Review: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

Gary Shteyngart’s fuckability levels must be off the chart right now. If he were to walk past a credit pole, numbers that rival elite college standard SAT scores would blink in his wake. He might even be considered a candidate for eternal life, according to the Post Human Services division of the Staatling-Wapachung Corporation — if he drinks his green tea and veers clear of trans fats.

Gary Shteyngart is so hot right now. He’s a newly-minted member of The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40″ club; Every bit of media in the world that writes about writers is writing about him; There is a kicky trailer for his third novel Super Sad True Love Story, with a cast so ripe with hot author-types that it is damn-near a literary equivalent of the movie “The Outsiders.” (I’ll see your C.Thomas Howell, and raise you a Jay McInerney).

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Review: ‘Lips Unsealed’ by Belinda Carlisle

I fell in love with Belinda Carlisle in the back of a clunky brown passenger van in the summer of 1987, my walkman spinning the cassette of her debut solo album, “Belinda.” On the cover, the most beautiful woman in the world was dressed in all black against a Hubba Bubba pink backdrop, her bob flung whimsically in a way that said “I’m the kind of girl who tosses her hair. I’m always having fun.”

To see her on MTV supported this personae. In her videos, Belinda Carlisle spun and rolled in the sand, dance-flirted on sun porches, made love to a convertible’s head rest with her voice — a voice that sounded equal parts cigarettes and Tab. Her clothes always dangled off bare shoulders, like she had dressed hastily in the morning before sneaking out a bedroom window. Never trashy, though. What people mean when they say: “Why, she’s a natural beauty.”

In her memoir “Lips Unsealed” the former Go-Go reveals that this was all a front. Beneath the tousled red hair and pearly whites, she was a coke head in an internal state of controlled chaos. She was on and off the wagon so many times she should have splinter scars on the backs of her thighs. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Go-Gos reputation for partying hardy was well-documented, and frequently Carlisle’s own binges ruined live performances — both televised and at sold-out concerts — and pissed off her band mates.

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Review: ‘Eclipse’ by Stephenie Meyer

All is well with the emo, Bright Eyes-bleeding couple Bella and Edward when “Eclipse,” the third book of Stephenie Meyer’s uber-sensitivo contemporary goth novel opens.

This one is more of a bosom clutching, fainting spells romance than the previous book in the series, “New Moon.” The young love birds are following a period of crossed telepathy wires, death wishes, emaciation, and a heated tour of Italy’s fanged underworld.

The nagging outside interference is coming from La Push: Jacob is pissed off at Bella, and she is desperately missing the bestie (beastie?) who coaxed her through a particularly self-destructive period with thrill seeking adventures and plenty of petting and fawning.

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Review: ‘Post Office’ by Charles Bukowski

If you have ever taken the majority of your dinners with an employee of the United States Postal Service, you will learn that Charles Bukowski’s novel “Post Office” is what these people use instead of a mirror. This has long been a favorite book of my boyfriend, and one he has suggested I read for an accurate look at how he spends his business hours.

Finally, fueled by back-to-back viewings of the movie “Factotum,”, and the documentary “Born into It,” I had built up some juice for more of a Bukowski binge. The curmudgeonly drunk and dirty old man doesn’t just appeal to government workers, after all. Like anyone who has ever been a 20-something who enjoys scrambling word combinations and giving mouth-to-mouth to a bottle of whatever, I, too, have found an occasional Bukowski-ism that resonates. Until now, I’ve only read his poetry – which I love for its stark and frank narrative qualities and for the seedy portraits of old-school Hollywood gutter life. In non-rhyming verse.

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Essay: Under the Streetlights

It has been about 20 years since I’ve stood under a street light with boys. Considering all the ways the world has changed for teenagers — things like never knowing the frustration of a land-line’s “busy signal,” and the invention of energy drinks — I like that this one rite of  puberty still exists. At least in our neighborhood.

The girl next door is 15-ish — right at the apex of her primo standing-under-street-lights-with-boys years. Next summer, if I’m still up to speed on my social evolution, she’ll graduate to hanging out with boys in the Taco John’s/Dairy Queen parking lot. The year after that, she’ll probably be drinking something blue at the quarry two blocks away, spending Sunday mornings trying to dislodge pebbles from her hinge joints; twigs from her hair.

Almost every night she skips onto the front porch, hoodie, jeans, bedazzled cell phone in hand, and squints up the street where, inevitably, the same two boys are loping toward her: one lanky, like there are extra elbows in there somewhere; one shorter, with better hair. I haven’t figured out which one likes her and which one she likes, but for the sake of a tranquil summer, I hope both are the same person.

They stand under the light for hours, hours. Sometimes murmuring, sometimes laughing. Shuffling. It is, on one hand, so sweet, so wholesome. Norman Rockwell’s “Girl with Boys Under Street Lights.” But  there is also this other level. Sexual tension in a slow cooker. Where a certain look can inspire journal entries for weeks; an arm, accidentally brushed, will feel phantom touches for an entire day. There is no rush or urgency. They’ve got an entire summer to get to the meat of it. As far as they know, they’ve got the rest of their lives. A teenager’s horizon is so much longer, so much cleaner for not knowing the shit that can obscure the view.

“One of those boys is a wingman,” I said to Chuck. “It can’t be fun for him to hang out for five hours every night … talking.”

“What else is he going to do?” Chuck asked. “Maybe it’s more fun than hanging out by himself at home.”

Chuck used to hang out under this same street light, I should note. No word on which boy he was in the scenario. If I had to guess, I’d say he has been both. So have I.

There is such a ritual to this: Girl steps onto the porch at a certain time, wearing her summer uniform; Boys walk toward her with a casualness that must, must be a theater trick. They time their approaches so they meet beneath this light on the corner. And then they start talking. There must be something that happens at the end of the night, too. Curfew looming large, conversation quickened, boundaries pushed. After 4 hours, 45 minutes of small talk, things ramp up the way things always ramp up when there is a deadline, a designated end-point. They go separate ways, not bothering with a, “tomorrow?” because it’s a given.

Twenty-some years ago, it was me under a street light. I liked the skateboarder, and luckily he liked me. First he would come rolling around the corner, down the sidewalk across the street his body slouched into a thin S. Vuarnet T-Shirt and baggy knee-length shorts made out of something water resistant. Teal Converse high tops, and bright white ankle socks. He was tan, and he had calves like lean chicken drums. Blond hair feathered on the sides, a spike along the part, wispy bangs. A gap between his front teeth, greenish-blue eyes. While he was relatively anonymous in the halls of his public junior high, he was everything to me. Kyle.

He would do laps around the semi-cul de sac. Circling, circling for hours sometimes. Sometimes he would skate away, and come back on his bike and circle some more. I’d watch from the front picture window. Sometimes hidden behind the curtain. Sometimes standing boldly at the center, leaning on the wooden frame. I’d watch him as long as he was out there, but we would both pretend we didn’t notice the other one. Such an elaborate choreography.

Eventually, I’d go sit on the driveway and ignore him some more until he cracked, and skated to my house, stopping in front of me. Squat on his board, rolling back and forth as we talked under street lights. I remember bits of things we talked about, an inside joke about a tucan, and another about airplanes. Roxette, INXS, Beastie Boys. His favorite movie was “Aliens.” He loved “The Three Amigos.” At the end of the night, he would pass me a note folded into a triangle. One of my favorite day dreams was that we were in the woods, and some older boys forced us to kiss each other.

In his notes he pleaded with me to French him. Maybe as a birthday present. How much longer? Are you almost ready? I can remember the second it happened so clearly: His skin smelled like sweat and outside, and there was this foreign thing in my mouth. Like taking a too-big bite of something, or adjusting to a new retainer. And then it always went like that. A preliminary period of talk, followed by kissing, kissing, kissing. Packed against each other awkwardly in winter coats, pawing at each other through gloves, sprawled out on top of the pop-up camper or on the wooden steps that led into house. Jumping apart and faking conversation when my dad opened the door. For the next 11 months, we did this every night for three hours. I was 13, and then I was 14. I skipped phone calls and slumber parties, unwilling to be without Kyle.

I like knowing what is in store for this girl and these boys under the street lights, and exactly what it feels like to feel like that. All that anticipation for something you don’t have the life experience to visualize or define. How she must walk into the house every night with a little smile, reliving the best part of the conversation, the one nugget he dropped that let her know he likes her, too. That eventually they can shake the wingman, they won’t need him as an excuse anymore. But it’s going to take awhile.

I feel like a fortune teller, with a better view of a young girl’s future than she has of her own. Or, for that matter, than I have of my own.

Bits: Whatever happened to …

Ever wonder what ever happened to Teddy Duchamp, the luckless, one-eared wonder who, together with his three emaciated friends, set the precedent for modern-day bromances when they scoured the landscape for Ray Bower’s mutilated body in “Stand By Me”?

Turns out he became the sort of hipster-approved pop culture-ist who can write an entire essay that, like, compares Britney Spears to KFC’s Double Down.

Originally posted July 9, 2010 at Schadenfreude.

Review: Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

Mari is manning the front desk at the ramshackle sea-side hotel owned by her mother the night before the start of the busy season when a second-floor scuffle breaks out between a guest and a prostitute. The latter lands in the hallway, screeching and flailing, amid a mess of tossed pillows, strewn clothing, and a spilled purse. Other guests file into the hallway to gawk, and the john — a stoic suit-wearing sort — says to the woman in a hypnotic voice Mari likens to a mellow horn or a cello:

“Shut up, whore.”

His voice wedges itself in Mari’s soul, and is the starter pistol to a whirlwind sadomasochistic, um . . . romance?. . . between the 17-year-old high school drop out with long shiny hair and a truck-load of self loathing, and the man — a translator who lives alone on an island and is rumored to have murdered his wife, the unlikely stars of Yoko Ogawa’s dark Japanese novella Hotel Iris.

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