TV Fiction

February 19, 2008 § Leave a comment

Now reading: Bear v. Shark: The Novel by Chris Bachelder.

I felt the need for something completely different. And something short. So I’ve picked this up.

I remember reading about this when this came out, in 2001. I consciously avoided it for years, because it seemed so obviously derivative of David Foster Wallace and such a grad-school book. And I still think that’s true: this is a book, I suspect, written under the strong influence of Wallace’s seminal essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” (only the best lit crit essay I’ve ever read) and of Infinite Jest (only the best American novel of the 1990s). It is giving me a definite jones, again, to reread IJ. (That will happen eventually–it will!)

But, what the hell: how could I resist, forever, any book of metafictional intrusions, descriptions of cereal boxes, and speculative slang? A book made of sentences like “In short: Is this a postmodern stick?” and “It’s an example of what they refer to essentially as an unclear moderator.” (this in reference to unclear modifiers, but playing on the fact that the sentence occurs in one of the occasional chapters composed of pseudo-dialogue between unidentified participants, and which seems basically intended to represent the book (the author) talking to itself (himself)–a moderator as in a narrator, maybe, and we’ve had one unclear “I” in 70 pages so far)?  Made of short chapters of commercial play-by-play, middle-aged-American ennui, and examinations of the TV viewing habits of the future?

It’s been a lot of fun so far. Bachelder certainly has the ear and the eye: chapter 4, “Lady v. Cake,” is a dead-on description of a cake-mix commercial set in a courtroom. Excellent line: “The lady lawyer says, ‘If it is indeed true that you are from a mix, would you mind telling the jury just how you got to be so creamy?'”

So, yes, it’s a media novel. It’s very late-Clinton. It reminds me that I still haven’t read My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist, one of the key texts in the “E Unibus Pluram” essay.  It makes me wonder what the hard-core English majors are into these days.

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