06 January 2012

A New York state of mind

In the last couple of weeks I've read Martin Dressler: A Tale of an American Dreamer and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.  Loved them both.

Martin Dressler is like a turn-of-the-19th-century cross between Donald Trump, Walt Disney, and a Vegas resort owner.  It's the story of his rise to wealth as a highly-successful property developer in growing Manhattan.  The story starts as realism, but by the end it's drifted off into the realm of magical realism.  I love it.  He's created a hotel/resort so artificial that guests/residents never need to leave.  EVERYTHING they could possibly imagine is there, artificially, but there.  Like the "countries" around the lagoon at Epcot Center.  Like "Venice" or the pyramids in Las Vegas.  And with a lot of the puffed-up pretention of Trump.  The belief that Martin can't possibly fail.  He has the Midas touch.  But in the end, he is undone.  His castle is so artificial, he can create another wife, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law, even another self.  And once he has replaced himself, what is left? Nothing but to wander off to future prospects.  Maybe to do it all over again in Atlantic City?

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close: touching and difficult.  Lots of human pain.  Oskar, the protagonist, is tormented, a 10-yr-old who is searching for the lock that fits the key he finds after his father's death on 9/11.  He is haunted by grief, by all that was left undone between him and his father (Thomas).  Similarly, Thomas' father, who has been mute since surviving the WWII bombing of Dresden, had disappeared from his family more than 40 years before.  This tale explores the thin connections we have between one another.  What we say, and what we don't say.  What we think we know, and what we really know.  What parents hide from their children in the hope of protecting them, and how we feel that we've failed them when we reveal our true selves (but really, we haven't).  Oskar wants and needs to see his mother's grief.  I think his final discovery is that adult expressions of grief can "look" different than how they feel.  Adults may grieve terribly without crying.

I love the glimpse inside Oskar's inventive mind.  When he can't sleep, his mind races, and he invents things.  Like being able to fly by wearing a birdseed shirt.  He's smarter than most adults, but doesn't have the life experience to process all the knowledge or subtleties of language.  He's frightened and brave at the same time.  He expresses sorrow as having "heavy boots."  What a wonderful metaphor.  So many beautiful and creative details to ponder from this book.

Extremely Loud is on my mind, but I haven't had the opportunity to discuss it with anyone.  But the film comes out in a couple of weeks.  I think it's likely to be in the running for Academy Awards. 

Think - an Oscar for Oskar.

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