The announcement of a new Larry Richette book is always good news. This novel sees Larry (since I know him, we'll call him Larry, and not the more formal Richette) branching out from his usual setting of Philadelphia to take a look at New York City in the 1980s. AIDS, greed, career obsession, cocaine, and all your other 80s favorites are there, mixed in a tale that could be a spiritual bookend for The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. Instead of a character having an existential crisis as well as being obsessed by the movies, Larry's protagonist and narrator, Tony, a film school student, has an existential crisis while being obsessed with making movies. Another good reference point would be all the 80s blank generation fiction novels such as Bright Lights, Big City. This novel glamorizes things a bit less, probably because of the distance in time, but has similar themes to those novels in that the characters risk losing their souls seduced by their own ambition and that of others in the big city. The major literary path followed here is that of F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose sensibility is referenced explicitly in the novel as one of the characters prepares to play the role of Zelda Fitzgerald in a movie. Of course, Fitzgerald was writing of the same themes in the 1920s and Larry explores them in the 1980s, particularly how individual ambition can destroy love and marriage. Though you root for them, none of the characters are particularly admirable (here's an indication of what they're like: the most likable character, Manfred, is a pornographer and pimp) so what keeps the novel moving is the strength of Larry's writing. He captures the feel of the time in lines such as "She led me to the master bedroom. There were signed photographs of Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher. In the Cape Cod moonlight they looked like signed photographs of Beelzebub's chief three attendant demons." A lot of Republicans try to convince us today that Reagan was a great president. I lived through Reagan and I can tell you that he wasn't. He was a fake down to the color of his hair, and ultimately a lousy shill for General Electric his whole life, first as a tv host (General Electric Theater) and then as President so we went into massive debt buying weapons and other defense products we really didn't need (Star Wars) so the rich could get richer chomping at the trough of the public treasury. Hmm . . . communism as the bogeyman to scare us into coughing up tax dollars so that the rich can loot the treasury with their corporations, and now terrorism as the bogeyman to scare us into coughing up tax dollars so that the rich can loot the treasury with their corporations--the classic scams never go out of style in America, do they? Even though Larry doesn't get terribly political here, he does get the feel of the times exactly right, reminding us that Reagan and the rest of the 1980s weren't as pleasant as our hazy memories want to remember them as. Instead, it was an era when greed invaded not just our dreams (the ultimate private screenings), but also our beds, and whom we shared them with.
So, I went to The Chestnut Street Cafe, a bar in Sharon, Pennsylvania with my pal Dave on the weekend before the Pennsylvania primary in April. Coincidentally, there was a Barack Obama rally there, and it turns out we had just missed seeing Kathleen Sebelius, the governor of Kansas. Huh? The governor of Kansas in a Sharon, PA bar? I mean the Chestnut does have a pretty good beer selection, but I don't know if it's worth a trip from Kansas. What I suspect Ms. Sebelius was doing there was betting on the right horse and helping to sew up a spot on the Democratic ticket in the fall. A female governor who's won twice in a red state has got to look pretty good paired with Obama, and the VP signs are looking pretty good for Sebelius: she gave the Democratic response to the State of the Union, she apparently attended Bilderberg in Virginia, and now she's giving the keynote at the the 2008 Ohio Democratic Party Family Reunion Dinner. For a governor of Kansas, she's been spending a lot of time in presidential battleground states. I'm not a betting man, but I won't be surprised when Obama picks her to be his running mate. Of course, I could be wrong. I was almost certain Hillary was going to move back into the White House in 2009. I wasn't thrilled about it, but it seemed pretty much inevitable. So much for pundit predictions, eh? Still, watch that Sebelius--I think we'll be seeing more of her over the next four-five years!
It's been a bit since I posted a poem on here, so here's one I wrote in November.
Hundred Yards by Wred Fright
Yesterday Literary conference Renaissance Hotel Downtown Cleveland A fancy place in a not so fancy city From the looks I got from the staff and guests I judge I must be just on the boundary of respectable Up the elevator because I couldn't find the stairs to Meeting rooms named for robber barons Rockefeller Others who didn't do so well, but well enough In the meeting room, the literary critics talked of human suffering. I had to wonder Did they experience it firsthand or just read about it in stories? Walking to the hotel I passed some human suffering Homeless guy sleeping Steam grate People pay a lot to stay at the hotel But they could sleep for free across the street True, there's no room service No complimentary Starbucks Coffee But you don't need a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the doorknob You could freeze to death and no one might notice until spring It's a free country or at least a freeze country. It's a great nation or at least a grate nation. Only one hundred yards or so was the distance between hotel and grate Was that the difference between rich and poor in America, or at least in Cleveland? Only a hundred yards But a hundred yards that can take a lifetime to cross.
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