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Archive for the ‘Epistolary Novel’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: WOODY GUTHRIE-This Land is Your Land: The Asch Recordings Vol 1 (1997).

Protesters don’t get more powerful or more emblematic than Woody Guthrie (if nothing else, he should be forever thanked for “This Land is Your Land”).   Some of his other great political songs are “Lindbergh” (“Now Lindy tried to join the army, but they wouldn’t let ‘im in,/’Fraid he’d sell to Hitler a few more million men”).  There’ also the silly on the surface “Do Re Mi” which holds a deeper meaning: “They think they’re goin’ to a sugar bowl, but here’s what they find/Now, the police at the port of entry say,”You’re number fourteen thousand for today.”/ Oh, if you ain’t got the do re mi, folks, you ain’t got the do re mi,/Why, you better go back to beautiful Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee.”

He also introduced a wider world to his “Talkin’ Blues” which were influential on Bob Dylan among others.

The thing that I didn’t know about him was that he wrote so many “silly” songs.  “Car Song” features some car engine noises (as done by a three-year old) as a verse.  “Why Oh Why” which is a nonsensical call and response song: “Why don’t you answer my questions?/Why, oh why, oh why?/’Cause I don’t know the answers.
Goodbye goodbye goodbye.” And “Talking Hard Work” is a pretty hilarious look at how hard it is to do nothing.

The only thing I don’t particularly care for on this disc is, well, Woody’s voice.  I’ve listened to this disc many times, and I have grown to appreciate it, but it was quite a shock to hear his reedy, unpolished voice and how tinny the recording it.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that this music is available to hear, but don’t expect 21st (or even mid-20th) century production or anything.

Here’s a verse that most people don’t know from “This Land is Your Land”

There was a big high wall/there that tried to stop me/The sign was painted; said “Private Property”/But on the back side it didn’t say nothing/This land was made for you and me

[READ: Week of July 23, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Seventh Letters]

Last week, Sophia wrote to Yarostan without having read his letter (which was just as well, as Mirna was pretty far off the deep end).  But Yarostan has received Sophia’s letter and is ready to write back to her.

And he is thrilled that he and Sophia are really in synch with their attitudes and events for once (things have changed a lot for him since he last wrote).

I regret much of what I said in that letter. I now have an opposite admission to make to you.  I was very moved when you said you were waiting for me to walk into your “council office.”  If such an expedition should ever be undertaken, I’ll be the first to volunteer and of course I’ll bring Yara and Mirna along as well as Jasna and Zdenek. I love you, too, Sophia; we all do; you’ve seduced us with your honesty and especially with your modest, almost shy courage (497).

In fact, things are worlds apart in Yarostan’s household.  Mirna was thrilled to get the latest letter and to learn that Sophia was on strike.  But more importantly, Mirna reveals that she herself is on strike, too!  And they will be partying!  Jasna excitedly comments that they are in the same world, separated only by geography.

Zdenek comes over and reads the letter too, but he has a hard time thinking that the unions where Sophia is are the same as unions where they are.  And Mirna jumps all over him, asking if old age is making him conservative.  But Zdenek makes what I think is an excellent point about the postal workers.  Everyone uses the mail, even rebels.  So, sure they should have rights too, but encouraging them to strike doesn’t only harm capitalists. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-“Horses” (1991).

I have mentioned the Rheostatics a lot.  I’ve even talked about this song in Melville.  And yet it works so well as a companion to this book.

It starts slowly enough, a simple acoustic guitar with the lyrics:

Word came down and it crashed through my door
From the twenty-first floor
I was thinkin’ about leavin’ early for lunch
When he told me to shut off my press
His face turned green and his white shirt was wet
Like he’d just seen an accident
We threw our masks into a pile, the trucks pulled away for good

The band kicks in a slow beat  as the song builds:

A bus pulled in and I waved at it
Before I knew what it was
We ran in its tracks chasing its tires
But the gates had been riveted shut
I looked for the foreman; his number was empty
Up to Red Deer to stay
We gathered some signs and we sparked up a fire
Gordie got burned on the high-voltage wire

A quick intense bridge:

The first thing she’ll ask me is: “How did it go today?”And I’ll tell her.

The song builds in intensity with some wild screaming guitars until finally settling down to the quiet beginning

I thought there was strength in a union
I thought there was strength in a mob
I thought the company was bluffing
When they threatened to chop us off
Ah, these guns will wilt the winter will seize
And all the bonfires will go out
The company knows when they can afford to be bold
I wish I could, I wish I could, I wish I could

All along the ringing repeated chorus: “Holy mackinaw Joe! (Holy mackinaw).”

I’m not sure if this references a specific event or not.  (Surely someone can tell me that).  But you can listen to it here.  Or, find any of the live renditions on youtube.

There’s an interview with Dave Bidini of the Rheos who tells the interviewer that he also used to do music interviews.  And once he interviewed Neil Peart who, after much chatter, asked Dave if he knew the song “Horses” by the Rheos.  Dave humbly said that he wrote it.  And Neil said that on their last tour he used to come off stage and listen to “Horses” at full blast.  (And that’s how they got Neil to play on the Rheos’ subsequent album).  Neat, huh?

[READ: Week of July 16, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Sixth Letters]

Insurgent Summer is till moving along, but the insurgents have been quiet lately.  I hope the insanity of these letters and invocations of the devil will bring up the chatter.

Yarostan opens his letter with the most heartfelt emotions.  And yet, anyone who thought (as I did) that there might be some kind of rekindling of romance between the two will be sorely disappointed: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKDEAD KENNEDYS-Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980).

Punks often marry politics to their music.  And none moreso than the Dead Kennedys.  I found out about them around the Frankenchrist album, but it’s this one that introduced Jello Biafra to the world.

What I loved about the Dead Kennedys is that they set out to offend everyone–unless you actually listened to their lyrics. The first track, “Kill the Poor” seems like it a horrifying encouragement to do just that, but if you read the lyrics: “Efficiency and progress is ours once more/Now that we have the Neutron bomb/It’s nice and quick and clean and gets things done/Away with excess enemy/But no less value to property/No sense in war but perfect sense at home.”   As was recently commented, Dick Cheney may have seen the sarcasm there.

“Let’s Lynch the Landlord” is a song that Sophia and Yarostan could get behind: “I tell them ‘turn on the water’/I tell ’em ‘turn on the heat’/Tells me ‘All you ever do is complain’/Then they search the place when I’m not here.”

The biggest track of the disc was “Holiday in Cambodia,” a song so catchy that Dockers actually asked to use it in a commercial (!).  Cause nothing sells jeans like: “Play ethnicky jazz/To parade your snazz/On your five grand stereo/Braggin’ that you know/How the niggers feel cold/And the slums got so much soul.”

The thing that I especially liked about the DKs was that although they played hardcore (some brutally fast and crazily short songs), they didn’t limit themselevs to just that.  They had actual guitar riffs, they tinkered with styles and genres (surf and rockabilly among others), and they even slowed things down from time to time (all the better to hear the lyrics).

Even if the band disintegrated into lawsuits, it’s fair to say that they inspired plenty of kids to take an interest in what was going on around them.

Pol Pot.

[READ: Week of June 25, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Yarostan’s Fifth Letter]

Because Sophia’s letter is very long, this week it’s only Yarostan’s letter for Insurgent Summer.  It opens with Yara annoyed about the tone of Sophia’s letters and her surprise that Yarostan is so quick to want to open the latest one.   But indeed, Yarostan feels compelled to apologize for “the way I treated your earlier letters.  I did treat you as an outsider, as a person with whom I couldn’t communicate about my present situation.  I was wrong” (283).  [It’s very nice of him to admit that he was wrong].  But that doesn’t mean that he is going to lighten up in his discussions with Sophia: “it seems to me that …critical appreciation is not an expression of hostility but is at the very basis of communication and friendship” (285).  Mirna also chimes in (with rather high praise):

Sophia is a born troublemaker, just like Jan and Yara.  She shares Jan’s recklessness as well as his courage.  I’m glad for her sake that she was taken away from here even if her emigration caused her some pain.  There’s no room here for people like that.  If she’d stayed she would have disappeared years ago in a prison or concentration camp (283). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GREEN DAY-21st Century Breakdown (2009).

Like most people who like Green Day, I’ve been a fan since Dookie.  They were incredibly poppy (although they wrote great punk riffs) and they sang about weird, kind of subversive things.  And they got huge really fast.  Of course since then they have become one of the most commercially successful bands in America (including having their song picked for the ending scene of the Seinfeld montage–jeez).

And yet….

And yet, American Idiot, their previous album was one of  the most anti-establishment records of the last twenty years. (True it’s not hard to be Anti-Bush if you’re a punk band, but wow.)  And yet, it was a concept album and even a rock opera of sorts.  And it still sold millions.

And now American Idiot has been made into a freaking Broadway Musical.  And yet, how many Broadway shows (or top twenty albums for that matter) have lyrics like “The insurgency will rise when the blood’s been sacrificed.  Don’t be blinded by the lies in your eyes”

And so Green Day confounds me.  And yet, if I were younger and cared more about “keeping it real” I think they’d confuse me even more because although musically they have sold out (if you want to call it that), lyrically Billie Joe is still pretty true to his punk roots.  And, of course, even the punkest bands seem to go commercial eventually (Combat Rock anyone?)

Of all the Green Day CD’s I think I like this least.  And yet I really applaud them for writing an album that so easily translates to Broadway (not an easy feat in itself) (this disc would make better Broadway than American Idiot).  I think I dislike this disc not because it’s so unpunk, but because I think musically it’s really obvious (and although I like musicals, I prefer classic musicals to contemporary ones).  And yet, most of Green Day’s music is pretty obvious.  I guess I prefer my obvious music to have a harder egde.

And yet Act III is full of some really great aggressive punk songs: “Horseshoes and Handgrenades” is just fantastic.  And in Act II, “Peacemaker has a great construction, all spaghetti Western and whatnot.  And in the first act, the title song has multiple parts that all work well together.  It’s a pretty sophisticated song.  And who can fault Billie Joe for expanding his songwriting skills?  Like the Tin Pan Alleyesque opening of “¿Viva La Gloria? (Little Girl).”

In interviews, Billie Joe comes across as a maturing artist who is influenced by more diverse styles of music.  I always wonder what the other two guys think.  Should your name still be Tre Cool if you’re no longer writing songs about getting high and masturbating?

And yet…and yet…ad astra.

[READ: Week of June 18, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Second Letters]

There’s been a lot of discussion over at Insurgent Summer (and here) about the first week’s reading.  Very exciting!  And with so much revealed and so many accusations flying this week, no doubt more will continue.

Many people have been wondering exactly what Yarostan could have meant in first letter when he said he barely remembered Sophia.  When he replies in this letter, he claims that “I now remember you as if I had been with you only yesterday” (29).  There are two ways to take this: first, as a positive; however, it can also be read as the way I take it: Oh, RIGHT, you’re THAT person, still.  And this is pretty well confirmed by the second paragraph: “I admit that I once shared the illusion your letter celebrates” (29). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STEREOLAB-Transient Random Noise Bursts with Announcements (1993).

Stereolab are a bizarre band.  They make bubbly electronic music, with all sorts of bleeps and whirls and buzzes.  They even describe their music as space age pop.   Their album cover art is overexposed or simply silk screened.  (This is a hi-fi needle getting dropped on an LP).  The back cover looks like it’s a hi-fi test record.

This disc is a bit less electronic than future releases.  It’s more guitar drone (appropriate circa 1991, frankly).  When the songs start, Latetia Sadler’s voice is angelic and beautiful.  Delicate and sweet.  And you sort of realize that you don’t quite understand what she’s singing.  Because the song is in French!  No kidding.

And then you get to “Jenny Ondioline.” It’s 18 minutes of droning guitars and noises.  It has several parts (the song actually stops at one point and at another it plays a sample from “Channel Recognition Phasing and Balance.”  And if you listen carefully to the lyric, you’ll hear:

I don’t care if the fascists have to win
I don’t care democracy’s being fucked
I don’t care socialism’s full of sin
The immutable system is so corrupt
What is exciting is the triumph as the new nation.

A little later on the disc, on “Crest,” there’s more subversive songwriting.

If there’s been a way to build it
There’ll be a way to destroy it
Things are not all that out of control.

This is all done by those sweet, yet alien-sounding vocals.  When she’s not singing in French, Sadler sings in a fascinatingly broken English, emPHAsizing the wrong sylLABes.

Although I think my favorite moment comes in “Golden Ball” when the CD skips like a vinyl record.  It’s surreal.  Electropop and Marxism: perfect together.

[READ: Week of June 11, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [First Letters]

And so begins Insurgent Summer.

This is the first week of my second Summer Reading Book series.  I’d never heard of this book before getting the invitation to read.  But when the book was described as 800+ pages of letters between insurgents, well, how could I pass that up?

And that is indeed what you get here: Yarostan (Vochek) has not spoken to Sophia (Nachalo) in twenty years.  And he writes to her to her because she had written to him twelve years earlier (when he was in prison).  He writes back to bring her up to date on his life and to find out what’s going on with her. (more…)

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Because I needed one more reason to put off reading the huge stack of books on my nightstand (Jasper Fforde, I’m coming, I promise).  I have decided to join yet another group read of an inordinately large book.

I had never heard of Letters of Insurgents until I got the call from a fellow Infinite Summer gentleman and arbiter of good taste that Insurgent Summer is starting, well, now.

Visit the Insurgent Summer website for all the FAQs.  The book is hard to come by so there’s even PDFs of all of the book available on the site (so you can read the first letter and see right away if it’s your thing).

So, what’s the book about? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THERAPY?–One Cure Fits All (2006).

I’ve always liked Therapy?’s brand of aggro-alt metal/whatever you call it.  Their earlier stuff was harsh and dark. During their middle years they grew surprisingly commercial (although they’ve always had a bit of a commercial side to them, even at their harshest).

The last album I got from them was 2003’s High Anxiety (the first in a series of grotesque and unpalatable CD covers which culminates with this horrorshow).  I think the band must have lost any kind of distribution deal in the States, because it is still very hard to find these later discs (without paying way too much for them).

I was delighted to find this one on Lala.  And it stands as a pretty solid Therapy? disc.  They have always had guitars that sounded very sharp, almost electronic, which I thought really exemplified their take on angry literate metal.  And this disc opens up with it (after the 30 second “Outro”)

Their earlier tracks (like the awesome “Teethgrinder”) employed sonic tricks that really propelled the songs onto genius territory.  These songs are a bit more conventional, and yet they’re hardly commercial.  The most likely single would be the “ballad” (which also rocks pretty hard near the end) “Dopamine, Seratonin, Adrenaline.”

The back half of the disc is more melodic and catchy (a sort of reversion back to their middle period?). The only song that veers too far into pop territory is the closer, “Walk Through Darkness.”  It’s almost a bit cheesey, especially after all the heaviness of the earlier tracks.

It’s a fun disc, and a shame that it (and those BBC Sessions, which I am drooling about!) have yet to get a proper release in the states.

[READ: April 28, 2010] “Austerity Program”

In one of the letters to The Believer this month a reader suggests that they start printing fiction.  No reply is given to the letter.  At the same time, here is a piece that is certainly fiction.  There is no comment or explanation attached (which is surprising as The Believer usually tells us everything that’s going on in the magazine.

So, I’m going to treat this as a short story.  Tucker Nichols is responsible for the art direction, while David Khoury wrote it.  It is printed as a series of letters on official letterhead (with a logo but no name) stationary.

Much like with the novel Ella Minnow Pea, the “austerity” is a cost saving measure in which letters are removed from general use. (more…)

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ny1117SOUNDTRACK: FISHBONE-In Your Face (1986).

inyourfaceFishbone’s first full length starts out with two great songs.  “When Problems Arise” has the great stop/start techniques that Fishbone uses so well, as well as a great riff and some fantastic funky bass playing.  The second track “A Selection” has  a great ska feel, and could easily be The Specials or Selecter; however, Fishbone throw in a bit of humor (“No toothpaste?”) to make the song their own.

The rest of the album is good, but it stands in the shadows of its follow up.  (And, actually a bit in the shadow of the preceding EP).   The album admirably mixes up styles throughout.  It includes some of Fishbone’s lightest, most soul/gospel songs like “Movement in the Light,” but it also has some rocking tracks, especially the ending pair: “‘Simon Says’ The Kingpin” and “Post Cold War Politics” (the two songs together are less than two and a half minutes).

My copy still has the Used: $5.99 sticker on it, and I know I got it much later in my Fishbone appreciation.  But really the only problem with the disc is that Truth and Soul and The Reality of My Surroundings are just so good, this one can’t compare.  It’s a good stepping stone though.

[READ: December 26, 2008] “Lostronaut”

The title tells you pretty much all you need to know about this story.  “Lostronaut” is set up as a series of letters from Janice (an astronaut) to her boyfriend, Chase.  Janice is an astronaut at a space station called Northern Lights.  Things are going pretty badly for all on board, and each letter tells of the deterioration of both ship and spirit. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BARENAKED LADIES-Barenaked Ladies Are Me (2006) & Barenaked Ladies Are Men (2007).

Barenaked Ladies decided to forgo a major label altogether and just use Nettwerk as a distributor. They called their own self publishing “label” Desperation Records. [There was a fascinating article in Wired way back when this was happening, which made me want to get their CD, and it’s still online here.] The details are sketchy to me now, but it seemed like they thought they could make it on their own, and Nettwerk seemed pretty innovative as well. So, they released two albums in the span of about five months, and the results are below.

areme.jpgBarenaked Ladies Are Me. As I said, I was excited that BNL were basically doing the whole thing themselves, and wouldn’t have any label pressure to release the next big thing. So, I was a bit disappointed at first that the album stayed in the same “mature” vein as Everything to Everyone. There’s nothing crazily exciting on the CD except for the last song “Wind It Up,” which is the rockingest thing they’ve done in years.

The one song that really stuck out for me though, was “Bank Job” a really catchy Ed Robertson sung song about, of all things, a botched bank job.  It is funny without being silly, and it is so catchy! The song gets stuck in my head for days and days.

As for the rest of the record, once I started listening a few times, and now having listened to it again for the first time in a while, it’s a very solid outing. Again, “Bank Job” and “Wind It Up” are the two tracks that really stand out, but the rest are solid, well-crafted songs. And, here I pay my respects to Kevin Hearn and Jim Creeggan. Usually I don’t enjoy their songs as much, but (and maybe it’s because they don’t sing them themselves) “Sound of Your Voice” is an up tempo singalong, “Everything Had Changed” is a pretty, mellow ballad, and “Peterborough and the Kawarthas” is a pretty, slow song, that really gets into your brain. These are real highlights of the record. Oh and what is Peterborough and the Kawarthas? Why not see for yourself.

So, I give the BNL Are Me a big thumbs up.

aremen.jpgBarenaked Ladies Are Men. Five months after Are Me, came this follow up. The packaging and styling of the disc is very similar to the other one (as you can see by the covers). I wasn’t even sure that it was a new record. Well, it turns out that these are more songs from the same recording session. And, rather than releasing a double album, they did a Use Your Illusion I and II type of thing (there, how many reviews of BNL refer to GNR?)

The problem, such as it is, is twofold: there are really too many songs on this record. Are Me had 13, and this one has 16, which may just be 3 too many. The other is that several of the songs sound like other songs, both from Are Me and from Are Men. There are at least two songs that start out with the same vocal melody line as “Bank Job,” and they’re both sung by Ed Robertson. And the very first song, “Serendipity” sounds an awful lot like one of the songs on Are Me. Fortunately, the songs are catchy, and removed from Are Me, Are Men is probably just as strong a collection. But really 29 songs is a bit much.

The allmusic review suggests that this one is a bit more rocking and diverse than Are Me, and that’s true. The first 8 or 9 songs show a nice breadth of style and feeling. I still think the record runs a bit too long, but overall these two records together are a very good sign of future things from BNL.

And good luck to them and their Desperation “label.”

[READ: December 27, 2007] Ella Minnow Pea.

Sarah read this book over the summer, I think. I sounded great, so I put it in my Amazon “order later” cart, and promptly forgot about it. (This was before I used any kind of reasonable system for keeping track of books). Anyhow, I stumbled upon it while placing holiday orders, and decided to check it out. And, hurrah, our library had it! (more…)

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gum.jpgSOUNDTRACK: TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS-Anthology: Through the Years (2000).

petty.jpgTo me, Tom Petty suffers more than anyone else from egregious overexposure. I’m not sure if it’s just me who feels that way, but in my experience, “Free Fallin'” was utterly inescapable for what seemed like an eternity. And, geez, his mug was all over MTV when that album came out. It got so bad that I simply decided I was done with him.

Well, as it turns out, Sarah is a fan, so I decided to get her a greatest hits for her birthday. We’ve listened to it a few times, and it made me remember that, hey! I used to like this guy. In fact, disc one of this set is pretty darn great. There are about three songs that I didn’t recognize immediately, but otherwise I was singing along to all of his old classics.

There’s a great memory from Fast Times at Ridgemont High with “American Girl,” And there’s some songs that I forgot about like “Breakdown” and “Refugee.” However, I feel that the Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks duet “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” was the original overexposure video on MTV. I can’t decide how many times I saw that video when I was a young’un watching MTV in its nascent years. It was so ubiquitous that even Weird Al made a parody of it on his first album called “Stop Dragging My Car Around” (which was not terribly inspired, really).

Through much of the post-Dylan years people were described as the “next Dylan.” What really struck me, re-listening to Tom Petty is that, he seems to have misunderstood that they were speaking about his lyrics, not his voice. It’s bizarre how Dylanesque he sounds, especially on “Breakdown,” If not Dylanesque necessarily, he is at least very idiosyncratic in a way that Dylan made commercial.

Even the second disc (the overexposed era) holds up pretty well, and now, seventeen (!) years later, I can sing along to “Free Fallin'” without cringing. See that, Tom, all I needed was a decade away and now we can hang out again.

[READ: December 10, 2007] The Gum Thief.

An unusual title, The Gum Thief.

I’ve enjoyed Coupland’s work for many years now (see the JPod review), and I’m always excited to see a new book come out. I opted for the autographed box set from amazon.ca which actually turned out be pretty cheap at the time I ordered it. The box set contains Roger Thorpe’s book Glove Pond, (which will make sense in a few paragraphs) which I will be reviewing shortly.

[DIGRESSION]: Incidentally, amazon.ca is THE source for imported items from England. Most of the time, the imports on amazon.com are really expensive. But the retail price on amazon.ca for British imports is usually quite good. (This was even more true before the looney reached parity with our dollar…the exchange rate for awhile was practically half off list price!)

Back to The Gum Thief.

This is what’s called an epistolary novel, meaning it is written as a series of letters. This book varies the premise somewhat by having the letters written to each other in a diary. But it is not a series of diary entries; rather, Bethany discovers Roger’s diary and begins writing responses to his entries in it. It’s a very interesting conceit, and it plays very nicely with these characters, both of whom are completely antisocial. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Roger is an alcoholic, divorced father whose life has been generally going downhill; he more or less bottomed out with a job at a Vancouver Staples. Bethany is a post-high school goth whose life is stalling while she works at the same Vancouver Staples. Roger begins the book with some diary exercises in which he tries to get into the mind of Bethany. Bethany discovers the entries and is appalled and flattered at the same time. She writes back to Roger, telling him what he got right, but also emphatically insisting that they never acknowledge each other outside of the diary.

What Roger’s diary also contains is the beginning of his novel: Glove Pond. The box set I bought contains Glove Pond as a separate item as well, and I’ll review that next. But for now, I can say that Glove Pond is basically Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, in tone, mannerism and setup. [I rather hope this will get people to read the great Albee play]. It is about an older, long-married couple (he is a writer) who inadvertently invite a young, newly-married couple (he is a writer) over for dinner. The angry resentment between youth and age, success and failure and so many other things brews up into a heady mixture of Scotch and insults.

What makes the story even more meta- is that Kyle, the young writer in Glove Pond is writing his new novel, about an old, drunken man who works in an office superstore.

Surrounding the chapters of Glove Pond are the actual letters of the story. Primarily they are between Roger and Bethany, but they also include some correspondence with Bethany’s mom (whom Roger knew in high school), and, in a break from the “in Roger’s diary” aspect, some letters between other co-workers (who also discover Glove Pond, and do not share Bethany’s (genuine) enthusiasm for it).

Aside from all of the intricacies of the make-up of the story, what about the narrative? Well, the story is basically about a young girl–whose life had been full of close people dying–connecting to a frankly pathetic father-figure (but her own father is also out of the picture, so it’s understandable). It is at times very sad, especially as you watch these characters shut themselves down internally and externally.

Ultimately, Bethany tries to make a bold move outside of Staples, a risk that she didn’t think she was capable of. And Roger sets his sights on accomplishing at least one thing in his life, namely, finishing a book. You watch these characters slowly come alive until the last chapter, in which the meta- world comes crashing in on Roger and makes you rethink a lot of what you have just read.

As with most Coupland, the pop culture references, and corporate skewering, are fast and furious. And, as with most Coupland, just when you think the novel is going to be light and funny, weighty themes are opened and genuine sadness falls over these seemingly frozen people. What I think is particularly cool about this book is the way he is able to take a somewhat detached literary style like the epistolary novel and imbue some real passion into these shells of human beings. Obviously, diary entries tend to reveal impassioned thoughts by the writer, but in a series of letters written to two people who are not wooing each other, one wouldn’t expect high emotion. And yet it comes out, and it comes across very naturally.

And, as it turns out, stealing gum does play a pretty big role in both the novel and the novel within the novel, so the title does make sense.

Oh, and there’s also some cool videos available from Random House Canada. They are promotional shorts for The Gum Thief, and they’re available at Coupland’s My Space page as well as on You Tube, which is funny given the You Tube references in the book.

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