Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
It is curious that I read this book weeks after reading Delillo's towering masterpiece Underworld and both books take place in Brooklyn, but this one later by one year. Both reference Bobby Thomson's famous home run, Delillo's masterpiece prologue taking place at the Polo Grounds, home to the New York Giants, while Toibin's Eilis is introduced (p. 168) to the national pastime at Ebbet's Field, home to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Ironically Delillo nominated him in 1990 for the E.M. Forster Prize at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which he won.
Toibin has been short-listed twice for the prestigious Booker Prize, but I'm having trouble seeing it with this short novel. He wrote this novel while teaching at Stanford. Toibin is keenly aware in this novel of an Irish presence in New York that has eroded dramatically over the years. Interestingly, Toibin says that to enhance the relation between author and reader, he resists physically describing his protagonists. By not describing them, you make the reader's perception more intimate. The Times article also quotes "The opposite of being English was being Irish. The Irish tradition came from the lead actors' playing the parts of tramps or powerless people and still holding the stage. There was not the English tradition of doing Hamlet the prince....These actors came from nowhere, ther was no nobility about their characters. The only power they had was over the word."
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
The narrative, as first revealed in the beautifully crafted Prologue, that was published separately before the book came out in 1997 (and that it predates 9/11 is important), relates to the trajectory through various random owners of the home-run baseball that Bobby Thomson hit out of the Polo Grounds in the bottom of the 9th inning on October 3, 1951, to give the home-team New York Giants the winning pennant. Known fondly as the "Shot Heard 'Round the World," it is arguably the most famous home run in history. Cotter Martin, a young black adolescent who snuck into the stadium snags the winning ball only to have his father sell it a few days later at Yankee stadium to a world series fan on line to see the Yankees play the Giants. And so the ownership trajectory begins with the first two "ball handlers." That same date in 1951, the Russians tested an atomic bomb over modern day Kazakhstan. A New York Times front page that shared both stories with equal weight was the inspiration for Delillo's masterpiece.
The book's dust jacket immediately captures the reader's attention. Most bizarre, it is a photograph, taken by Hungarian fotog Andre Kertesz, of the World Trade Center. What is verily odd is the random capture of a large bird flying towards one of the towers, eerily prescient of the 9/11 plane that would hit the North Tower a few years later (see online literary web site www.mrbellersneighborhood.com/story.php?storyid=403). Ironically, the WTC site would become one of history's largest waste management projects, a theme throughout the book. Delillo obsesses with waste generation - the nuclear apocalypse may have receded, but the environmental apocalypse looms.
The book has been termed "historiographic metafiction" (fiction that self-consciously reflects upon itself) blurring the lines between history and fiction. As metafiction, the author uses the novel's artists to think about his own position as a novelist. The author devotes the full text to a proof of his belief that the commodification of culture is quintessentially postmodern. And he beautifully deploys this premise through a series of film viewings by the novel's principal characters. The films include Zapruder's 8mm "home movie" of the Kennedy assassination, the Rolling Stones never released 1972 documentary Cocksucker Blues (Robert Frank), and Sergei Eisenstein's Unterwelt, a faux film (it doesn't really exist, although Delillo's description of the film images is faithful to the film makers style), and, analogous to Zapruder, a brief home video shot by an adolescent girl who inadvertently captures a murder by the Texas Highway Killer.
Just as Klara has painted retired B-52 bombers in the Arizona desert in a work of art that few will ever see, Delillo has written a gargantuan novel of 827 pages that few will ever read from cover to cover. Can we establish a linkage between artist (author) and work more postmodern than that ?