Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ahead of the New Yorker curve ... yay!

This week's New Yorker has a long and obscure history of the vampire myth. About a month ago, for no apparent reason, I went on a vampire-watching tear myself. Well, not so much a tear really, as a little brace of vampire movies---F.W. Murnau's (1921) silent original "Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror" and Werner Herzog's 1979 remake "Nosferatu: The Vampyre".

Murnau's original is often rated very highly among vampire buffs : ) ... but for me, it's little more than a curiosity. Herzog's movie, however, is top-notch. Klaus Kinski plays a maniacal Count Dracula. Isabelle Adjani is Lucy (I think that's what her name was) and the whole movie rises to the crescendo of the Count slavering over her pale nape. Aside from truly sinister and terrifying opening scene, this movie is an artfully dark take on the classic story rather than a gore fest.

All of this is pretty strange stuff, and I find the mythology pretty hilarious (not just Herzog's movie). Does the vampire myth really resonate so deeply that it deserves repeated treatment (according to the New Yorker, Warhol, Coppola, Polanski, Herzog ... all made vampire movies) and then this extended critique in the New Yorker? I got bored and didn't finish the article.

Monday, March 9, 2009

In other rooms, other wonders

Daniyal Mueenuddin writes with a certain old-world charm. His prose is florid, almost overly so. Almost. Just when you think he's let a sentence drift too far afield, he reels it back in with a light touch, often producing remarkable sentences with several little sparkling flourishes. Here's one example:

The next evening, when I drove through the gate of my house, a
sagging wooden affair once painted green, once perhaps in colonial
days a swing for little English children, I found an old man
standing by the portico with the timeless patience of peasants and
old servants, as if he had been standing there all day.

Here's another:

The ancient valet greeted Murad with affection, one of the old
school, corrupt, running the household for profit, taking a cut
from the cook, the drivers, but nevertheless proudly indulgent of
his master's ordered purposeless day, the master's hand which had
never turned to work, and his connections with the old Lahore

I spend several enjoyable hours this past weekend drifting through these sentences that form a loosely connected collection of stories about the remnants of a feudal Pakistan.

Mueenuddin's stories have an overwhelmingly feminine quality, and I don't mean that they will only be enjoyed by a female audience. For starters, very objectively speaking, Mueenuddin's frames six stories about women, in between two short ones about men. And even then, poor Nawabdin Electrician, the every-man of the first story, is the father of twelve girls, saddled with the impossible burden of twelve dowries! But, more than anything else, it's Mueenuddin's affinity for careful crafted women characters, all coping in their own way with being on the wrong end of familiar and frustrating power equations, that give this book its spirit.

I am impressed, but not yet entirely convinced by Mueenuddin's talent. For one, the trajectory of his characters are a little monotone. They cope, then hope, then fail, all rather too quickly. For this loosely connected set of stories, this works well enough (the connectedness being a nice device to convey the familiar, small world
of an Indian/Pakistani city). Despite being enjoyable, I'm not sure what Mueenuddin's point is---impressionist semi-documentary makes for a pleasant read, but I could have used a little more commentary in the sub-text. I can't help but wonder if Mueenuddin is equipped to tackle more weighty, substantial characters.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The traumas of public speaking, or Mueenuddin flounders at Elliott's Bay

I've come across some of Daniyal Mueenuddin's short stories in the New Yorker. So, when I heard that this talented young Pakistani writer was visiting Seattle and reading from his first book at Elliott Bay Book Company, I had to check it out.

A surprisingly large crowd (~35 people) were waiting for the writer to take the stage. After the host of the proceedings fluffed his name, Daniyal took the stage, visibly flustered. It took an agonizing couple of minutes for him to get out his first coherent sentence. Poor guy, I felt for him. I too get nervous before I speak in public, but not nearly quite as badly as Daniyal.

So, he stumbles through his reading, answers a few questions, and is uncomfortable throughout. Until the very end when it seemed like his real self came through a bit, with an almost shouted exclamation to go out and read his book. Seems like a really nice guy. It's clear he doesn't at all like speaking in public, which is a shame.

The first few pages of his book read really smoothly and I'm optimistic about the rest.