and eventually, becomes pregnant with his child.

Arturo suffers from (is elevated by?) something akin to narcissism or a Machiavellian personality disorder. He finds it his purpose in life to help circus spectators by offering them hope in the way of Arturism: a cult like religion where admission and enlightenment come at the insignificant price of amputation. Limbs first, then arms, then legs. As Arty’s following grows we see Arty gain both physical size and idolized status while those around him suffer. Inversely proportional to his strength his mother and father become weaker, mere shadows of themselves all the way to the point where his mother is leading nothing more than a life of pill-induced coma.

The fascinating thing about this book (as though the tidbits I’ve offered thus far aren’t enough) is how it made my brain reel. Partly from the shock of what I was reading, yes, but partly in an effort to make sense of everything that I was reading.  This book can be interpreted in so many different ways and on so many different levels. At face value it is a supremely messed up carny story. Dig a little deeper and there’s a sort of social commentary about wanting to belong, demonstrating the efficacy of extremist cults. Or, a whole new web could be woven if each character was to be interpreted using the DSM-IV. And that’s just the start of what could be a very long list.

Not a day has passed since I put this book down that I haven’t thought about it. It’s hard to shake a message like Arty’s: if you abhor conventional standards or definitions of what it means to be good or normal and shed external/societal notions, then happiness is yours. Arty takes it to the extreme, yes, but is his message really that far off from the truth? And who among us isn’t searching for that simple and yet so often unattainable fruit that is happiness?

~ kate

On the nightstand: Book Thief by Markus Zusak