Archive for the Literature Category

Day 38: Ed Park’s Debut Novel “Personal Days” is BTS

Posted in Literature with tags , on August 2, 2008 by Vince

Perhaps it’s the sadist in me speaking but everytime I think of a recurrent scene from Ed Park’s “Personal Days” – one where another unwitting worker bee in a Manhattan office that is the eastern outpost of an Omaha-owned company is about to get the ax – my auditory cortex hijacks the high-suspense tableau and starts playing ABBA’s “Take A Chance On Me”, their hearts lub-dub-lub-dubbing to its frothy beat:

If you change your mind,

(Take a chance, Take a chance, Take-a-Take-a-chan-chance)

I’m the first in line

(Take a chance, Take a chance, Take-a-Take-a-chan-chance)

Honey I’m still free

(Take a chance, Take a chance, Take-a-Take-a-chan-chance)

Take a chance on me

What can I say, it’s just like my imagination to transform an otherwise edge-of-your-seat Russian roulette of corporate carnage into a perversely droll game of musical chairs. Not that the characters in “Personal Days” look anything like the flower-power-channelling Swedish foursome in their heyday but I think Park is largely to blame for my musical malaprop. “Personal Days” is his sardonic take on modern-day corporate culture – from its its shared elevator rides and Googling compulsions to extra-cubicular romances and the main entrée, job-security paranoias. “The Firings” have been going on in the aforementioned office for more than a year leaving us guessing whose head rolls next in a narrative that’s the Starbucks-addicted, cheeky Gen-X grand-nephew of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None”.

“You poor things!” would have been my initial reaction to the plight of these office drones. When I realized, halfway through the novel, that their inertia in simply quitting the job had less to do with macroeconomic woes than their barely-disguised self-destructive impulses, ABBA shimmied in, the glee oozing through their Scandinavian pores. “Personal Days” is in a lot of ways an invert of Chuck Palahniuk’s equally ironic “Fight Club” but the violence Park specializes in is more catatonic and subterranean. Everyone loves a train wreck and the sequence of terminations is the closest Park’s characters come to such a treat. 

Think about it: the moments immediately preceding another employee’s firing is not much different from the heights of ecstasy one reaches in erotic asphyxiation. Those precious few seconds of breathless briss or terror where, as George Carlin put it, “you don’t know whether you’re coming or going.” (It doesn’t help that the mantra of “take-a-chance-take-a-chance” seems to have been delivered with an irregular breathing pattern. Get out of your ABBA-groupie closets, my dears!) This is the one collective fetish that these Manhattanized denizens of Dunder Mifflin seem to have cultivated (the pre-firing anxiety attacks, not the erotic asphyxiation). It’s a good thing that “Personal Days”, Park’s first novel, is actually worth holding your breath a few seconds for. 

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Day 6: Fantasizing about a certain naughty professor is BTS

Posted in Literature with tags , , , , , on June 8, 2008 by Vince

Where does one find them in Manhattan, these gentlemen who exude an air of mystery and menace?

If you’re in the mood for a tease and a delicious sadist, look no further than Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. When I first picked up the novella last year (a long, heinous decade after my years as a “nymphet”), I was expecting to read the literary godmother of Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” video or American Apparel ad campaigns. Instead, Nabokov whisked me off to a world of precarious morality and erotic danger and, wouldn’t you know, he had me nodding in scandalized complicity with Lolita’s predator, Humbert Humbert. Very naughty, that Hum. 

Now I do not tolerate pedophilia of any sort but what fascinated me about Hum as an artistic creation is that he was in no way a loutish caveman but a wit and connosieur with, shall we say, very particular (albeit esoteric) tastes. Introducing Humbert Humbert – scholar, narcissist, devourer extraordinaire – who has this to say of his own virile splendours: “Let me repeat with quiet force: I was, and still am, despite mes malheurs, an exceptionally handsome male; slow-moving, tall, with soft dark hair and a gloomy but all the more seductive cast of demeanor.” Less eloquent words than these have reduced me to putty; a glimpse of his chest hair would render my surrender complete and this blog non-existent.

Whenever I’m bored on the subway, my eyes occasionally wander, absorbed in a private game of “Where’s Humbert?” as I survey the car for potential Hums. Lolita – which has since become the favorite of my Dangerous Liaisons – is to blame for the amorous tremors that men in their thirties and early forties have sometimes triggered in me. There’s something I find incredibly sexy about men who’ve grown into their sexiness and let it settle comfortably in their skin. Where does one find them in Manhattan, these gentlemen who exude an air of mystery and menace? I must admit that I’m quicker to swoon over a man’s mind than his chiseled pecs, hence my predilection for graduate school classrooms over sweaty gyms. For some reason, there’s an insouciant grace in the swagger of Hum’s kind – George Michael swaggering his way into toilets and public parks, however, is a different story.

While Humbert’s crime is unforgivable – he chose Lolita, after all, over me – my affection for him remains undiminished. For a day, sex is certainly worth trading for fantasizing about a guy who could’ve made NAMBLA a real contender if he played for the other team. What bliss that the spirit of my dark prince charming who would’ve given Dorian Gray a run for his cheekbones lives on in a NYU classroom or two, inhabited by a minority I fondly refer to as PILF or Professors I’d Like to…Fantasize About (since my blog forbids me to do that other thing). 

Play me again, Hum.