A Funny Thing Happened : Judd Apatow – “Sick in the Head”

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ABOVE: When Jerry met Juddy.

There’s one mild annoyance in Judd Apatow’s “Sick in the Head” (a  collection of intermittently revealing interviews with “funny people”): pretty much everyone here, whether old-timer or up-and-comer, is THE GREATEST COMEDIAN EVAH.

Among the interviewed: A young-and-cocky Jerry Seinfeld, (Apatow’s first major interview); a young and cocky Jay Leno (“hands down his favorite comedian”); Apatow and an insecure Adam Sandler being interviewed by Charlie Rose; Jim Carrey and Ben Stiller on ye olde “Cable Guy” days; Albert Brooks on enjoying the little moments and James L. Brooks on enjoying the big shows; Amy Schumer on finding her audience (Apatow produced “Trainwreck”); Chris Rock on his Richard Pryor fandom; the late Harold Ramis outing Bill Murray and Chevy Chase as douches (as if we all didn’t know); “Night Court”‘s Harry Anderson discussing his career as a con man; Jeff Garlin (the book’s funniest interview); Jimmy Fallon on the art of sycophancy; Lena Dunham on her TV experience; Leslie Mann on marital affinity; Louis C. K. getting real upset at Lorne Michaels’ professionalism; Key and Peele on the discomforts of diversity; Garry Shandling, Sara Silverman and Jon Stewart reminiscing about their time with Apatow on “The Larry Sanders Show”.

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Also featured: An Oral History of “Freaks and Geeks” that had previously appeared in Vanity Fair.

Also featured, bizarrely: Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.

Not featured: Will Ferrell, who blurbs with the promise to be in the sequel.

Also not featured, obviously: Bill Cosby.

RATING: Knock-Out! Or at least COOL for those interested in modern comedy.

Hole in the Soul: Rahson- “Ana Satsujin”

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ABOVE: Swiss cheese is perfect manga-cover material

No country is without its NEETs, but modern Japan (or at least the modern Japan I get to glimpse through manga) is particularly concerned with the NEET ethos. That’s a UK acronym, by the way, meaning “Not in Education, Employment or Training” – a.k.a. people 18-34 who are likely to buy manga like Rahson’s “Ana Satsujin” (“Peephole.”)

“Peephole” concerns itself with Kurosu, a despairing NEET shut-in whose fumbled suicide attempt rips a hole in the flimsy  wall of his pathetic man-cave. The peephole (naturally) looks into the bedroom of a comely neighbor named Miyaichi-san, who unwittingly treats the voyeuristic Kurosu to the sort of intimate teasing displays that make a young man want to extend his time on Earth (and maybe even get a part time job). It’s creeper behavior, and therefore perfectly natural.

What’s less natural is when Kuroso’s peeping game leads him to discover that Miyaichi-san is into bringing men to her room for some rough action which always concludes when she slices their carotid arteries. Both attracted and repulsed, Kurosu starts a conflicted romance.

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Above: Slice Slice!

That’s around the time the hermaphroditic necrophiliac shows up flanked by hyenas in business suits, and things go extra cray. “Peephole” is drawn in a competent, (if-undistinguished) manner; the rear-windowy plot is old hat; and the violence is coy considering the subject matter. But the central duo kept me reading – and it’s fun to see how the pseudonymous Rahson strains to create  cliffhangers every 10 pages or so.

RATING : GOOD ENOUGH

Pissarro World : Alice Hoffman – “The Marriage of Opposites”

Camille Pissarro was the honorably bearded elder statesman overseeing the Impressionist movement through its eight major exhibitions from 1876 to 1884. He counseled practically every French exponent of the movement (and its Post-Impressionist aftermath) as well as selected foreigners – such as Vincent Van Gogh. Presumably, Parisian galleries would have been left poorer without his presence, had Pissarro spent his whole life sharing the shadow of a palm tree with his parents in the island idyll of St. Thomas, where he was born.

Above: Self-Portrait, with Beard.

Those parents, Frederick and Rachel Pomie, were engaged in a minor tropical scandal that comprises the bulk of Alice Hoffman’s “The Marriage of Opposites.”

Unwarranted, inexplicable comparisons to Gabriel Garcia Marquez in several major review sites led me to this “magical realist” romance. No, not every story set south of the Continental U.S. needs to be accused of “magical realism.” After racking my brains, I figured what the reviewers mean is that the novel’s COVER reminded them of Isabel Allende’s “Portrait in Sepia,” and Allende IS fairly famous for her Marquez impersonations. (I welcome any alternate theories as to why Hoffman’s flat-yet-overwritten Harlequin romance should be compared to the Colombian winner of the Nobel prize.)

ABOVE: Painting by Numbers

ABOVE: Seeing double!

“The Marriage of Opposites” has many little sins: no emotion is left unexplained (twice, if possible); the characters are modern to a fault; at least one plot twist is so obvious that when it is “revealed” the reader should feel insulted; and there’s a nearly total failure to accurately capture Caribbean folklore (no, werewolves are NOT a big part of tropical superstition; save all that fur for frosty Europe.)

But I doubt the novel’s target audience will care. They’re looking for a familiarly framed romance daubed with historical edutainment, and the book’s first half provides that. Sure, Rachel Pomie may be a familiar Jane-Eyre-type, but no one who picks this up would demand otherwise. It’s in the second half, when Pissarro’s upbringing takes over the picture, that “The Marriage of Opposites” turns into a hasty, unconvincing, eye-wounding sketch.

That’s when even Hoffman’s most assiduous fans might want to sue for a divorce.

RATING: GOOD ENOUGH for Hoffman fans, MEH for me.

Missing Deadlines : George R. R. Martin – “Clash of Kings”

There’s something liberating about missing a self-imposed deadline. Avoid DEADLINES; look for LIFELINES. Deadlines are sad limits, and shouldn’t we all strive to be unbound, free of limitations? Time is our jailer as it is; why add extra shackles of our own volition?  Deadlines are for people who distrust themselves, who distrust the extent of their will to accomplish something… eventually. Self-flagellants love deadlines; avoid them. To reprieve ourselves from our own cruel sentences is to expand our own capacity for forgiveness.

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Which is to say there’s pretty much no way I’m going to make my deadline of reading the entirety of “A Song of Ice and Fire” (thus far) before my birthday in February. :-/ BUT I hear I’m not the only one missing ASOIAF deadlines, so you know what?! NO GUILT! I AM FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!

I’m almost finished with “A Clash of Kings” though. Maybe this can be done by March.

 

Spider Men of the Apocalypse : John Connolly – “The Killing Kind”

“A great book is like a great evil.”– Callimachus.

ABOVE: Killing them with Kindness?

As of now, you can count me as a fan of John Connolly’s Charlie “Bird” Parker series. Book 3, “The Killing Kind,” picks up from the last one, but amps up the creepy factor. Parker is still up in Maine, and this time he’s unearthing the secrets of a lost community of wacky evangelicals called the Aroostook Baptists. There’s a  quest for a very valuable, revolting edition of the Biblical Book of Revelations… made out of body parts. Oh, and then there’s the many poisonous spiders crawling through these pages, courtesy of the book’s memorable villain, Elias Pudd. (Arachnophobes, beware.)

Here’s a complaint: Connolly takes too many hints from Ian Fleming when it comes to the creation of villains. Elias Pudd, with his spider fetish, is already very memorable- but then there’s ANOTHER memorable killer creation in “The Golem,” an unlikely Holocaust survivor hit man who (it is implied) may have escaped from a concentration camp oven as some sort of Jewish avenger. It’s such a striking concept that it feels like “too much.” TWO kooky cartoon killers overburden the plot, considering there are a few other less developed psycho killers already in the mix.

Here’s another complaint: Throughout, Connolly uses a potent  metaphor for how past sins aggregate, for how evil lurks under the surface. He calls it “The Honeycomb World.” But why didn’t he have his memorable villain use KILLER BEES then?!? Or why didn’t he go with “The Spiderweb World” metaphor instead?!?

Complaints aside, this series keeps me intrigued. Its flaws are charming, because you can see the author improving with each book, wrestling with narrative complications, figuring out the craft. On to “The White Road.”

RATING: COOL!