Sunday, October 22, 2006

I began The Brothers Karamozov a few days ago, and I've read the first 33 pages. And if I hadn't promised to read this damn thing I'd have thrown it across the room and be done with it. Before I get too far into it, let me give you some context. According to Wikipedia, and the one or two sources I leapt to from there, The Brothers Karamozov is the culmination of Dostoyevsky's writing life. This was it. The big bang. The one that was going to say it all. But most writers aren't that lucky. They tend to peak and then that's it. They might have flashes of brilliance in their later books, but generally there's one book, usually the one in the middle of their output, and that's the end of it. Take a look at Kurt Vonnegut. His peak was Slaughterhouse Five. The following books are good, but not that great. Then there are those who are unlucky enough to have their debut be their best, and the rest is downhill from there. I can't think of anyone offhand, but if you can think of someone, feel free to list him or her in the comments. We'll see if Dostoyevsky truly did write his greatest book at the end of his career. Based on the first 33 pages, I'd say he failed. His sin? He writes like an amateur. He tells. The first five chapters are about the father, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamozov, and his three sons, Dmitri, Ivan, and Alexey.

The first chapter tells of Fyodor, a land owner, who was married twice, had three sons by his two wives (one with his first, two with his second). He’s a widower, and something of a lecher. He likes to party. He likes to get down, waste money, and have a good time. He seems only vaguely aware of his sons, who are sent off to be raised by others. I get the impression that the people in the town don’t like him too much. But whatever. That doesn’t seem to faze him.

First son Dmitri is raised by Fyodor’s servant Grigor. For several years Dmitri lives in poverty because of this. His mother is dead, and there’s very little money to be had. I didn’t really care why. It’s not that Dmitri is hateful or a shit character. It’s just that Dostoyevsky doesn’t seem to care about telling the story well, so I don’t really care about what’s going on in it. Nevertheless, Dmitri prevails, and heads to college. He has to support himself, so he does so by writing news stories under the pen name “Eyewitness.” Why not use his own name? He’s not in the same town as his father. Does his father’s reputation extend so far? Or was this how things were done? Anyway, the stories are popular, and he writes quite a bit – enough to get by, until the cash kicks in, and he can enjoy university.

Second son Ivan

Third son Alexey seems na├»ve, but he’s not. How do we know? Because Dostoyevsky tells us so. Alexey goes through life like this. He seems like he’s a nice enough guy. But when he goes to university, he drops out and decides to become a priest. This leads him back home to his father, who will have nothing to do with Alexey becoming a priest.

I think one of the worst offenses comes in this chapter. When Alexey heads home to see his father, Dostoyevsky has to play catch up with the character of Fyodor.

He writes after three-and-a-half pages about Alexey:
“By the way, about Fyodor Pavlovich. For a long time before then…”

And so on.

A line like that makes me think of people who tell jokes badly. It makes me think if Dostoyevsky told a joke it would come off like this:

A woman walks into a bar and orders a drink. As the bartender pours her the drink, he asks, “Hey, why the long face?” Oh, and the woman is Celine Dion.

Nothing against Celine, but you get the point. This is sloppy work. And I don’t think writing this as a serial is an excuse. It’s bad planning on Dostoyevsky’s part. I only hope it gets better. If any of us wrote like this, or presented this as a debut novel, we would probably be rejected, and if we weren’t, I’d worry about the editor’s/agent’s taste.

Finally, an aside – it seems that there is no “save the cat” moment for any of the characters. This is a movie concept, but I think it works in books as well. When a character saves the cat, it happens early on, and it’s an act that shows the character give of himself for no gain. That endears us to the character, gives us something for which to root. It doesn’t have to be a “Save the cat” moment. It can be a “Kill the cat,” if it’s appropriate to the character (see American Psycho.)

In a book I think this can come in a character’s thoughts. In Slaughterhouse Five, Billy Pilgrim has his save the cat moment in his thoughts. Hey, he’s a pretty passive character. But there’s nothing in Brothers to endear me to any of the brothers or the father. Alexey may have that moment by giving himself to the priesthood, but I don’t have the greatest feeling about the group to which he’s pledging himself.

Now, I know I promised to read this book in its entirety, but I think I’ll only give it another 67 pages. If it gets no better, then on the dust pile it goes (it’s a nice copy, so maybe I’ll sell it). If I have to start another book, I think I’ll start Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Okay, that's it! I've had it! I can't stand it anymore! I'm going to jump off the roof! I'm going to quit! I'm burnt out, and I can't take it anymore. Give this job to someone else. I hate it! I hate it! Ihateit! I'm walking out right now!

Okay, no, I'm not. But still, this job sucks. And I have no problem putting this up on my blog.

See, the thing is, the people aren't bad to work for, it's the work itself that is awful. It's dull. It's monotonous. I'm a glorified data entry drone. It's mind numbing, spirit crushing, soul sucking work. Seriously, all I do is copy, paste and click several thousand times a day. My office-mate has carpal tunnel now. I already had it from another soul sucking job, but that's another story. Anyway, we're burnt out, we're tired, and we're working six days a week doing this, for at least 8 hours a day. I'm a little surprised no one has gone postal.

Now, it doesn't sound too bad, right? I mean, I enter meta-data into a Documentum Web Publisher. For at least 8 hours a day. Six days a week.

I'm dyin' here! Because it's been taking so much to get through this stuff, I've been worn out by the end of the day. Seriously, I just want it to end. We've just run through a huge block of files, and now we've got another project that has to be done this weekend, and I gotta tell you all, it's not going to happen. This is part of the reason why I haven't started The Brothers Karamozov yet. It's just so freakin' taxing.

So I'm going to force myself to find another job. I will have to actively look. Anyone in the New York City area, seriously, you've got a job opening? I'll do it. Shovelling shit? Fine. I'm there. Filing tax returns for drug dealers. That should be easy. I'll do it! I'll even flense your spleen! Swear to God! Help!

Friday, October 06, 2006

So Miho Hatori opened for Brazilian Girls at Webster Hall last night. I saw it and you didn't. Sucks for you, because Miho's going solo without Yuka Honda, so no more Cibo Matto, which sucks to say the least. Or does it mean that? I don't know. Cibo Matto were awesome.

Miho opened with a small band and a pretty quick set. She howled through a song called "Yellow Cab," which is about how it sucks to get a cab in Manhattan, especially since most cabs won't take you to Brooklyn. Or Queens. Or anywhere else outside of Manhattan for that matter. But the sound system wasn't kind to Miho's voice. She's great on albums, especially Cibo and Gorillaz, but in Webster, not so much. Personally, I think the treble on her mic was too high, but what the fuck do I know? Do I look like an audio guy to you?

The rest of the set was better, simply because there wasn't as much howling from her. The songs were softer, and it's like she wants to be a Japanese Bjork. Which is fine, because Miho's always experimented with music anyway. I mean, you don't belong to a band like Cibo Matto if you're going to be a pussy about music, right?

Standout songs: Sweet Samsara Parts 1 and 2.

Then Brazilian Girls hit the stage. Sabina Sciubba - lead singer - came out covered in a black trash bag labelled "Euro Trash." Okay, it's funnier when you've had a vodka tonic and half a mojito. They've got a new album to push, right? So over half the songs are from their older album and EPs, which is surprising. If you're doing a tour to promote the new stuff, then you play mostly new stuff.

But as the concert went along, I could kind of understand why they played the older stuff. The new songs were crunchier, perhaps even angrier at least sonically, if not lyrically. The older songs have a smoother, jazzier influence it seems to me. Maybe jazzier is the wrong word, but I'm at work, I've just had a massage, and I'm kind of zoning here.

Anyway, people are dancing, throwing their arms in the air, drinking, and so on. And what should appear before me? A knuckle of Woo Girls. They were talking to each other. Loudly. Throughout a good portion of the show. And they were drinking. Now, normally I would hate this because the more drinking the more voluable they would get. But not last night. No, they shut up and danced. But Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, people, if you're going to a concert, don't talk. If you're going to talk, don't go to a concert.

It's people like what made God invent silencers for automatic pistols.

Right, so the Woo Girls shut up and the Brazilian Girls played my two favorite songs to close out the evening. That's right, Don't Stop and Pussy. Don't Stop is just sexy. Pussy is just fun. And the great thing about both songs is there's a singalong bit for both of them. And I'll admit right now in front of you and my co-workers and everyone else, I'm a geek for singalongs during concerts. I'm also a geek for shout outs. Because during Pussy, Sabina asks, "Who wants pussy?" And really, who doesn't? So of course I'm saying "yes" to that.

Afterwards, my best friend - a woman, by the by - says to me "You were the loudest person there," during the "who wants pussy" part. Shit, Sabina could have said "Who wants to give me their kidney?" and I would have been the loudest idiot there. "ME! I WANT TO GIVE YOU MY KIDNEY! ME!!!"

I still haven't taken off the blue wrist band the bouncer guy at Webster put on me. I kept it on through a shower last night. But shit, these people here at the office are lucky I'm even coherent this morning, because as you can imagine, I'm tired.

That's it for now. Later on, maybe Sunday I'll do that coin toss and choose which book I'm going to read.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I haven't picked a book to read yet. That's not to say I'm not reading. What I mean is that I haven't picked one of those classics that I promised I would do. I have been reading. Three books, in fact - An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, and Earth Seed. I've read Earth Seed before, back in Junior High. It's Pamela Sargent, and it's out of print, so I had to get my from Half.com. Unsuitable Job is PD James, a mystery, and I've seen the movie. I thought I remembered how it ended, but since I've been reading it, I realized I have no idea. War Gone By is an account of the war in the former Yugoslavia.

Anyway, the reason I haven't chosen yet is because I'm decompressing. Ulysses is a big book, and I'm just not in the mood right now for another one. It's not that I don't want to read, or that I want to read dumb shit (none of the books are dumb - they're rather smart). So once I get finished with one of these three - whichever, it doesn't matter, though it's looking liek War Gone By will be the first to finish - I will dive into one of four books: The Brothers Karamozov, Don Quixote, Tristam Shandy, and The Red and the Black. I will choose by holding a coin flipping tournament. It'll be Brothers v. Don, and Shandy v. R&B to start. The winners of each will face off. Each toss will be the best two out of three. I'll see if I can get a witness to the procedings.

That's it for now. Stay tuned!