Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Treatment & The Cure by Peter Kocan

Author Peter Kocan was sentenced to “life” in 1966. He spent many years in an Australian hospital for the criminally insane for the attempted assassination of Labor leader Arthur Calwell. This work is not called a memoir but, told in the quiet voice of an introspective loner, the tone and detail certainly suggests that it is just that.

Originally published as two separate works, The Treatment and The Cure have been brought together as one seamless novel.

The Treatment follows 19-year-old Len Tarbutt as he enters the maximum security unit of this hospital to continue a life sentence for an unspecified crime. The terror Len feels is so understated that it allows the reader to actually see the other men who share his new home. Among these inhabitants are men who have been through so many shock treatments they are left catatonic, men who have a dis-arming sense of humor, especially considering their surroundings, and attendants who seem to have rather symbiotic relationships with the patients. The goal here is to get transferred from MAX into Ward 5. No one really knows what they’ll find there, but they know it’s the first step to freedom, a reason to survive the trials of MAX.

The Cure begins as Len enters the much desired Ward 5. But is life any better for these patients? Here Len finds failure and success, dignity and depression, self-loathing and pride. All while fighting his continuous obsession of over-thinking every decision he makes, walking a tightrope of “yes” equals failure/“no” equals failure. Is he that different from any of us?

The Treatment & The Cure is a fascinating read. This is not a “poor pitiful me” experience that one might expect from such a young character in such a dire situation. It has more a cerebral tone of “this is just the way it is in my world”. Len’s emotion is not told but shown through subtle changes in the rhythm of the narration which are un-noticeable to the reader until he suddenly falls from a bit of a high and you realize you are emotionally right back where you started.

I believe this is the first book I have ever read that is written in the second person. That, in itself, was a very interesting experience, giving the book a noir feeling and causing me to feel as if I was dreaming the scenes as opposed to imagining them. It’s a work that doesn’t excite the reader, but, rather, causes one to feel quite introspective and wonder just how many steps away from insanity any one of us may be.

Title: The Treatment & The Cure
Author: Peter Kocan
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1-933372-45-7

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dali & I by Stan Lauryssens

Almost twenty years after his death the inexplicable life and works of Salvador Dali are still a mystery. And con-men continue to make financial gains by using his name.

In Dali & I, Stan Lauryssens may well be continuing the tradition.

I wanted to quit reading this book about 30 pages in because it is so badly written. Unless you’re a fan of excessive lists in place of sentences:

“…far outsold superstars Warren Beatty, Raquel Welch, Ursula Andress, Dustin Hoffman, Woody Allen, and even Elizabeth Taylor, the all-time beauty queen.”

Mr Lauryssens uses this technique throughout the entire book, most excessively in the first half to describe his surroundings and what he’s eating and drinking.

Another annoyance. The continuing rolling “rrr’s” that he put into every dialogue attributed to Dali (a man whom, by the way, he never met. He saw him once at the top of a staircase) Just pointing out the rolling r’s once is all the reader needs to imagine for themselves.

And then there’s the bad dialogue. In the author’s defense, he does point out:

“Conversations presented in dialogue form have been recreated based on my memory of them, but they are not intended to represent the word-for-word documentation of what was said; rather, they are meant to reflect the substance of what was said.”

Fair enough. Who keeps a diary of every conversation they have. But, again, they are badly written and the timing of them is hard to believe. Why, upon first meeting someone, would you tell them of your childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a living icon?

Beyond his writing style, I was also finding the truthfulness of much of this book dubious.

Upon being arrested, why would you brag to the police about knowingly selling fake Dali’s and then be shocked when they put you in jail? If your keeping yourself prisoner in your own home because Interpol is looking for you, why would you contact the FBI to get a file on Dali to find out if he was a Nazi spy? If you’re comfortable driving your Alfa-Romeo from town to town to meet with Dali insiders (while still being hunted by Interpol) why not buy a pad of paper as opposed to writing conversations down on backs of receipts and toilet paper?

Yes, about halfway through the book Lauryssens began keeping notes on his conversations (whether for a memoir or some sort of evidence against Dali is not told) and the dialogue in the book started flowing more smoothly. So, just as I was getting ready to at least try to enjoy this book as a fictional memoir…Stan ticked me off…

His lack of respect for people as a whole was irritating me and I’m sure his “Black” housekeeper (mentioned twice in the same terms) would feel the same. After having mentioned Amanda Lear a couple of times and back-handedly complimenting her each time, he finally flat out insulted her by referring to her artwork as Dali imitations. I needed to see for myself. So I “googled” Amanda Lear. I did find her art on a fan website. Definitely Dali inspired but hardly what I would call “imitations”. On her own website there is no artwork, it’s dedicated to her music and television appearances and has a couple of articles, including a 2004 interview for Night magazine which was very interesting.

Then I went back to the book and an hour later came across this:

"What advice did he (Dali) give you, Ultra (Violet)?"
"Whatever you do, he said, do something that attracts attention. Be a murderer, set fire to a hotel, talk dirty. Whatever. But do something..."

I just read that! I went back to Ms Lear’s site and sure enough, four years ago from her, not even quoting Dali:

"Whatever you do, be a murderer, set fire to the hotel, say something that will really shock, talk dirty, whatever, do something that will attract attention."

Did Mr. Lauryssens mistakenly attribute this quote to the wrong source? Although, according to the book Ms Lear was at this meeting with him and Ultra Violet, among others. Was this something Dali "said to all the girls"? Did the reporter interviewing Amanda Lear mistakenly credit her with this quote? Did the author happen upon this interview?

This caused me an irrepressible need for more investigation. I found on a number of different websites and two different Dali biographies instances of easily accessible information that is also noted in this book. None as nearly word for word as the above, but enough for me to wonder how much of this book is memoir and how much is research. And how many of these conversations he actually had, even allowing for the inaccuracy of the dialogue.

To go any further would cause this review to become a dissertation on Salvador Dali and how much information about him is real and how much is his own hype. How much responsibility he holds for the Dali fakes and how much is the way art works. An area I have some background in as someone who once worked as an in-house artist for and architectural firm. Scandalous.

Only two other books have ever made me as emotional as this one. The emotion with the other two was deep sorrow.

This book provoked high energy anger. I have told everyone I can find about this book. I can’t stop thinking about it, no matter what I’m doing. I still am not giving up on my own Dali research and there’s still plenty to come with lawsuits that are still active and I now find myself needing to keep current on them.

Even bad art can evoke emotion.

Title: Dali & I
Author: Stan Lauryssens
Publisher: St Martins
ISBN: 978-0-312-37993-3

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Beautiful Cigar Girl by Daniel Stashower

The last time anyone saw Mary C. Rogers of New York was Sunday July 25, 1841. To this day the crime remains unsolved. While Stashower makes no attempt to unravel this mystery in The Beautiful Cigar Girl, Edgar Allan Poe believes he is able to do so through his fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin, who has already proven himself in The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

This book is, at once, a true crime about the disappearance of Mary Rogers and a biography of Edgar Allan Poe. Frankly, more Poe than Rogers, which was fine by me, he's a fascinating character.

Stashower follows Poe's life from the death of his, actor, parents, through his short-lived riches as a ward of the Allan family, to his life of constant struggle to get ahead while being done in by both much of his own doings and his being taken advantage of by employers, publishers and partners.

This work is also a fascinating eye-opener to the workings of the "penny press" of this era. It would appear that the newspapaers of the day were far more rumor, speculation and editorial opionion than fact, which seems sadly lacking, even in the Police Gazette. This, no doubt, coupled with the police being paid bonuses by victims when property was recovered, added to the problem of solving a murder, where the victim was not wealthy and there was no property to recover. As a matter of fact, Ms Rogers had been missing for a week before the police began investigating her death, due to the pressure of the city editors, who were familiar with Mary through her work as the counter girl at Anderson's Cigar Store. Possibly because of this delay in the investigation, police found themselves at a number of dead ends in finding Mary's killer, or killers.

Poe felt that his own detection abilities could solve this murder where the police had failed and employed Dupin to do so in The Mystery of Marie Roget, which was released in three installments for the Ladies' Companion. The reworking of the finale of this story put a twist on Poe's personality that had not occurred to me before, but makes perfect sense.

The title, The Beautiful Cigar Girl, is a bit misleading. This book is really a biography of Edgar Allan Poe and a study in how fiction is developed from fact. It also serves to peak the readers' interest in the workings of the press in the mid 19th century. Well worth the read.

Title: The Beautiful Cigar Girl
Author: Daniel Stashower
Publisher: Berkley
ISBN: 978-0-425-21782-5