Friday, October 31, 2014

Cephalopod Coffeehouse October 2014

I am Lisbeth Salander.

That was the realization I had after reading Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy this month.  You perhaps know these books better by the title The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Next.  Although it's just as likely that you know the name Lisbeth Salander, too.  She's become something of an icon, after all.

I was working at a major bookstore chain (since gone out of business) when these books became worldwide bestsellers, although you'd hardly have had to be doing that to know how popular they were.  David Fincher adapted the first book into a movie starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig, and that was my first direct exposure to any of it.  Later I read a comic book adaption of the second one.  Finally I had a chance to sit down and read the books themselves, including the mysterious concluding volume, which I remember at the time of its release being (as it turns out, inaccurately) described as basically reiterating previous material (although there's a trial involved, so of course some of it's referenced).

Okay, so I'm not literally Lisbeth Salander.  That would be pretty difficult.  Larsson was an investigate journalist, and the trilogy is based on his ideas about what that means (it remains to be seen if his native Sweden upholds this tradition better than elsewhere, or if the books are in some sense wish fulfillment), as Mikael Blomkvist finds himself involved first in the mystery of the disappearance of a girl forty years ago and then in the life of Lisbeth, who helps him along the way and then needs his help to disentangle her from the mess her life's been.

Lisbeth Salander's mess is epic and tragic, and the third book is arguably the best one because it reveals the full scope but also the emotional conclusion of her struggles as she learns to reconnect with a world that previously seemed only interested in rejecting her.  Larsson made sure readers found her more sympathetic, and that was his true genius.

So what makes me thinks I'm Lisbeth Salander?  She's the first literary outsider I've really connected with.  In some ways she's a modern Holden Caulfield, although instead of being a rebellious punk she's a young woman who's been a victim on multiple levels and has ended up socially compromised.  It's the social compromise I understand best, the instinct to shrink away from others.  For most of my life people have tried to label me as shy.  Lisbeth is suggested to have Asperger's, and maybe that's what explains her, but I think it's more that for as long as she could remember, there was little reason to acknowledge the outside world.

People can be cruel, on the outrageous scale Larsson detailed in his books, or in smaller ways, too.  Everyone wants to be accepted, but sometimes that seems impossible.  People adapt.  But sometimes miracles happen, and you discover those who actually do understand you.  The most remarkable elements of Lisbeth Salander's journey involve people like Blomkvist, who see through the surface of her life and recognize how special she really is.  We're all special for one reason or another.  Larsson made Lisbeth special in a lot of ways, but that was to keep the attention of finicky readers, readers who probably needed someone like Blomkvist to discover Lisbeth, too.

(She considers him, for most of it, to be a bloody do-gooder.)

Lisbeth herself flits in and out of the narrative.  She disappears for large stretches at a time.  The story follows other characters.  But in the end, the trilogy is a timeless piece of literature most certainly centering on her.

And just perhaps, if you read it, you'll realize you're Lisbeth Salander, too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Jerome Charyn's 50th anniversary

Fifty years ago this year, Jerome Charyn published his first novel, Once Upon a Droshky.

Since the publication of Johnny One-Eye in 2008, I've become a late-arrival fan and have been working my way, slowly, through his catalog.  I made a little more progress earlier this year in conjunction with his latest release, I Am Abraham, and recently I realized, wait a minute! this year is pretty significant!  So I ramped up my Charyn a little, dug around and got a few more of his books, and hopefully will get around to reading a few if not all of them by the end of the year.

The first, naturally, will be Droshky.  When I compiled a list of all his novels for this blog, I tried to find out what each of them was about.  Charyn isn't generally appreciated for the quality and breadth of the material he's given readers over the years, which may be due to the fact that Droshky wasn't well-received fifty years ago.  He developed a reputation for being at the fringe of the literary scene, and hasn't managed to leave it.  If his lead characters are any indication, though, I doubt Charyn much minds.  The quality speaks for itself.  As someone who has read a few of his books and gotten a handle on his themes, I wonder what kind of impression I'll have of Charyn's first effort.

After that I'll read my first Isaac Sidel mysteries.  Sidel is the one character Charyn has returned to, repeatedly, over the years.  In some ways he might be the author's best bet at establishing a full-blown reputation.  The Isaac Quartet collects the first four Sidel books.

Darlin' Bill was released in 1980, the year I was born.  It felt right on that level to make this particular book a priority, plus my own fascination with the Wild West and the fact that Charyn has demonstrated a great ability to revisit known figures from a fresh perspective.

Charyn has also dabbled in graphic novels.  I happen to love comic books.  It's like Charyn has secretly been writing for me all these years.  Ha ha!  Just kidding.  But I've also got my first Charyn graphic novel on the docket: Billy Budd, KGB, which also manages to evoke Melville, which for me is another good thing.

The last selection is 1999's Captain Kidd.  It's got a dog wearing an army helmet on the cover.
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