Tuesday, April 24, 2007

21. Roadblaster #1: Hell Ride by Paul Hofrichter

Roadblaster pictureI found this nugget of Reagan-era nuclear holocaust pulp literature at S.W. Welch's moving sale for a buck. It came out around the same time as the Outrider series and is clearly riffing off the Road Warrior. It's after the Nuclear War that everyone feared in the 80s and now the good and plucky must work together to fight against the savages that rise up in times of chaos.

I speak a bit disimissively of this book, as it is pretty junky in many ways. However, it also has some good stuff in it. The story follows an outdoor hobbyist, from New York, but on vacation camping and hunting in the Northern California mountains. It also jumps around to a B-52 crew who were on their way to nuke Siberia when they developed engine trouble, a gang of bikers and the citizens of the small town they decide to take over. All these characters converge in a fairly entertaining way.

Here's what's good: The opening scene, when the guy is at the top of a mountain looking out towards the coast and suddenly sees mushroom clouds blossoming all over the place is pretty cool. Following the air crew as well is quite cool. The author doees a decent job of describing how the civil infrastructure would respond to being nuked, but he keeps most of the action in the small towns, where that kind of thing is easier to handle as a writer. If you are a student of the genre, this book has some good stuff in it.

What's bad, however, is that it is saturated with pornographic descriptions of violence, explosions and rape. There are a couple scenes that minus their brutality could have come off the pages of Penthouse Forum (or at least what I would imagine those pages would read like ;) ) Every bullet wound, every knife stab is described in blow by blow detail with loving attention paid to the death rattle. It's the same with explosions. I guess that is what the audience of the time demanded, but it leaves a kind of sour taste in your mouth. The story is nasty enough without needing to go into that kind of detail. Though there is one pretty good over the top scene where the bikers have kidnapped the hero's proxy daughter and they are forcing her to perform oral sex on one of them. The hero sneaks up on them, armed and blows the guys dick off while it's in her mouth. With a rifle!

It doesn't have the same kind of crazy inventiveness as the Outrider books and lacks the fun, but there are some good grim details here that makes it rise above the Mack Bolan level of serialized fiction paperbacks. I'll keep my eye out for #2 and #3.

(note: the image above is an original scan because I couldn't find the cover anywhere on the net. Getting old school, boy!)

20. A Good School by Richard Yates

Richard Yates pictureI was looking for Revolutionary Road as it came recommended by a few people, but they didn't have it at the Bibliotheque Nationale, so I picked this one up. I am prety sure it is autobiographical. It's the story of a middle-class New York boy who gets sent off to a boarding school in New England in the early '40s. Though it has the fading remnants of a strong old school tradition, it is financially failing and looked down upon or not even considered at all by the other private schools.

There really isn't much of a storyline. More like a series of moments and vignettes that connect together to show the last couple years of this school and the narrator's development through it. He starts out as a real social loser, but shows some skill in writing and gets a position on the school paper, which by the end of the book he is basically running. He still has his social problems, but they are nowhere near as acute as in his first year and the reader gains some satisfaction in this.

Overall, I liked the book, but it had its real ups and downs for me. There is a lot of homoerotic behaviour and suggestion, both in what happens and in the writing (this boy was beautiful, this boy made the teacher blush). I went to a boarding school and maybe it was because it was in Canada or the west coast or this time period, but we were not holding weaker boys down and masturbating them, as goes on here. I was suspicious whether this was real stuff that happened, or a New York 70s writer embellishing to make things more sexy. I'm conservative in this way and I was reacting to all this fruitiness in the first quarter of the book. But the writing is good and seems real and as it moved forward, I could believe the collection of people and there perspective on the war (all of the boys were being sent off to fight upon graduation). So it won me over in the end. A nice little book, though I retain some suspicions.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

19. Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Haunted cover pictureI took this one out from the Library. It's a story about a group of people, each who has responded to an ad for a writer's retreat where they are promised to be taken out of their lives and given the chance to finally focus on writing. What actually happens is that they end up locked in a deserted old theatre with no way out. All the doorways and windows have been sealed in with brick. They have freeze-dried food to last several months, heating, running water and a place to sleep. However, instead of writing or trying to escape, they become obsessed with figuring out a way to turn what is happening to them into fame and fortune.

It's hard to say if it's because each character is so damaged and screwed in the first place or if it is Palahniuk's critique of modern society, but they begin to destroy each other and themselves in their efforts to be the one who suffered the most in this terrible crime. So they start poking holes in the food bags so the food will rot, destroying the plumbing, the heating and the washing machine, mutilating themselves.

The story is structured so that every third chapter is the progress of the narrative in the theatre. After that is a short poem about each character and after that is a short story by and about that character, revealing their pasts, what brought them to this writer's retreat. In effect, it is a short-story collection wrapped into a greater narrative. The stories themselves were for me the best part. There are some truly disturbing, crazy ideas here. The first story is so grotesque, so over the top that I was actually laughing hysterically out loud while reading it. It is far and away the most nuts masturbation story I have ever heard. There are several other moments in the book that were truly shocking. Yet somehow they don't seem to be shocking for shock's sake. They seem genuine. Nonetheless, still very disturbing.

I am not so positive about the overall narrative. Unlike Diary, there didn't seem to be an overarching explanation or revelation for what was going on or why. It was more thematic and metaphorical and I found that a bit unsatsifying. Also, there was no real development or arc for all the characters, once things got really rough. It's also a bit long. There are a lot of characters.

Still, this is probably the most disturbing and shocking thing I have read in a long time, which is saying something. Palahniuk doesn't pull any punches and he doesn't apologize. If that sort of thing appeals to you, I strongly recommend it. If you are looking for a more solid narrative, then maybe Diary might be a better choice. If you really want to be freaked out and not commit to the whole book, I recommend just reading the first short-story by Saint Gut Free, it's called "Guts". You could probably find it in the bookstore. It's short and really blew my mind.