The Organizing Principle Is No Organizing Principle: On the Bears, the Patriots, ‘Ash vs. Evil Dead,’ and ‘Milk & Filth’
By Adam Boretz
It’s Year in Reading time over at The Millions, which, for the purposes of FBC, means one thing: I did not have time to write a proper post about Carmen Giménez Smith’s Milk & Filth. Which is why, Gentle Reader, you are reading this piece, which is pretty much entirely lacking in any organizing principle and, in point of fact, more closely resembles a diary entry or random collection thoughts than an actual blog post.
- The Bears — with Jay Cutler at the helm! — beat the Packers at Lambeau Field, something that has, to my knowledge, not happened in like five years. I’m loath the give to much credit Cutler or the Bears — I mean, let’s be honest, the win probably came down to the Ditka Curse. Also: I didn’t watch the game. Or even see the highlights. But nonetheless: Bears Win!
The Patriots lost to the Broncos, ending all that fucking annoying talk about the team having a perfect season. I didn’t watch this game either — but the last time I was this excited about a final scoreline was when West Ham got promoted back in 2012.
By Ryan Joe
Ray Russell’s The Case Against Satan is a pure potboiler with grand aspirations.
Most exorcism stories are implicitly about a bunch of sexually excitable old men trying to deal with a teenage girl. Gabriel García Márquez’s Of Love and Other Demons springs most immediately to mind. But The Case Against Satan is about as implicit as a hammer to your nuts.
Despite the eerie cover (which I previously described as “AWESOME”), The Case Against Satan is less about supernatural possession and more about the fallout of a sexual assault (or an attempted sexual assault). At the end, while one of the priests who participated in the exorcism (described in the grisly detail now customary in cinematic depictions) continues to believe the devil was somehow involved, the stronger implication is that the girl acted out because her father murdered her mother, then either raped her or tried to rape her. I mean, shit, I’d act out too.
It’s not unusual either for exorcism stories to introduce some narrative skepticism about the nature of supernatural possession. It’s an effective device to ease in readers. It takes a while, for instance, before the concept of an exorcism is introduced in The Exorcist. And in The Taking of Deborah Logan, there’s a debate whether the titular character is possessed of demons or Alzheimer’s (it was, of course, demons). Both of those examples are from movies, by the way.
This week, Football Book Club is reading Richard McGuire’s Here and posting about Ray Russell’s The Case Against Satan — and Carmen Giménez Smith’s Milk and Filth, and maybe even Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction. We are all somewhat behind schedule, it would seem.
Here — a graphic novel about time, place, and events that occur over hundreds of years — received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist, while Chris Ware, writing for The Guardian, said, “A book like this comes along once a decade, if not a century…I guarantee that you’ll remember exactly where you are, or were, when you first read it.”
Adam nominated this title for Football Book Club because “I really want to know what Ryan Joe will think about this book and this seemed like a good way to get him to read it — not that he was opposed to reading it. Well, maybe he was. I’m not really sure. I actually never talked to him about the book before. Mostly we talk about Resident Evil and Jay Cutler.”
By Adam Boretz
I never cease to marvel at the human ability to ignore inconvenient truths.
Present us with a fact that is not to our liking — smoking cigarettes causes cancer; it’s pretty much impossible for an invading army to win a land war in Afghanistan; the music of Bon Jovi is simply offensive — and we just tune it out.
Which, of course, brings us to Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction — and the biggest truth we want to ignore/deny: that human behavior is bringing environmental apocalypse to planet Earth.
It’s important to remember that massive environmental destruction is now a foregone conclusion: even if our “leaders” could get it together and implement every proposed environmental protection, we’d still be pretty fucked. It’s now a question of when, not if — a fact that makes we wonder about our current appetite for post-apocalyptic novels: are we drawn to these books not for their fictions, but for their previews of our distant future, of the world our children and children’s children will inherit?
By Rob Casper
First off, the Packers. My sister and her sons went to last weekend’s game, and she consoled them after the loss — to the Lions! — by saying at least they’d seen some crazy football in the closing minutes of the game. But still…now they have to beat the Vikings (the Vikings!) to stay in the NFC playoff picture.
Happy I’m done with that. Now on to the reading. I’m going to follow Ryan’s “Jumping the Rails” post by admitting that, while I waited for Milk and Filth to arrive by mail, I powered through The Case Against Satan on my Kindle. A breach of the rules, I know — but it was nice and short, and now that I’m in a bit of a reading groove I want to keep it going.
And now, after having read next week’s book then this week’s book, and after having recently finished The Argonauts, all I can say is thank God for feminism (and I’m not even religious). The Case Against Satan’s comparison to The Exorcist made me think about what both novels share, in terms of characters and plot and what I would argue is a VERY thinly-veiled message. Which led me to this article, in Ms. Magazine — among the smart observations it makes is:
Russell was an associate editor and executive editor at Playboy — back when the magazine published fiction by the likes of Kurt Vonnegut — and The Case Against Satan was hailed as “perhaps the finest example of the modern Gothic ever written” by Stephen King.
Ryan nominated this title for Football Book Club “because of the AWESOME COVER. And because it’s an exorcism novel and we don’t have enough of those in this world. An exorcism novel written by an editor of Playboy, which is a joke today but was HOT SHIT back when this book was written. So how could I possibly say no? And because I hate Satan and want to hear what the case is against him.”
By Ryan Joe
I decided to make like Colin Kaepernick’s career and jump the rails. Instead of reading this week Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction — which I’ve every intention of reading — I picked up David Mitchell’s Slade House.
I grabbed Mitchell’s haunted house/Hansel and Gretel fairy tale at the behest of our friend Chandler, who is the reason we read Edwin Mullhouse earlier this season and whose recommendations make up about a quarter of the books on my shelf.
I loved Slade House. Since it’s a recent release, I’m going to avoid spoilers.
The last haunted house novel I read was Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and Mitchell’s take on the genre is a neat corollary because of how different it is — unlike House of Leaves, Slade House is very meticulously structured and goes out of its way to explain the nature of the house’s haunting.
By Dan Bjork
I spent around 90 minutes last Wednesday night (November 4th) on Periscope watching a man and his girlfriend give a tour of their apartment. I don’t know either of them, or rather, I have a pretty good feel for them — I was watching because I already felt like I knew them — but they do not know me. Whatsoever. We are, for all consensus reality purposes, strangers. My wife was working late and when I saw him tweet about his intention to go live on Periscope, it felt like a moderate-sized providence, the sort of good fortune that gets you through a three subway line trip without waiting on a platform. In fact, I installed Periscope for the specific purpose of watching this. I watched his bird do tricks: she pushed a toy car along a table, she flipped around a finger on command, she spun around in place? (I’m unsure about this last one). He showed us his insanely detailed Witcher 3 costume (I’d seen it already). But mostly, he talked about running a Dungeons & Dragons game (he’s probably the closest thing we have to a consensus best-in-the-world at running a game). And I’m super intrigued by the storytelling on the fly he makes look so effortless in the games he runs. (I’m also ridiculously fatigued from my work-in-progress and enamored with any sort of creative endeavor where every single decision is not my sole responsibility.) There were around 800 of us there watching, and I enjoyed the time I was “spending” with him enough that when I my wife did return home, I continued watching.
Those of you who are regular FBC readers will know I’m sort of obsessed with what we do when we’re by ourselves. What we do to artificially feel less alone. In this up-to-the-nano-second modernity, we are given so many ways to bide the time we spend by ourselves (sadly, for us, it’s no longer “read fiction” by default) — I can read an insanely insightful review of Fallout 4 this afternoon and then watch it’s author play the game this evening. Or how about this one, mostly because it’s true: I was going through some pretty serious, antecedentless shit right about the time The Last of Us dropped and completely buried myself in game, as a way of quieting my mind. Which didn’t work, not really, because as I played I noticed interesting narrative choices, which then grew into a full-on theory on the narrative presentation, until for the first time in months, I was writing again. Mostly about the nature of on-rails narrative (applicable to pretty much all forms of fiction that are not choose-your-own adventures and are without end-notes or hyperlinks) but mostly about interactive narrative. Meaning, inspired by this particular video game. And through the course this digital life, I came across someone else on the Internet who was also writing several distinct pieces on the experience of playing TLoU, thousands of words each. And our experiences/theories aren’t the same, not my any means, but what he was thinking and what I was thinking was certainly in conversation with each other. Now because of our current modernity, I can, months later, watch him play the one game that was germane to my childhood (and pretty much my early experiences with storytelling, I’m sad to say). I was fucking invited to watch him experience this for the first time, invited into his living room, with a camera on him and his friend taking up 10 percent of the screen, with the game claiming the rest. I was invited because I follow him on Twitter.
We’re already living in a time when artificially feeling less alone is on tap.
By Rob Casper
I feel like I need to write my fellow FBC folk an apology note. I did not mean to be absent; in fact, over the course of the first few weeks I realized how invaluable reading you and writing to you could be. But then my life overwhelmed me: five trips in six weeks (Atlanta, Chicago, Austin, central VA, Santa Fe), plus the weekly back-and-forth between New York and Washington, D.C. Helping plan a big memorial event for a dear teacher who died this year. Launching an ambitious online project for our poet laureate, and dealing with a busy fall season of programs. And getting bogged down in the gut renovation of our Windsor Terrace home (when we walked around the empty shell, with no back wall and piles of dirt and holes for a basement, I thought, “We can’t destroy this space any further, thankfully.”).
The whole time I’ve been reading our books, though, and had things to say — to the books, and to you:
- How much I loved the flourishy prose of Edwin Mullhouse, and found the novel even darker than my all-time favorite, The Tin Drum. As well as similar: both feature unreliable narrator children, in a fantastical-historical-mundane world. I had no problem being caught between reality and unreality, which I knew was going to be the case as soon as I encountered the outrageously long sentence about White Beach (i.e., “As we stepped down onto a rocking sputtering floor…as all the colors of a summer afternoon glow like a glossy postcard, shimmer into memory like a color transparency projected into darkness onto a sparkling white screen.”)
Milk and Filth is Giménez Smith’s fourth book of poetry — she has also written a memoir and several chapbooks and edited a fiction anthology — and was praised by The Nation as “A sharp, feminist manifesto by way of poetry collection.”
Rob nominated this title for Football Book Club because “I was happy to publish Carmen Gimenez Smith’s poems in my literary magazine a long time ago. Now I’m equally happy to read her newest book, which Publishers Weekly describes as ‘like showing up to the raucous and deviant afterparty of Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party. Quite the different experience from Sunday on the couch, clicking through TV-broadcast views.”