I met Dan Fante at one of the darkest times in my life. I didn’t know who he was, what he’d done, or who his father was either. I’d never read Ask The Dust — the seminal American novel I now hold to be one of the two most beautiful novels ever written. (All Quiet On The Western Front being the other). It’s just so amazing as I sit here in a Starbucks in Santa Monica all these years later — just killing time — waiting for the noon 26th & Broadway meeting to start — how masterfully this “thing” some of us call God orchestrates the countless subtle miracles that continually escort me on my journey across the plains of this existence.
You can tell based on that last sentence that I didn’t major in English at Columbia — though I did score some weed near the campus a time or two throughout my wayward youth. But now, here I am, on the outskirts of twunny-five years clean and sober, a published author, free of the obsession that was driving me further and further into new realms of darkness that it appeared I’d never return from — and it was Fante that “God” sent to pull me back from them. All those years ago the obsession that I was trapped in came in the form of a five-foot-two, one-hundred-twunny pound raging beauty — fifteen years my junior who I’ve come to call Jacqueline in all the fiction I’ve written relating to her.
From Cape Town to San Francisco, cities have been toppling monuments to historical figures with troubling legacies. In Singapore, authorities have opted for a more genteel way of dealing with the statue of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the British colonialist who in 1819 chose the tiny island as the East India Co.'s new regional base.
They are diluting the imperialist's prominence by erecting for the year four new statues of Asian pioneers near Raffles.
The government is commemorating the bicentennial of Raffles's landing with a yearlong pageantry of exhibitions, essays and events (there may even be a national election).
It is a means to interrogate Singapore's rich but oft-overlooked pre-independence history. Yet the process involves risks -- it exposes some inherent contradictions about a global city's identity, as interpreted by a heavy-handed state.
In the spectrum between alive and dead, we set the threshold, and we can do so in response to biological, ethical and even practical considerations. Death is not a binary state or a simple biological fact but a complex social choice.
While Brilliant, Brilliant has no narrative thread, making it a book to dip in and out of rather than devour in one sitting, Golby is great at switching between the poignant and the absurd, observing life both with the wonder of a toddler who has just discovered where you hid the crayons and the confidence of the friend who tells you “I got this” before attempting to fix your vacuum cleaner.
It is an intimate portrait of people as much as it is a piece of culturally aware social scifi — a look at our moment in history through a distorting lens of aliens and spaceships. And it is those people who break everything that lies broken by the end of things; who are the living, breathing foci of the "valid theor[ies] of human nature" being discussed, and the eyes through which we will see the beginnings, the fiery middles and the cold, dark ends of things before we are through.
The novel’s strength lies in its ability to turn to the next magic trick, the next detail, the next sight. Those sights are all the more impressive when conjured solely from language. By opting out of fiction’s conventional prioritization of plot or character development, Aridjis foregrounds her ability to develop images and metaphors. The result is seductive in its multiplicity.