November 19th, 2010

house

The Archaeology of Movies and Books

So I was listening to this podcast by mondyboy  and Kirstyn McDermott--ok, yes, because they review Deathless quite favorably in it--but I was struck by several of the things they said in regards to The Book Thief, which I went out and bought. And wow--how awesome to read a super-successful book that actually is brilliant, I'm completely into it after like 30 pages, and honestly I was into it after one page. I remember at Blue Heaven we talked about needing to know what a book was about within 50 pages, and really I don't think I need to know what it's about--though I get annoyed if I'm 100 pages in and still don't know--I just need to have made the bargain with the author. The bargain where I know I'm going to finish the book. That magical clicking place where I flip over from testing the waters to diving in. These days I do tend to stop reading if I haven't sealed that deal by 100 pages, but it's not about knowing what it's about, it can be the prose or the structure or a character, too.

Ok, so The Book Theif. Kirstyn is extra-brilliant and started talking on the podcast about how especially in genre readers and reviewers like the illusion that it's somehow not a book, for a narrative to be completely immersive so that it's not an act of reading but of experiencing. She notes that both The Book Thief and Deathless make much of being books, of knowing they are books, that they are stories told by someone to someone else, and that she likes that and thinks it's more common in YA. (Though really I do not understand why The Book Thief is YA. Because it has a young protagonist? It seems like a regular literary book to me.)

And I love it, too. Oh my god, how I love metafiction. In movies and books and everything. I love directly engaging narrative with narrative. Having just finished Peter Straub's In the Night Room it's certainly on the brain, as the metafiction going on in that book is off the charts. Deathless actually used to have a little preamble called An Admonitory Note on the Morality of Books that was in there until literally the last editing pass, when I took it out because while I think it's important it just forestalled the beginning of the actual book. But it essentially explains why I think fantasy is so important and I'll probably put it up on the website. As a post-postmodern grrl, I dig it when everyone knows they're in a constructed narrative--because solid portions of life exist in constructed narratives and it's a tangled, broken wheel of: we read and view narratives from earliest memory and those narratives reflect real life but we also construct our lives to fit the narratives we ingested before we understood them so life reflects narrative and it all goes around and around and we are always living some story or other.

So I don't like pretending we aren't. By the same token I could barely watch Resident Evil the other day--fill in your own punchline here--because the characters spent the whole movie slowly figuring out what a zombie is OH MY GOD WHO ARE THESE ALIENS, NO, NOT THE MONSTERS, THE PEOPLE WHO CAN'T CALL A ZOMBIE AT 500 YARDS. It was excruciating. I was embarrassed for them. I feel like we're beyond that shit now, and when they're all looking confused and going "they're dead!" "but they're alive!" I can just go get a cup of tea and come back when they're on to 2.0. I much prefer Scream, where we all know we're in a horror movie and a big part of the audience tension comes from suddenly not knowing which of the tropes hold true for this story, because if the characters have knowledge of their genre, all bets are off.

Maybe I just like the big M because I see life through folklore, and if you do that you live metafictionally. Maybe because I want to step in and say: honey, you're in a fairy tale. So be nicer to your sister and watch out for falling apples. Maybe because I am a genre reader and thus I like rules--oh my god I love clearly stated rules, even the exposition scene where they're laid out. Because you know the rules will get fucked with and you're waiting to find out how. Who doesn't love Jamie Kennedy's speech about horror rules? They make you think in a larger fashion about all those shitty movies you watched, and then those movies become retroactively more awesome because ta da! They're folklore. It's sort of a jewel of deconstruction--a specimen of the genre deconstructing the subtextual rules of the genre. I want this all the time--well, not really, because then it wouldn't excite me so much when I see it. But I want it.

And of course, the character who can stand outside the action and comment on it is most often, like Jamie Kennedy, the Fool--but sometimes it is supernatural, as in The Book Thief, and sometimes and academic, who is our current wizard archetype. These are my very favorite characters. They see the fnords. They witness the patterns and makes sense of them.

My favorite thing about deconstruction--and I have many, because d-con is awesome if you don't paddle through it in a douche-canoe, with oars that have I'm The Smartestest engraved on them in French--is that it lays everything open and invites the reader/viewer to look at its innards. Understand it all, the whole system, how it works and how it doesn't, how systems are layers of order and disorder pretending to be each other and standing outside them is necessary but also an illusion because we are not supernatural and most of us are not divine fools, and we will always be part of the whole.

Sometimes I get tired of talking about publishing and how to make it and hoping I make it and all that jazz. But I never get tired of talking about books and movies, about the content of stories rather than the business of them. And books that talk about books and movies are pretty much all aces for me.