Books

Alice Sebold's just desserts

Five years ago, there I was, sitting alone, away from the crowds, hating The Lovely Bones all by my lonesome. I hated that book so much, I threw it away upon completion. My contention was that Alice Sebold had transplanted Ghost into a poorly-written, horribly sugary teen drama where life (and death) is just heavenly. Her notions of family and pain, especially of the magnitude hinted at in the book, were nothing short of pedestrian – naïve, even. Every word of the thing made me cringe – was I reading the latest literary bestseller full of grand themes and poetic sentences, or a hunk of godawful trash slapped together by someone trying to rip off R.L. Stine?

I was then and remain still flabbergasted at the worldwide response to the book as some kind of gift from above. Every somewhat competent book-judge from Oprah to Michiko caught the Lovely Bones disease -- sugar-shock, probably – and the few of us who doubted Sebold's ability were slammed for so many things, among them sympathising with rapists (I kid you not). I'm sure I wasn't the only one with a distaste for Bones, but damn if it didn't seem like Sebold's fans all chose me to rant at. Never have I received so much feedback on any single book review. Although, I guess they're right -- I should have used a **spoiler** warning. Sorry.

Still, vindication has come at last! My mum rang me this morning to read the Age review of Sebold's new novel, The Almost Moon, published in the Saturday culture lift-out: "The Almost Moon is easily the worst second novel to follow a good first novel that I've read," writes Michelle Griffin. "It's almost baffling in its willful embrace of bad choices." Ooh, wow.

Michelle is not alone. From USA Today to the Guardian and back around to the New York Times Sunday Book Review, most everyone is wondering what the hell happened to their favorite first-time novelist. And they’re doing it with vitriol. Lee Siegel at the Times musters up more grit than Griffin: "This novel is so morally, emotionally and intellectually incoherent that it’s bound to become a best seller." And this, which I might just print out and peg to the wall:

Even the schlockiest popular novels of yore -- By Love Possessed, Marjorie Morningstar, The Chosen -- had accurate, if mundane, social and psychological perceptions. Danielle Steel has that. You and I have that! It's beyond comprehension that Sebold can publish a novel pretending to reflect reality that's so severed from reality.

Much the same could be said about The Lovely Bones. Man, what was it about that damn book that had the world so transfixed?

Anyway – time has revealed all, and Sebold appears to have much work to do to grab back her place in the book world as a name to watch. Meanwhile, can I say I told you so?

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

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Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

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Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

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