Adam Reger | Freelance Writer

Pittsburgh-based freelance writer

Tag: AV Club

Favorite literature re-encountered: “Red Harvest”

I’ve fallen in love with lots of lines from lots of different books (see here and here for two recent examples). Right up there with any of them is this passage from Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 novel Red Harvest:

“Your fat chief of police tried to assassinate me last night. I don’t like that. I’m just mean enough to want to ruin him for it. Now I’m going to have my fun. I’ve got ten thousand dollars of your money to play with. I’m going to use it opening Poisonville up from Adam’s apple to ankles. I’ll see that you get my reports as regularly as possible. I hope you enjoy them.”

That’s the (unnamed) protagonist, a man from a private detective agency who’s been called to Personville (a.k.a. “Poisonville,” as in the above) on a case, talking to Elihu Willsson, a wealthy old man who pretty much runs the town. The protagonist has just solved the mystery of who killed the man who summoned him to Personville, but in so doing he’s uncovered the stink of outrageous corruption in the town. He doesn’t like it, and makes the foregoing pronouncement.

This is on page 64. Solving the murder case is nothing; it’s the protagonist’s turn, his new intention to “open[] Poisonville from Adam’s apple to ankles,” that marks the first plot point in the novel. It’s also where, as a reader, you feel the book changing. I’m re-reading the novel now, and I already know that, indeed, the action of the rest of Red Harvest is the protagonist having his fun. But even knowing what happens, I still feel the thrill of that little speech as the detective declares himself.

Credit where it’s due: I picked up Red Harvest after reading the above passage quoted in this excellent AV Club “Gateways to Geekery” feature on crime fiction, written by Christopher Bahn.

The Occasional Review, Volume I, Issue 1

An interesting thing about online literary magazines is that there’s no significant difference between a link to a certain short story or poem in the table of contents and a link from Twitter, or a blog, or the author’s home page—you click the link, you go there. I’ve always thought it would be cool to “edit” a “journal” from all the other journals. I envisioned giving my “journal” a distinctive color scheme, a signature font, etc.

Well, I never got around to doing all that. But I did collect a number of pieces I quite admired. So in the spirit of sharing, and pursuing goals no matter how half-assedly, I give you The Occasional Review, Volume I, Issue 1.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

“A Good Deuce” by Jodi Angel

“Fairytale of New York: The story behind the Pogues’ classic Christmas anthem” by Dorian Lynskey

“2 Good 2 Be 4Gotten: An Oral History of Freaks and Geeksby Robert Lloyd

“How to Hack Chipotle” by William Hudson

Steve Albini integrates the history of music fads into his hate for Cher’s ‘Believe'” by Marah Eakin

Book Shopping with the Best-Read Man in America” by John Lingan

“The Forgotten Actress as Isadora Duncan in Russia” by Bridget Lowe

“Why white critics’ fear of engaging Tyler Perry is stifling honest debate” by Joshua Alston

“Confessions of a New Coffee Drinker” by John Friedman

“Haircut” by 5secondfilms.com with Thousands of Internet Commenters

Tom Scharpling on Doing the Work

This interview appeared some time ago, but I’ve been thinking about one of its main points over the last few weeks, and thought I’d share. The AV Club interviewed Tom Scharpling, host of the Best Show on WFMU. The whole thing is great and worth your time—even, I’d say, if you don’t know who Scharpling is.

But Tom was asked about the recurrent Best Show theme of “doing it”; i.e., putting in the work, paying dues, etc. To which he replied:

“You get so many people who talk about what they are going to do. I think they get the same kind of emotional, almost chemical, satisfaction out of when they say, ‘I’m gonna write this thing, and it’s gonna be like this, and this is gonna happen, then that’s gonna happen.’ They talk you through it, and they’re getting the same satisfaction from your reaction as if they actually did the thing. And that drives me up the wall. Then they never do it, because they’ve satisfied themselves by talking about doing it. I’ve known a bunch of people like that in life who start a thing, and they’ll talk all day long about the thing they’re gonna do, and how great it’s gonna be. But they’re not doing the thing.”

So good. So well put. Recently I’ve been reading books on investing in the stock market, and a similar point has come up: that investing ruins many investors because they don’t have the constitution for making an investment and sitting on it for years and years; once they’ve gone through the hunt of identifying a promising stock, putting in the research, and making the purchase, the entire chemical thrill of investing is over. When the stock’s price begins to slip, there’s no more satisfaction to be had in staying the course. So they sell, because selling gives them a portion of their money back, and they can go on to hunt down the next stock, and generate the next chemical thrill.

That connection’s a bit far afield, but I know what Tom is saying directly. I do this myself, launching new writing projects, thinking about how good they’re going to be, how well received they’ll be once they’re published, etc. Then I never go back to them.

More to the point, I’ve experienced this lately when working on something with another person. Too often, those talk sessions where you imagine the various jokes you can do, where you look down the road at subsequent ideas or projects you might explore together, prove totally sufficient for the other person’s creative desires.

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Juggalo Mayhem Redux

Yesterday I linked to an entertaining AV Club write-up of the Juggaloes-vs.-Tila Tequila kerfuffle at the 11th Gathering of the Juggaloes. The writer of that piece, Sean O’Neal, teased a forthcoming first-person account from Nathan Rabin, the AV Club‘s head writer, who was at the Gathering.

And lo, here it is. And it is pretty damned entertaining in its own right. Don’t look to it to change any of your opinions on Juggaloes or the Insane Clown Posse, though, unless you’ve heard only one or two things about them, all glowingly positive.

Second, probably final thought on “Inception”

Over the weekend I eavesdropped on a conversation where someone raved about Inception and explained why the other person had to see it immediately. I remain unmoved from my earlier position on it. None of my concerns has been overridden by the people I know who’ve loved it, and after doing a quick Rotten Tomatoes search, I see that although I’m still in the minority on this, it’s a proud minority. (I am somewhat bummed, and tempted to be persuaded, by this favorable review by Scott Tobias of the AV Club. Historically, the AV Club’s reviews have been pretty strong indicators of whether I’ll like a movie or not (the music reviews, less so). I always find it vaguely distressing when I don’t care for something they rave about, almost to the point where I begin second-guessing my own take on the film.)

The review that says it best, in my opinion, is Andrew O’Hehir’s at Salon. There are many good observations in it, but a couple really hit home with me:

-“So, yeah, if you approach ‘Inception’ with lowered expectations it’s a pretty good time. Problem is, there are no lowered expectations around Christopher Nolan . . .” I couldn’t articulate this point in discussing the movie with people who wanted to view it just as a dumb action movie, and thus to grade it on a curve, but this is it. If P.T. Anderson made a really awesome, “dumb” action movie, I would be disappointed. (And in fact, one of my enduring complaints about Inception is that it’s not even a really awesome action movie: the snowmobile fighting is so difficult to follow, and thus so boring, this may as well have been G.I. Joe.)

-“All of this involves a bunch of big-ass guys shooting at each other with automatic weapons, which has to be the most arid and depressing depiction of the dream state I’ve ever encountered. There are no surreal images or nonsense dialogue, no illogical shifts of scene from the first-grade classroom to Mom’s kitchen to a whorehouse.” I was almost embarrassed to air this criticism after seeing the movie—my feeling was that Nolan must have considered a more “dreamy” dream state, but nixed that idea in favor of having the entire film be more coherent; I can only imagine how difficult it would have been to juggle so much plot, and such a complicated (I really want to say “convoluted,” actually) plot, while also working in the kinds of random shifts and wrinkles O’Hehir suggests. But, in a word, yes. I felt Nolan went far enough in nodding to certain dream aspects—you never remember how you got to a certain place in a dream, for example—that the dream states in the movie come off as uncomfortably neither-here-nor-there.

That’s probably the last I’ll say about Inception because, though it’s one of those deals where I want to keep venting about my disappointment, as if I’d been personally aggrieved, it must be said that it was a pretty solid, entertaining movie and I don’t regret having seen it. Apparently there are other movies out there, though, on DVD as well as in theaters, so I will probably turn my attention to those now.