Reviews

The Week You Weren't Here by Charles Blackstone

Valerie MacEwan

Critics must be fair in their evaluation of a book and they must explain their disappointment or their joy. They should, from time to time, recommend that others give a book a try -- that their analysis is not the final word.


The Week You Weren't Here

Publisher: Flame Books
Length: 326
Price: £8.50 (UK)
Author: Charles Blackstone
UK publication date: 2003-10
Amazon

Jagged, flowing in spurts, sometimes fragmented -- Charles Blackstone's narrative flows more like the Rio Grande than the Mississippi. In Blackstone's debut novel The Week You Weren't Here, readers attempt to unravel the jagged, skewed thoughts of Hunter Flanagan. This novel is like a cross-pollinated kumquat -- derived from a new crop of experimental fruit -- difficult to taste and sometimes hard to chew. Blackstone uses no punctuation other than the period and an occasional paragraph indent or dash. As the reader gets farther and farther into the book, one of two things will happen. Either the rambling incoherent phrases will begin to congeal and become an apparent whole or they will just keep going on and on in an endless progression leading nowhere.

Hunter Flanagan is looking for true love. It eludes him. He examines everything. His e- mails, t-shirts, and conversations. His dreams. Hunter is a mass of contradictions his thoughts are contradictions of loathing and affection laughing and living of what is called a juggernaut of a young life.

As a critic, I have to confess, I got nowhere. I tried three times to get farther into Blackstone's book than the first 60 pages but honestly, I could not. To tell you otherwise would be pandering. That said -- in the hands of another critic, perhaps a fan of experimental fiction, or a devotee whose taste include writers who go for typographical and linguistic tricks, and perhaps a bit of non-linear storytelling -- this book might just rock. Critics must be fair in their evaluation of a book and they must explain their disappointment or their joy. They should, from time to time, recommend that others give a book a try -- that their analysis is not the final word. This is my take on Charles Blackstone's The Week You Weren't Here. I challenge some of you (just some, because it is not for everyone) to order this book and try it. To find the thread of conversation and follow it through to its conclusion. And for those not convinced they should try, a sample:

What he did in fact tell her in the dream was that he had something really important to say and that he hadn't told anyone yet and that wasn't a lie.

What she asked gently probing her in her sort of insistent charming sort of way.

I don't want to say it's embarrassing he said.

You can tell me she said so fucking persuasive practically detasseling his stupid pride right there and wait he thought maybe she'll want to sleep with me ditch the slab if I tell. She'll be so fucking moved by how totally depressing sad ruined dejected trampled upon I am that she'll want to -- no she'll definitely think what a loser couldn't even didn't have what it took to --.

And by reading Blackstone's book, you will follow the mind of Hunter Flanagan "on his journey from living in side his head into the outside world." Or, to quote the book jacket, "Through postmodern prose that unravels jaggedly like a spool of live wire, the narrative seeks to make sense out of his landscape, as it reveals it to be a fragmented, overlapping, entangled juggernaut of a young life" and maybe you, the reader, is that someone out there who can unravel it. It's worth trying.

About the publisher:

Like Altoids, Matthew Ward and his new Flame Books publishing company are curiously strong. This new small press in the UK offers its authors 10% of the book sales, a direct contract with no agent needed, and promises to premiere books by "new" writers every two months. Titles are sold through the publisher's website. And it's not just the publisher and the author who benefit from sales -- a portion of the proceeds go to various literary and human rights causes.

What sort of causes would a publisher support? Well, The "Living Rights: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Stories and Poems for one. Flame Books, in association with PeaceLit, will "publish a three-volume collection where each article of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) will be illustrated by a piece of creative writing. By presenting the Declaration in a variety of artistic forms we not only want to create a beautiful work of art but also hope to draw attention to, support and highlight Human Rights." Another project, the magazine "Who Cares? A National Magazine for Young People in the Care System" is centered on the improving public care for children in foster homes or separated from their families, and is written for 10 - 18 year old readers. Flame Books is currently sponsoring a creative contest to help raise funds for Who Cares?.

Ethical publishing. In a recent email conversation with Ward, I asked him about his vision for Flame Books and the ideas behind his unique publishing company.

Ward told me ethical means Flame publishes new writers, offers them fair contracts and supported various causes through their books sales. "So, on the one side we don't see any point in working against authors, i.e. by offering a strangling and unfair contract -- they are the creators of the work after all! On the other hand, we want to support creativity at all levels by putting money into various projects after sales on the site," he said.

When asked why Flame sold their titles only through their website and not a mega-store like Amazon or Barnes and Nobles he responded, "By selling on the Internet, we are trying to shorten the long chain in book distribution, not just transferring a normal business model onto the Internet as most companies do. By creating a new relationship between reader-writer, the reader gets great new fiction from talented new writers and the author gets higher royalties (at least 10% of the RRP). We can also put some money aside for different projects after every sale. As the sales increase, we hope to publish more writers and create projects of our own -- fingers crossed!"

Virtual companies seem commonplace in 2003. Writers meet online, administrators administrate from far away offices, never really having a face-to-face. I've been writing for PopMatters since the beginning, working with literally hundreds of writers who contribute to the site, and I've yet to meet anyone personally. Matthew Ward's attempt to create a publishing company through the Internet, not of e-books but of paper and print, is in keeping with what we have come to expect from business. One of the biggest problems, as I see it, is the office party. I asked Ward how he planned to have everyone get together for the holidays. "Good question! It's very hard as everybody is in different places! -- for example, I live in Stockholm, our designer in Italy, and the authors in the UK, Spain and Chicago! So although the parties are postponed for the moment, once we sell a few books and win a few prizes, everybody will be flown in for one big party!"

So, looks like we'll have to wait a while for the throw-down, but hopefully Flame Books and its authors will get together soon. An amazing new attempt at collaboration -- publisher and author -- and no one in between. Another interesting Internet experiment.

Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image