Sunday, September 30, 2012

South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the Sun
By Haruki Murakami

If you've never read a novel by Haruki Murakami, let me try to explain exactly what you should expect...

Imagine the most detailed dream you have ever dreamed. Imagine it stretching, not over a single REM cycle or even an entire night's sleep but rather an entire lifetime of sleep. Thousands and thousands of hours spent in a single forever-morphing dream. A dream so loosly-plotted that one suspects there is no plot whatsoever. Ah... but there is. All dreams have some sort of plot, even if we can't immediately identify it.

Imagine that an artist was able to render this epic dream of yours onto a canvas the size of a barn wall. Imagine that every square inch of that canvas was painted so meticulously that you needed a magnifying glass to appreciate the attention to detail. Where's Waldo? meets Jackson Pollock meets Inception. Your entire lifetime of dreams perfectly encapsulated on the side of a barn.

Now, imagine zeroing in on a section of that massive dream art. A section, perhaps the size of a standard Post-It note. 10cm x 10cm, perhaps. Imagine focusing in on that specific corner of the piece and scrutinizing it. There's still a lot going on in this tiny section of dream. It's that detailed! Go over the section with a fine-toothed comb. Rake it for every last feature. Uncover every single secret it has to offer. Open cupboards, find skeletons, read blood-splattered letters in dusty old drawers, decipher codes embedded in people's retinas. Understand and learn everything within that tiny fragment of your dream.

Imagine, then, taking that tiny section of dream and creating a three dimensional hologram of its area. Turning it and shifting it and examining it from every angle you can conceive. Toy with the image. Play with it. Turn it to negative, make it sepia-toned, black and white, technicolor. Adjust the pixelation, view it in ultra-violet, infra-red, CMYK, RGB, pantone. Give it sound, adjust the treble, toggle the bass and the frequency. Convert it into a radio wave, a gamma wave, a microwave. Bend it and mold it like silly putty. Smell it, taste it and feel each and every corner and crevasse of that dream fragment.

Imagine toying with that tiny section of your dream in every way you can envision. Imagine that tiny speck of your dream, that one trivial corner of your lifetime of dreams spelled out in infinite detail.

That's exactly what it's like to read a Murakami novel.

South of the Border, West of the Sun is another wild trip inside Murakami's barn wall.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
By Tom Franklin

Larry Ott, or Scary Larry as he is known in Chabot, Mississippi, owes a lot to Stephen King. Twenty years after being accused of, but not convicted for, the disappearance of local high school girl Cindy Walker, Ott, bereft of friendship, finds escape and friendship in the pages the horror books he loves so much. When another local girl goes missing, the locals immediately suspect Ott, who lives a cloistered and spartan life in the backwoods, trying (and failing) to forget about his troubled past as best he can.

Silas "32" Jones owes a lot to Larry Ott. Though twenty years have blurred the reasons, recent events have brought his past back into the present. The former high school baseball phenom and current darling of the Chabot police department, Silas makes a series of grisly, Stephen King-esque discoveries that put the history of Chabot and, more specifically, the relationship between him and Ott into the front and center.

It, therefore, seems rather ironic that Ott, the plaintive protagonist of Tom Franklin's 2007 novel Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter fails to see the similarities between himself and Carrie White, the abused loner in King's first novel Carrie. Franklin, who is generously peppers his narrative with references to many of King's other classics but is careful to steer clear of the obvious comparison.

And thank god for that. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a far superior than a series of frank juxtapositions. While Franklin may have modeled Ott after Carrie, it's heartening that he doesn't see fit to pummel the reader over the head with the comparison. Such is the wonder of literary fiction, a genre that has suffered under the weight of popular fiction these past 40 years (ironically, we have Stephen King to partially blame for that). The social pariah (Boo Radley?) paradigm has been explored on numerous occasions, but rarely in such capably literary hands. And what, exactly makes Ott such a sympathetic character? Well, like virtually every single person who will ever read this novel (myself included), Larry Ott is a voracious reader.

In Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, Franklin is preaching to the bookish choir. While the plight of Larry Ott is the worst-case scenario for any high school outcast, it's the sort of story that will hit home for more than a few readers. What lifelong reader (or any other sort of social misfit) hasn't felt the sting of rejection. In one particularly poignant scene, Larry recalls an incident in which he was universally accepted by his peers for a single day (owing to a realistic monster mask he brings to school one Halloween) only to be universally and cruelly rejected again once the novelty of the mask has worn thin. Franklin's depiction of Ott loitering in the parking lot, mask in hand, walking slowly to his car and hoping to be noticed by his classmates is so agonizing that I had to put the book down for a few hours to collect myself (something I rarely have to do).

I could accuse Franklin of picking low-hanging fruit and consciously pulling at heart-strings if it weren't for the fact that he handles the subject matter as deftly as anyone could. Franklin forges a connection between his readers and Ott that is nearly impossible to sever. Had Franklin conceived on his story in any other manner and I fear it would not have provided the same cathartic emotions. Unlike Stephen King, Tom Franklin knows exactly how to end his story.

And while Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is not even remotely a horror story, Franklin's style is decidedly an homage to the early novels of King as well as the small town novels of Richard Russo. Franklin, like King and Russo, has a real talent for describing setting and establishing tone. In fact, Franklin's striking portrayal of the deep south reminded me of King's ability to paint rural Maine (or Russo's uncanny capacity to sketch upstate New York) on the printed page. Franklin's Mississippi is so encompassing that it often bear semblance to the kudzu that has engulfed and stifled the local fauna. There is a certain strangulated, smothered flavor that mirrors Ott's tortured life as a social pariah. Wonderful stuff!

The story unfolds in a series of revealed episodes that follow no particular chronological order. Jumping from the present day back to Ott's childhood, the narrative unfolds in beautiful layers, each more riveting than the last. The characters are not always well rendered (some of the secondary characters are nothing more than cardboard cut-outs of southern stereotypes) but those that matter are treated with the care they require and deserve, particularly Ott. I know nothing about Tom Franklin, but one must wonder if Larry Ott is a literary self-portrait owing to the manner in which he is carefully handled.

Though time will eventually tell (and I may be wrong), I get the impression that in twenty years time Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter will be required reading for future students studying early 21st century literature. It is by no means perfect, but it provides a logical progression from the Horror magazines of the 1950s and 60s, through the works of Stephen King into a new generation of literary fiction writers.

On a personal note I can say with absolute certainty that this is by far the best novel I have read in 2012. If you are a lover of literary fiction, you owe it to yourself to pick this novel up. Books like this are becoming a rarity.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

City of Thieves

City of Thieves
By David Benioff

Writing historical war fiction is a precarious endeavor. It's not a genre to be entered into lightly. To be sure, many writers have waded into the troubled waters of historical war fiction only to be overwhelmed by the demands of the material. It takes a particular sort to venture into the genre of historical war fiction. I find that once finished, you can usually organize their efforts in three distinct categories.

First, many writers tend to get bogged down in the violence, tragedy and gore of war. These novels tend to be very heavy-handed and the moral lessons via graphic violence are more than a little blunt. War, by its very nature, is brusque subject matter and it is tempting to bludgeon the reader with death and disfigurement but, as in actual war, readers desensitize and writers paint themselves into a gory corner from which they cannot hope to escape. While I am certainly not suggesting that writers censor violence in the hopes of a better novel, sometimes enough is enough.

Other writers err on the side of caution and tread far too lightly on the topic of war. What you get is war rendered of all its violence and chaos and emotion. These sorts of novels strip the subject matter of any real emotional or psychological meaning. Of course, the story trumps all, but war provides such an interesting backdrop, it deserves proper development. I often wonder why some writers choose to set their novels in a time of war if they aren't fully prepared to dish the full spectrum of the time. If you wanted to distance the narrative from the conflict, why incorporate it in the first place? But I digress.

The best writers of historical war fiction know how to walk the razor thin line between war's relentless tragedy and absurd comedy. War is humanity at its most extreme. There is no future or past for those caught in the tumult of a major conflict, only now and the hope of later. There is an immediacy to war that forces us to live entirely in the present, whether it is dealing with the dangers at hand or appreciating a small act of kindness. Writing war fiction is an un-ending balancing act between comedy and tragedy.

David Benioff, falls into the latter category. His best seller novel City of Thieves finds that balance with almost perfect symmetry. The novel oscillates so fluidly between the horrors of war and the small joys of the human experience. Like the best war novels, the conflict weaves through the narrative like a character unto itself, presenting itself when it needs to be presented and disappearing when it is time to disappear. Benioff personifies the war with a deft hand.

The story chronicles a week in the life of Lev Beniov, a teenage chess playing Jew born and raised in Leningrad who, upon the arrival of the Nazis in 1942, opts to stay in the city and ride out the siege. Lev is arrested for burglarizing a dead German paratrooper and imprisoned. His life is spared by a Russian army official who, along with a Red-Army-deserter-turned-aspiring-novelist Kolya, sends him out on a mission to find a dozen eggs for his daughter's wedding cake... by any means available. Arms with a letter from the official and a few hundred rubles.

If this doesn't sound absurd enough for you, Benioff's narrative takes any number of twists and turns once the unlikely duo set off on their impossible mission. What makes the story even better is that Benioff reveals much of what is to come in the first few pages of the book, though he leaves out the who, what, where, when, why and how. Having the outcome firmly in hand only accentuates the tone and tempo of this novel. The story veers so wildly from disparity to hilarity the reader can only assume much of this story is actually true.

This novel reminded me so much of Roberto Begnini's film Life is Beautiful. While not strictly the same, the way Benioff incorporates humor and absurdity into the story which is neither funny nor absurd. To be sure, the Second World War was a catastrophe in Europe, and perhaps doubly so in Russia, but it is all in the way it is presented. Benioff could have presented the Siege of Leningrad with the severity and seriousness of a historian, but what would it have accomplished? We'd all be a bit more knowledgeable about the war in Russia, but the human factor would have been denied.

It's a rare treat to find an author that can handle such sensitive subject matter with the care David Benioff displays. Few authors have the ability to simultaneously depict the gravity and absurdity of war the way Benioff does here. Highly, highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Snowman

The Snowman
By Jo Nesbo

I've said it once and I'll say it again: Scandinavians are morbid. They tend to be tall, blond-haired and blue eyed (as if that wasn't creepy enough). They have a propensity for burning churches. Their ancient mythology is brutal, savage and tragic and has spawned an entirely unlistenable sub-genre of metal music only appreciated in Scandinavia... and Brazil). They are just neat enough and tidy enough and socialist enough to make you assume they were all born Virgo and they seem to prefer their crime novels on the darker side of macabre.

(Aside: As if to accentuate the point, the Heavy Metal band, Morbid, was Swedish)

Whether it's the cyber-punk horrors of Steig Larsson's Millennium Series or the more sedate brutality of Henning Mankell's Wallander Series, the people of Norway and Sweden seem thrive on extreme violence and murder. When you add Jo Nesbo and his series of novels featuring Harry Hole into the mix, one has to wonder how three of the best (if not most morbid) writers of the last quarter century have all come from the Northern Europe. Must have something to do with lack of sunlight and fjords.

I mentioned three novelists, but as of the writing of this blog post, we seem to be down to just one. With the tragically premature death of Steig Larsson and the last of Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander novels drifting ever so slowly out of the zeitgeist, it is Jo Nesbo that has remained to carry the torch of the Scandinavian crime fiction genre (that absurd title always reminds me of metal heads who go on and on about the New Wave of British Heavy Metal from the late 1970s). And much like Larsson with Lisbeth Salander and Mankell with Wallander, Nesbo has come equipped with a character every bit as intense and intoxicating as his predecessors: Harry Hole.

Detective Harry Hole is what would be produced if John McClane, Bruce Willis's legendary character from the Die Hard franchise somehow begat a child with Jimmy McNulty from The Wire. Brash, bold and dangerous but also self-destructive, and at times hopelessly lost and completely uncertain about his job, Harry Hole is a man with more personal demons than the people he arrests. He makes giant, terrible mistakes and, although not lacking in critical and analytical thinking, he makes wild, sweeping mistakes. Harry Hole is the Hamlet of Scandinavian crime fiction (though without the tragic endings). He is about the most humanized police officer you will ever read in a novel not written by Richard Price. While Lisbeth Salander is deftly hacking into your computer with nary a typo in her code, Harry Hole is mortally wounding the wrong person while trying to fight the urge to chuck a bottle of Jack Daniel's. How can you not root for this guy?

In fact, I spent a lot of time wondering whether Hole was a metaphor for how Nesbo views Norwegians on the world scene. At one point in the novel one of the characters, Arve Stop a media personality, laments that Norway loves the loser. Losers provide stories with grit and tragedy and pain. Winners are uninteresting by nature. One wonders whether Harry Hole is the embodiment of this sentiment. If so, Norwegians have a lot in common with Canadians. It comes with the territory of sidling up next to an economic  and military powerhouse. But I digress.

The Snowman recounts the events of Norway's first really artistic serial killer and it's up to Hole, Oslo's best if not brightest, to lead the investigation. The killer, dubbed the "The Snowman" due to his penchant for building snowmen at the scene of each of his crimes, has somehow flown under the radar of the police for a couple of years. When a new detective, Katrine Blatt, joins the Oslo police force she and Hole begin to make the connections between the victims of several missing persons reports. A series of increasingly grisly murder scenes seem to validate the assertion that they are dealing with something more than the average Norwegian gangland killings and Scandinavian church burners. As the crimes begin to spiral ever closer to Harry Hole, it becomes evident that the killer is engaging in a battle of wits with the policeman himself. Something rotten north of Denmark.

The story is incredibly complex with all sorts of the twists and turns one expects from good crime writing but without the implausible elements that leave many readers rolling their eyes. Often a writer tries to make that one last twist to shake off those final readers who may have actually solved the mystery before the protagonist leaving a bitter taste of the ludicrous in the reader's mouth. Nesbo doesn't go in for such shenanigans. While Nesbo certainly serves enough twists and red herrings to open a seafood bar and grill, they were done with the panache of a writer working at the top of his game. It took the entire first half of the novel for me to realize that trying to stay ahead of the investigation was futile because Nesbo was manipulating the reader with the deft and clarity of vision. Nesbo knew exactly where both the story and the reader were going.

I admit, I had the culprit pegged somewhere toward the end of the second third of the novel but it didn't seem to matter. In fact, I'm actually pretty confident that Nesbo wanted me to guess the killer by then. Like the characters in his book, Nesbo was playing me right into his hands. Knowing the killer hardly dissuaded from the enjoyment of the novel. I simply needed to understand how it all went down. I continued on, often like a reader possessed. The Snowman is so psychologically intense that over the course of the week I spent reading it, my wife repeatedly asked whether something was bothering me. I would always answer with: "Yes... The Snowman is bothering me."

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the superb translation done by Don Bartlett from the original Norwegian. Obviously, I didn't read this in its original language (my Norwegian is a little rusty after 37 years of having never once studied it) but Bartlett conveyed what I can only assume was the intensity and ferocity of the narrative without much compromise. What little may have been lost in translation was lost to me and if the story suffered as a result I was none the wiser.

If you are lamenting the end of the Wallander series or still in mourning over the untimely death of Steig Larsson and you haven't yet read or even heard of Jo Nesbo I strongly urge you to get out there and pick up a copy of The Snowman (or any of the other novels featuring Harry Hole). If you are already a

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Angel's Game

The Angel's Game
By Carlos Ruiz Zafon

It is often said that one must suffer for their craft, whether it is woodworking, sculpture or writing. David Martin, the protagonist in Carlos Ruiz Zafon's vampish, moody follow-up to Shadows of the Wind is such an artist. A writer of popular gothic tales, Martin is the very embodiment of the suffering artist, though it is left unclear whether it is a suffering of his own design or whether a certain element of fate is involved in his grotesque descent into darker realms.

Despite fair warnings from his friends, Martin somehow becomes involved with a silver-tongued Parisian publisher by the name of Antonio Corelli who commissions a very specific project, one rife with peril. Over the course of the novel Martin 's relationship with Corelli sours as strange and unfortunate incidents begin occurring within Martin's circle of friends and family. Corelli manifests himself as some sort of incarnation of Satan, and Martin, in a tragic bit of irony, becomes embroiled in a mystery every bit as melodramatic and macabre as the "penny dreadfuls" that he seems to write at the conveniently regular pace of 6.66 pages per day.

The Angel's Game is, in essence, a literal tale about the creation and sale of art. The notion of an artist selling their soul to the devil for material gain is hardly new. 

“Every book has a soul, the soul of the person who wrote it and the soul of those who read it and dream about it.” 

Any writer who has made money from their stories has, in a sense, has sold a portion of their soul in the form of their writing, leaving it in the hands of others to do with it as they may. Zafon hardly conceals the notion that a novel is a part of a writer's soul and the publisher plays the part of the devil in the literary transaction. To be sure, my favorite portions of The Angel's Game were the discussions between Martin and Corelli about the nature of good and evil and the political necessity of organized religion as a way in which to direct human faith toward political gain.

But let's not let Faustian imagery get the way of a good story, shall we? Zafon certainly doesn't. He's not interested in waxing intellectual on the philosophical nature of good and evil. A light dusting of critical thought on the subject as color for his narrative is more than enough to satisfy his whims. And although the The Angel's Game pays homage to dozens of classic works of fiction including Faust and Great Expectations, it is, at its heart a lurid romp through the streets of pre-Civil War Spain. He rarely stops long enough to chew the heavy issues fully, opting to wipe the slate clean and steam ahead with the narrative at hand. In this way, The Angel's Game is every bit the work of David Martin as it is that of Carlos Ruiz Zafon. 

Although there are moments in this novel that beg the reader pause for thought:

“It seems that in the advanced stages of stupidity, a lack of ideas is compensated for by an excess of ideologies.” 

As mentioned before, it is unclear whether the descent of David Martin is a construct of fate or of free will, and such ambiguity give the novel an esoteric theme. But one cannot help but feel a certain level of pleasure from witnessing Martin become a victim of his own brand of gothic fiction. Unlike the adorable Daniel Sempere in Shadows of the Wind, David Martin is an unlikable and smug knave who seems to deserve all the pain and punishment inflicted upon him. And as the body count increases toward the end of the book, Zafon seems unafraid to take the novel to its unbearably tragic end. In this sense, The Angel's Game is delicious vision into the mind of a man intent on taking his troubles to the end of the line.

The narrative itself is long, convoluted and braided. It weaves through the dark corners, sinister alleys and saturnine houses of 1920s Barcelona, making stops at both Sempere & Sons Bookshop and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books (familiar locales for anyone who has read Shadows of the Wind). Zafon is a modern master of tone and mood, plotting his story through an relentless parade of eccentric characters who inhabit impossibly rank settings. I found myself time and again comparing the structure and pace of this novel to the work of Umberto Eco (and specifically Foucault's Pendulum). Confusion simply for the sake of confusion (and a good story). So long as the confusion remains plausible to the reader, we are willing to follow along the increasingly convoluted trajectory.

I got the impression that Zafon was trying to convey that writers can talk all sorts of big talk and throw all sorts of themes and styles and form into a story but at the end of the day, it's the story itself that prevails and it's the story that draws the reader in above all else. 

“Everything is a story, a narrative, a sequence of events with characters communicating an emotional content. We only accept as true what can be narrated.” 

And for that, the artist suffers.

Monday, September 3, 2012


By Ken Grimwood

(Warning... very mild spoilers ahead. They won't matter, though. This book is too awesome to be ruined by spoilers.)

Most people cringe when they are asked "What is your favorite film?" or "What is your favorite book?"They tend to get angry at the questioner and reply with something like this: "How can I choose just one from so many!? It's not a fair question! Can I choose my favorites based on mood or time of day or period of my life?" And while I empathize with those who can't answer such straightforwardly impossible questions, I have no problem with them.

Granted, I have dozens of favorites films and books, and I can answer these questions in more obtuse tones if the situation requires, but if, for some reason, my questioner demands me to boil it down to one from each film and books, I can do it. I can actually answer both questions with definitive and unwavering answers. Without question, my all-time favorite film is The Big Lebowski and my all-time favorite book is Replay.

Technically, I read Replay four years ago, which means I'm breaking a blog rule (writing about the last book I finished), but not really. I recently finished re-reading this novel with a class of students and since I'm still ankle deep in an especially long novel, I thought I could add a little blog content in the interim.

For anyone who hasn't read (or heard of) Replay, drop whatever nonsense you are reading right now and find this gem of a novel. It won't be easy. It took me a while to track down a copy, but they are out there. And with all due respect to Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, Replay is simply the best piece of science fiction I have ever read (and, like I said, my favorite novel). Set in 1988, the novel begins with the death of 43 year-old, mild-mannered radio journalist Jeff Winston. Winston is the very definition of ordinary. Until the instance of his death, Jeff had been a middling man of middling ambition living out his mediocre life with his increasingly bitter wife, Linda... no kids. Well, that's the way this mortal coil works, right? We're born, we live as best we can, and we die... the vast majority of us in a haze of relative obscurity. Right?

Well, not Jeff Winston.

Jeff Winston's life begins with death.

In one sense, Jeff Winston does die in his office in 1988, in that his life to that point ceases to exist. but instead of a cessation of existence or some sort of progression into an afterlife, Jeff Winston wakes up as an 18 year-old in his dorm room at Emory University in 1963, complete with all his memories of his past life. A life that has not yet been lived. He has not met Linda. His best friend is still alive and every major event that has happened, from the assassination of JFK, Vietnam, the moon landing, Watergate, Heaven's Gate, etc... are all events yet to unfold. It is as if the entire world resets, save for one man's consciousness, leaving Jeff with a 20/20 vision of future events until 1988.

Once the premise is established, Ken Grimwood essentially begs the question: If this happened to you... what would you do?

The novel is a riveting exercise in what many (if not most) of us would do given the chance to live our entire adult lives over again with all the cheat codes available. Imagine a crystal clear notion of the next 25 years of time. Election results, sporting results, disasters, news stories, financial information, cultural trends, technological advances, Yanni. This isn't simply stumbling upon a sports almanac owned by a weird kid with an orange life jacket in 1955 that provides you with an aspect of future events, but rather all your collective memories and recollections from a world that has not yet caught up with you! It's a variety of reincarnation that is as tantalizing as it is scary. And it has provided me with a little game that I have placed since I read this book back in 2008.

If this were to happen to me I would begin replaying in 1993 (that's when I was 18 and the Toronto Blue Jays were about to win their second straight World Series in dramatic fashion (touch 'em all Joe!)) and on nights when I am having trouble falling asleep I often fantasize about what I would do if this phenomenon did occur (well, it beats counting sheep). There's the good stuff: A good portion of my fantasies surround (like Jeff in the book) betting insane amounts of money on sporting events, investing in sure thing stock (Google, Nokia, AOL, Apple, Amazon, Facebook (giggle) etc...) and I'd probably use the phenomenon in ways that I don't want to explore online since my mother tends to read this blog (though Ken Grimwood goes there with Jeff). But there would also be the bad: It's highly unlikely that I could recreate the exact circumstances that lead to me meeting, dating and ultimately marrying my wife (among other important people in my life) and I wonder whether I would be able to refrain from interfering in the space/time continuum (could I really, in good conscience, sit back and allow the events of September 11th to happen again? Or Columbine? Or Triumph the Insult Dog? Or any number of other tragedies that I know are impending?).

Replay is such an intriguing premise. One with so many variables. And if the premise of this book was simply replaying your life from the age of 18 until the age of 43 it would have been excellent, but Grimwood doesn't stop there. On the exact date and time of his death in 1988, Jeff Winston dies again and begins replaying his life... for a third time. This continues to a fourth and fifth and sixth life, each slightly shorter than the last, but to a human being, an almost infinite amount of living to be done. And just imagine, for a second that perhaps Jeff Winston isn't the only person experiencing replays.

Each time I finish this novel I curse Grimwood for ending it. There was so much more that could have been written. It could have been the first infinite book. Alas, I understand that an artist should always leave there audience wanting more. In this respect, Ken Grimwood is a genius. Rumor has it that he was working on a sequel to the book when he died in 2003, but left us with an unprintable manuscript which he went off to, presumably, replay his own life. Jerk.

There has been rumor of a movie for years (including one that would have starred Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts) but as of yet it has not materialized. It's a shame, too because I think it would make a killer film if done right.

Until such time, there is still the book. I am surprised that it isn't as well known as it should be. Given the premise of the novel I figured it would have been a runaway best seller rather than a cult classic. But what do I know about taste? My favorite movie is The Big Lebowski.