What’s the Story?

One thing I both like and don’t like about movies and conventional novels is that too much happens so that everything makes sense, every scene fits, there’s not a word wasted or a superfluous moment.  Maguffins and coincidences abound.  Things are resolved.  Characters learn from their mistakes and eventually stop repeating them.

In other words, they’re nothing like real life.

The other night I showed my students the movie Crazy, Stupid Love, which is one of the few romantic comedies it’s safe to say I like.  If you haven’t seen it yet, please do.  I don’t want to give away too much of what happens.  Suffice it to say there are a lot of surprises and the overall character development is rich, despite a few inescapable contrivances that go with the genre.

It was fun to see my students’ reactions to the highlights and turnarounds in the film, even though I spent most of the time busily scribbling lines like a stenographer to go over with them in Monday’s class.  I also had to get up to use the rest room in the middle, and I’m not sure what happened in the short scene I missed.  (It was the second time I’d seen the movie.)  So now I’ll have to see it again.

Have you heard of the novel Look Who’s Back, by German author Timur Vermes?  I spotted it a few weeks ago laid out among an array of other trade paperbacks at a bookstore in Seoul and was startled by the cover.  It’s a glossy white book depicting a familiar black hairline and the title scrunched in a little square in the middle of the missing face.

I thought, “Good Lord, it’s Hitler!” 

Sure enough, when I read the plot description on the back cover, it turned out to be a story about the Fuhrer’s re-awakening in the year 2011, still miraculously only fifty-six years old.  Once you can suspend your disbelief enough to jump beyond the impossible premise, you end up buying into the story, which is well-written and compelling.  Mind you, I’m not a Hitler fan by any means, and neither is the author (unless he’s hiding something, but I highly doubt it).  Despite (or because of?) the taboo subject matter, the book was a big hit in Germany, selling over a million copies.  I don’t know whether there was any consternation or outcry surrounding it, a la Martin Scorscese’s The Last Temptation of Christ or Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Regardless of the book’s impact on German citizens, whether survivors of that tragic time or descendants of those either terrorized or hoodwinked by Hitler, Vermes presents a convincing portrait of the man without turning him into a caricature, capturing both his perfectionism and his absolutely rigid fanatical dogmatic insanity with panache.  It helps that the story is written in the first person from the Fuhrer’s twisted point of view.

It wouldn’t be giving too much away to say that he ends up learning how to make the media work to some extent in his favor.  A subheading at the bottom of the front cover reads:  A Merciless Satire.  And so it is.

I don’t imagine everyone can stomach a story written from Hitler’s imagined perspective, but if you don’t mind entering the mind of a maniac for a few hours or days, depending on how fast a reader you are, you might want to give it a go.

An even richer read is the most recent (?) novel by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.  Because I suffer from periodic seizures of ADD, for some reason I put the book down after reading the first sixty-something pages of the book, getting sidetracked by any number of distractions vying for the shark-eaten carcass of my attention.  But when I picked it back up about a month later I plowed through the book to the end and found it alarmingly satisfying.  I’m not going to get into the plot and all the various things that happen (more out of laziness than anything else), but I don’t think you’d be disappointed by it.  If this plug isn’t enough to convince you, there are blurbs written by Philip Pullman and Dave Eggers on the back cover.  For some reason Hamid didn’t contact me to request I read the manuscript and submit a blurb to him.  I wonder why. . .

Finally, I did the same thing with Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist, which I started reading probably a year ago and abandoned after the first thirty-four pages.  Little either annoys or saddens me more than not finishing a job I’ve started (a lesson my father taught me during the years I managed to pry myself away from the TV long enough to mow half the lawn), and Nicholson Baker is not someone you want to do that with.  Don’t misunderstand me; as far as I know, he’s far from a violent man–on the contrary. (He suggests in his nonfiction history work Human Smoke that World War II could have been avoided.  I’m not sure I agree with him; once again, indomitable ignorance prevents me from forming a firm opinion on the matter.)

It’s just that he’s such a great writer that if you don’t finish one of his books, you’re cheating yourself.

Whoops–gotta go.  More soon.

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