[Last weekend, en route to Madagascar, Jeremy M. Davies swung by my Chicago atelier to hear my neighbor perform Mahler’s “Quartet for Strings and Piano in A Minor” on his singing saw. Fifteen minutes in, two other friends stopped by, bearing bootleg DVDs of three new films: Midnight in Paris, The Tree of Life, and X-Men: First Class. The singing saw forgotten, I fired up my video projector, and a marathon viewing ensued. Hours later, our guests departed, Jeremy and I recorded the following conversation.]
A D: Jeremy, when did you give up on Woody Allen?
Jeremy: Small Time Crooks.
Top Reasons to stop what you’re doing, and read Lance Olsen’s latest Head in Flames (Chiasmus Press, 2009).
- Because HIF is part of a (loose) trilogy of Olsen’s work, dealing in innovative ways with Modern figures: Nietzche’s Kisses (FC2, 2006), Anxious Pleasures (after Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” Shoemaker and Hoard, 2007), and now HIF.
- Because the phrase Head in Flames can also be found, twice, coincidentally, in the story “Nerve” by Shelley Jackson (The Melancholy of Anatomy). What a small, fiery world.
- Because HIF has the best opening line this side of “Call me Ishmael”: “Look: I am standing inside the color yellow” (1) as spoken by Vincent Van Gogh.
- Because HIF is a history book—as Michel Foucault might endorse it. Forget regular history, in fact, forget the traditional triumphalism of the western mind mastering dates and stratagems and plots and characters and settings then and by the activation of these vectors into a sleek arrow—not “a” story, but “the” story—suggesting you can learn everything there is know about the world in, for example, The Outline of History by H.G. Wells. Over 20 million copies sold, sure, and that can buy you at lot of verbs.
- Because HIF is instead three voices in different fonts, rotating in the same order—Vincent Van Gogh; his great-grandnephew, murdered Dutch filmmaker and media provocateur Theo Van Gogh (namesake of Vincent’s art-dealer brother); and Theo’s killer, the 2nd generation Dutch immigrant Mohammed Bouyeri, who Wikipedia calls Dutch-Moroccan, even though he was born in the Netherlands.
- Because Bouyeri is multidimensional: from the generation of immigrant children unwilling to accept the menial jobs their parents took out of cold necessity. Bouyeri, on his father, in HIF: “Almost forty years in this country eight children a cramped flat a dishwasher’s salary and your father has to sit in a chair when he prays” (25).
- Because you’ll read fast, and even though the voices are only three, you’ll forget who says what, and that often it won’t matter.