Hawking Up Hairballs

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Three Novels and a Movie

I have decided to re-read three novels that had a big impact on me when I first read them. The novels are: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn; Mendel's Dwarf by Simon Mawer; and, Under The Skin by Michel Faber.

Geek Love is the story of a circus family in which the parents deliberately expose themselves to radiation, toxic chemicals, etc., in order to create a family of freaks for their traveling circus. The novel is the story of this family. I won't go into anymore detail in case any of you decide to read it. It's a tale of real horror.

Mendel's Dwarf is the story of a dwarf who is a remote descendent of Gregor Mendel, the founder of the science of genetics. He is a well-respected geneticist himself, and the novel is basically two things, a wrenching love story and an exploration of issues like genetic engineering and eugenics. Mawer creates a unique protagonist in this book, but he also explores some difficult issues without getting bogged down in lots of exposition.

Under The Skin is certainly an odd book, but a haunting one as well. It is set in Scotland, where this woman cruises the highways and picks up hunky hitchhikers. At least you initially take her for a woman. It turns out though that she is some alien creature, who has been subjected to horrible surgery to make her look human so that she can seek out and pick up these men, who are to be fattened up and slaughtered for food. As is obvious, the book leads one to think about how we treat the animals that we use for meat, but that's not what made it stick with me. Faber does such a great job of communicating the aching loneliness and alienation of his protagonist. Since she's had this surgery, she no longer looks like her kind and is shunned by them, but she is obviously not human, so cannot find relationships there.

After re-reading each of these books, I will post my thoughts here, in the hope that they will inspire others to pick up the books and give them the readings that they deserve.

The other night, I watched the 2003 movie Zatoichi. It's a Japanese film about a blind samurai. Given my ignorance of things cinematic, I thought it must have been a send-up of the samurai films, in much the same way that Sergio Leone's westerns were send-ups of Hollywood westerns. After all, one can only laugh at the notion of a blind samurai fighting and killing several assailants at a time. It had to be intended as a joke. Not so, grasshopper! As it turns out there were about 20 Zatoichi movies made, beginning in the 1960's, and this movie was a kind of homage to them. There is considerable wit in it though, and I found myself laughing a good deal.

The weirdest thing though was the dance number at the end. It wasn't really connected to the rest of the film, so it was a kind of add-on or coda. It started with about a dozen dancers, three guys up front and women in back, all dressed in medieval costume, dancing to the pounding of these big drums. The odd thing was that they were doing a tap dance routine. It looked like something out of an old Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire movie, only in medieval Japanese drag. Stranger still, they weren't wearing tap shoes, but these wooden-soled sandals that must have been a bitch to dance in. As the scene went on, members of the cast came out and joined in, all in costume. Why the director put this dance number in, I don't know. It was so damned campy, but I got a laugh out of it.


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