Friday, September 21, 2007

My favorite guilty pleasure, lately, is watching the you tube video of Shakira doing "Hips Don't Lie" at the Grammys. I had heard her years ago, and it's not really my thing, but this year, as I was trolling the interweb, I saw an article about that performance. The writer, entranced, was going on about how she should have her own show, every night, in which she'd just perform that song, and he'd watch it every night forever. So I googled it.

It really is the sexiest thing I've ever seen happen on TV - she's barefoot, with tangled curls of hair cascading around her, dancing as if she's actually dancing, with a wild, unchoreographed edge. And man, it is SMOKING. She looks like a maenad about to run loose on the hills, like a pocket-sized fertility goddess.

It's an intriguing clip for other reasons, too. It's surely the only time a Haitian and a Colombian have stood together on an american stage, on national television, and yelled 'why's the CIA gotta watch us?' as the crowd cheers them on. More than that, it seems to seems to embody my favorite social trend - the latinizing of North America.

I've heard it before, and say what you will about how immigrants will overload our health care and educational systems and flood our low income work force and ect ect ect. I've been unemployed and disabled in southern California; I know what it's like, dealing with doctors so overloaded they wish you'd just take yourself outside and die without fuss. But we have to admit that the American Dream, as our parents and grandparents knew it, is over. Depending on which commentator you prefer, the gap between the rich and the poor in this country is analogous to either the income gap in pre-revolutionary France or that in the US just before the Great Depression. Let's face it: we are going to be poor. Really poor.

And if we're going to be poor, I want my goddamn taco trucks, I want to buy my medicinal herbs in baggies at the corner store, and bottles of cheap moonshine in artfully scavenged bottles, I want tamale carts on the corners, and on Friday nights I want to see teenage boys, stiff and awkward in their brocaded coats, playing off-tempo mariachi music in gas station parking lots. I want to dance in my garden while my neighbor's mambo band practices on the lawn, and afterwards drink shitty beer on the stoop while the warm evening cools into night. I want to be poor with style and grace.

And they are all waiting for us, our long-lost kin, our cousins, our neighbors - for all that the media wants us to fear the barbarians at the gate, a vast alien tide of brown waiting to drown us, they are our relatives; no matter our nationality, Latin America encompasses it. There are Eastern Europeans whose grandparents fled oppression, and French and Irish families descended from the men who came to fight in various wars and revolutions, Scandinavians and Jews and Africans, tied to us northerners by the immutable bonds of blood and history. And no matter how hard the government tries to keep us apart, with walls and towers and guns and barbed wire and checkpoints and helicopters and cameras, the border just becomes ever more permeable and slippery in response, because the gods of borders are gods of trickery and transformation, and will defy the efforts of petty men to impose order upon them.

And someday, when the border implodes and the south rushes north, we will all dance in the streets. We will plants vegetables in our back gardens and flowers in the front and take back warehouses and office buildings and paint them shades of blue and live in them and we will speak something that is neither Spanish nor English but something new and beautiful and fresh.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (Morrow, October 2007)

A while back I picked up an advance copy of Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box and I got about half-way through before circumstances and other reading commitments made me put it down. I didn't get back to it; wasn't wowed enough (in all fairness, I can't make a final comment on the book without giving it a proper chance).

Months went by and I spied this nondescript black advanced copy sitting amongst the others. A double-take and I realized it was Joe Hill's short story collection. I'd heard about it a while back, during it's original release, in the U.K. by the venerable PS Publishing. But owing to the scarcity of PS Pub.'s editions in the U.S. I couldn't get it. I was curious, still; remembered a certain spark from reading the novel and thought that giving Hill's short stories a spin wouldn't hurt, right?

I read the introduction by Christopher Golden and, not sure where to begin, I went with his suggestion, "Pop Art", which Golden said was one of the best short stories he had read in years....

And he was right.
Man, "Pop Art" is sensational. Here is a perfect example of the true power of the short fiction medium; if this story were an explosive, it would be a fifth of Nitroglycerin. A profound study of adolescence and loss, friendships and growing up; beautiful, concise, not a word wasted.
The whole collection is strong. What Hill does so well is manipulate the various forms of 'horror'; the existential, the grotesque, and the sublime.

Some stories are just plainly 'stories', about life, like "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead"; the title being about the only horrific thing about the tale, which takes place on the set of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. And "Better than Home", a hilarious and moving take on parental love and baseball fandom.

Some are graceful, perfectly balanced fantasies, like the title story "20th Century Ghosts"; a love story and love-letter to that magic alchemy that happens between a viewer and the film they are watching.

Some are mean, in that psychological, 'man-that's-fucked-up' sense as in "In the Rundown", about a delinquent teen bubbling with anger at his close-minded small town.

And some are truly, truly disturbing, downright-yes-horrific. I'm not that into horror, feeling that much of the genre revels in the spectacle, the blood-splatter body-count. But Hill shows how real horror is done, the mixture of fear, the dread behind every half-closed door, the throat-gripping moment when a strange sound comes from behind some bushes...

And honestly, "Best New Horror" is so clever, so terrifying, and fun: see how expertly Hill manages to create a literary critique of the genre he's writing in AND scare the pants off of the reader for good measure.

I leave you with a quote from of Golden's introduction, something that helps define Joe Hill's rare talent; Hill needs to be read by people outside of the horror genre--not to legitimize his writing, but people will be simply missing out on one of the most accomplished writers of his (my) generation:
"At his best, Hill calls upon the reader to complete a scene, to provide the emotional response necessary for the story to truly be successful. And he elicits that response masterfully. These are collaborative stories that seem to exist only as the reader discovers them. They require your complicity to accomplish...Far to many writers seem to think there's no place in horror for genuine sentiment, substituting stock emotional response that has no more resonance than stage directions in a script. Not so in the work of Joe Hill."

Monday, September 17, 2007

As a fan of post-apocalyptic science fiction, I found The World Without Us by Alan Weisman tremendously enjoyable. If, like me, you’ve ever wondered what the world would really look like if all of humantity were somehow decimated tomorrow, this careful and detailed book will tell you. It is sometimes hopeful, as when he is describing the wildlife that flourishes in the Korean Demilitarized Zone, or how nature is breaking through the cracks of New York City, and sometimes utterly bleak, as when he explores the environmental legacy of our dependency on plastics, or what will happen as nuclear waste dumps and oil refining plants age and shift.

The book’s message is ultimately, though guardedly, optimistic: the author makes a solid argument for our ability to coexist in peace with nature, if we are willing to make deep and sweeping changes. If we are not, the book tells us, we will pass away, and the earth, as always, will abide.