4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster – A Book Review

Let’s establish right away that Paul Auster is one of my favorite authors.  In fact, I’d consider myself something of a “fanboy.”  I’ve read the vast majority of his published work after discovering him about ten years ago.  He earned my trust back then, which means I will read anything he releases.  Anything.

4 3 2 1 is an ambitious work that absolutely experiments with style and execution.  It is extremely well written, meticulously organized, and clearly a labor of love.  This is an important novel due to its sheer moxie; it not only challenges well-established conventions in the field of literature, it summarily ignores them.

But, even with all of that being said, it missed the mark for me.  At 866 pages, 4 3 2 1 proved too much for this reader.  As you know, Auster is an avid baseball fan, and I definitely felt like I needed a scorecard for this epic volume.

Without spoiling too much, this novel imagines the four possible lives of a single man.  We follow him from boyhood all the way to death.  There are many touchstones that are obviously invariable from life to life, but there are also several deviations that alter one life drastically from another.  It’s a fascinating premise, one that we’ve all thought about from time to time.  What if my parents had separated?  What if I’d chosen a different school?  What if I had fallen into that pit and been paralyzed?  So many “what ifs” in life … Auster delves deeply into this notion while leaving no detail unexplored.

But, like Annie Proulx’s Barkskins, those nuanced details can overwhelm the reader to the point of provoking disengagement. At least, that’s what happened in my case.

Furthermore, if I’m being honest, Ferguson (the main character) is not especially interesting.  No matter which life we address, Ferguson is a bit aloof, a bit too precocious, a bit unlikable.  Well, perhaps “unlikable” is too strong of a word.  I would never describe him as “likable,” though.  Keep in mind, I don’t believe a character has to be “good” in the moral sense to be “likable.”  There have been plenty of “bad” characters that I thought were incredibly charismatic.

On the subject of morality, be warned … there is a lot of sex in this book — more than any Paul Auster book I’ve ever read.  There is straight sex, gay sex, committed sex, casual sex, oral sex, anal sex … you get the idea.  The sex often seemed to me as forced.  It never quite struck me as organic to the story.

While I found this to be a relevant addition to the author’s library because it broke new ground for an already inventive artist, it did not hold my attention.  While the writing is masterful, it failed to capture my imagination.  And while the characters are pounding with life, none of them seemed to take hold in my own.

 

 

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Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye by Gerard Way, Jon Rivera, and Michael Avon Oeming- A (Comic) Book Review

It’s not often I buy a single-issue comic book (or, as I affectionately refer to them – floppies), but I could not resist this issue due to the title alone.  Cave Carson would not have garnered my curiosity, but Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye?  Yes, that’s the kind of title that demands my attention.

I remember Cave Carson from my old Who’s Who comic books.  I don’t think I ever actually had a comic book with Cave in it, but reading about him in Who’s Who made me consider him a strange character.  Not quite a hero, but not quite a regular guy, either.  I categorized him in there with the Challengers Of the Unknown or the Sun Devils.

Gerard Way and Jon Rivera have taken what I would consider an obscure character and made him riveting.  Part of the fun of Cave Carson is that most of us don’t remember a single thing about him.  I’m 39, and I recall from my childhood him having underground adventures with his team, but that’s about it.

Cave Carson is now a widower.  His wife, and also teammate, died of an illness, and his daughter has grown into an independent college student.  Strangest of all, he has a cybernetic eye, something new to the character.  Why does he have a cybernetic eye?  That has yet to be revealed, but the eye is causing him all kinds of problems because it’s acting almost of its own accord.

Carson is depressed, purposeless, and suffering psychedelic visions that may or not be real.  Way and Rivera set up ample plot opportunities, develop interesting, engaging characters, and provide several satisfying guest appearances.  I won’t spoil it for you, but the very last page offered the return of a much beloved, equally obscure character from my childhood.

But do you know what really sets this book apart?  Micheal Avon Oeming.  Way and Rivera’s script might have been rather pedestrian in the hands of a lesser artist, but Oeming has a unique, weird style to his art that suits a book such as this perfectly.  His art is slightly cartoonish due to odd perspectives and angled characters, but it sets the tone so perfectly while catching the eye’s attention – it’s magnificent to behold.  Somehow Oeming makes characters simply taking to each other dynamic.  That’s the sign of a great sequential artist.

Best of all, there’s some really fun stuff in the back of the book.  Again, I won’t spoil it for you, but they did something totally fresh that took me back to my younger days of DC readership.

Though it’s been out for a few weeks, I absolutely recommend Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #1.  It’s one of the most original comic books I’ve read in some time.  In fact, this title has made me enthusiastic for the other Young Animal imprint’s titles.  I’m going to see if I can still find some of those first issues.

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Doctor Strange – A Movie Review

This is a Marvel movie unlike any other.  You will see insane special effects that absolutely transfix.  And though the movie is somewhat beholden to the cliched “origin story,” it does attempt, perhaps more so than ever before, to present a true journey to heroism.  In the end, though, it had a major flaw.

Doctor Strange is not a very heroic man in the beginning of the movie.  He is arrogant, egocentric, and concerned only with his work and resulting reputation.  Of course, the charming Benedict Cumberbatch plays the title character, so we can’t help but like Doctor Strange even as he is saying things that aren’t very charitable.  A terrible accident steals his sense of self-worth, and in traveling to the Far East, Strange enters a world that forces him to set aside his ego and eventually evolve into a hero.

As I already said, Doctor Strange has some amazing visuals.  It’s also got plenty of action, nice moments of humor, a strong attempt at character development, and it knows how to walk a delicate line between the relatively grounded Marvel Universe and the surreal world of Doctor Strange.

I appreciate that they avoided well-trodden romantic angles (though I think they wasted a very talented Rachel McAdams).  I like that they kept Doctor Strange somewhat limited because he is mostly a novice at the mystic arts.  I also thought it was smart to show us the progression of Strange from being self-centered into a man willing to sacrifice.

Did it have Ant-Man’s sense of fun?  No.  Was it as funny as Guardians Of the Galaxy?  Nope.  Was the physical action as intense as The Winter Soldier?  Not by a long shot.  Did it have Iron Man’s flat-out charisma?  It did not.  Yet it was not a disappointment because it had a little of all of those things.  It was just different from the other Marvel movies, and I mean that as a compliment because the super hero movie must find new ways to unfold if it is to retain an audience’s interest, and Doctor Strange fought to do just that.

In talking with a friend after seeing the movie, however, we decided the movie missed a major opportunity that ultimately left it flawed.

SPOILERS AHEAD …

Like so many movies of late, Doctor Strange ends with our hero facing down a previously unseen “big baddie” in an alternate, trippy dimension.  While I love the method Doctor Strange used to defeat the “big baddie,” and while it certainly solidified his metamorphosis into a hero, it felt a forced and emotionally unimportant.  A major issue super hero movies have is that the big fight at the end must utilize grander and grander stakes, and while Doctor Strange attempted to circumnavigate the typical final conflict with the “big baddie” by employing a clever solution, it still felt disconnected to the story preceding it because, like I said, we had no emotional stake in this “big baddie” before the final confrontation.

On the other hand, Doctor Strange had an excellent ending gift-wrapped and ready to explore, but instead went with the “big baddie” approach.  Doctor Strange must confront The Ancient One near the end of the movie, and, by this point, we all love The Ancient One. She has a connection to the main villains present throughout the film, and by having Doctor Strange defeat her using the exact same technique as he did the “big baddie,” those villains could have lost their conduit to the “Dark Dimension” mentioned throughout the film.  Having a hero reluctantly defeat his teacher, and having a teacher forced to fight her student is the stuff of great depth and while the creators definitely could have wandered into cliched territory with this approach, I think the audience would have been far more invested in it as a final conflict.

Doctor Strange is visually stunning, has charismatic actors playing the leads, attempts a story told differently, but falls victim to many super hero movie mistakes, particularly that of the disconnected “big baddie.”

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