Saturday, July 19, 2008

PINBALL by Jerzy Kosinski

The Book: Jerzy Kosinski, PINBALL. Bantam, 1982 (first edition hardcover). Very good book in good dust jacket; dust jacket has some rubbing at edges and 1/4" tear on top of front cover.
First read: 1986 (I think)
Owned since: 1996 (this copy)

I've put off writing about PINBALL because I don't know how to attack it. It's been a tremendously important book in my life, for reasons that have little to do with the book itself and much to do with my friendship with the person who first recommended it to me.

Sometime in the summer of 1986 -- it might have been 1987, but I think it was 1986 -- my friend Gary called to say, "You have to read this book."

I was not a big fan of Jerzy Kosinski, who had been the subject of a vicious expose in the Village Voice a few years earlier. Gary's enthusiasm for BEING THERE, both book and film, had sent me to the book, which I liked but was not overwhelmed by. I read THE PAINTED BIRD for a class on modern Eastern European history, and it upset me so badly I wished I hadn't read it. Kosinski's world view was one that frightened me, and one I did not wish to associate with.

Then I read PINBALL. It is a dreamlike novel written in the wake of John Lennon's assassination. I read it at a time when I was living in a sort of fog of my own, and it captured my imagination in a way that few books had before, or have since.

Patrick Domostroy is a ruined musician who, despite his better judgment, agrees to help a young woman in her quest to learn the true identity of Goddard, the world's biggest rock star. Goddard goes to elaborate lengths to hide from his public, communicating only through his music; Domostroy figures out a way to get Goddard to come to Andrea, the obsessed fan. All art, Kosinski says, is a plea for understanding and connection; Goddard can defend himself from everything except that fundamental loneliness.

As it turns out, Andrea has her own plans for Goddard, and they're not good. PINBALL degenerates into a pulp thriller in its final scenes, but until then, it's something else altogther -- a meditation on the relationship between audience and artist, and their obligations to each other.

What I Read This Week (the Lawrence Block edition)

Lawrence Block, LUCKY AT CARDS. A Hard Case Crime reprint of a book Block wrote 40 years ago. Former magician Bill Maynard finds himself in a small town between Chicago and New York, and meets a femme fatale at a poker game. Before long he's way too involved with this woman, who's married to the town's most prominent lawyer; an unbreakable prenuptial agreement means that not only can't she divorce him, she doesn't even get any money if he dies. The solution? Send the man to jail... but as Bill puts his plan into action, he finds that he might be working toward the wrong goal.

Lawrence Block, HIT PARADE. A series of linked short stories about Keller, a hit man who is not a sociopath, and his handler, Dot. The centerpiece is "Keller's Adjustment," a novella set around the attacks of September 11. Block breaks all the rules in his Keller stories, making a killer sympathetic and even -- gasp -- killing off a dog.

Lawrence Block, HIT AND RUN. Keller gets his first (and last?) full-length novel. The last job he takes before retirement goes terribly wrong, as Keller finds himself framed for a high-profile assassination. His handler, Dot, dies in a fire, and Keller's precious stamp collection is stolen. With nothing left to lose, he goes on the run and winds up in New Orleans, where a series of twists and turns surprise even him. The master at his very best.

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