Geeky Cinephile Musings…
I don't pontificate, I blather.

Enter the Gates…

The time has come, my friends, to write another book report of sorts. I was never any good at book reports in school. I loved reading—heck, I was the kid devouring four books at the same time, putting down my spoonful of (boxed!) mac and cheese only long enough to turn the pages… But I hated being forced to dissimilate, simply for the sake of a grade, what the author was saying, break down the “themes,” (oh, such big WORDS in fifth grade!!) cite how the author was supporting those themes…I mean, what if they weren’t trying to say anything? What if they were just writing because writing feels good? As a writer with a few half-finished short stories, far more than a few half-finished “novels,” a shameful number of poems, and lastly, this sporadic blog, I can certainly vouch for the fact that if you write, and if you love to write, you’re gonna write things at times that aren’t necessarily saying anything—they’re just a tone, or a mood, that you’re trying to capture—much the way everyone seems to suddenly be a photographer now that we have iphones.

Do I really need to inject this here? Okay, I’ll do it–yes, I understand we were being taught critical thinking (although I have an idea that ultimately we were being coached to repeat what lit-cric giants before us had already said).

But I digress. C’mon, you’ve read this blog before, right? Well, setting aside everything I just said, I am now writing a self-inflicted book report. Because…somber silence, please, ladies and gents…I feel this work deserves more than me just saying, “Two thumbs up! Very entertaining!!” (Which is essentially what I try to get away with a lot of the time…yeah…sorry about that.)

You may remember that, last time, I blathered about Julia Phillips’ You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again. Well this was a nice 180 (NOT 360!! For the love of GOD, people!!! 360 means you’ve come FULL CIRCLE!!!).

Oh yeah, I guess I should tell you the name of the book already.

Gates of Eden, by Ethan Coen.
(Aha! See why I can include this on a film blog!? Goooooooo ME!)

This is Mr. Coen’s first published collection of short stories, and as a whole, it is a doo-hoo-hoooozie of a debut. No author, aside from David Sedaris, has ever made me laugh out loud. Well, folks—Ethan Coen did. Already that earns him total cool points. But it’s so much more than just funny—in fact, if you’re a Coen Bros fan at all, you will love this book, period, and point blank. There are a few missteps, but overall…it fucking rocks.

The End.

More? Oh, okay…GOD, crack the whip, ya fucking Draconians.

This book inspired me to want to…delve deeper. I’ll pause while you put your hands on your chin and stroke your beards, imaginary or fake…

I was struck by a few familiar themes in the book (oh my god, THEMES!!!???), and I started scribbling as I was reading. It went something like this:

1. Working class folks & the Everyman – vivid reproductions of working class life, especially in the Jewish community. Creaking leather chairs, sweaty white tank tops and high socks, the smells of overly-boiled beef, extended families living together, financial hardships. Leads often are not prescribed a name, leaving the reader to build an intimate association with the character.
2. Failing. Many of these stories seem to have an ultimate failure or let-down.
3. Women making men look small, usually as a result of the men not being able to control their sexual drives, but generally women playing on the occasional-but-strong impulsivity of males to their advantage.
4. Violence in general. Violence against the body, usually in unusually cruel ways (e.g. biting off ears, ripping off heads)
5. Gang-land style crimes and underworld dealings, but often folks who aren’t really well versed in these sorts of crimes…not really good at them, so they fail.
 6. A generally decent person—no saint, but not a criminal, tries to finally turn the tables in their favor and fails. – are the Coen brothers oddly moral??

Now, if you’re a Coen Bros’ film fan, I ask you…See anything fucking familiar??? Exactly.

These were my thoughts while rapid-fire-reading this book.  And I am completely enthralled with the TONE here.  I can almost reach out and touch the fake-wood-paneled walls, the worn wool of the itchy, green couch.  There’s good ol’ Uncle Morty, who comes to visit, never makes a fuss, and watches Cheers while spooning borsch into his mouth, saying “She was wearing a different dress the previous scene.  It’s the same day, though.  What, she brings a change? It’s a weakness.”  And let’s never forget Michael Simkin, the ten year old Hammer of God, who used to toss the Torah up into the acoustical ceiling tiles.

Besides all that, don’t ya just DIG someone inspired by the never-ending FAILURES of everyday man??

The delivery is also noteworthy. Coen experiments with multiple styles of story-telling, a few of which are basically radio plays. And thus, we expose his weakness—AHA!! Zere EEZ a veekness!!

He cannot, for the life of him, hide his own intelligence when writing. “But,” you might say, “why the hell would he want to do that? What are you, fucking stupid? What? He’s gotta dumb it DOWN for ya, huh STUPID?!?!”

Or maybe you’re not that violent.

Anyway, although Coen is a MASTER at DIALOGUE, especially when it comes to the written phonetics of characters with an accent, when it comes to narrative from characters that…well, for brevity’s sake, let’s just say they’re stupid and crude, Coen stumbles by giving these folks an eloquence and vocabulary that they could not POSSIBLY have or use. In the final story, Red Wing, it’s atrocious, as there’s an oscillation between wiseguy-type verbage and something more akin to John Fowles…all from the same person. Ya know, it just, like, you know…doesn’t work, eh dear reader? Coen perhaps senses this himself—maybe that is why he chose to write so many of these stories in the radio-play style—to escape having to keep writing each story in character.

But overall—these little gems are hilarious, they have grrrrreat tone, they have wonderfully identifiable personalities, and I am left wanting more.

Two thumbs up! Wildly entertaining!!!

Oh, and if you have not yet seen A Serious Man…you should watch it, and then shoot yourself for not having watched it already.

The End.


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