Friday, June 17, 2005

“This aggression will not stand, man.”

The Movie: The Big Lebowski, 1998 (Ethan and Joel Coen, screenwriters; Joel Coen, dir.)
Who says it: Jeff Bridges as Jeff Lebowski, a.k.a. The Dude, or His Dudeness, or The Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.
The context: The Dude has come to confront a wealthy businessman, also named Lebowski, because some nihilists have sabotaged the Dude’s rug in a case of mistaken identity.
How to use it: To defend yourself, California-style.

I saw this quotation on a bumper sticker on the 101 freeway today, and it seemed particularly appropriate. I'm not used to this kind of traffic anymore, but once I accepted there was nothing to be done about it, I was calm.

The rental car place gave me a PT Cruiser; I was excited at first, less so by the time I got out here to Ridgecrest. The car looks cool, but it's heavy, has no pickup, and sits high enough above the road to feel a little unstable, though that's probably an illusion. The wind whips through the mountain passes on Highway 14, through the Antelope Valley; I'd have been happier in a car that was lower to the ground. But hey, I looked cool, and in California, that's all that matters.

Not a lot of pleasure reading this week, since I'm still scrambling on multiple deadlines, and for some reason have had a hard time sleeping and focusing for the last several days. Maybe the desert air will do me good.

What I Read This Week

Henry James, What Maisie Knew. I keep reading Henry James, in the hope that one of these days I'll start liking him. But I finally figured out, with this book, why James feels tedious and Edith Wharton does not. What Maisie Knew tells the story of a very young girl who is the subject of a nasty custody battle between her parents, who both ultimately abandon her to the care of their second (and later ex-) spouses. Everyone behaves horribly, even -- in the end -- Maisie herself, who ought to be the object of our sympathy. This was Wharton's genius; she sympathized with all of her characters, even her nastiest villains. James treats his characters like bugs under a microscope. Edifying, but not entertaining.

Gene Kerrigan, Little Criminals. Late in this book, Kerrigan writes this about a minor character who turns out to play a crucial role: "He felt more than ever like a man alive beyond his time, beyond understanding the world around him, beyond any use." This rare book, a thriller that's actually thrilling, is ostensibly the story of a kidnapping that goes wrong before it even begins. Underneath that, though, it's a grim look at modern Ireland, a society that has rejected all of its old (admittedly flawed) structures and values without replacing them with anything else. As far as I know, it's not available in the U.S. yet, but deserves to be soon.

Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere. How had I not read this book before? My cousin Michael lent it to me last weekend and said I could read it in one sitting; I did, on the plane from Boston to L.A. Richard Mayhew comes to the aid of a badly wounded, apparently homeless girl, and slips "between the cracks" into a London underworld he could never have imagined. It's an epic adventure, made all the more fascinating by the real possibility that it's only happening inside Richard's mind.


Anonymous said...

For all who have read "Neverwhere," it will take all the powers of Door to FREE KATIE now.

For all who were intrigued by my sister's glowing endorsement of "Neverwhere," know that she is not lying about the excellence of this book. Also know that Gaiman's "American Gods" is without a doubt the greatest parody/intorduction to world mythology/horror/travelogue of smalltown America you will ever read. It even has a starring role for Blacksburg, Va., home to my alma mater. Go Hokies. Go read Gaiman.


Running from my House said...

it's so true. I love Neil Gaiman, and Neverwhere, and American Gods, and Stardust, well you get the picture. Read Neil Gaiman early and often!

And now there's one more person who will get my obscure references to Door!