« Life is what happens while you're making other plans. | Main | Seriously. Old *Jimmy Olsen* comics used to sell over seven hundred thousand issues a month. Not Superman -- *Jimmy Olsen.* »

Eric: And now, literature.

I'm trying to wrap my brain around On the Banks of Lethe. It's not easy. But James Grant does that to my brain.

I think I probably got into Grant's stuff thanks to Randy Milholland. When Grant's original webcomics magnum opus, the Jay Storyline, was in full flower over at FLEM Comics!, Randy did small cameos in Something Positive. Jay was one of the people Davan knew back in Texas. Simple enough. That led me to FLEM, which later on led me to Two Lumps. I loved it.

I loved it because Grant is a sick fuck. Which is really the only way to describe him. Except he's a funny sick fuck. He's a talented sick fuck. He reminds me, in his own way, of George Carlin. When I watched the DVD of The Aristocrats, I was pretty blase through the telling and retelling of the most obscene joke in the universe. I'm a jaded person by nature, when it comes to such things. But while Sarah Silverman's deadpan version was the best and most memorable, George Carlin's is the one that got me within three gags of actually throwing up. And yet, it was still funny.

That's the kind of power Grant has. And it's a power he carries through into his writing.

I read and greatly enjoyed Pedestrian Wolves, Grant's first book. It was vivid and evocative -- a shout down down the throat of New Orleans, written before Katrina and in its own way a testament to a city that doesn't exist in the same way any more. However, I wasn't sure that Pedestrian Wolves was so much a novel as a travelogue -- a taste of the city, of the mores of the place, of the scene, of one man's understanding of the streets he had walked. Grant's second book, the aforementioned On the Banks of Lethe is a solid, full on, hardcore novel. It's the story of Charlie, and it's the story of memory and loss. Which can't possibly be coincidence -- it is absolutely nothing like the short story "Flowers for Algernon," or the novel that it grew into, and yet when you read about Charlie in Lethe, you think of Charley in that original story. You think about pain. You think about loss.

If I were to describe the book, I'd be somewhat at a loss. It's got a little Noir to it -- a little sense of the One Good Man fighting a battle. But at the same time, it's Noir as written by Sean Stewart and soundtracked by the Sisters of Mercy. The One Good Man is always a flawed figure, but this time his flaws are held together with barbed wire and set on fire. It's Portrait of the Artist as Cursed By Non-Euclidean Monstrosities.

And it's fascinating. Fascinating as the stare of a cobra.

There's no comfort in this book. I never got the feeling that Charlie would win. I saw him struggling, and trying -- saw him trying to hold on to the woman he loved and the world, but this is James L. Grant, so I figured there would be a few shotgun blasts to the ego along the way. And the book doesn't disappoint. It reminded me of some other stories -- Vellum, by Hal Duncan. Perfect Circle by the aformentioned Sean Stewart. Even "The Unpleasant Occupation of Jonathan Hoag" by Robert Heinlein (though more if the other side won in that particular work). The imagery is powerful and disturbing, the voice is solid.

In a way, as stated, this really is Grant's first novel, since I don't think we can really call Pedestrian Wolves a novel. And there's some sense of that in the book. He overwrites a bit, here and there. Sometimes phrases like "Daughter of Red" beg to be shrunk down instead of repeated over and over again. But these are comparatively minor -- like brushstrokes on one of Charlie's paintings. The paint may seem thick in places, but it adds texture to the whole.

This is not a comforting book. But man, it was a good ride getting to the end. I'm looking forward to the next time Grant takes a few shots at our collective psyches.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at February 21, 2007 5:01 PM

Comments

Comment from: Tevorcet [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 21, 2007 5:37 PM

Double post, or brilliant literary technique? He reports, we decide.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 21, 2007 5:54 PM

I'm going to guess double post, myself.

Anyhow, you actually liked in any way, shape, or form the Sarah Silverman version of The Aristocrats? Man, I thought hers was the worst. But Bob Saget's... oh man, that was burned into my brain. But Carlin does do it the best, at least in the movie.

You know, I'd probably take shots at people overwriting if I wasn't so prone to it, myself.

Comment from: bzedan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 21, 2007 7:00 PM

"The Unpleasant Occupation of Jonathan Hoag" is one of those stories I love, but nobody seems to have read. I was surprised to see you mention it.

Shoot, I'm going to have to check this book out.

Comment from: flemco [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 21, 2007 7:17 PM

I actually went back and read "Hoag" again after someone else mentioned a possible similarity. (This is a terrifying thing to have to do when the book is already sent to the printer.) Although there are two minor story details that rings of Heinlein's short story, the plots of my book vs. "Hoag" are very, very dissimilar.

Thanks to Eric for the review!

Comment from: Plaid Phantom [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 21, 2007 8:44 PM

I think it's a clever trick to bump his word count, personally. That's what I would do, but then, I am a craven coward.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 21, 2007 9:25 PM

Hoag and the other stories in the collection named after it were the only Heinlein I'd read besides Stranger till I was about twenty-five. A Heinlein fan in my crowd of science fiction fans said I'd somehow picked about the most unrepresentative Heinlein I possibly could have.

Comment from: Sean Duggan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 22, 2007 1:40 PM

I recently had to explain James Grant's work to someone. They'd enjoyed Two Lumps, but had decided to boycott it because James had laid into some chick on a message board basically calling her a stupid waste of flesh in the most vivid terms, after what was perceived to be very little provocation. As she put it, she "didn't feel like he was the same person who wrote Two Lumps." And so I introduced her to Flem! comics and the Jay storyline in general. I made her realize that he is an asshole and he's entirely upfront about it. So, if it's the assholery that she hates, that's cool, but there's no reason to think him hypocritical because Two Lumps tends to be more of sweetness and light.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 22, 2007 1:45 PM

You may also wish to mention to your friend that James Grant is the artist on Two Lumps, whereas Mel Hynes is the writer.

Comment from: Sean Duggan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 22, 2007 1:50 PM

I recently had to explain James Grant's work to someone. They'd enjoyed Two Lumps, but had decided to boycott it because James had laid into some chick on a message board basically calling her a stupid waste of flesh in the most vivid terms, after what was perceived to be very little provocation. As she put it, she "didn't feel like he was the same person who wrote Two Lumps." And so I introduced her to Flem! comics and the Jay storyline in general. I made her realize that he is an asshole and he's entirely upfront about it. So, if it's the assholery that she hates, that's cool, but there's no reason to think him hypocritical because Two Lumps tends to be more of sweetness and light.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 22, 2007 1:57 PM

M. Grant is right that there aren't many similarities between his book and "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag." However, I was reminded of that story while reading Lethe That is, I promise, a compliment. ;)

Comment from: flemco [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 22, 2007 2:50 PM

As already noted, I am not the person who writes Two Lumps. Your friend is truly a Sherlock Holmes of their time.

Mel and I have a strange relationship, both IRL and online. She's the good cop. I am a hateful monster. Hell, the description you just gave narrows it down not an iota - I'm known to tear into people on message boards with only the slightest provocation.

I mostly do this because I am a hateful monster.

(Now, if someone were to point out the message board in question, I might be able to shed light on it.)

In the end, I view it this way:

I really like the music of the Toadies. It's good for when you're just kicking back on a day off and reading comics or something. In 1995, I went to a Toadies concert and got to meet them. They were sarcastic, snotty pricks.

This does not change the fact that I like their music. They offered me music, not companionship. When I walked up to them at the bar and tried to strike up a conversation, I'd just overstepped the lines that were already established. There were no obligations on their parts to be nice or even pleasant with me.

If people read my comics or books and like them, but get turned off because they found out what I'm like personally.... well, I bid them a happy life. As it stands, most of my fans really don't give a damn if I'm a cruel, bitter sonovabitch in person. They just want entertainment, which I provide - and happily so!

Comment from: Doc [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 22, 2007 8:58 PM

Of course some of us like the fact that he's a cruel, bitter sonavabitch. Adds to the flavour, kind of like Hemmingway with dick jokes.

Comment from: JackSlack [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 27, 2007 5:19 PM

I know I'm way too late here, but 32 Steps, you actually LIKED Bob Saget's version? He kept bursting out into laughter during his telling of it, he wrecked it!

If you ask me, it's Jason Alexander who had that joke down -- His bit with the glitter was pure genius. Billy Connolly gets second place for his wonderful suggestion of a post-act joke.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 27, 2007 6:15 PM

Yeah, I liked it, because it seemed to me like he was more willing to go beyond the pale than everyone else. Though Alexander did do an entertaining job. My personal top three were, in order, Carlin, Steve Wright, and Saget. And Sarah Silverman actually placing behind several comics that didn't appear in the movie, because by not appearing they were funnier than she was.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 16, 2007 11:42 PM

Chuck McCann. I don't know what to do with you kids. No wonder vaudeville is dead.

Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


Remember me?