Sunday Salon: Leviathan and Lonely

Last night a friend from my department hosted a massive 80s party.  I may (embarrassingly) be the only person I work with who was born in the 80s (and thus may have a somewhat blurrier memory of the decade than everyone else there), but I did my best to turn it out.  Much planning went into my ensemble: A stiff silk taffeta baby doll dress, its gunmetal overskirt pinned up to render it less demure and show off the ruffled petticoat. Gartered fishnets.  Hand-knitted (over the last two days) faux angora legwarmers that made my feet look like a sooty yeti's and that made a determined run for the floor at every opportunity. Peep-toe, bow-and-brocade black heels (totteringly high, ill-conceived for dancing). Huge, curling-ironed hair, asymmetrically swept up on one side.  Sparkle-encrusted, teal-lined eyes, heavy on the mascara. Harsh blush, hot pink lipstick.  Emphatic brows.

It all started out looking satisfyingly trashy, though by the end of the evening it had settled into this. (Left.  Note that the yeti legwarmers had, at this point, given up any attempt to stay on my gams.)

At any rate, the moral of the story is that this morning (sigh, midday) I look like a raccoon that fell face-first into a child's collection of colored glitters and finger paints, I've lost my voice from shouting over Madonna and the Bangles, and I can barely walk from dancing in those heels.

Ah, well: worth it.

So what am I up to this Sunday? Well, blogging (a pleasure I have shamefully neglected since the start of classes a few weeks ago).  Gym-going.  Lesson-planning for tomorrow.  And, hopefully, some of these other things:


My copy of Monsters of Men, the third book in Patrick Ness's increasingly brilliant Chaos Walking trilogy, arrived on my doorstep this week, so I am dying to dive into the conclusion to this tale of a world in which a virus has made men's thoughts audible (the Noise, they call it, and it makes living in a community almost unbearable), and the consequences to society of this psychological shift.  I can't forget that I have work to do, or it will absorb me totally.

It's lucky that it arrived when it did, however, because I had just finished Carolyn Crane's excellent romance-tinged sci fi novel, Double Cross, and was feeling a bit bereft.  This is the second in Crane's series about an alternate-history midwestern metropolis in which the, well, excessively-abled (known by those who actually believe in their existence as highcaps) can invade your dreams, or manipulate building structures, or read your thoughts.

The heroine isn't a highcap, but she encounters a magnetic figure named Packard who tells her that her rampant health anxiety (a really crippling hypochondriacal paranoia) can be externalized - purged temporarily from her system and even used as a sort of a weapon or tool.  She can pour it into others, specifically targets who need to be "disillusioned" of their antisocial tendencies, for whom all her potent fear can act as a destructive catharsis.  But Packard, of course, has his own agendas, probably nefarious, and despite the pull he exerts, she also finds herself drawn to a heroic figure named Otto, the mayor of the city and the very emblem of the power of the law and its structures.

I won't say any more for fear of wandering into the dread land of Spoiler for those who haven't read the totally engrossing first book, Mind Games, but I can wholeheartedly recommend both of these trilogies.  Double Cross is the sort of fiction that isn't afraid to (scratch that - is eager to) grapple with big, complex moral issues.  Crane doesn't mind ripping the veneer of perfection away from her characters - the fact that they are human makes them more compelling, and no less admirable (somehow) than the plastic sheen of flawlessness would.  This itself becomes a major theme in book 2...

I had a lot of time on my hands yesterday, while I had my fingers full of half-knitted legwarmer.  My eyes wandered guiltily to the pile of discs that had gathered dust under my television for the entire month of September.  So, in the time it took to knit a legwarmer and a half, I watched In Bruges (a brutal, sometimes manipulatively shocking, jarringly beautiful movie about two hitmen exiled to the fairy tale limbo of Bruges, it is the filmic equivalent of one of those marvelous, monstrous moral paintings by Brueghel or Bosch, filled with wild demonic torments) and then the classic Man of the West, starring Gary Cooper (never one of my favorite western heros, although he is sort of charmingly clumsy here).  This second may demand a rewatching at some point: my knitting is not so practiced, at this point, that I can take my eyes off it for any length of time, so I missed all the shadings of familial guilt and sexual threat that occur in the silences of a good western.  Another time...

Listening (A Literary Analysis)
All week (when I wasn't bathing my sparkly self in the sounds of the 80s) I was discovering the long-owned and long-neglected (by me) newish album by Josh Ritter, So Runs the World Away.  Ritter has been a favorite of mine for a long time, not only for the richness of his sound, but also for the literary intricacy of his lyrics. Consider my current favorite from the new album, "Change of Time":

He describes a dream of nightswimming, "directionless and drifting," in a world of things that have suffered a sea change (into something rich and strange):
I had a dream last night
and rusting far below me
battered hulls and broken hardships
Leviathan and lonely....
Its the wit of the wordplay that always gets me in a good Ritter song.  A hull is (of course) a nautical term - he is floating above shipwrecks and the sirens that lured men down - but it is also an empty shell, the container for things that have slipped away.  This is a song about the batterings of life, the ellusiveness and hollowness and strange, floating suspension of memory - the pun on "broken hardships" breaks that metaphor wide open for us.

(Also, I may have to name my first novel, set in Nova Scotia, Leviathan and Lonely.  You heard it here first.)

He goes on to extend the metaphor - the past is an anchor we drag behind us, memory is a set of ripped sails that won't quite propel us, catching the wind and then letting it slip through.  We are pummeled by the whitecaps of recollection.

And like so many Ritter songs, there is a fundamentally romantic shift at the end, although one tinged with melancholy rather than sentimentality.  (This is, of course, a pivotal part of my devotion to his music - unsentimental romanticism.  Do you know how hard that is to find?  How hard a pitch it is to hit and maintain?)
I had a dream last night
And when I opened my eyes
Your shoulder blade, your spine
Were shorelines in the moonlight.
New worlds for the weary,
New lands for the living.
I could make it if I tried -
I closed my eyes, I kept on swimming.

Here is a live acoustic version of the song - stripped down, less surging, but still lovely.

Until next time, Saloners! Enjoy your October days before they get too short....

4 Responses so far.

  1. Sounds like you got the 80s look pretty well there!

    Both those SF novels you mention sound superb, but I especially like the sound of the Ness. I'll have to look out for that if I ever get the chance. How dreadful it would be to have other people's thoughts audible - it's bad enough hearing other people's mobile phone conversations on the train.

    I love the imagery in the Ritter song - especially the bit about waking to a shoulder blade and a spine and them both being like shore-lines...wonderful stuff!

  2. She says:

    Monsters of Men = my supreme jealously. I am still waiting for it!

    Sounds like your outfit was fantastic! It's weird to think of people born in the 90s as being old enough to be real people. This is, of course, as opposed to being fake (read teenage) people.

  3. Book Bird Dog: I know - I always find myself listening over and over again to Ritter's songs, only to find layer after layer of significance. I am actually thinking of using his work to demonstrate close reading techniques to my first-year students next term.

    Clare, you will have to let me know what you think of the Chaos Walking trilogy. I really enjoyed the first book (The Knife of Never Letting Go - brilliant title), but a single event occurred in it which made me so profoundly uncomfortable that it diminished the greatness of the novel for me. Now, having read the brilliant second novel, I feel confident that Ness was totally in control of that moment - that it was meant to make us uncomfortable, and to present an interesting moral question.

    She: I know, and the oddest part about it is that none of them remember the grunge nineties, only the boy bands and Britney nineties.

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