Friday, March 18, 2005


I'm always torn when I encounter a novel that's named after a classic song. Part of me thinks it's cute and digs the cultural reference while the other part cringes because the work has now inherited the baggage of the song.

TLD: For instance, it irked me for years that the song "Shangri-la" on the best album of all time imnsho - A New World Record by the Electric Light Orchestra - had the lyrics "faded like the Beatles on 'Hey Jude'." Urgh! The past purist in me hated that. I'm no longer a purist because it's a form of anal retentiveness that makes silly things annoy you, like direct Beatles references in a favorite song. About the only purist thing left in me is that I don't like to enter a movie showing after the credits have started, for grown-up movies, that is. I'll do it because babysitters are hard to procure and date nights are precious.

But, Douglas Coupland has proven to be deft handling nearly anything literary and allusionary, so I lunged into his latest, Eleanor Rigby, with glee and gusto. Coupland's writing itself still floors me. About the only word I can conjure to describe it is "profound." He is the master of invoking the background music of the universe through a description of someone making jello.

It's not one of his best, those being Microserfs, Generation X (yes, the very one), and Hey Nostradamus!. But, for even lukewarm fans it's a must - if only, at the very least, to discover why the title is borrowed from one of the Beatle's finest.

For those not into literary fiction, I recommend another fun recent read:

The Poet by Michael Connelly. This one's been out for a while, but if it's not yet shown up on your radar, consider this official SONAR contact (to mix metaphors and technologies all at once!). This was a exuberant read even though I'm tiring of the serial killer genre, not only because half the TV shows out there are retreads of Ed Gein/Ted Bundy inspired tales, but also because there's not a lot of variation to the story. It's almost as wrote as "The Hero's Journey," but it would go more like this:

The initiation:
- Future serial killer is abused as a child, typically sexually, but frequent brutal beatings will suffice. Mocking by peers is common as well.
- Future serial killer is overly intelligent but also overly shy and sensitive, and has trouble meeting gurls, at first. (It's never a woman, btw. Women travel a subtler path to the destruction of a target: financial ruin, social ruin, or both - so said victim can live with the full suffering until the end of their days - no quick and easy out like death. God bless 'em!)
- Future serial killer often expresses his brewing sickness by torturing animals to death or starting fires, or both.

The changeling:
- Future serial killer morphs into full-fledged sociopathy if not born that way already.
- Future serial killer forges outer shell personality to pass through the world with the appearance of normality, correctly sensing that the creature they've become would not be accepted by society.

The rise:
- Serial killer's first victim is usually someone they know whom they have formed a grudge on, deserved or not, or is someone who has rejected their friendship or romantic advances.
- Getting away with this first crime gives the serial killer confidence.
- An expanse of time passes before the serial killer strikes again, but it's inevitable as the pressure builds until the release of a kill is required.

The full bloom:
- Once the serial killer is established, a twisted sense of pride arises from the power to kill undetected, which conflicts with the fact that pride of accomplishment requires acknowledgment.
- The time that passes between killings is either consistent or becomes shorter each time, as continual release of pressure and seeking of pleasure is required.
- If it was not a element of the first killing, the serial killer initiates the use of sexual gratification with the victim, pre or post death, depending on what does it for the freak, as most serial killer's pathology has a sexual component.
- The serial killer, either by purposeful design or unintentional repetition of methods that are needed to bring release but also provide a pattern, becomes known by the police through a "calling card" of identical clues for different killings.
- The serial killer also must keep mementos, usually parts of the body, as prizes and reminders of the killing accomplishments, thus providing identification and proof when and if caught. (Ed Gein made an entire costume out of the skins of the women he killed, in which he would dance under the full moon.)

So, what makes The Poet interesting is that it almost never dwells on the killer, like the great Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs do, but on the inner and outer world of the reporter tracking the killer down. It's a page turner, and one of the better ones I've read, even though the killer conforms to "the serial killer's journey" as outlined here. And while the writing isn't as profound as Coupland's, the style is as deliberate and skillful, and beautifully serves the purpose of the story.

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