July 26, 2009

Review of The Sandman: A Game of You by Neil Gaiman

Filed under: Book Discussion — Brian Triber @ 10:59 pm

I just read Gaiman’s A Game of You Sandman graphic novel from Vertigo (Volume 5). Aside from the story telling being completely off the charts, there is a marvelous must-read introduction by Samuel R. Delany.

The thing Gaiman is most brilliant at is creating new mythology from bits and pieces of old myth, psychology, and urban fantasy. What stands out in this story is that it appears to be a leaping off-point for Mirrormask. Having just viewed the film again, there are structural parallels between it and A Game of You, not the least of which is the displaced princess bringing destruction down on the alternate world. While in Mirrormask the alternate world is the fantasy illustration world of the main character, in A Game of You the alternate world is, necessarily, the dreamscape.

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July 23, 2009

Review of Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

Filed under: Book Discussion — Brian Triber @ 1:28 pm

I recently finished reading Breakfast of Champions for the first time. I don’t know what took me so long to get to it. A couple of things became apparent while I read it. The first was that Vonnegut’s biting sarcasm — in this case disguised as a primer on modern (1970’s) American and Earth culture — was disarmed cleverly by the insertion of his line drawings. It made me question the validity and truthfulness of the narrator.

As far as who the narrator is, that’s one of the central questions of the book. As such, when the plot and characters seem a bit scattered and difficult to follow (which is not often) the question of the narrator’s identity pops up. When the narrator’s identity is finally revealed as Vonnegut himself (even though he never expressly states his name within the text, he identifies himself as the author)the narrative validity issue transcends this particular book to encompass all of his works.

Another interesting feature of the book is how he creates a light-hearted narrative style, even when dealing with heavy issues of racism. It’s no wonder that this novel ends up on so many banned book lists. The “N”-bomb is dropped so frequently that I was waiting for the NAACP to sneak up behind me and snatch the book from my hands. The racist and inflammatory language is used by the narrator to explain to an audience outside of 1973 America exactly what the characters mean by their in-character dialogue. He also uses it to level the playing field — no one escapes the criticism of the author’s eye, not even Vonnegut himself. It is a style that has only recently been duplicated in the cinema with films like Borat and Brüno. But Vonnegut uses this, and other incendiary stereotypes, to create something that’s beyond the humor of Sacha Baron Cohen, to achieve a satire of early 1970’s societal flaws, some of which, it might be noted, continue to propagate today.

The humor of the work is very cleverly created by using self-referencing. Each section starts with a hook that continues the previous section, yet creates a parallel story thought that symbolically reflects on the first in a poetic manner. Then, a term which had previously been introduced to the reader is woven in for a building effect. This allows Vonnegut to lead up to sections later in the text which are literally one-liners — sections with a single one-sentence paragraph.

And so forth.

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