Sunday, 13 April 2014

A Basement

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Author:  David Podlipny
Genre: Poetry/short story/Fiction
Book Rating: 6.5
Personal Rating: 6.5

Where to begin here.  Lets just say that this read like it had somewhere to go but was being intentionally illusive of the prize.  There seemed to be a point floating somewhere amongst the short stories and poems, probably about death and the banality of life, but it was deliberately covered up in some sort of overexerted agenda.  Almost as if the book was written with a pen that said ‘if you’re not smart enough to understand me, you’re an idiot.  And I can’t be bothered to explain it to you.’ That’s pretty much how I felt reading this.  Like it was intentionally designed to be ambiguous but rather than coming off as 'brilliantly aloof', it read more like it was just 'aloof' and floating in 'nowhere' while trying to say 'I’m going somewhere' and that I the reader was just too dumb to figure it out.  Lets start with the short stories.

The writing is brilliant.  I’ll give the author that.  There was no way I couldn’t very clearly visualize the scenes that I was in.  The feel of the environment.  I could almost touch it right through the pages.  The problem was the more I read the more it just felt like brilliant fluff.  At the end of each short story, where as most short stories do, you get that ‘ah ha that’s what this was all about—man that was deep feeling'... well at that point the first thing I usually thought was, “okay, still don’t get it.”  The stories almost seemed like listening to the perfect joke with no punch-line.  Doesn’t matter how brilliant it is if I cant use the end to make it all make sense then I’ll be floating in the abyss of ‘what did I just read’ forever.  And that’s not a nice feeling.  Just to show what I mean I’m going to pick my favorite piece from the short story section apart, to show exactly what I felt wasn’t done in the rest of the short stories


The story starts of with a man navigating through drawers and an infested sink of dirty dishes for the butter knife.  From this alone I can tell this guy is compulsive.  And slightly OCD.  There has to be more than one knife, but he must have this particular butter knife.  He’s also a bit of a germaphobe.  After deciding he would much rather enjoy his sandwich without butter he finds the offending instrument glaring at him, sticking up from the butter in the fridge, where his roommate left it.  So he devises a plan to put extremely hot sauce on the knife just enough so the roommate wouldn’t notice and then sticks it back in the butter, making sure there is no way to notice what he’s done.  He knows the roommate will like it before use or just after but either way the sauce would be transferred.  Why this works? In the beginning there is the set up of the lost knife and the character of the man being obsessive and the roommate being the complete opposite.  Then there is the resolve to not have butter followed by the finding of the knife.  Then there is a revenge plot that is very detailed which gives us more info on both characters and finally resulting in the man sitting satisfied on the couch waiting to see the fruits of his ingenious plan.  All in all, it transitions well.  The title is about butter, which is the catalyst and part of everything.  There is the butter knife, the bread for the butter, the butter knife protruding from the butter, the habits of the roommate licking the butter, and the delicacy of lacing the butter knife before angling it back perfectly in the butter.  All this shows consistency.  The title fits the story without me having to try to figure out how.  It transitions from point of hopelessness, to disgust, to revenge, to satisfaction, and leaves you completely understanding the mind of the man and his disgust of the roommates habits.  In short it connects and flows brilliantly.  It’s the only one in the short story section that I didn’t have to reread a multitude of times and was like, ‘yeah this is brilliant’ when I was done.  The other short stories with the exception of 'rain boots' which was also very well done and possibly 'wine bar'(confusing beginning but excellent second half), just seemed like randomness put together to, again, talk about something dark, usually life or death in some form, but with no real connective tissue.  Just nothingness trying to mascaraed as intentional nothingness but ultimately not pulling of said feat.

Now there’s the next section, the talk section.  Here I can honestly say the author’s brilliant writing style finally pays off.  Stories to watch out for, door talk, brilliantly hilarious--just genius.  Family talk was downright entertaining--more than that actually.  Both of these had a very good sense of clever banter and comedic timing.  The first of a more dark variety, the second just stuff parents do when their children aren’t around.  Lolly talk was great.  What I liked about it was that I left it convinced that both characters were completely insane and it was well crafted just like ’butter’ was.  The rest.  Well one I just found a bit too preachy, 'window talk', and the others didn’t even leave much of an impression at all.

The poems.  In all honesty the only way I can describe them is that they felt like the short stories except in verse.  I was looking forward to this part the most as it was the end, and even all the good things I said about this authors great descriptive seemed to disappear into the whites of the pages when I read the poems and this was where that skill-set was needed most.  None of them seemed to tap into my inner happy, my inner dark, my inner angel, my inner demon, my inner hate, self loathing, joy, despair, just nothing.  I couldn’t connect with them on a good, bad, evil or even a general way.  But they read like they were trying to say something.  Just like the rest of this book, which I completely missed.  Something about life death, darkness, and humanity in general.  This is probably why it’s called A Basement.

As far as descriptive detail goes, this book is more than excellent.  Beyond that—after reading so many short stories, I just cant say these transition or flow fast enough.  That they give enough information about what the man, usually always nameless, is actually feeling and how he changes from point A to B.  More importantly the lack of names in some stories and the fact that all the leads are men should, or it seems like it should, mean something.  Trying to get me to focus more on what’s being said and not the characters is the obvious conclusion, except every nameless character story I’ve read, did manage to get me to connect with the character without the name.  So that effect was lost on me.

I guess what it comes down to, what is glaring obvious through this review, is that I just didn’t get it.  And I felt it was written intentionally to be difficult as if it were taking some sort of literary high road of deeper meaning that I’m just too unintelligent to grasp.  And in all fairness, I’m probably am.  As a rule I usually say treat me like I’m a super genius but explain to me like I’m an idiot.  So is this book brilliant, I cant say cause it escaped me.  Would I recommend it.  Sure, if only to prove that I am just stupid and this book is actually a force to be reckoned with and that I just couldn’t understand it.  It wouldn’t be the first time I lacked the mental fortitude to understand something.  We can’t all be geniuses after all.  But if you like that tangelbleness of really excellent description, now that I can vouch for.  This book does it well.  In fact more than well.  If the book was a descriptive art-piece that didn't need to do anything accept be beautiful then this book was a perfect ten.  And that is definitely a reason worth reading it.  And I’m well aware that, that alone is more than enough reason for some. 

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