I may lose some credibility with this admission, but I’ve read enough books to not be too embarrassed to say which ones I haven’t read. That long list includes Thomas Pynchon (I’ll get to Miranda July in a sec).
Yesterday I saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Inherent Vice, a film that, while definitely not for everyone, might be funnier, more thought-provoking and delightful than expected. I left the theater in a state of giddy bliss, and my friends and I walked down the street recalling scene after strange scene in that can’t-get-enough way that meant we’d just seen something great. At dinner, we talked about the value of reading “difficult books” like Gravity’s Rainbow, that marathon novel which falls into the same category (perhaps only for people who haven’t read it) as Infinite Jest. As someone who reads primarily for ideas and a good plot, and doesn’t get much satisfaction from following the thread of a three-page sentence, I don’t lose sleep over not having read the hard books. The downside of this perspective is that I often pass by these authors altogether.
I’m going to work backwards this time: book-to-movie adaptations rarely inspire me to read the source material, but I’m excited to jump into Pynchon. I think I’ll start with The Crying of Lot 49.
If unhinged characters are as important to you as they are to me, you must get yourself a copy of The First Bad Man by Miranda July, a novel I reviewed here previously. It hits our shelves today, finally!
Seeing Inherent Vice and anticipating the release of this book got me thinking: if July wasn’t already a wonderful director in her own right, I would want P. T. Anderson to adapt her novel. Amidst all the layers of cringe-worthy oversharing, character neuroses that make Woody Allen look like Steven Spielberg, and a persistent sense of being inside the mind of a deeply unstable (if sweet) outsider, there are some interesting similarities. July’s protagonist, Cheryl Glickman, is a frumpy, passive, middle-aged hippie with a stunning interior life. She is a character you have never read before, not even close. Like Joaquin Phoenix’s brilliant portrayal of Doc, you won’t be able to help being repulsed and enchanted in equal measure, overwhelmed by the abundance of humanity on display.
July’s novel has a focused and intimate scope. On screen, its setting would be limited to dim and dingy rooms and hallways. In both Inherent Vice and The First Bad Man, bodies are rendered in grotesque, R. Crumb-esque detail. Dirty bare feet are pungent repeated symbols of…what, exactly? Honesty and brutishness? It doesn’t really matter. And that’s the thing about a good story– whether it be a stream-of-consciousness, deconstructed mystery, or a late coming-of-age tale about a woman in her forties– if it hits you right, it doesn’t matter what the truth is, or what really happens. These stories make me feel like other people get it, and they’re making great art about whatever it is. That makes me happy, dudes!