Invisibility is an unnatural disaster
I’ve tried to like dude-lit since the 90’s, when I somewhat ascribed to the strain of emo culture that would eventually genre-merge with it to form the basis for much of modern white masculinity. And in each attempt, guys who dwell heavily on male development and plot social importance by New Jersey and Connecticut township hierarchies inevitably bore and alienate me. However, I still impulse checked-out Rick Moody’s novella-trio Right Livelihoods at the undergrad library last week- perhaps, subconsciously hoping to do my part to keep it out of the hands of the university’s impressionable young. Skipping the first part and snoozing through the second story on the bus, I was shocked when I tried to put myself to sleep with “The Albertine Notes” the other night and ended up finding its reflections on cities, media, drugs and ethnicity somewhat compelling, even if predictably hung up that that same old song of girls/sex/parents/cities/male psyche stuff.
Set in some near-future Brooklyn (obvs) where Manhattan has been destroyed by radiation attack, Moody’s protagonist, Kevin Lee, is a journalist marginally employed because, duh, without Manhattan the papers cease to exist, as does “real” journalism. He’s left writing for a porn mag, and he’s being consumed by whilst covering Brooklyn’s drug epidemic. With New York consisting exclusively of its outer boroughs, the rapid and shoddy gentrification of them has been quickly reversed, lack of infrastructure is nightmarishly apparent, and ethnic neighborhood boundaries assume tribal significance (yeah, I found this a little offensive), and previous social roles taking on perverse lack of meaning. Distinction between public and private spaces is little to none, with evacuees drifting and camping, and oh, everyone has become a junkie. The Albertine drug epidemic has turned public spaces into drug markets and private ones into shooting galleries. There’s some shit about memories that figures heavily into it, but I found it kind of sappy/irrelevant. Especially since the protagonist, a stoner child of Asian-America, struggles intensely with purpose and character, identity, et al. Generational metaphor, who knows?
With Moody’s character’s straits of attempting to cover a drug epidemic he’s a victim of (yeah, like that Post story and like, um, every Brat pack novel?) and in facing the collapse of respectable journalism, I can’t help to find some common threads here as I do in this season, especially in this years’ final questions . What I find so interesting about the Sun newsroom on the show isn’t the depiction of copy-editing, channels of knowledge and civic power (although I live for that latter stuff in the everyday). What I think Simon is getting at, and it’s odd, being the kid-of-the 70s he is, is that the newsroom- and the paper itself, stands at odds between being a vehicle of children of the local working classes (as Haynes’ monologue last week made clear), and a product of a syndicate enterprise that pulls kids from out of town, which streamlines and disengages itself and its news with wistful prose and universal themes. The local lore of the newspaper isn’t a viable commodity- the old social ties, which go deeper than journalistic sourcing and towards the fact that Prop Joe can still appraise Burrell from his high school glee performances. In real life, with Northwestern and Columbia second stringers scrambling for jobs at papers in places like -gasp- Baltimore (not to mention cities and regions outside the eastern corridor of this country), and major cities recruiting their police chiefs and school superintendents from other cities, local knowledge seems to trump little else.
And I think that that’s what Moody’s trying for, in a detached Brooklyn dude novelist way- his memory metaphor is that for non-natives in cultural hubs- that eventually, memories have to mean something. This week’s episode, and last, seem to make this point so much better. I like the fact that part of Simon’s and Burns’ zeal for this stuff came from their late-blooming into it (don’t we all like to think of ourselves as late bloomers?)- that Simon sort of wishes he was still writing for the paper he was writing for 20 years ago, and that this is what he’s doing instead.
P.S. I’ve also been re-reading Baltimore native Cookie Mueller’s stuff this past week. On her hometown:
I was always leaving. Every time I left I had a different hair color and I would be standing on the porch saying good-bye to the older couple in the living room. I didn’t have anything in common with them except that we shared a few inherited chromosomes, the identical last name, and the same bathroom.
They would be protesting. Screaming. It became a tune, with the same refrain, and the same lyrics, “If you leave now, you’ll have no future. If you leave now, you’ll be a bum.”
“I’ll be back in the fall when school starts.” Or “I’ll be back after the weekend.”