Thursday, April 14, 2016

A memoir and some mayhem: From Berlin to Vegas

By Steve Weddle

Rob Spillman’s All Tomorrow’s Parties is a memoir about identity, sure, but it’s also a story about belonging. Andrew Hudgins has a poem about a boy in a church pageant and the poem begins “A boy – ok, it’s me.” That’s the sense from reading Spillman’s magnificent book, a man telling a story about a character who is, who was, himself.
Rob Spillman

Spillman’s story moves between belongings: from Berlin to the states, from one divorced parent to the other, from artist to young man who doesn’t quite feel like an artist.

Of this book, Anthony Doerr said: “If you’ve ever been young, in love, and desperate to live an authentic life, this book is for you: a ravishing memoir about a young man’s quest for art, meaning, and a place to call home.”

“Desperation” is a good word to associate with this book, with the character who inhabits it. He’s desperate to be an artist, desperate to be loved, to fit in somewhere. When he moves to the states following years in Berlin, he’s clearly a separate person from his classmates, distanced from them. The feeling the story evokes isn’t necessarily one seeking pity. The boy isn’t trying to fit in with this group, necessarily. He isn’t interested in the television shows that interest them, for instance. But he is looking for a place to belong, even if it is within his own skin.

Rob Spillman is editor of Tin House magazine and has written for the New York Times Book Review, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, and many other magazines, newspapers. He worked for Random House and The New Yorker. He knows his way around sentences, around books.

In a sense, this book is quite similar to John Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel, the letters he wrote to a friend while writing East of Eden. Only, this is more the journal of an artist, of someone who wants more than anything to find his mission as an artist, his place of belonging, his identity. Judging from Spillman’s remarkable work these past decades, he’s found it.

And finding something is key to John Dufresne’s new novel, I Don’t Like Where This is Going. Let’s be honest. If you’re going to use that as the title of your book, you’ve got balls as big as Uranus. The bad reviews almost write themselves, don’t they? Of course, Dufresne won’t have to worry about that, as the book is an absolute delight.

John Dufresne
Dufresne, who made is name with the novel Louisiana Power and Light two decades back, has turned to a mystery-caper-buddy novel this time around. This is the second Wylie “Coyote” Melville novel he’s written and, though I haven’t read the first, I darn sure plan to now. Some people have said this novel is “Raymond Chandler in Vegas,” which is certainly a thing to say about a book. The sense I get, though, is that this is more akin to Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice novel, if that book didn’t keep stepping on its own dick trying to be clever. Dufresne’s novel is clever, damned clever, especially since it isn’t trying to show off.

Perhaps a better comparison, if you’re into that sort of thing, would be Elmore Leonard. You’ve got nutty characters and propulsive shenanigans and, overall, a book you can’t stop reading. Each sideways glance yields another weird, strange vignette into Las Vegas which does nothing to distract from the story and everything to enhance it. The main character is a therapist who is sort of hiding out in Vegas with a magician. Imagine Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo trying to solve a mystery in Vegas when everyone else is on drugs. This is a smart, funny book. At the sentence level, this book works well. At the story level, it excels.

Lucky for you, the nice folks at W.W. Norton have offered a copy of I Don’t Like Where This is Going to a lucky DSD reader. Just comment below or share this post on Twitter, using the hashtag #DoSomeDamage.


Nick B said...

These both sound like winners

Suzanne D. said...

Wonderful author! Nice review. Thanks. said...

Adding both to my TBR list.

Rick Ollerman said...

Saw Mr. Dufresne at a conference many years ago. I'd love to win the book.

Steve Weddle said... tells us

Rick Ollerman

is our winner. Congrats