Culture To Go


BOOKS

Will Self

Grey Area

Viking

Self (self) v.t., v.i.--to self-pollinate or produce young from one's own gamete pool. Humans can't do this; the mere attempt conjures images of frosty test-tubes in Deutschlander labs, or cousins as lovers with cross-eyed young. Whenever British phenom Will Self picks up the pen, the prose that emerges is just as fantastic and disturbing (and often unfulfilling) as the notion of the hominid selfing itself. In his novel My Idea of Fun, a portly eidetic discovers that his business mentor is the Devil. In the paired novellas Cock and Bull, a bloke develops a vagina behind his knee. Yet only in his most recent story collection, Grey Matter, does Mr. Self devote his fertile and febrile imagination to real creation instead of elaborate onanism.

"There are only eight people in London," begins the opening story, "Between the Conceits," "and fortunately I am one of them." The narrator goes on to suggest that these eight people control legions of plebes down to the tiniest detail: homicide, handshakes, bad birthday presents. It's evocative. Delusional. Kafkaesque. In "Inclusion(TM)," an antidepressant pharmaceutical trial with bee mite powder goes awry as the drug causes a subject to physically absorb his surroundings. In the closing piece, a bereft woman makes an odyssey across London, infecting each couple she meets like a Typhoid Mary of the heart. In these loosely connected (and stylistically adventuresome) tales, the author diagrams the convoluted wiring between selves. That the resulting circuit is singularly eerie is a credit to its clever solderer. (Michael Tortorello)

Michael Pye

The Drowning Room

Viking

Trashy historical fiction is a bit like a veggie burger piled with Velveeta: delightfully base, yet virtuous underneath. No matter how inane the plot, you should be able to come out of the book having learned something about history. The Drowning Room, however, doesn't quite fit the classical parameters of historical fiction. More emphasis is placed on the characters' thoughts and feelings than on describing the historical setting, and the little dialogue that occurs sounds more like contemporary TV than 17th-century Amsterdam. (Says the sailor to the girl: "Do you want to go for a drink?" "I don't know." "What else have you got to do?" "I've got everything to do, but I'd still like
a drink.")

Well, no matter. Once you get the swing of the narrative, which shifts abruptly throughout from the childhood recollections of a 17th-century Dutch woman to "present time," it's an enjoyable book. Gretje has ventured over the sea to settle in New Amsterdam, and finds herself working unself-consciously as beggar, housemaid, whore, and actress, scattering a few offspring and one great love affair along the way. Author Pye created his main character when, conducting research for a different book, he came upon court records on a certain Gretje Reyniers noting a few petty scandals, including public lewdness and minor assaults. She was reputed in particular for shouting out in court: "I've been the nobility's whore long enough! I want to be the people's whore!" Would that Pye, instead of taking her words at face value, had conjured a more well-rounded, if not wholesome spirit for this Gretje. (Amanda Ferguson)

ZINES

2600: The Hacker Quarterly

This lo-fi journal for the high-tech outcast has been around for years and can now be found lurking on racks everywhere from independent bookstores to Barnes and Noble. Having managed to capture a dedicated national and international following, 2600 could be called the Maximum Rock 'N' Roll of cyberspace, with readers reporting various discoveries and observations of their hacking "scenes." Unlike slick Internet publications pitching endless amounts of software and upgrades, this mag doesn't concentrate on being an extension of the system, but rather on beating the system.

The focus here is on pure technical information presented with a defiant attitude. Topics range from outsmarting police interrogations to very detailed schematic drawings of computer systems and altered tone dialers. Straddling the line between the legal and illegal, 2600's language is full of innuendo and euphemisms, with most of its writers using false names. Meeting sites, usually pay phone numbers or food courts at malls, are posted for 2600 hackers' groups all over the nation, and its classifieds even include an individual from Minneapolis who wants help with "clearing [his] credit report." Now that's what I call technical assistance. (Paul D. Dickinson)

VIDEO

Meet the Feebles

Dead Alive Productions

I don't know about you, but last year's Heavenly Creatures was not what I expected from a tale of parricide. I anticipated something slow and dour; instead it was electrifying, with the aspect of a wicked grin. So I got to wondering about the director, Peter Jackson--where, other than New Zealand, was he coming from? Turns out Jackson cut his teeth as an auteur of cheapies calculated (successfully) to offend: a sci-fi film called Bad Taste, in which people get eaten by space aliens with atrocious table manners; and Dead Alive, a way-over-the-top horror movie that climaxes in the massacre, by lawnmower, of a houseful of zombies. And then there's this one...

Made in '89 but released on video only after the success of Heavenly Creatures, Meet the Feebles is a backstage musical enacted entirely by animal puppets. These are not, however, the kind of characters you buy for your children to cuddle. They're pumped full of vanities, insecurities, and drugs, and obsessed with sex--just like real theater people. A lizard performs his knife-throwing routine whilst in the throes of smack withdrawal. A hippopotamus chanteuse loses first her figure, next her boyfriend, finally her mind. In the basement, a rat produces skin (hide?) flicks featuring a cow with four enormous, hugely-nippled teats. Journalism is represented by a coprophagous fly. And if you've ever wanted to see a walrus shtup a Siamese cat, this is your chance. Meet the Feebles may or may not be clever; it's certainly crass, disgusting, and deeply cynical. I enjoyed it. (Steve Schroer)

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