In 2014 I was assigned the first five short stories (chapters) from Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. Having been involved with music, I found one instance in the text that I didn’t think was historically accurate, finished my studies, and moved on. It wasn’t until I had started playing with a band on campus that a peer redirected me toward Egan’s novel that I opted to give it another chance…and by another chance I mean I bought a copy and let it reside in my bookcase for a few years. I’ve since moved, got married, had a child, and have read quite a few other books. In 2021 I’ve started thinking about music again, and as I consider my options I decided it was time to give Egan’s Pulitzer Prize winner the chance it deserves.
On one hand, I wish I hadn’t waited so long. On the other hand, I needed this read now. It’s a moving book that captures the human element in a way that tends to be background noise in stories in orbit around the music business. A lineal narrative is withheld for time jumping aesthetics. Each short story is centered on a specific character during a particular moment in history. Some of these characters are vessels for highlighting someone else’s trajectory, and aren’t referenced again, but it’s through the glimpse each story offers that provides this point of contact that makes the world so real. Music producers and A&R people are more than two-dimensional figures for satirical abuse. Hopes and fears are presented through the veil of toxic personalities, and I find myself relating to these characters because of it. They’re imperfect people who ache with want, and I see myself in them. Between each fragmented chapter, I found myself taking a breather. I’d put the book down, sigh, and think, ‘damn…that’s good literature.’ I don’t feel that way with every book, so forgive my abuse of the five star system(it just so happens that I enjoy reading)…this novel is nothing short of absolutely fantastic.
With this read, I’m breaking the ice on a project that I’ve been considering for quite some time. This research is a starting point from which I hope to craft a novel, or possibly a series if I can make that much happen. It feels good to be inspired…that’s how good Egan’s novel is. I’m looking forward to her followup, scheduled for release in April, 2022, The Candy House.
This short book by William F. Aicher is a quick read if you opt to treat it as such. On the other side of the same coin, we find something dense that is better digested in smaller pieces over time. The later is how I decided to approach this work. Aicher takes us through a narrative of a mind that is haunted, though it seeks a closure that can never be found. Short chapters, or ‘calibrations’ offer 74 separate segments over 186 pages. It’s an uncompromising romp through psychological terrain of the damaged variety, right up my ally. Calibration 74 is a harrowing exploration of experimental fiction that is worth a deeper dive, so give it the time of day.
Rich in thought provoking prose and vivid imagery, I take solace in relatable poetry, if such a thing should be admitted. Our narrator is unreliable in direct ways that relate to numerical obsession, in the moments where he miscounts. It happened on one occasion where he’s counting large numbers, making big picture statements/asking big picture questions between the numbers,
[One billion four hundred twenty-eight million two hundred sixty-three five hundred and nine.
The soul is indistinguishable from the body.
One billion four hundred twenty-eight million two hundred sixty-three five hundred and nine.
Where do we go when we die?]
Numerical obsession and the fallacy of the human mind is the vessel that moves the story forward. Before and after this hiccup, the count progresses as expected. This break from the logical pattern is enough to suggest the blur is intentional.
I found solace in the rhythmic use of language. It’s a scattered collection of ashes and even at my slow pace I struggled with authorial intent, so I placed my own meaning where I saw fit. Between the covers, Aicher’s philosophical background is in full view. Direct answers are elusive, but that’s the fun of this kind of read. I definitely recommend Calibration 74. Give it a read.
In a story that follows multiple people, I found myself knee deep in personal reflection. The Little Demons Inside by Micah Chaim Thomas supplied me with a full range of emotion through clear, thoughtful prose. He’s created a story world that is all too real. It’s not a place I want to live, but I’m afraid we may occupy a version of it.
The book opens with fire and action, we’re given chemistry that lingers and becomes romance, and the horrors of corrupt people with power threaten us from all angles. The writing is strong, transitions are fluid, and the characters are fleshed out people who have brought me to care.
Various characters, coupled with the narrator offer personal insight that critiques human nature with modern technology. As we’re still breaking the ice, I caught a line that seems a familiar thought to me. While describing smartphones, “You see, these narcissism toys, they keep us looking at the surface, they keep us from searching inward” (72). What we find by the end of the novel is that internal vision…and it’s bleak. The constant cultural conditioning to be the best little cog you can be is only overshadowed by a dream where your digitized narcissism is harvested for profit, leaving the subject apathetic or depressed. As with social media, you are the product. The algorithm figures you out, and your own tendencies become the fruit for an advertising campaign. The story doesn’t beat you over the head with this, but it’s where I found myself.
Though the darkness of the philosophy wants to exist in a vacuum, Thomas offers various insights to humor and humility that shines through. We’re left with a quality novel that fulfilled my expectations in that I was both made to think, and entertained.