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Bookmarks: Brief reviews of new and overlooked books

Mary M. Dalton and Laura R. Linder; The Garbageman and the Prostitute by Zack Wentz

The Sitcom Reader: America Viewed and Skewed
by Mary M. Dalton and Laura R. Linder [editors]
State University of New York Press, October 2005, 337 pages, $27.95

For those that struggle to justify a television habit to their excessively erudite or downright pretentious friends, The Sitcom Reader may be a handy book to have around. Television is a constantly evolving document chronicling American culture as it changes and develops. More can be gleamed from a TV show than clues as to why Nick and Jessica's marriage failed.

The 21 essays that make up The Sitcom Reader explore the manifestations of family, race, gender, sexual orientation, and class strife throughout the history of television with varying degrees of success. "I Love Lucy: Television and Gender in Postwar Domestic Ideology" makes a solid case for Lucy as a proto-feminist icon, as much for her work in front of the camera as behind.

"From Ozzie to Ozzy: The Reassuring Nonevolution of the Sitcom Family," written by Laura R. Linder, one of the book's editors, delights in the similarities between the rosy-cheeked affection of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and the slurry, ribald affection of The Osbournes, arguing that not that much changes about a loving family over time besides veneers. While the tenor of the representations has morphed, the projection of idealistic family values has not. Archie Bunker may have been a prick, but he loved his family.

As with many academic collections, there are essays that tend to stretch the boundaries of logic. "Poofs -- Cheesy and Other" (a title that is more enjoyable than it's content) makes flimsy arguments about the ramifications of South Park's bald satire. There's a great deal of significance to South Park's commentary, but at the same time, it is a cartoon meant for rabble rousing that wears it's offensiveness on its construction paper sleeves. Nevertheless, there are enough argumentative gems shedding genuine light on our most lambasted medium to make the book worthwhile.

Jodie Janella Horn Amazon

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The Garbageman and the Prostitute
by Zack Wentz
Chiasmus Press, January 2006, 186 pages, $12.00

Zack Wentz, drummer for the San Diego-based band Kill Me Tomorrow, bangs out a composition full of pounding noise and visuals in The Garbageman and the Prostitute. Set in an alternative version of America, this book isn't really a novel or a story collection, but rather a series of jump-cut vignettes, striking in both language and scene.

There isn't a solid, well-defined plot to this book. And that appears to be Wentz's intent. His skill shows in strobe-light flashes of imagery, both disturbing and beautiful. The stories revolve around life in his post-apocalyptic world. Or maybe it's just a slightly less-friendly version of our own culture. Regardless, Wentz's creations are drawn out of ambitious ideas. In the book, more and more people are beginning to think the president is manufactured; monstrous corporations disintegrate and vanish, leaving behind huge office husks that look like a war zone; the country's most famous porn star is being stalked by a mind-reader, or being terrorized by her own mind; a serial-killing werewolf wastes scores of prostitutes; and gangs of shirtless street scavengers await the arrival of their butcher-knife-wielding messiah; among many other demented and arresting images. The pleasurable challenge for the reader is picking up the clues that link these scenarios together.

In this manner, experiencing The Garbageman and the Prostitute feels more like an anthropological exercise than simply reading a book. While being bombarded by these dazzling images, you're left with the impression of discovering a society that met with a calamitous end:

I pulled myself up from the floor and moved toward a sliver of light showing through an open door, and into a large room filled with abandoned cubicles, desks covered in layers of fuzz and rows of dead, dusty screens ... I pressed my hands and face against the soot-streaked glass and peered downward into ... a sea of demolished cars, ruined machinery and burnt rubble. I squinted, trying to pick out details on the surface of what seemed to be a smashed coffee cart, the wheels like dented and tarnished chrome skulls with the breeze causing them to spin slightly. I blew on the glass, as if to increase their spinning with my breath. And away they spun ... pretty wheels.

In Zack Wentz's The Garbageman and the Prostitute you look through dozens of these dusty, murky windows and are shown scenes that are beautiful and belligerent, grotesque and gorgeous, alluring and haunting, and all of them memorable.

Thomas Scott McKenzie Amazon

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