Michigan Murder Mystery

Writer Jim Harrison is to letters what Woody Allen is to film. If that seems a stretch, consider: both are prolific, releasing a new work (or more) yearly. Both were born during the Depression, two years apart, both in December. Both mix drama and comedy into something that’s entertaining as well as thought provoking. Both are fixed on the complications resulting from relationships and sex. Both are obsessed with mortality. Both have tried their hand at writing from a woman’s point-of-view. Both are connected to specific locations, Harrison to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Allen to Manhattan’s Upper Westside (and more recently, Barcelona and Paris). Both are revered in France.

Okay, it’s still a stretch. The grizzled, one-eyed novelist and poet who wrote Legends of the Fall and some 30 other volumes of prose and poetry is more at home in the outdoors than the bespectacled urbanite who wrote and directed Interiors (no matter how much  of A Midsummer’s Night Sex Comedy takes place outdoors) . And while Harrison’s characters, like Allen’s, often dwell on the fact that their days, as everyone’s, are numbered, they don’t all take it personally. They’re more stoical about it.

Take 65-year-old Detective Sunderson from Harrison latest novel The Great Leader. “He thought just because you’re older doesn’t mean that death is imminent every day. There’s generally a tip-off when it’s coming.” Tips, being the detective’s stock-and-trade, need to be acted on. And Sunderson’s been given more than a few.

If your hunch is that detective fiction is out of character for someone as literate as Harrison, you’d be half right.  Detective Sunderson doesn’t break from the manly Harrison mold. He’s burly, fond of brook trout, dogs and deer livers.  He has a frustration-inducing appreciation for female posteriors and is prone to use whiskey as a cure. Three years ago, his troubled lifestyle cost him “the world’s finest woman,” according to his niggling 85-year-old mother. It’s his down-home style of introspection, in light of his vices, that stands him apart from the usual sleuth.

Recently retired after a career policing familial abuse, small-time drug dealing, and bear poaching, our detective is hardboiled country-style. When asked why he continues to follow The Great Leader out of the hummocks of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Arizona and the Sand Hills of Nebraska, he claims he’s investigating the evil connection between religion, money, and sex. A more accurate answer: he’s pursuing himself.

If this doesn’t exactly sound like Manhattan Murder Mystery that’s because it isn’t.  There are plenty of dark moments and intimations of mortality in The Great Leader, though balanced by comic action and witty asides. Plot? Only the barest, vulture-picked bones. Along the way, Sunderson is threatened with a sodomy charge, has a run-in with a Mexican drug kingpin, eats prodigiously and suffers gout. It’s not a thriller and there’s not a lot of suspense. But if you’re fond of existential puzzles, then The Great Leader is your rib steak.

In this age-of-anxiety sense, The Great Leader is reminiscent of Paul Auster’s1985 mystery City of Glass, an existential detective yarn in which the unraveling thread of the central charter’s psyche is more knotty than the mystery he’s trying to solve. While Auster’s tale is surreal, Harrison’s is well-grounded. Auster says, “nothing is real, except chance.” Harrison counters, “there is no truth, only stories. “ As a detective, Sunderson‘s heard plenty.

The real mystery here is Sunderson himself. Even as he plots the downfall of the cult leader for his taste in 12-year-olds, he ogles his 16-year-old neighbor girl, an exhibitionist whose bedroom window is just 30 feet from his. That and the excitement he feels almost every time a woman bends over cause him to curse “the distracting nuisance” of the biological imperative, like “carrying around a backpack full of cow manure.”

Harrison is skilled at straight-talking life’s big issues and the book is full of homily. “Crime did pay but usually very little,” Sunderson observes. Or, when marveling at the rejuvenating powers of time spent in the wild, “A creek is more powerful than despair.”

Not all such insight seems worthy: “Men would say they were as horny as a toad but who among them knew if a toad was horny?” Sometimes, Harrison’s dialog seems unnaturally smart, as when a tough plainclothes cop, describing religion as a drug, says, “you know, the Marxian opiate of the people.”

But by and large, Sunderland’s social and political one-liners give a jolt on almost every page. He’s outspoken on religion, Republicans, the FBI, American history (especially when it came to Native Americans), 9-11 and justice (“When a guy with four DUIs runs over a kid and receives less time than a college kid with a half-pound of pot…”); all tempered by his unruly self-doubt: “…what were his conclusions worth? Hadn’t he been put out to pasture?”

Sunderson eventually chases down a sort of religion of his own, one anchored in extended family and the natural world. Like Alvy Singer in Allen’s Annie Hall, he finds solace in his surroundings, a beauty and buzz of life that’s present no matter which landscape he’s in. It’s this revelation that helps him get his man. I won’t tell you which one.–Cabbage Rabbit




The Postman Rings Once

Albert Snyder’s murder in 1927 at the hands of his wife and her lover gave James M. Cain — and others —  ideas. As Literary Legend has it, the killing inspired Cain twice, once in Double Indemnity and again with The Postman Always Rings Twice . The actual incident was the perfect combination of sex and murder, and its telling in the papers overshadowed what was waiting on the economic horizon.

A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion –the title pulled from a newspaper article of the time;  the chapters have equally Old Testament titles–is something of a tease. Hansen’s fictional period piece is big on “surge” and short on “guilt.” It’s as if the postman rang only once.

What we get instead is long on before and short on after. When the two finally dumb themselves into doing the deed (they’d already done dirty in many dirty ways), things move fast.

Hansen had benefit of memoirs from both of the condemned and is reported to have studied the incident throoughly.  While the juries, the attorneys and the public might have supplied endless material for  Hansen’s biopic, he instead concentrates on the accused’s lack of genuine guilt. The characters in both Postman and Identity, and their subsequent films, share the same base characteristics, all in different circumstances. Here, the not-so-star crossed lovers are oblivious in completely different ways.

The faux-steamy first section is where Hansen takes advantage of creative license. What he made up is damn good, presented flatly, judgmental in that it’s not.  And if the closing section, by comparison, seems to get bored with itself,  we should appreciate Hansen’s circling in quickly. It seemed like knowing how it was going to end suddenly made it less interesting even though we knew how it was going to end from the beginning. If this is the well from which much noir springs, it doesn’t give whatever cliche it’s attached to much support. And, as well,  it does. Are we all this self-absorbed? Hansen, with example, says in so many words that we like to think we’re not. Verdict? I couldn’t put it down.–Cabbage Rabbit

Sons and Brothers

Craig Thompson of Blankets fame asks a silly question in the introduction to Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba’s Daytripper:  “Does Art Enhance Our Lives Or Distract From It?” Then he makes what might be an unpopular decision between fantasy and reality comics. (And shouldn’t that be, “Our Life”?)

“The Superhero,” he says, ” is escapist. The DREAM. Clearly a distraction. But [reality] is its own abstraction–distilling life to its most mundane, suppressing the dream with CYNICISM.” He goes onto say the Brazilian brothers Moon and Ba (twins!) travel both. Daytripper takes a magical realism approach, its hero is oh-so-human. It follows a “miracle child” and son of a famous writer through parallel universes of the same life, but not the same death.   Added twists: the son, Bras, aspires to be a great writer like his father but is employed scribbling obituaries for the local paper. He stands in shadow. Lovers and a friend, sometimes only their memories, tie the episodes together.

Ba’s artwork is much more round and human in his brother’s story, more sharp-edged and angular in his work for Matt Fraction’s Casanova Luxuria, which appears more commercial. Casanova comes down on the fantasy side, fantasies of several types, the best of which is probably not the legions of sexy, female robots. Sure, the sex in Daytripper is good, too. The best parts of Cassanova (there is a collected Volume 2 out; haven’t read it) are when the characters are at their most human.  Contrast that with Daytripper‘s  magical mystery tour of (multiple) existence, all of it all too human. Fantasy and reality–one can’t seem to exist without the other.–Cabbage Rabbit

Poet As Aphorist

Aphorism, the gemstone of rhetoric,  succeeds on sound. To be memorable, aphorism must have rhythm, ring and poise. Does that make the aphorism poetry? In turn, can poetry be aphorism?

Of course.  Poets distill their parade of image and observation into aphorism. It’s become something of a formula: the poet creates a scene and scenario then draws something not quite Aesop out of it. The great success of this form has inspired a million imitations.  Who is better prepared to put music and laconic meaning together than poets? Wit and wisdom have been serving poets since Homer. Aphorists think poetry as they piece together words.

The itch to write aphorisms has infected a number of poets. Scot rhymer Don Paterson’s acclaimed Rain followed his Nick Hornby-praised Best Thought, Worst Thought: Aphroisms. Sometimes poets’ aphorisms aren’t written as aphorisms. Instead they’re journal entries. Anna Kamienska’sIndustrious Amazement: A Notebook in the March,2011 issue of Poetry, with scribbled thoughts including,  “A poet is a person translated into words,” and “Accidents are the atoms of life….”.

James Richardson is one of the more polished aphorist poets.  His 2004 collection Interglacial: New and Selected Poems & Aphorisms contained One through Three-Point- Oh editions of aphorisms written between 2000 and the book’s 2004 publication.  Because he’s such a lyrical poet (by today’s standards), the aphorisms seem less than music. Still many are clever: “The road reaches everywhere, the shortcut only one” and “Happines, like water, is always available, but so often it seems we’d prefer a different drink.” Like the poems, they express a thin optimism and a can-do-except-when-you-can’t attitude.

Richardson’s latest collection, the National Book Award finalist By the Numbers, draws the distinction between poetry and aphorism more sharply. Richardson may write aphorisms but the poems are largely empty of them.  There is action, there is consideration and choices that remain unchosen. If there’s a lesson, it must be drawn by the reader. Richardson won’t spell it out. Go to the aphorisms for that.

Both the poetry and the aphorisms break their themes from common materials. The poems place an emphasis on the components of speech . “Subject, Verb, Object” stays practical: “‘I’ …a kind of motel room/ yours to the end–/of the sentence that is.” The title poem is a counting game with annotations. “Metallurgy for Dummies” is a compendium of glinting image.

Richardson is down on love except when he isn’t. That, of course, is where the problem lies.  “In Shakespeare” tells us something we already know, “…a lover turns into an ass/as you would expect…” In Classic Bar Scenes” we find, “the chase is a tired/and tiring metaphor.” From the aphorisms: “Passion is faintly rhetorical, as if we needed to convine ourselves we were capable of it.”

Fear defines many of these poems, highlighting the uncertainty, the dichotomy that clouds Richardson’s world view. Poems including “Emergency Measures” and “Head-On” address mortality in ways we can’t deny. “Don’t look down death’s dress,” the poet urges.

Richardson also obsesses on the gods, putting them on bar stools, and making them give press conferences. He reminds us of our animist heritage (“It was the small gods we talked to/before words”) and lets us know that God hated Adam because the man sang out “stupid names for the animals.” At the same time, Richardson loves science.  In the long and long-lined poem “We Are Not Alone or Physics You Can Do At Home,” a sort of technical essay illustrated with household objects, he makes the connection between quantum physics and the commonplace.

The best poems are the shortest. These tend to be more aphoristic, obviously musical and quicker to surprise. “Prokaryotes” ponders the chance of life as well as the way we experience it.  “Say we found it on Europa,/DNA, an alien line,/could we wait a billion years to ask/How was it for you –/blue, that whiff of ammonia, Time?

The aphorisms please more often than they don’t, and are clever enough to overcome their own preachiness. “Nothing dirtier than old soap,” goes one; witty but without much weight. That’s the way Richardson seems to like it; simple observations on complex subjects. “Faith is broad. It’s Doubt that’s deep,” is clever and rings of truth but sounds like cocktail talk. You can almost feel Richardson patting us on the shoulder as he tells us this, spilling our drink in the process. Still, many are perfect, just as they should be: “The odds against today were insurmountable, until it happened,” and  “The reader lives faster than life, the writer slower.”  Even as Richardson’s poetry moves away from aphorism, his aphorism moves closer to poetry.

It would be interesting to interview Richardson, Don Paterson and others on the relation of aphorism and poetry and how writing one affects the writing of the other. Looking for common qualities, note both Paterson and Richardson are musical writers, not afraid of rhyme and rhythm and adept at image. Their aphorisms aren’t always any different.–Cabbage Rabbit

What Happens Next Tuesday

Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan was a tincture of its times, a distillation of a particular culture (recent Russian-American) with a heavy scent of satire. His latest, Super Sad True Love Story travels into the future of, as the jacket states, “say next Tuesday,” to further concentrate its contemporary satire. As with all satire, there’s an implied scolding: See America? This is what you’re headed for if you’re not careful.

Those on the right and the left will feel a certain discomfort (as will the wired, socially connected crowd) as they read through accounts of yuan-pegged dollar, the now truly-national National Guard and mega-merger corporations including (and we do mean including) AlliedWasteCVSCitigroupCredit.

Actually, right and left no longer matter. The Bipartisan Party, led by Defense Secretary Rubenstein — its slogan, “Together We’ll Surprise the World!” is even more cynical than  “We Will Win the Future” — is in control in partnership with the “American Restoration Authority ” (ARA). The  National Guard, fresh back from a disastrous action in Venezuela are reluctantly cooperating. Thanks to budget cuts (the Chinese are threatening to foreclose and the IMF is demanding change), the Guard isn’t getting what they’ve been promised. Sure, you  have your choice between FoxNews-Prime and FoxLiberty-Ultra,  networks that still focuses on gay marriage even as forced relocation turns violent. But the networks don’t seem to care that a lot of Americans have suddenly become disposable. Sound familiar?

It depends on your classification, “High Net Worth Individuals” (HNWI) or “Low NetWorth Individuals” (LNWI), usually corresponding to your category of employment — “credit,” media” or “retail”— or lack of one. Credit ratings reign and people use their apparat to constantly monitor that as well as the “Personality” and “Fuckability” ratings of themselves and those around them.  Mostly, people are judged mostly by the classic:  young and old.

Young is where it’s at. Everyone’s plugged into their own apparati, constantly “teening” and ordering the latest fashions from AssLuxury. Or finding out absolutely everything about everybody, constantly churning data, privacy be damned. Or streaming their own media — anyone can be a star!  —  say from the barroom where they happen to be located. The young are extremely beautiful and intend to stay that ways thanks to new creams and emollients, vitamins and tiny blood-traveling robots (“smart blood”) sent on an oxidant search-and-destroy mission.

Like Huxley’s After Many A Summer Dies the Swan, Sad True frames itself around questions of mortality even as it uses the space inside to address a wider range of cultural and political issues. Shtengart’s framing is precise to the times yet timeless. Everyone knows it’s youth that counts. Bring on the quacks.

Our hero, Lenny Abramov, a 39-year-old slug taking sabbatical in Rome, is too morose to pursue his own youthification even though he works as “Life Lovers Outreach Coordinator of Post-Human Services” for the security-pharmaceutical company Staatling-Wapachung Corporation, a sort of KBR for next Tuesday. An aspiring HNWI and overweight (by next Tuesday’s standards),  Lenny practices a sort of nostalgia that is disgusting to nearly everyone: he reads books.

And then he falls in love. Euncie is beautiful, Korean, incredibly but not illegally young and carries a degree in Image and a minor in Assertiveness. But somehow she’s attracted to Lenny’s sincerity and his books. It gives Lenny a reason to live, to delude himself: “I’m never going to die,” he declares, believing that the technology exists to make good on the promise.

For Lenny, there’s no choice between Eunice, “a nano sized woman who had likely never known the tickle of her own pubic hair…who existed as easily on an apparat screen as on the street before me,” and his Italian fling Fabrizia, “her body counquered by small armies of hair, her curves fixed by carbohydrates, nothing but the Old World and its dying nonelectronic corporeality.”

While Lenny’s larger issues with love, individualism and acceptance of mortality are the book’s central theme, its take on America is what propels it. Shteyngart doesn’t like the direction. Well before the end, before New York is turned into a “Lifestyle Hub,”  we see Sad True’s parable, stated as Lenny witnesses two men being taken away after their apparati and everyone’s is checked  by “angrier and more sunburned than usual” National Guardsmen. The racial and class distinctions at play in the scene, coupled with the brute enforcement of search preludes the book’s biggest scolding: “the looks on the faces of my countrymen—passive heads bent, arms at their trousers, everyone guilty of not being their best, of not earning their daily bread, the kind of docility I had never expected from Americans, ever after so many years of our decline. Here was the tiredness of failure imposed on a country that believed only in its opposite.”

All The Onion-like, satiric cleverness—and we’ve only touched its ironic surface—extends down to each chosen word. Past reviews of made much of Shteyngart’s amazing turn of phrase and they’re still accurate here. The book is presented in Lenny’s diary entries (another of his nostalgic weaknesses, even if electronic) and Eunice’s texting and “teening.” Only Lenny and one of his few friends have much interest in lengthy “verballing,” all but a lost art.

While at its base Sad True is two-thirds of the traditional love story–boy-meets-girl, boy-get-girl, boy-lose-girl to HNWI-boss– it’s propelled by its larger social, political and sexual themes. It’s a fictional characterization of the Shock Doctrine, as applied to contemporary America. Elderly LNWIs are evicted and camps of unemployed squatters are liquidated in flames, all set to the oblivious rhythms of the uber-connected masses. The rise of financial institutions, the divide between rich and poor, the loss of attention as technology consumes it and  our country’s indebtedness, especially to China, are all taken to not-so distant extremes. That’s why the book makes us feel a bit uncomfortable. It’s also why we couldn’t put it down.–Cabbage Rabbit

Details ’69

Making sense of the 1960s is a futile task. Rob Kirkpatrick doesn’t even try. His comprehensive 1969: The Year Everything Changed, offers an overwhelming  compendium of events in that cataclysmic year. The book’s thoroughness, without over-riding purpose, is apparently an attempt to find the year more influential than, say, 1968. Suggesting the threads of the moon landing, the Vietnam moratorium and I Am Curious (Yellow) will knot cleanly, Kirkpatrick instead ends up with a tangle. If only he’d spent more time trying to unravel it.

But Kirkpatrick has done us great service. He points out that the decade’s most examined year–1968– boasts any number of books (among them Mark Kurlansky’s 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, Charles Kaiser”s 1968 In America: Music Politics, Counterculture and the Shaping of a Generation and Jermi Suri’s anthology The Global Revolutions of 1968).  Certainly the political upheavals, not only in the U.S. but in Europe as well, mark 1968 as something of a turning point in the revolt against the rigid status quo. Kirkpatrick’s thesis, that 1969 marked “the death of the old and the birth of the new–the birth, …of modern America,” not only gives his text meaning but form. As he explains, “One of the pleasant surprises in writing this book was the ways in which these chapters emerged ‘organically’–e.g., stories of the sexual revolutions of springtime, the flowering of the counterculture in the summer, the apocalyptic standoffs at the year’s end. Life does not happen in neat and orderly ways, as if following a timeline, but the story of 1969 is one that develops in dramatic tension, builds to a climax, and concludes in its December denouncement.”

What follows is a litany of the year’s events, from Nixon’s inauguration and Led Zepplin’s first American tour (which actually began in December, 1968) to the violence at Altamont. In between, he addresses the student revolt, the Jets Superbowl victory over the Colts, details of the moon landing, the tragedy at Chappaquiddick, the nation’s discovery of the My Lai massacre (which occurred in April, 1968), the installation of the first Automatic Teller Machine, the Stonewall Riots and the New York Mets rise to the World Series.  Kirkpatrick’s thoroughness provides more than a few memory-jogging surprises (I somehow remembered Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, which changed our percpetion of Dylan more than 1966’s Blonde On Blonde, came out a year or two later; likewise Mario Puzo’s epic novel The Godfather). Those paying attention at the time–and what 19-year-old student radical wasn’t?–won’t learn anything new. Instead, Kirkpatrick delivers the pleasure of recount, reminding us of events not thought or discussed for years. Remember Tom Seaver saying, “If the Mets can win the pennant, why can’t we end the war”? Neither did I until Kirkpatrick  pointed it out, drawing the chronological connection between the World Series and anti-Vietnam war National Moratorium Day.

What Kirkpatrick doesn’t do is attempt to make sense of it all. The Mets and the war stand apart, as one would expect, despite Seaver’s query. He tells us that he wants to define the year’s “zeitgeist–literally the ‘time spirit'” of that year. He quotes historian and social critic Theodore Roszak (The Making of a Counter Culture) to explain what he is seeking: “that elusive conception called ‘the spirit of the times’ [that] continues to nag at the mind and demand recognition, since it seems the only way available in which one can make even provisional sense of the world we live in.” After reading 1969, the nagging continues. Kirkpatrick is hesitant to take sides in political issues and seems reactionary in his treatment of say the Black Panthers and the Students For a Democratic Society and their frustrations with the status quo. Though there are parallels and influences to be drawn from the roles of politics, art (especially movies and music) and athletics, Kirkpatrick doesn’t offer any. His common thread is little more than the expression of 1969 being exciting times.

In the final chapter, Kirkpatrick does attempt tracing the year’s influence (or lack of influence)  into the future. The war– eventually–ends. The environmental movement goes on. Rock music becomes big business and album-oriented. Outdoor music festivals thrive despite Altamont. Free agency changes baseball. The sexual revolution leads to Studio 64. Just as Tom Hayden sees the ongoing legacy of the 1960s in his book The Long Sixties: From 1960 To Barack Obama, Kirkpatrick sees the decade as formative to modern times. “Whether American society had come full circle or had simply circled back on itself, the ripples of 1969 continued to emanate throughout the rest of the century and into the next.” Unlike Hayden, he leaves us wondering at what those ripples stirred.

Still, there’s plenty of thought-provoking room to draw conclusions.  Kirkpatrick doesn’t address, say, the irony that the film Easy Rider and it’s anti-mass culture message creates as it influences a generation in dress and lifestyle. But he does quote  Jack Nicholson’s character Hanson, stating, “You know, this used to be a hell of a good country. I can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it.”  We’re left to wonder alone, some 40 years later, how much more  has gone wrong.–Cabbage Rabbit

Roles of a Lifetime

You might be surprised by some of the role models that filth-happy movie maker John Waters includes in his book of influences. A few are staid, respectful even tasteful models such as Johnny Mathis.  On the other hand…

Waters admires Mathis because they’re opposites. Mathis is, “So mainstream. So popular. So unironic, yet perfect.” With this observation,  Waters makes one of his more revealing personable observation. “Versus me, a cult filmaker whose core audience, no matter how much I’ve crossed over, consists of minorities who can’t even fit in with their own minorities.”

Like any of us, Waters just wants to be loved. More than he already is. Loved like Johnny Mathis.

Introspection isn’t Waters’ thing and if you’re looking for a direct view into the man’s psyche you’ll be disappointed. But you won’t be disappointed in the sideways glimpses he gives.  Waters guides us through the twisted world of his admiration with many side trips into tangential lives that all help define his eclectic taste. We already knew that Waters was different and he uses his role models to define that difference. What’s not included here is why.

And maybe he just doesn’t want to tell us. In an early chapter on Tennessee Williams, Waters questions whether Williams spoiled his public personae later in life with his Memoirs. “Was Tennessee Williams nuts to reveal everything about his personal life as he got older, or was he just high?” Yet Waters revels in the revelations and credits Williams with helping to work out his own sexuality. “Tennessee never seemed to fit the gay stereotype even then, and sexual ambiguity and turmoil were always made appealing and exciting in his work….Tennessee Williams wasn’t a gay cliche, so I had the confidence to try to not be one myself. Gay was not enough.”

Waters book is less about personal matters and more about preference. Most of the personalities introduced here — and there are many more  than the book’s ten chapters might suggest –are kindred spirits rather than role model. Waters finds something to like in all of them, including Manson girl Leslie Van Houten. His friendship with Van Houten isn’t well explained. Early on, he appears drawn to her because of his own exploitation of the Manson family  in some of his early film. He defends her on the grounds of mercy, retribution and the passage of time, even comparing her punishment to that of convicted Nazi war criminals. It’s the book’s most controversial and confusing chapter.

Waters is at his best when discussing folks out of the public eye. “Heroes of Baltimore” delves into the city’s bar and club scene (the good bars, “have no irony about them,” he says). He focuses on the nonconformist lives of lesbian stripper Zorro and the owner of the Club Charles, Esther, a “hard-working divorced mother of four.” Both of these heroes are dead and Waters interviews their children to get slightly biased looks at their lives. Around these tales swirl a host of strange counter and anti-cultural figures that reflect back on the author and his need to be different.

Elsewhere, we’re given a collage of personalities, famous and not-so, who define Waters obsessions, fascinations, crushes and quirks. Little Richard is problematic during an interview Waters does for Rolling Stone. A chapter on outrageous fashion designer  Rei Kawakubo explores the author’s fashion sense, with an emphasis on exaggeration, too much eye makeup and dirty finger nails. Yes, that pencil moustache gets help from a pencil. The most outrageous chapter explores Bobby Garcia, the “Outside Porno” king who convinces Marines that his blowing them on camera is part of an audition for straight porn. Then there’s David Hurles who cut himself a career by getting only the crudest and meanest amateurs into his work and inventing “verbal abuse porn.” Books figure large in Waters life, aired not only in the Tennessee Williams chapter but one called “Book Worm (get it?). We’re proud — or ashamed — we’ve read none of the life-changing books he recommends. And no, Catcher In the Rye is not on the list.

Waters brings the off-beat art objects that populate his apartment to life in the chapter “Roommates.” This anthropomorphic reference to scribbles, found items and renderings of turds suggests that his taste in art reflects his view of humanity and himself.  His remarks on artist Mike Kelly seems to define his own modus as a film maker. Kelly, like Waters, “can make you see something supposedly shameful in a beautiful, hilarious, radical, subversive way.”

The one word that doesn’t appear in the book is the one most used when describing Waters work:  “camp.”  Its omission suggests that Waters is looking for a kind near-mainstream acceptance of the sort attached to his more commercial films. While the word itelf isn’t used, there’s plenty of camp, Waters-style, represented. In the final chapter, “Cult Leader,” Waters becomes his own role model, calling out a new generation of perverts who are fanatical in their devotion to  “a new dogma of dirt.” It’s here our hero degenerates into cliched disrespect for cultural and religious institutions and social mores, an exercise in forced outrageousness that’s better stated in some of his earlier films. And he provides a final role model, Madeline Murray O’Hair, once owner of Baltimore’s New Era Bookshop, a woman Life magazine dubbed “The Most Hated Woman In America.”  Maybe Waters doesn’t want to be loved after all.–Cabbage Rabbit