Tuesday, November 3, 2015

review of The Chintz Age

the chintz age photo: Fostoria Chintz Pitcher pitcher-.jpg
I often think of short story collections as being comparable to a record album or a mixed tape, with each story being like an individual song on the album or tape.  I always wonder about the song order (or story order), I wonder if the album/tape/short story collection has a theme or a concept, I wander how autobiographical each song/story is and how much it reveals about the writer's world vision and philosophy.  I also look for certain hooks, riffs, solos (soliloquys) that either express the writer's creativity or lack thereof.  Albums are interesting because they can be viewed as a whole as well as being viewed in terms of their individual songs - this allows for various things to be going on at different levels all at once.  Thinking of a short story collection in that context means a strong opener is important.  


In Ed Hamilton's The Chintz Age "Fat Hippie Books" is that strong opener.  It introduces a number of themes and motifs that set up further exploration in the stories that follow.  The most central motif that Hamilton introduces in Fat Hippie Books is that of real estate or domicile uncertainty.  In "Fat Hippie Books" a bookstore owner is conflicted over selling out and scrapping his dreams when he comes face to face with reality when his rent is about to be jacked up to $4,000 a month.  This conflict and uncertainty that Greg has over the future home of his bookstore ignites the narrative and it represents a reoccurring theme throughout the entire collection of stories.  In the second story "The Chintz Age" Martha (a former squatter who was responsible for having another squatter booted out of a squat) is now leaving her apartment to her daughter.  In "Westside Hotel" (in which the narrator takes a room in the hotel he works at) a hotel building itself is a central character.  In "Plagiarism," a writer named Theo is getting squeezed out of his domicile and needs to convince Kim (the Sandwich Whore) to let him live with her.  "Rock of the Lower East Side" meanwhile begins with the boarding up of a building that the protagonist once lived in and then decides breaks into in order to find closure to a past relationship and come to terms with his lot in life.  "King of the Underground" is about an elderly man who breaks out of a nursing home and finds a new home in the underground dwelling amongst the mole people.  "Highline/Highlife" is the first person account of a writer's life and times in the Highline building.  And "The Retro-Seventies Manhattan Dream Apartment" revolves around the schemes of three female vultures trying to take over a Manhattan guy's apartment.

With each story involving (in some way) domicile uncertainty, Hamilton is able to explore various themes and schemes that revolve around the relationship people have with their homes - specifically people in New York who are in a set of circumstances that is unique from other American cities.  In nearly every story, Hamilton shows us how a person's relationship to their home can affect their relationship with other people and often cause battles that result in a break or a drifting apart of two people who were once very close.  In some cases the change in these relationships cause Hamilton's character's to completely rethink their entire mission in life, their entire value system.





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Friday, April 3, 2015

Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?

ernie banks 1968 photo: Banks, Ernie 2 BanksErnie2.jpg
1967 was dubbed the Summer of Love, but the following summer, the summer of 1968 was filled with violence, rioting and assassination. The War in Vietnam was dividing families as images of American troops committing atrocities against Asian families were broadcast nightly on the TV News. Civil rights crusaders were being beaten and killed. Robert Kennedy was assassinated moments after giving a victory speech as he won the California Democratic primary. Blood in the streets flowed in Chicago at the Democratic convention. With all of this turmoil it was easy to forget about America's past time: baseball.

But like the nation itself, major league baseball was in its own ideological crisis during the summer of 1968. Termed the “Year of the Pitcher” 1968's baseball season was delayed two days (from April 8th to April 10th) due to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Exactly 21 years earlier, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson had also made “black” history by becoming the first black player to play in the Major Leagues (followed by Larry Doby three months later for the Cleveland Indians). Those were different times though.  America was freshly rejuvenated from victory against Hitler in WWII and Americans were looking forward with optimism in 1947. That autumn Jackie Robinson would appear in the first ever televised World Series, as his Brooklyn Dodgers lost 4 games to 3 to Joe DiMaggio's crosstown titans, the New York Yankees. In many ways that kicked off a true golden era for baseball and for America. During the 50s and 60s, as the roads of America were becoming populated with muscle cars, the baseball stadiums of America were being populated with swaggering, slugging, stylish, speedy, athletic hitters: Willie Mays, Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, Stan Musial, Duke Snider, Hank Aaron. But by 1968, the muscle cars were all found on the pitching mound. Major league baseball had become dominated by pitching in a way it never had before and it never has since. The “Year of the Pitcher” saw such memorable events as back to back no-hitters (by Gaylord Perry and Ray Washburn). It saw Dodger ace Don Drysdale set a record by pitching 58 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. It saw the Mets and Astros play a scoreless game for 24 innings! It saw the average batting average for an American League hitter at an all-time low of just .230. In fact only one American League hitter even batted over .300. Carl Yaztremski of the Red Sox hit .301 to lead the league. Meanwhile Detroit Tigers hurler Denny McLain won 30 games (the last pitcher ever to win 30 games in a season). And perhaps the greatest pitcher of the era, Bob Gibson – who had struck out 26 batters in 27 innings and pitched 3 complete game victories in the 1967 World Series – posted an unbelievable 1.12 era for the 1968 season, as he went 22-9 with 268 strikeouts and 13 shutouts. It seemed like no one in the majors could hit that year – no one except for Pete Rose that is. Rose lead the majors with 210 hits and a .335 batting average. A decade later Rose would set a NL record by having a 44 game hitting streak – second in the majors only to Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak in 1941.
pete rose 1968 photo: Rose, Pete - 2 Rose.jpg
It was obvious that major league baseball needed a change as many fans were becoming bored with sitting on their seats watching two guys play catch, with an occasional hit here and there. Pro football meanwhile was gaining in popularity, with its fast action and hard-hitting play and charasmatic personalities like the fur-coat wearing QB Joe Namath, who boldly predicted and then delivered a victory in Superbowl III for his underdog New York Jets. So before the start of 1969 season the league elected a new commissioner, Bowie Kuhn – a lawyer – and they voted to lower the pitching mound from 15 inches down to 10 inches and then officially shrunk the strike zone as well. After a bump in popularity (thanks in large part to the Miracle Mets of 1969) major league baseball had one last great decade: the 1970s – a decade remembered for domes, astroturf, colorful uniforms (even short pants), wild promotions, a kissing bandit, wife swappers and all kinds of facial hair. A decade that was not tainted by steroid use or daily headlines of ball players who behaved badly (not that ball players didn't behave badly in pre-cable tv times – they did.  But that kind of stuff just wasn't part of the narrative at that time and ball players weren't as high-paid, privileged and egotistically at that time). It was the last decade before millionaire ball players. It was the last decade when baseball was still a game, instead of a business.

bob gibson photo: Gibson, Bob 3 GibsonBob3.jpg