I finished The Castle in the Forest by Norman Mailer. At long last. You may remember I mentioned this before, when I was maybe a third of the way through. I spoke of it unfavorably, but I may have jumped the gun a tad with that assessment, because as it turns out, I absolutely hated The Castle in the Forest, it’s the worst novel I’ve read all year, and I’ve read some pretty lousy novels this year.
I don’t really want to say too much more about this. Thinking about it bores me, much as reading it bored me. All I really want to do with this post is clear the decks for October. But I suppose I should remind you that The Castle in the Forest is about the childhood of Adolf Hitler, told from the point of view of a Hell Demon or whatever who nudges him from infancy to become the towering monster of history we all remember so well. That’s the idea, anyway, but a surprising number of pages turn out to be focused on Hitler’s dad’s attempts to become a successful beekeeper. There are metaphors and shit all over the place – the beehives are occasionally described in terms that could invoke the Jewish ghettos, among other things – but a rather amusing number of times, when one of these metaphors threatens to become too clear, the Hell Demon will bust in and say “You shouldn’t read too much into this.” Why we shouldn’t is not always clear, nor is it ever convincing. Mailer seems to prefer pointlessly muddying the waters to making the reader understand why he’s blaming Hitler on the Devil. Understanding Hitler is, at least psychologically, one of the great dark impossibilities, the unsolvable mystery of mankind from which all other 20th century existential crises spring. Therefore, it would be unreasonable to expect Mailer to be the guy who finally cracks that nut. However, one might reasonably expect to at least notice Mailer taking a swing at insight, even if it’s just an insight into that hopelessness. And maybe saying “It was demons” was Mailer’s way of sending up the very idea of trying to figure anything out, except I’m not sure it takes almost 500 plodding pages of shit and dick jokes (actually they’re not all jokes) woven through what sometimes feels like a 200 page novel about goddamn bees is the way to do that. Also, that’s not what Mailer was trying to do.
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One of the reasons I stopped reading George Pelecanos years ago was his habit of using his characters – anyway the ones we’re supposed to like – as mouthpieces for his own musical tastes, a habit he indulged in with the frequency of a chain smoker. I remember a bit in A Firing Offense when the hero goes to see a friend of his who’s into movies, ostensibly for reasons pertaining to the crime plot. Their conversation begins with the hero saying something like “So do you still like movies?” and the other guy saying “Yes. GoodFellas is great. Brian DePalma has lost his way. Did you see Raising Cain. I do not like the film critics for the Washington Post, our local newspaper her in Washington, D.C. Do you still like music?” and then our hero goes “Yes. Here’s the thing about Tracy Chapman…” etc.
With that in mind, please read this passage from Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman, which I just read:
The telephone welcomed Harry on his return to the office.
It was Rakel wanting to give him back the DVD she borrowed from him.
“The Rules of Attraction?” Harry repeated, taken aback. “Have you got it?
“You said it was on your list of most underrated modern film.”
“Yes, but you never like those films.”
“That’s not true.”
“You didn’t like Starship Troopers.”
“That’s because it’s a crap macho film.”
“It’s satire,” Harry said.
“American society’s inherent fascism. The Hardy Boys meet Hitler Youth.”
“Come on, Harry. War on giant insects on a remote planet?”
“Fear of foreigners.”
“Anyway, I liked that seventies film of yours, the one about bugging…”
“The Conversation,” Harry said. “Coppola’s best.”
“That’s the one. I agree that is underrated."
“It’s not underrated,” Harry sighed. “Just forgotten. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Film.”
First off, The Rules of Attraction??? Second, when Harry says that she never likes “those films,” by “those films” does mean underrated modern films? And third, fucking Rules of Attraction???
And what the fuck do The Hardy Boys have to do with anything? Did he mean Leave it to Beaver? Which would be stupid enough, but at least Wally and the Beav aren’t specifically boy detectives, which muddles whatever surface-at-best profundity this Harry asshole, who sighs at his girlfriend when he thinks she’s misusing the word “underrated,” is so proud of himself for having scratched (of course, there’s nothing in Starship Troopers beneath that surface, so I can’t blame Harry for that one).
The Snowman is an awful book with a ridiculous plot and I’m tired of talking about it. All I’ll add is that I read it because I am/was looking forward to the new Tomas Alfredson film version. A good film can absolutely be made from a bad book, but there’s a lot of garbage in Nesbo’s story that would need to be cleaved bloodily from its spine. After finishing the book, I checked IMDb to read the cast list, and when I saw who was playing who, more than once I thought to myself “Oh. They didn’t just cut that character our entirely? Hmm…”
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All right, well, that’s that for September. Next up: October. Which will be concentrated very much on horror, both in film and literature. It will be not at all unlike my old annual The Kind of Face You Slash series, except this time the posts will not be daily. You’ll get how many I give you!
Also it probably won’t be exclusively focused on horror. There will more than likely be some non-horror films and such here and there. After all, man cannot live on bread alone! Wait, on blood alone! Goddamnit. Fuck!