Illustration by Bob Aul"We should show life neither as it is nor as it ought to be," advises Chekhov, "but as we see it in our dreams." Which brings us to Jim Krusoe, the legendary creative writing instructor at Santa Monica College whose short-story collection Blood Lake made Southern California best-seller lists a few years back—no small achievement for surrealist short fiction. That book's title story begins with a rowboat on a real lake. Soon the oars get heavy. The passengers row through an allegory about the Vietnam War, the boat their SS Memento Mori, and the lake, by story's end, again a real lake—only full of blood. In Iceland, Krusoe's first novel, we meet Paul, a typewriter repairman who, suffering from a failing but never actually named organ, makes his way to a medical-research institute where he meets beautiful Emily, a young woman in scuba gear, swimming in an Olympic-size pool full of human organs, massaging and caressing them; she gently plucks out the dead or sickly ones. Think Esther Williams meets Coma. Paul falls immediately in love, and there follows hot poolside sex—Emily's nipples are "small and shy, reminding me for some reason of two prairie dogs on lookout for the rest of the colony"—the couple's passionate flopping around matching the hearts beating in the shallow end. Their relationship runs dry, however, and Paul goes on a Nordic adventure—volcanoes and snow, an avalanche, Bjrk, marriage and kids, and the world's biggest Jacuzzi—and returns to his old living room, using his penis as a divining rod to find Emily, contemplating a stain on his carpet, considering the possibility that all the words you've just read, these, too, are "a stain on the blank page of possibility," evidence of our need "to speak therefore to shatter the stainless silence of the world?" If you possess a readerly bone—or organ—in your own body, you'll need little further encouragement to read this funny book. Its story displays the narrative instincts of Hitchcock, the nutty humor of S.J. Perelman and Donald Barthelme, the elegant obsession of Nabokov's Lolita. (Andrew Tonkovich)
Iceland by Jim Krusoe; Dalkey Archive. Paperback, 182 pages, $14.95.
At the heart of Derrick Jensen's The Culture of Make Believe is nagging curiosity about the Old Testament story of Noah's son, Ham. Maybe you recall it from Sunday School and, like Jensen, never understood it: drunk Noah passes out in his tent. Ham sees "the nakedness of his father." He and brothers Shem and Japheth go into Noah's tent and cover him, all the while keeping their eyes from Noah's exposed body. How, friends, is it possible to cover up a naked, shitfaced father and not see his privates?
"What was he supposed to not look at," asks Jensen, "and why was he supposed to not talk? Why did his brothers go to such great lengths to not see?"
Ham, of course, sees that his father is merely human but must pretend otherwise for all reasons required of power. He learns to lie to himself in that uncomfortable tent near the fertile crescent and must, argues Jensen, pretend not to see. "Who are you gonna believe," joked Groucho Marx, "me or your own eyes?"
Jensen's critique of American slavery, genocide and everyday exploitation is unlikely to be believed or even heard widely. Yet his books are wildly popular, and their fans—like me—are devoted to Jensen's political gestalt, a collective self-help journey that requires we visit Ham's perspective when it comes to case studies of the Ku Klux Klan, the 1853 massacre of Tolona Indians at Howonquet in northern California, the lives of abused chimney-sweep boys in Victorian England and the U.S. penal system today. Jensen, who teaches creative writing to inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison, spares no one—not even himself. "I value money over life," he writes. "Why else would I own a computer with a hard drive put together in Thailand by women dying of job-induced cancer? Why else would I own shirts made in a sweatshop in Bangladesh and shoes put together in Mexico? I would probably rather die (and maybe even kill, or better, have someone kill for me) than trade places with the men, women and children who made my computer, my shirt, my shoes." (AT)
The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen; Context Books. Paperback, 700 pages, $18.
Michael Moore's Stupid White Men . . . and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation almost didn't get published. Back in September, days after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Moore—a lefty with a performance artist's instincts—got a phone call from publisher Harper Collins saying they had put the book on hold. American flags fluttered from every stick, political criticism was out, and the president—a stupid white man—was popular.
The book was already in warehouses waiting to be shipped, Harper Collins told Moore. But Moore, who lives in New York City, agreed to a decent interval. Days passed into weeks, and Moore called Harper Collins. They had bad news, he says: they wanted a rewrite in which Moore would gentle his harsh take on Bush—and then asked him to help pay for shredding the first edition.
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Moore had taken a year off his hit television show The Awful Truth to write the book and knew that if Harper Collins continued to wait, his criticisms of the 2000 election, the Kyoto Accords, Enron and other things George W. would be moot. He refused the publisher's demands. Harper Collins threatened to kill the book. Word leaked out. Moved, perhaps, by the potential for bad publicity, Harper Collins released Stupid White Men without fanfare, leaving Moore to organize and pay for his own book tour.
The book is cutthroat in its intensity. His essay "Kill Whitey" rattles off the ways whites have surreptitiously kept blacks from advancing even while paying lip service to civil rights. The chapter "Democrats, DOA" drove me from the Democratic Party. Not only does Moore paint a convincing picture of Clinton as a stealth Republican, but he also reminds us in detail of the many times liberals shrugged off his slow eight-year dismemberment of progressive programs.
There are myriad life lessons here: vote your conscience, not against a candidate or for political expediency. Encourage minority voices. Run for office; the only way to get the scumbags out is to take the empty space away from them yourself. If your local Green Party members are wussies, their bylaws may allow you to take them over—give it a try! Kill Three Strikes laws. Treat the women in your life with respect, and—if you're a man—raise the toilet seat when you take a leak. Stop saying you care about the environment while driving that fucking SUV. Phone the White House and ask Bush when he's going to get some balls and resign. Finally, as Moore said in his appearance at an LA bookstore a few months back, "Dissent! Dissent! Dissent!" (Dave Barton)
Stupid White Men . . . and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation! by Michael Moore; Harper/Collins. Hardcover, 304 pages, $24.95.