Monday, October 26, 2009

Reading Rainbow: Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman

Last Tuesday, I sat down with the brand new Chuck Klosterman* book of essays, Eating the Dinosaur.

*By the way, he partook in a two-part podcast with Bill Simmons last week.

Last Tuesday, I finished Eating the Dinosaur.

Aside from changing the music* serving as the soundtrack to my reading experience, I didn't move from my seat.

*It was all instrumental.

Since starting this blog, I have voraciously consumed Chuck Klosterman's entire body of work, thanks in large part to the prodding of KRD (who apparently forgot she has a blog...) who loaned me a copy of Fargo Rock City as I was nearing the completion of another read. As such, I have read everything he's published (outside of articles not included in Chuck Klosterman IV) in the past year and a half.

His latest book is his first book of original essays since the superb Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. While it may not achieve the lofty heights of SD&CP, Eating the Dinosaur is an immensely enjoyable read. His subjects range from Ralph Sampson as a bust to Garth Brooks' alter-ego, from the popularity and constantly evolving nature of football to an examination of the interview, from a comparison of David Koresh and Kurt Cobain to a villification of the laugh track.

If none of those things sound like they could be interesting to you, you probably shouldn't talk to me.

Perhaps the weirdest thing to me is the fact that he essay on Garth Brooks' rock alter-ego, Chris Gaines. I find this mostly weird because over the past couple of years I have convinced myself that this record has to be awesome and that I need to find it. I occasionally meander over to the used CD bins while at the record store in the hopes of tracking down a copy of this never-heard but assumed-to-be-great vanity project. Further piquing my interest is Klosterman's analysis of the motives behind Brooks' release. Never fully knowing the Chris Gaines "biography", it fascinates me to know that Brooks elected to concoct such an in-depth life story for his Australian rock god other self, going so far as to detail Gaines' record sales on his previous critical and commercial successes. The essay, venturing into the realm of character study and distanced psychological evaluation, is spectacularly on point.

Klosterman's comparison of David Koresh to Kurt Cobain is exactly what we've come to expect from the pop-culture theorist extraordinaire. The point is surprising in its ability to convince the reader of its verity.

His football essay, delving into how the sport has become the gigantically popular entity that it is today, is perhaps the most complete section of the book. The support for his argument is compelling enough that I think he could actually write an entire book about the rise of American football to the top of the sports food chain and I would read that in a sitting as well.

What I do or don't say about this book is immaterial. The record shows that I am a big fan of Chuck Klosterman's work. My reaction to his newest book cannot be surprising. I will say that I am very glad he is already working on another book (talks about it in the podcast linked to above). I kind of need at least one a year. Could you please make that happen, Chuck?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Man on Film: Extract and The Informant!

This (along with many other posts) is long overdue. It has been three weeks since I saw The Informant! It's been even longer since I went to Extract.

To me, they're linked by the fact that they're autumn comedies featuring my boys, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

More than that, though, they are both comedies about seemingly normal people with normal jobs (unlike just about every comedy that comes out these days in which the characters have no discernible debt of time owed to anything that resembles a job). Each film spends a considerable amount of time in the workplace. Each film's protagonist is largely defined by his job.

In Mike Judge's latest film, Extract, he returns from the realm of the farcical satire that his dystopic Idiocracy occupied and elects to mine the world of the regular day-to-day life for his laughs. Obviously, that territory has proven to yield his most successful work (King of the Hill and Office Space), and for the most part it bears fruit here.

As has been the case in all of his post-"Beavis and Butthead" fare, the protagonist in our tale is the straight man while the color is added in heavy doses by the supporting cast. While much of the cast is great, I can gladly say that it is Ben Affleck who stands head and shoulders above the rest. My having vocally stood by (ask just about anyone I know how I feel about Ben Affleck, and they can tell you without hesitation that I am an unabashed fan) as his career nearly ran off the tracks following a string of commercial and critical flops seems to have paid off in the past few years. Following his Golden Globe nominated turn as George Reeve in Hollywoodland, he adapted and directed the outstanding Dennis Lehane tale Gone Baby Gone. Moving on from the solid Kevin MacDonald film, State of Play, America is now being treated to a brilliant comedic turn as Joel's (Jason Bateman) best friend, Dean. As the oft-stoned bartender who is stuck in his early 20s, Affleck plays the amiable dim-bulb and more-often-than-not bad influence to the everyman. Picture a 21st-century Eddie Haskell, all grown up.

Affleck aside, Judge & Co. elect to take a more character-driven approach here. This is not a joke-propelled comedy. At no point is it really trying to be, and on the comedic landscape of recent years, that stands out as being a unique trait. So while Extract does not deliver a laugh-a-minute, that was never its intent.

If the film does have a shortcoming, it is that we find Jason Bateman once again playing the repressed husband--a role he seems* to play every time out. It's not that he doesn't do it well; it's just that he's done it before--often.

*I use the word 'seems' here because I do recognize that he has played roles out of that character mold. Unfortunately, those are in bit parts in ensemble pieces like Smokin' Aces or State of Play. Sure, he was great there, especially as the lecherous lawyer in Smokin' Aces, but they are roles that for the most part are forgotten, which is exactly what I did until I stopped to think about what movies Jason Bateman has been in recently.

That being said, the film works for the most part, and it can be refreshing to see a comedy that isn't going to sacrifice narrative elements such as nuance and character development for a set laugh-to-minute ratio.

Now, while the new autumnal comedy featuring Ben Affleck was good if not great, the Matt Damon star-vehicle The Informant! was outstanding. While Steven Soderbergh has certainly been willing to push filmic boundaries with projects like Bubble, The Girlfriend Experience, and his two-part Che bio-pics, one could certainly argue that he has been at his most enjoyable in films like Out of Sight or the Ocean's series. Sure, those films aren't what one would typify as weighty (read: they're not Solaris...), but I'll be damned if Out of Sight isn't one of the smartest and sexiest crime flicks in ages.

With The Informant!, Soderbergh has found potential drama that he can skew towards a comedic tone. Luckily for everyone, he cast the brilliant Matt Damon in the lead role of Mark Whitacre. The Informant! is a comedy of farcical corporate collusion, espionage, and intrigue with the larger-than-life Mark Whitacre at its center. With Whitacre as what we presume to be our hero, Damon is forced to inhabit the skin of a man who at various points is amiable and dislikeable, naive and cunning, confident and paranoid. The schizophrenia of Whitacre, while still occurring within the bounds of a comedy, call for an impressive range of emotion from its star, especially when that star is expected to maintain a tone that is conducive to a lighter comedy.

Damon delivers on all counts.

If the movie began and ended with Damon (and I suppose in certain regards it could), then no further words would need to be spent here. It doesn't, though.

From the onset of the film, there is another star: Marvin Hamlisch. Starting out underneath the brilliant titles, the score aptly sets the tone of a late-60s/early-70s political farce. Sure, the film is set a good 15 years later than that, but the setting isn't as important as what the subject matter recalls. It hearkens back to a film of an earlier era. Just like the film's throw-back protagonist*, the Hamlisch score does its part in setting the thematic elements of the film against the backdrop of what essentially boils down to a confidence film (albeit within the confines of an entirely different world, eschewing the standard setting of the insanely well-to-do for the contemporized corporate culture and the FBI), succeeding where its predecessor in genre exercise Catch Me If You Can falls short.

*We are, as the audience, rooting for him, aren't we?... While I may be stretching the bounds of what would generally fall under the umbrella of the protagonist, I think it's still applicable here.

As always, Soderbergh's direction is unassailable. The film looks great. I'd never expect anything less, especially after the visually arresting string of films he put together starting with Out of Sight and continuing on through The Limey, Erin Brockovich*, and Traffic.

*It is not without a generous share of begrudging (begrudgment? begrudgery?) that I allow for Erin Brockovich to stand as anything less than a bad film. It does look great--maybe I'm a whore for grainy, bleached-out films--but it is saddled with Julia Roberts as its star. Am I wrong or is she just a less attractive Helen Hunt**? Argh. I cannot stand the 'acting' of Julia Roberts.

**While at the Broken Lizard show at the Paramount Theater last week, they made a Helen Hunt joke and both Luke Perry's Very Distant Cousin and The Special Lady Friend were tickled pink because they somehow manage to end up complaining about Helen Hunt--usually about how she is always talking too loudly--every time they're together. The Helen Hunt knock did not go unappreciated, guys.

In supporting roles, Joel McHale, Clancy Brown, Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures), and Scott Bakula are great, The Bakula especially. But we all know how I feel about Bakula*... As the person who is perhaps most spurned by Whitacre's shenanigans, Bakula probably draws the most sympathy of all characters in the film. It is hard not to feel for him, however, because he is just so damn likeable.

*All right, is it just me, or does "Men of a Certain Age" look kind of good? I know it will be on TNT, and I am hard-pressed to think of a single TNT-show that has been even remotely enticing. Can The Bakula bring that network to the promised land? Only time will tell.

Now, I have not made mention of what probably makes the film stand out most: its voice-over narration from the standpoint of Mark Whitacre. With homespun observations like
Polar bears cover their noses before they pounce on a seal. How do polar bears know their noses are black? Did they look in the water one day, see their reflection and say, "Man, I'd be invisible if it wasn't for that thing."
the viewer gets a unique insight into the mental machinations of their slightly unhinged leading man. His voice-overs often approach a Larry Davidian (no relation to Branch) realm. Needless to say, this is a welcome ingredient.

In all, the film is great. It manages to be fun while continually revealing that a truth isn't quite what we thought it to be. It strikes a refreshing tone while detailing the uncovering of deeply disturbing corporate collusion and price-fixing. It is marked by spot-on performances and is lucky enough to be drawing from a too-good-to-be-true true story. Where its counterpart in this write-up may not deliver the laughs in droves, I found myself cracking up often in The Informant! It delivers on nearly every count and was one of the most pleasant surprises of this movie-going year.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Musicalia: Wilco - Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park (Austinish), TX - 10/8/09

A week ago, Wilco rolled through the Greater Austin Area and became the second act to play the new Cedar Park Center (it was built to house the Dallas Stars minor league affiliate).

For someone who lives in Austin and does his damnedest to never go past the Regal Cinema in Arbor Hills, the location was already a bit of an inconvenience, as it's about 15 miles (purely a guess there) past that theater. For those of you unfamiliar with Cedar Park, it is pretty much Bum Fuck, Nowhere.

So pulling in to the parking lot, it was great to find out that not only did I get to drive to Cedar Park to see Wilco, but I also got to pay $10 to park in an area where there was absolutely nowhere else to park within a reasonable walk because there is absolutely nothing else nearby.

Then we got inside, and it was a very unlikely place for a Wilco concert, what with the Pizza Hut concession stand and the other weird amenities that one would assume are at a quasi-suburban minor league hockey arena.

Finding our seats, it was soon obvious that despite paying for floor seats, we were further away from the stage than just about every normal seat in the house.

At this point, it would seem as though I was one unhappy camper. There was certainly a lot of hassle to see Wilco, but they do occupy a pretty lofty place amongst my personal list of favorite bands, and I have gone to greater lengths to see Wilco/Jeff Tweedy solo, so these setbacks would not have qualified as deal-breakers.

Liam Finn got on stage with his 'band', and my initial reaction was that I felt bad for him. From where we were sitting, it was hard to decipher if the seemingly subdued crowd was even awake for his set. Maybe risking life and limb driving out to the boonies had left everyone shell-shocked. Whatever the case may have been, Liam Finn did his best to get the crowd involved during his loop-laden set. Unfortunately for him, in this setting that didn't seem like it was enough.

After an intermission, on came Wilco, and from the start they were bringing it. Unfortunately the venue was so cold--in both temperature and vibe--that it was hard to tell how the audience was responding. That made it a little difficult to get really into the show.

As for the set, the regular pre-encore set was almost entirely YHF-to-present, which I get, but it started to worry me because I like to get a good balance in my Wilco shows. It was cool to see the new tracks live, but all things being said, I was much more excited to see the Sky Blue Sky songs live on that tour than I was for this tour for Wilco (The Album). Of the new songs, "Bull Black Nova", "One Wing", and "Wilco (The Song)" played particularly well. The first transcendent moment probably happened during Nels' insane solo in "Impossible Germany". It was jaw-dropping.

Insofar as Tweedy's between song banter was concerned, he comically urged people to tweet about how much better Austin was as a music town than Minneapolis. He also repeatedly lamented (without being entirely ungrateful) the fact that they weren't playing two shows in Austin (read: playing Stubb's, which for all its shortcomings is sooooooooo much better than the Cedar Park Center). Perhaps most importantly, he re-gifted an autographed Nolan Ryan baseball to "Patrick" in the crowd for his birthday. When giving the ball away, he posited that everyone in attendance must be Nolan Ryan fans, being in Texas and all, and then acted out the famous Robin Ventura beat down. That may have been my favorite moment in the show, but I'm kind of a baseball fan...

Once they started into the first encore, the older tunes were unfurled. The two encores were marked with greater highs. "Hoodoo Voodoo", which is really the only track that is completely changed from its originally recorded incarnation, is now a really great rollick featuring a great solo duel between Pat Sansone and Nels Cline. The changes to the song are very welcome, as it's probably my least favorite song on either of the Mermaid Avenue releases, but hearing it this way makes me want to hear it again. Gems "Monday" and "Outta Site (Outta Mind)" (the closer) always bring the house down and did not disappoint.

Perhaps the best part of seeing the show in the sticks was that a good quarter of the crowd headed for the doors after Wilco left for the second time, and missed the second encore. This also meant that the floor opened up a bit and the much shorter TSLF was able to see unobstructed for the last four or five songs.

Now, Wilco did everything within their power to fill that cold cavern with rock and succeeded for the most part. The place was just finished like a month ago (George Strait is the only other artist to have performed there), so it would have been impossible for them to book the show with any sort fo knowledge as to how it was going to play. Early on the talent seemed to have concerns. Those concerns were valid. I'd be shocked if Wilco ever plays there again, despite the larger capacity. After all, they can sell Stubb's out on consecutive nights, and that's a total of 3,600 tickets if memory serves me correctly. The Cedar Park Center was not especially large (I'm pretty sure it is smaller than the La Crosse Center, where the storied Catbirds played, so this would be small for an old CBA arena) and is not a place to see music.

I know I'll not be seeing any more shows there.

But I will pay good money to see Wilco again. And again. And again.

Hell, this was my seventh time not counting the time I saw Jeff Tweedy solo.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reading Rainbow: The Machine by Joe Posnanski

I feel like I should set this entry up just a little by stating that before I go anywhere else on the internet I check my RSS tab on my browser to see if Joe Posnanski has written anything new. More often than not, he has. If there isn't a new entry in the feeder, I go to the blog anyway to make sure the RSS is up to speed. If the first step fails to turn up a fresh entry, the second step almost always does.

This is somewhat remarkable in that he is so prolific in his writing that one would think the quality would suffer under the burden of his hyperproductivity. I can categorically state that it does not.

Seemingly each day, Joe* gives his loyal followers a blog entry like this, or this, or this, or this. And those are just a few that go back to the U.S. Open (tennis, not golf). To think that he does this while juggling being a husband and father of two, writing for Sports Illustrated (and before that he was a two-time AP Sportswriter of the Year as a columnist at the Kansas City Star), and writing his second book is mind-blowing to me.

*And I read his blog so voraciously that I really do feel like I am on a first-name basis with him despite the fact that there is no way he has more than a fleeting idea as to who I am--although it was my question about The Catcher in the Rye that led to a poll question a couple of weeks ago... Hell, it's even where I took this use of the asterisk (Pozterisk) to off-set tangential trains of thought.
So with that rather lengthy and not entirely relevant introduction reeking of self-indulgence perhaps only paralleled by a Harry Knowles review, I finally get to the reason behind this blog entry:

Joe Posnanski's newest book is available in bookstores (and presumably at your public library). His first book was the deeply affective The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neill's America, which you can find a review of here. You certainly wouldn't need to start there, but if you haven't read it yet, do so immediately.

As for that newest book I mentioned, it might just be as good as TSOB. Briefly titled The Machine: A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series: The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, Posnanski recounts with colorful detail (and language) the storied season of one of the greatest teams to ever take the field.

Now, I am not a Reds fan. I have no feelings about them one way or the other. My level of interest in the subject matter going into the book was limited to being vaguely intrigued by the figure of Pete Rose and hoping that Joe Morgan came off as at least a bit of a jerk (thus further validating the disdain I feel towards Joe Morgan, the Color Commentator).

The returns I got from this book exceeded my expectations one-hundred-fold. Posnanski shapes the on- and off-the-field goings-on into an immensely entertaining and compelling narrative. Where some baseball books come of as a bit dry and over-burdened with clichés and purple prose, The Machine achieves an seemingly effortless engagement of the reader's attention. With only vague notions as to who these men were, I found myself often deciding that I would read five more pages and then do whatever task I needed to do only to grant the commencement of that chore another reprieve when I felt like I needed to know what happened next for Don Gullett or Ken Griffey.

The preseason stage-setting pitting the Los Angeles Dodgers against Sparky Anderson's Reds is perhaps the most surprisingly compelling section. Without any games being played, Posnanski sets the stage for the season at hand masterfully, pitting their failures up to that season against the continual expectation that the supremely talented Reds should be winning it all.

Posnanski also captures the fascinating duality of a successful clubhouse, with its friction and its camaraderie. Imbuing the book with a healthy dose of blue language (these are ballplayers we're talking about here) to insert the book comfortably into the appropriate time and place, he gives the reader the sense of actually being a fly on the wall in the '75 Reds clubhouse.

In all, this book is about as far from a chore as possible and makes for an enveloping journey from the beginning to the end of a baseball season culminating in a hard-earned and long-awaited World Series win filled with drama and suspense.

For the doubters, all you need to do is read the Prologue in which Pete Rose storms up and down the length of the dugout in Game Seven with his Reds on the ropes, feverishly cussing his teammates out. If that passage does not grab you, you have got a serious character flaw.

Regardless, the book is a fantastic read, one that should appeal to even the most casual of baseball fans.

But you don't have to take my word for it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Man on Film: Zombieland

As we left the theater, I asked The Special Lady Friend* what she thought of Zombieland. Her response was something to the effect of "I love zombie movies, and I love post-apocalyptic movies, so of course I loved it."

*You see how that's capitalized? It's like she's been given an official title.

There is certainly an allure to both of these things.

The reason we all like zombie flicks is that our heroes get to run through their ruined landscapes, blowing away beings that sure look a helluva lot like humans at a rate that would make Rambo blush. And to qualify the reckless abandon that usually accompanies the slaughtering and the myriad methods by which that is achieved as just "blowing them away" is an oversimplification.

As for post-apocalyptic fare, I will reference TSLF's favorite scene in 28 Days Later. More so than anything else, the most enduring image from that film for her is the one of the survivors running through the grocery store, filling their carts to the brim with no concern for having to pay. Within the construct of the post-apocalyptic film, the characters must scavenge for everything against the harsh landscape of a decimated world. Yet, for the harrowing picture that comes in hand with that situation, we all secretly yearn for a world in which we're not fighting for elbow room in the metaphorical cafeteria.

So, as one might expect, a zombie comedy like Zombieland is certainly a good time. Woody Harrelson is hilarious as a slightly unhinged zombie killer. Emma Stone is solid. Abigail Breslin was all right. Jesse Eisenberg was, well, exactly what you would expect him to be if you saw The Squid and the Whale or Adventureland. There was also a great cameo that I'd hate to spoil.

Unfortunately, in this comedy, the laughs don't come consistently enough. The relative infrequency of either a hearty laugh or a righteous kill during the film's second act is problematic, and--despite a strong finish--left a slightly sour taste in my mouth.

Don't get me wrong, the film is good, but it is also a film by a first-time feature-length director and two relatively unseasoned screenwriters. While it carves out its stylistic niche fairly effectively, there are pretty significant lulls in the film; and, at a very brief 81 minutes, that is a statement that shouldn't generally be made.

All that having been said, the flaws do not outweigh the enjoyment taken from the film. These are fairly minor quibbles, but the film does fall short of its zombie comedy forebearer Shaun of the Dead.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Musicalia: Bon Iver - Paramount Theater, Austin, TX - 10/4/09

I'm actually working on a couple of different entries that I intend to parcel out over the coming week. This is the first of those, but I assure you there is more to come soon.

Thanks in large part to my little brother (who has unfortunately abandoned the ranks of active blogger forgreener pastures of grad school and the married life), I have spent a good deal of time listening to For Emma, Forever Ago over the last year or so. In that time, Justin Vernon's haunting wail and the isolation that permeates the first Bon Iver album filled a hole--one not entirely unrelated to a healthy measure of homesickness for the Upper Midwest.

Having grown up in the same area as Justin Vernon, there is also a certain degree of somewhat misplaced hometown* pride. He went to UW-Eau Claire, where my brother and brother-in-law both did their undergrad. Vernon lived in the same dorm they did. And while Eau Claire is not La Crosse, it's not far from it (and they've both been repeatedly targeted by the Smiley Face Killer).

*I realize that I am not from Eau Claire, but this is the most appropriate term my limited vocabulary is affording my right now.

But I digress.

These things made me fall for the album.

All that being said, I was not sure how the music of Bon Iver would translate to a live show, despite my brother's assertions that they put on a helluva show.

It was with these tempered expectations that I went into the Paramount last Sunday.

Taking our seats in the opera box (a free upgrade, which was totally awesome), we sat down to catch the first band. While their name leaves a bit to be desired (understatement), Megafaun was surprisingly good. They seamlessly blended their brand of Americana with noise and had the crowd totally into their set, even bringing ex-bandmate* Justin Vernon up to play bass on a song.

*The members of Megafaun and Justin Vernon were in the band DeYarmond Edison together, the very band that broke up--one of the developments in Vernon's life that led to the penning of the universally renowned For Emma. As such, they are also originally from the greater Eau Claire area originally, although they are now based out of Raleigh.

When their set was through, I added Gather, Form, & Fly to my list of CDs to buy and began to get a little more excited for the impending Bon Iver set.

I was not prepared for what was to follow.

In their live shows, the sparse, acoustic guitar-centric arrangements are fleshed out with a much more percussive backdrop, adding a level of urgency and intensity that is not entirely present on the album tracks. On songs like the sublime "Skinny Love", Vernon's bandmates (Mike Noyce, Sean Carey, and Matthew McCaughan) occupy two drum sets and a single floor tom, picking up as the song progresses until by the end they're propelling the song to its conclusion. The same drive is provided on gems like "Blood Bank" and "The Wolves (Act I and II)", with the bass coming in and forming a full rhythm section for Vernon's act.

What all of this works out to is a shockingly great show. One of the best I've seen in a long time. Maybe it owes to tempered expectations. I know there have been times in the past where I've seen a band be amazing the first time, only to be underwhelmed in subsequent concerts*. Maybe my feelings owe largely to having a set of relatively low expectations going in. That often affects my judgment more often than I'd like to admit.

*I'm looking at you, Badly Drawn Boy the second time around at the Fine Line and a ladies-less Broken Social Scene performance two days prior to this Bon Iver show over at the Seaholm Power Plant. I know every show cannot be a great one, but those two stick out as being especially disappointing, and the latest Broken Social Scene show had the advantage of being in front of the dramatic backdrop of the Art Deco, long-restricted Seaholm Power Plant. Granted, the show was free, but the performance was still less than breathtaking.

Regardless of my pre-set notions as to how the show was going to be, coming out of it, I was floored.

You can take that for what it's worth, but anyone throwing in a cover of The Outfield's "Your Love" is all right in my book.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Reading Rainbow: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

There is a problem intrinsic with reading a highly acclaimed book such as Middlesex. Unlike reading a book that is simply recommended to you by a friend, a book that has won, say, the Pulitzer carries a burden of expectations quite a bit greater.

While a friend's suggestion certainly does not come without a standard of enjoyment that you expect to derive from a book, an Award-winner needs to prove its worth at every turn. It needs to justify its inclusion amongst the ranks of classics like Gravity's Rainbow (I know, it didn't win the Pulitzer, but no other book did that year because the Pulitzer Board would not award the Fiction Jury's unanimous recommendation), To Kill a Mockingbird, or American Pastoral.

Having jumped into Middlesex with lofty expectations as to what was ahead, I cannot say they were met.

I'm not saying the book was without merits. It is an loving and endearing trip into the lives of an immigrant Greek family. I have yet to read anything that surpasses the quality of exploration into gender roles and identities as interestingly as this book did. The narrator is almost entirely engaging.

But the book is not without its shortcomings.

The exposition of the family history, while mostly integral to the book, drags on entirely too long. Calliope Stephanides, the novel's narrator, is not born until somewhere around the 200 page mark. Up until that point, the pacing is a little turgid.

Furthermore, the leap required to buy into Cal's familial omniscience is one that is a bit hard to swallow. The construct may be necessary to best tell the story, but that does not mean it is not without its flaws.

In talking with others who have read the book, it was interesting to note that most of its heaviest detractors were female readers, who typified the book as pretentious. I wonder how much of this has to do with a man trying to write about growing up a girl (and presumably getting it wrong, at least tonally). While I didn't feel the novel crossed the line into pretension, I didn't feel especially irritated during the journey. I can, however, say that my quest to find justification in the award having been given ended in disappointment. While the book was certainly good, I don't know that it ever crossed into the realm of contemporary classic.

But don't take my word for it...
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