A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mondo Cane

Good grief! I didn't realize how long it's been since I posted here. To tell the truth, I've been dumping a lot of stuff I'd usually blog about on my Facebook page instead. Curiously addictive, that Facebook. Fortunately, I'm still immune to the charms of Twitter.

Anyway, here's a review of mine that ran today in the Dallas Morning News:

DOGHEAD

By Morten Ramsland

Translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally

Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's, 384 pp., $29.95


Happy families, as Tolstoy noted, are so much alike that they make for dull fiction. It's dysfunction we want. And in his first novel to be published in English, the Danish writer Morten Ramsland has served up a smörgåsbord of dysfunction.

As the novel's narrator, Asger Eriksson (aka The Liar, The Latchkey Kid, The Bastard Boy, The Danish Shrimp, and The Bandit), notes at one point in his saga of three generations of his family, “There was Anne Katrine, who was robbed of her mother's love. There was Leila, who lost both her parents. There was Niels Junior, with his ears and his corset. There was Knut, with his broken nose. There was Madam Mother's reproachful grief, Grandmother Elisabeth's illness, and Grandfather Hans Carlo's galloping tumor. There was Great-grandfather Thorsten's bankruptcy. There was Grandma Bjørk with her alcoholic husband, and there was Grandpa Askild with part of his index finger missing and those bloodhounds on an eastern German plain.”

Who would blame this Dane for being melancholy? The Eriksson family is dragged all all over the Scandinavian landscape by the roguish, bullying head of the clan, Grandpa Askild. And yet, this is a raucous, high-spirited novel, laced with dark humor and creepy stuff out of Scandinavian folklore. And while Mr. Ramsland has been likened by blurbists to John Irving, he never goes over the top or sinks into sentimentality the way Mr. Irving sometimes does. The novel's title brings to mind the movie My Life as a Dog, and it has some of the same boy's-eye-view, off-kilter observation of an eccentric world.

Above all, the novel is a tribute to the power of narrative, the preservation of memories, however distorted and embellished, that makes a family into a coherent unit. At the end of the novel, Asger reflects that “none of us realized that the stories were the glue holding our family together, because it was only after they vanished that everything began to disintegrate, and slowly we were scattered to the winds.”

To return to Tolstoy, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. But it's the way they share the unhappiness that makes them family.

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