Friday, May 25, 2007

Fightin' Words

Well, the book has been on shelves for a few weeks but here's my two cents. My review of Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey runs in today's Spotlight section of The Rocky Mountain News. And I even got a little blurb in the bestsellers list:


Chuck Palahniuk's novels always come with the same warning: "Not for the squeamish." His latest, Rant, is no exception. The novel, No. 5 on the Times list, is a violent, postmodern myth in which the author satirizes "the sacred and the profane with equal evil venom," according to Rocky critic Clayton Moore. Want to know more? Check out Moore's full review of the title on page 32.

I dig Palaniuk's panache but reviews have been mixed (as usual, no one know quite how to approach the bastard thing of a book). Plenty of other opinions around, most of which are listed on the book's official page. Seattle and Chicago seem to offer fairly open-minded opinions, New York and L.A. characteristically turn their noses up. Anybody who likes the author or is open to the dark premise has read it already so we're all just treading water at this point anyway.

The Rocky will also be running its summer reading special in tomorrow's paper so check it out when you have the time. I'm sure some of my contributions are in there but I haven't seen the whole list yet.

I'm loving the people who are showing up on the book tour in full wedding regalia. Photos and lots of funny stories are online as usual at The Cult.

Kirkus Reviews is having some technical issues so their Debut Fiction and BEA specials remain offline. When they get restored, I'll forward some links to my spotlights and short interviews with lots of fascinating people including the Emerson Quartet's Eugene Drucker, poet and naturalist Diane Ackerman, and former presidential candidate General Wes Clark. In the meantime, two of the more hard-bitten authors have posted up their own spotlights on their respective websites so I think it's safe to share them here.

First up, there's Richard Lange. His book of short stories, Dead Boys, is the best thing I've read this year, bar none. It's out in August, and hopefully his first novel will appear soon afterwards. Here's what Richard had to say to me, from the pages of Kirkus.

The underbelly of Los Angeles is the uniting character of Dead Boys, Richard Lange’s startlingly confident debut collection of crime-tinged stories. Told in a dark, spare prose recalling that of Lange’s inspiration, Raymond Carver, the stories illuminate the dark corners and low lives of men living on the fringes of this enigmatic city. Thieves, drifters, rabble-rousers and other rogues guard their secrets like prison cigarettes, trying to hold it all together for one more lousy day. "I love the city like I would love a person. It amazes and enchants me every day," Lange says of his atmospheric settings. "I’m able to combine all the great material I collect every day—the look on a bored grocery clerk’s face, an overheard argument, the way the light slices into the shadow at a particular hour—into stories. My stories are like scrapbooks." Though the stories are tautly composed, Lange infuses each with enormous compassion for the protagonist. He blurs the line between good guys and bad—especially evident in the housepainter-turned-bank robber of the gripping "Bank of America" —with masterful empathy. "These are men doing their best to get by, both mentally and in terms of day-to-day survival," he says. "They all have plans, structures they’ve imposed on their lives to give themselves the illusion of control, and some of those plans are working out better than others. I’m one of those people who believes that life is tough, so my characters exist in a rough old world."

And finally, to cap off your bank holiday Friday, let's have a good old fistfight. Anyone who digs Palahniuk's testosterone psychosis should definitely go check out the darker and slightly more realistic world of Craig Davidson. His novel, The Fighter, about underground bare-knuckle matches and two desperate men drawn to them, comes out in the United States in July. Here's Craig's two cents on fightin', writin' and getting his ass kicked by a poet.

How many people would take a shot to the skull for their art? Craig Davidson found out while writing The Fighter, a barbarous portrait of bare-knuckle boxers that walks a fine line between the visceral and the lyrical. The book portrays the collision course between two fighters working their way through a global network of bloody underground matches. Fortunate son Paul Harris has something to prove: “I was fighting for someone. Myself,” he says. Paul meets his match in blue-collar pugilist Rob Tully, who’s trying to live up to his family’s high expectations. To accurately portray their ferocious trade, the author trained as a boxer for months and put himself through a traumatic physical metamorphosis. “I got to understand the personas of the real fighters and the pretenders,” he says. “I picked up a lot of the physical sensations: the taste of a gumshield, the way your hands stink for hours, the way it feels to take an undefended punch to the melon.” While the novel’s brutal fights will entice readers of other virile allegories like Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, Davidson’s story takes a more nuanced, realistic approach. But that doesn’t mean the author isn’t above taking part in a publicity-arranged fight with another writer—or admitting that he lost. “They found the biggest, meanest poet I’d ever laid eyes on,” he says. “I knew I was going to take a beating before the bell even rang. A damned good time and a great turnout. Give people a little blood and they’ll come out in droves.”

Eight, nine, ten, I'm out. I'm taking my day off and making a run for the border. See you back at customs.

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