Thursday, April 28, 2005

review of Magenta's Adventures Underground by Carol Lewis/Karen Lillis

ISBN: 0-9753862-0-4
Published by Words Like Kudzu Press, NY
By Carol Lewis/Karen Lillis, with illustration by Regine Polenz

Magenta’s Adventures Underground is an interesting modernization of Alice in Wonderland. It isn’t some cheese-mo psychedelic goth fairy tale, though; just like Alice, Magenta has a political agenda.

There are familiar images from the classic story. Certain images, Lewis left untouched. Magenta curtsies constantly. Other scenes, Lewis gives her own twist and makes them pertinent to the present. For example, a very disturbing game of chess:

“The game: The chessmen, Magenta took note, were in military gear:
Pawns were combat troops and members of the taxpaying workforce, Knights were soldiers in tanks, Rooks were single-family homes with a full arsenal of
rifles in the basement, Kings were business moguls with their fingers hovering
above the red button should the market need a nuclear attack to help it along,
and Queens were transvestite hookers in full makeup and six-inch heels; on
their heads they wore nurses’ caps.”

Magenta is already underground when the book begins. She hasn’t followed a rabbit down a hole; she was pushing and shoving down the steps in Grand Central Station. The chess game, being played by a dog, a vulture, and a cat-lizard is taking place in the terminal of the number seven train.

Magenta relates her story to this talking animal audience. She expresses her disillusionment at finding New York, once a haven for misunderstood artists, writers, and assorted other weirdoes, overrun by elitist trendy fuckers.

“We came to this city a few years ago from another planet, my brother and I; we were determined to find Bohemia; we headed straight for the East Village. When we got there we realized: we were thirty years too late. The apartment we landed—which once housed spontaneous theatre events and cost its renters $25.00 a month—costs us $2500 . . . There was a time when everyone who wished to could live here for a song.”

Magenta leaves not long after that along with a rat. While on the uptown A train, she sees a wounded Iraqi pigeon, sent by the UN, give a speech, to which no one listens. The pigeon begs the train passengers, (who later throw rotten tomatoes at him) “PRETTY-PLEASE DON’T BOMB MY COUNTRY.”

Magenta is then sexually assaulted and beaten by a female security officer. She slips into an unconsciousness clouded with strange and vaguely erotic dreams. When she wakes, she is in an underground cave, surrounded by Discarded Veterans. The book ends with an endless dance with a three-legged dog.

For anyone who enjoyed Alice in Wonderland enough to do more than watch the Disney cartoon, Magenta is a welcomed updated version too dark and complex to be encompassed in a 90 minute G-rated feature. Even if you’ve never read Alice in Wonderland, Lewis’ book is fun and entertaining. It is sadly funny at some points, and it will make you mad about all the right things. Of course, we’re all mad here . . .

Review by Bernice Mullins

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Security by James Nowlan


James Nowlan was born in Chicago. He has lived under freeway over-passes in California, been a bike messenger in New York, a security guard in Paris, and an English teacher in Czechoslovakia. Security is his first novel. He has also written and directed a feature length digital film, Compte à Rebours.

Nowlan’s book causes (if you want it to or not) immense realization of what it is like to be a person of the lower-classes. I don’t mean in a Barbara Ehrenreich way either to create pity for the lower classes. The book is aimed at the bulk of America; it shows the oppression of lower class people, through jobs, looks, and language. It makes you reflect on certain scenes in your own life and become prone to the moments of oppression in the future.

The lead character in the story is Thomas. He is an American who grew up with a mother who was sent to the mental ward, a useless father, and spent time as a child amongst religious nuts who played with snakes to prove their faith. He grows up to sleep under over-passes in California, live in New York City and eventually make it to Paris.

Thomas’ life is shitty. He grew up poor and is not afraid of showing the differences between the rich and poor. In the story, he takes a class in college and he and his girlfriend Isabelle do a serious project for class concerning the pimps and prostitutes and winos of New York. Several rich kids want to get him involved with starting a social program that tells winos the reason they are drunks and poor is because they aren’t vegetarians. Concerning the rich kids at college after hearing their vegetarian program he wrote, “The student then directed a penetrating look at Tom who didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, throw up, jump out the window or kick them all out into the street. He wouldn’t have a chance to do the last because they all packed up and left perfunctorily as they came leaving Tom and Isabelle to wondering why they bothered even trying to be a part of something that they so obviously could never belong to.”

Security also shows the alienation in lines like, “Hanging up the phone Tom felt suddenly more alone than ever before in his life, an unbreachable gulf separating him and the rest of humanity.” Nowlan didn’t play around, he gets to the point and if you want to or not, you have to digest it. The writing is too concrete, too direct, too straight forward to throw a bunch of literary terminology into the discussion. The prose is direct and it conveys without confusing the reader. The language resembles that of a John Grishman or Steven King but instead of telling the story of lawyers or a horror story it is showing the life of a man who is alone, alienated, broken, has one tragedy forced upon him after another. And even though shit happens to him he tries to pick himself and go on, but something else horrible happens. The Samuel Beckett quote kept running through my head the whole time, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on,” while reading the book.

Nowlan’s book is only 98 pages long, but that is all that is needed. The scenes are short and to the point. And within those short scenes there is so much pain, horror, and lines like, “After transferring to the commuter train he could feel the palpable presence of a certain doom approaching and when crossing the plain towards the institutional looking residential block he felt like a condemned man on a police skiff seeing Alcatraz rising from the green waves of San Francisco bay.” Security is concentrated human suffering. The book is like The Call of the Wild, The Stranger or The Old Man and the Sea the book is small but what it conveys is very big.

Security is about a person who lives a shitty life, not an unusually shitty life. But a life that resembles a lot of people’s lives is this world. And he doesn’t make a big deal out of it, no self-pity takes place. He gets stabbed in the story, if you are in the lower-classes you or several people you know have been stabbed and shot. He doesn’t have health insurance which is common and experienced by many. Rich people often treat him like he is shit, which is common. He doesn’t make a big deal about it like he is apart from it that is what he writes about because that is what he knows.

It is in very intense third person. Nowlan does not speak in vernacular or use any experimental techniques for his narrative. Which for someone who loves first person vernacular narrative that could pose a problem for the fun of the story, but a lot of the narrative has Tom’s thoughts fused into it which makes it entertaining. But what is good about it is that someone who has spent their lives reading regular pop literature could easily pick up Nowlan’s book and not be daunted by it, his prose is very accessible.

Security is a story of an alienated human struggling and struggling and struggling without getting any rewards. If you know you could relate to that, Security would be a very good book to read.

review done by Noah Cicero