Thursday, July 18, 2013

Dana Spiotta

Lightning Field :Spiotta gets constant comparisons to Delillo and Didion and these aren’t imprecise, she offers the almost clinical dissection of the objects and anxieties that define our modern condition of the former and spare and stark style of the latter. Her first book features her at her murkiest, operating in a Bergmanesque fog of confused identity and enigmatic scenes, very detached and opaque most of the times and then almost humorous at others. It is cold book that offers up plenty of satire and surrealism but little cohesion or warmth, with the three main characters interchanged in my mind in way that was either purposely or accidently confusing. It has great moments but I recommend it a little less readily than her other two available books. Many of her traits are present first here, the brother suffering from mental illness, the extensive grasp of pop culture, old Hollywood movies (and the watching of an actor’s complete filmography, esp. James Mason), and people on film, these and many other elements pop up in her later work but it suffers more in comparison to those books than on its own, an author though is present with a distinct vision and style and almost painfully sad things to say about our present state. Her odd and condensed style is welcome in an era of doorstoppers and overreaching please all narratives, more reminiscent of the opaque and fierce movies of Michelangelo Antonioni, Godard, Fellini, and Bergman than any recent fiction.

Eat the Document :This book could be intimidating, addressing the cultural division between the 60’s and the 90’s, the failures of leftist protest in America, cultural obsession, and a critique of an overly medicated and corporatized society. A book handling that sounds bloated and unapproachable, but not in Spiotta’s hands, her vision is almost clinical but somehow remains human. She is despairing but understanding and her characters live and breathe and don’t exist to provide punch lines. Her understanding of record geek obsession shows her has a true audiophile, I can recognize a music geek, her placement of Captain Beefheart, Skip Spence, Beach Boys, the cult band Love, and Funkadelic’s beautiful and desolate “Maggot Brain” in the text in ways that are more than name dropping show her capability to critique and analyze our culture.

Stone Arabia :Many of Spiotta’s preoccupations appear here, obsessively watching movies, mentally ill siblings, cultural fixation to the point of psychological, our visions of reality versus the grim mortality of it, an almost surreal examination of the objects of our culture, and trying to find real emotions in a society built on spectacle. This book revolves around a sister and a brother. The brother has over the years obsessively (can’t help but use that word a lot when discussing one of her books) created a rock and roll stardom for himself. This book is about much more than that simple description can hint at. Spiotta’s insights are painfully exact but necessary, her vision is satirical but compassionate, odd but recognizable, and she will make you examine your life and face what makes a life in an over mediated and under caring world. Questions of what is fame, what is compassion, and what is life for are handled in an odd but compelling book with little fat or self-indulgence, Spiotta has an eye for the failures and triumphs of humanity and a voice to articulate it.

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