Wrap-Up Season 2011: Predictably Good Books, Part Two

The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis – This fall I visited LA for the first time in my adult life, and found myself utterly entranced by the place. Before this year, LA had never really existed for me as a distinct place, where people lived…a place where I could go. If I thought of it at all, I thought of it as looking a little like the suburbs of San Jose (but, like, a little bigger). But it is not like that at all. It’s a diffuse, unnavigable mega-city. It’s what Dhaka or New Delhi would look like if they were first world cities. Not only does its sheer size and scale make it much different from anything else in America, it’s also a place that’s been systematically perverted by the influence of the entertainment industry, which shows even in extremely superficial ways (like how attractive everyone in LA is). The Informers is a fix-up collection by Bret Easton Ellis where he briefly and mechanically revisits all of his normal Ellisian tropes: bisexuality, nihilism, drug use, pop music, late-night diners, and sadistic murders. I think the plotlessness and lack of cohesion springing from the format (a fix-up is a collection of loosely linked short stories) actually make the work a lot more interesting, because it means that the only thing to focus on is the scenery.

Something Happened by Joseph Heller – I really liked Catch-22, when I finally got around to reading it last year. This book is nothing like Catch-22. For starters, it’s not really very funny. It’s a book that’s hard to describe. It’s a 1950s businessman (basically Don Draper) monologuing for 200,000 words about his life (how he’s driven to cheat on his wife, how his daughter hates him, how he’s worried that his son is growing to grow up and lose his vitality). The reminisces are not chronological and none of the book takes place in scene, except for short snippets of reported dialogue. The narration is manic and insane. It sounds like a man ranting to you while under the influence of heavy doses of amphetamines. But it’s also hypnotic. It’s a man trying his best (and failing) to gain some understanding of his own life.

Dropsie Avenue by Will Eisner – A pretty awesome graphic novel covering two hundred or so years in the life of a street in the Bronx. You see ethnic groups jockey with each other and then move on, giving way to the next group. You see the architecture and the zoning and the economics of the place change. In its portrayal of any given era and group it might be a little simplified (and sometimes seems to come close to stereotyping), but the epic sweep of the thing makes the book worthwhile.