Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Voorman Problem

      Every now and then, I (or any writer, I suppose) come across a story -- a book, a movie, a play, whatever -- that I feel like I should have written.  Not exactly that I wish I'd written it, but more that it reflects a theme and/or style so close to mine that it's like the actual writer just got to it a little bit before I would have.  I felt that way about the movie Unbreakable, for instance.
     I've written a lot of short stories, very few of them published (yet).  One of those short stories that I would have written sooner or later has been made into a short film, one that was nominated for a 2013 Oscar Award.  It's called The Voorman Problem, and in it's twelve minute running time, it strikes all the best chords of weirdness and surrealism, and leaves behind a vast implication of cosmic terror.  Quite impressive all around, especially considering that it's a comedy (or so suggests the theme music).  It's available for download at all the usual places and well worth a twelve minute look.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Thoughts of the Writer

     In a recent interview in The New York Times, the novelist Philip Roth had this to say: "Whoever looks for the writer’s thinking in the words and thoughts of his characters is looking in the wrong direction . . . The thought of the novelist lies not in the remarks of his characters or even in their introspection but in the plight he has invented for his characters . . . The thought of the writer lies in his choice of an aspect of reality previously unexamined in the way that he conducts an examination. The thought of the writer is . . . in the moral focus of the novel."
     There are traits of characters I've created that I identify with, that I wish I had, that I wish I didn't have, that I'm glad I do or don't have.  But do my characters speak my thoughts?  Well, in the most basic sense, they do; everything they say did come out of my head.  But do they speak my outlook, my beliefs?
     Mr. Roth, who has been writing and thinking about writing for a lot longer than I have, speaks to the largest and most compelling point on this subject.  Writers often (if not always) write because they feel they have something important to say and want to express that.  It's very tempting for readers to assume the characters themselves are the sole vehicles of this expression since they (the characters) are the things in the books most obviously expressing something.  But, truly, it's the way the world of the book interacts with a treats and leaves the characters that has the greatest meaning.  The characters are one of the tools that allows the entire story to express the writer's thoughts. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014


     On the surface, Enemy is a movie about a history professor who sees an actor in a movie who is him.  He tracks down this actor and their confrontation has consequences.  On a deeper level, Enemy is about something going terribly wrong with the universe.  Based on the novel The Double by Jose Saramago and directed by Denis Villeneuve (director of the very good Prisoners), the film is reminiscent of Lynch and Cronenberg in their prime mind-bending years, but has a look, tone and voice distinctly its own, in no small part thanks to the riveting work of Jake Gyllenhaal.  If you don't like spiders, completely disregard everything I said about the movie, because you must never, never see it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Town That Wasn't

     If you think about it, maps could be pulling a vast hoax on us.  How many of those places we pass by do we ever actually visit?  How many little towns, villages and hamlets whip by us on our way to somewhere else that we never see?  There's story potential here: a map filled with the names of imaginary places meant to convince some poor traveler that the world isn't actually empty.  But it appears that reality beat fiction to it in this case.  This recent article from The New York Times explains how the town of Agloe, New York has appeared for decades on road maps and even inhabited a spot in the digital world of Google Maps, all without ever really existing.  Theoretically included on maps as a protection against copyright infringement (if the name appeared on other maps, the owners would know information had been lifted from the Agloe-inclusive map, since these other map makers would never have come across an Agloe to include it), it certainly manages to pique the imagination.
    An amusing footnote: the print version of this article appeared in the March 29, 2014 edition of The New York Times.  It ends at the bottom of page A16 with the words "Last week, a reporter for the New York" and then explains "Continued on Following Page."  But on page A17, there is no sign of the continued article.  The story has, like the town itself, disappeared.