Friday, February 28, 2014

Goodreads Reviews: Bad Idea by Damon Suede


Some mistakes are worth making.

Reclusive comic book artist Trip Spector spends his life doodling super-square, straitlaced superheroes, hiding from his fans, and crushing on his unattainable boss until he meets the dork of his dreams. Silas Goolsby is a rowdy FX makeup creator with a loveless love life and a secret streak of geek who yearns for unlikely rescues and a truly creative partnership.

Against their better judgment, they fall victim to chemistry, and what starts as infatuation quickly grows tender and terrifying. With Silas’s help, Trip gambles his heart and his art on a rotten plan: sketching out Scratch, a “very graphic novel” that will either make his name or wreck his career. But even a smash can't save their world if Trip retreats into his mild-mannered rut, leaving Silas to grapple with betrayal and emotions he can't escape.

What will it take for this dynamic duo to discover that heroes never play it safe?

We have the gift of bullshit

This is a very long, very ambitious book. The surreal zombie-road-race-in-Central-Park opening sets the overall tone. Borrowing from the theme, we might call it a comi-con in miniature, a collection of disparate themes and genres that come together in a mind-bogglingly creative synergy: it’s an M/M romance, a study of gay life in Manhattan (something very, very different), an exploration of the creative process, inspiration, and collaboration, a loving tribute to a particular corner of pop culture, and when taken altogether, a larger statement on uniquely American and modern forms of cultural expression.

We are given a taste of Suede's ambitions in his dorktastic tour de force of a second date--to see Catwoman at the Chelsea Clearview. Silas, proudly dressed as He-Man, declaims:
Pop culture. Nobody does bullshit better than us. Right? China took over manufacturing. And the Middle East has us on fossil fuels. That’s just geography and politics. We’re a nation of whacko immigrants. Scavengers and con men. We crossed the ocean on faith, stole some land, and then stone-cold made up a whole country out of nothing but balls and bullshit.
Silas' insights here are good examples of a pattern of what we might call self-conscious ambitiousness: They invite a level of meta-analysis as to Suede’s larger ideas about pop-culture and creativity, both for the comi-con world of superheroes, comics, artists, suits, and fans, and (by implication) Suede’s own pop-culture niche (embodied by the character Rina) of romance writers, publishers, readers, and booksellers.

As you enter the novel’s world, the sheer length—three times the average long romance—warns you that Suede is not content to follow any set generic expectations. He will take his time; he will give you the details. Silas and Trip’s relationship develops slowly, over multiple dates, with fumbles, insecurities, and inner to-text-or-not-to-text debates. Far more than most romances, the book takes seriously the fact that most people do actual work, in the pursuit of real-world careers, in this case comic book illustration and F/X make-up. I found those details endlessly fascinating and satisfying.

Most riveting, the book both explores and dramatizes the creative process, beginning with that first inspiring idea, through the exhilarating and frustrating struggles of execution and collaboration, all the way to the gut-wrenching process of bringing a work public.  

Spoiler Alert: This genre is not short on sob stories and hurt-comfort angst fests, but for sheer psychic pain, it’s hard to match Suede’s picture of Trip’s brush with artistic self-destruction. How many “Scratches” are there sitting in boxes in some basement, testament not to the failure of imagination or talent, but of ability to deal with the terror and humiliations that are inevitable parts of going public with your work? I was most struck—most floored—by Suede’s insight that sometimes the people who love you the most, who most want to help, unwittingly sabotage that all-important final step with their encouragement and pressure.

Oddly, given the book’s attention to comics and F/X, I found the style itself owed most to theater. In some ways this was great, because there’s a memorable, sparkling quality to most of the dialogue. My GR status log and kindle edition are full of highlighted quotes I found brilliant and insightful. However, Bad Idea makes for a very, very long play. While we are accustomed to that epigrammatic style and speechifying rhythm on stage, it often feels downright unnatural in a novel. The theatrical quality seemed if anything to intensify in the last 20%, which was a problem because as the emotions become more intense, the characters become ever more articulate, popping out with pithy aper├žus like “Never make a permanent mistake to solve a temporary problem,” or “If you love life, life will love you back.” Scenes between Rina and Silas, Trip and Cliff, Trip and Kurt, and (my least favorite in the book) Trip and Max could be transposed with little loss for the stage, and especially the scene with Max are overlaid with the kind of emphatic symbolic signifying that we expect in a play, but can feel fake or overwrought in a novel.

It feels churlish and a bit ridiculous to complain that a book is too brilliant, especially one that is as full of ideas and insights as this one. I am in awe of what Suede has accomplished here, and I think it bodes incredibly well for this genre that we have a writer this talented, dare I say this major, who has produced a book like this: one that pushes the boundaries of the genre even as it explores with incredible depth and insight that inimitable American gift of bullshit that is our pop culture.

Rating: Five Stars  

(Originally posted on Goodreads: Link to Amazon)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

An Announcement and A Few Words about Goodreads Reviews

So I have decided on a little experiment: I am going to start posting my more ambitious Goodreads reviews here. Up until now, I have almost always written reviews specifically for the blog, which makes sense. As I recently discovered after I decided to repost my favorite reviews on Amazon, Goodreads reviews do not always translate well to other venues.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Goodreads is first and foremost a social networking site, and the reviews reflect that. They are not impersonal descriptions of a product, but instead are often written with specific friends or fellow fans in mind. The tone of the site encourages creativity and the development of a memorable, idiosyncratic reviewing style. Inside jokes and references to ongoing discussions are common. Reviewers can assume that their core group of readers will be familiar with certain key texts that they can refer to casually for comparison.

When read out of context, the reviews can seem eccentric or off-topic.  In an ideal world I would just rewrite them for the blog, but the reality is that will almost never feel like the best use of my writing time. I want to post them here because I devote a lot of time and thought to reviewing the books I most admire, and I think part of the purpose of the blog should be to let people know these amazing books are out there.

So that about sums up my announcement. The upside is that this will enable me to post more regularly on the blog. Now I just have to steel myself to people outside of Goodreads finding out about the truly crazy shit I read.