Thursday, September 13, 2007

More evidence of the convergence of mainstream and slipstream

Intriguing review of a new Michel Faber collection from today's NY Times:

September 13, 2007
Books of the Times
Stories With Mysterious Worlds, Specialized Rules and Inchoate Dangers

In a short story called “Mouse,” part of Michel Faber’s poignantly eerie new collection, “Vanilla Bright Like Eminem,” he writes of a myopic video-gamer named Manny and the strange little world he inhabits. Manny is one of 60,000 guys who share an obsessive online passion for a game called “Runner” and for Lena, its hot-looking virtual heroine. Manny is hooked on watching Lena as she outruns guard dogs, secret police and sociopaths while fighting her way out of the former Soviet bloc. Players guide her past these dangers, enjoying the way each attack shreds more of her clothing. If one of them foolishly lets a tank run over Lena, it’s Game Over.

Manny is grappling with a maddening software screw-up when he hears an unfamiliar sound: the ringing of his doorbell. He opens the door to find a real, live gorgeous woman who actually needs his help. Her problem involves a mouse, and it’s not the kind that has to be pried out of the hands of video-gamers. It’s a living, breathing furry thing that is running around her apartment and scaring her.

Manny would catch and kill the mouse if he could. But it’s not that simple. The beautiful woman follows the precepts of an exotic, Minneapolis-based religious group. She believes a mouse may be a recycled soul, one that Manny should not extinguish. This woman’s rules for living are every bit as intricate as the “Runner” code, and suddenly Manny is caught up in a new kind of reality: the immediate kind. The woman’s apartment has the same floor plan as Manny’s, making his newly altered state that much trippier. By the end of “Mouse,” Manny’s computer habit seems poised to undergo ineradicable change.

This is one way of saying that when Mr. Faber, who wrote the intoxicating novel “The Crimson Petal and the White,” shoehorns the name Eminem into the title of a literary short-story collection, he isn’t overreaching. Naming his book “Vanilla Bright Like Eminem” is not an affectation. These stories blend darkly phantasmagoric elements with humorously commonplace ones, and Eminem makes a perfectly good avatar for that kind of thinking. One of the best stories in this odd and haunting book, “Beyond Pain,” describes what happens when a heavy-metal drummer gets a headache, looks around at his life, realizes he is sick of pretending to be a tough guy called Morpheus, and slides into a wholly different world. In his new realm, Blaha and Fleps are proper names, and the background music is “Loch Lomond.”



Luís Filipe Silva said...

Sadly, "Under the Skin" just about killed my ever approaching this author again. I know some people liked that story of alien cows abducting hitchhikers - but for me had too much angst to be a farce, too little plausibility to become sf, and it was too much contemplative to be read as fantasy...

Chris Nakashima-Brown said...

Luis -- Thanks for the tip. I have not read this guy's work, but was intrigued enough by the review to check it out. We'll see....


william h. Stoddard said...

The imaginary game sounds oddly as if it were inspired by "Run, Lola, Run."