Tuesday, December 15, 2009

CB's Book Reviews in Brief #1: Stona Fitch's "Senseless"

A while back I intended to post book review posts every couple months that would cover all the reading I'd done in the stretch since the last post. That plan didn't work, mostly because between a really busy stretch (known to others as 2009) and the amount I read, I soon had a second stack of still unreviewed books and decided, when I was packing up to move in September, just to forget about that plan.

However, I do sometimes read things that I think are worth writing about and, maybe (hopefully), worth reading about. So, in that spirit, I'm gonna try to reinaugurate this thing. I still plan to keep the reviews short and to the point, focusing mostly on what the author was trying to do (if I can tell) and how I felt about the effort. I'm bringing you today's selection not because it is the greatest thing written this decade (though it is good), but simply because it is the most recent thing I've finished. And when I finish the book I'm currently on (and about done with), I'll write about it, because like this one, it is good and, more importantly, I just read it.

Over time I'll probably tweak the format, and if you have any preferences as readers, I'm certainly happy to hear them. But for now, on with the reviewage.

Senseless by Stona Fitch (2001, Soho Press, 150 pp.)

In this brief book, Fitch gets the most out of terse minimalism and a rigorously linear chronology. Told in first-person diary style, Senseless proceeds with forty separate entries, each marking one day in the kidnapping of American global high-finance fixer Elliot Gast. Gast, a master at cementing the kinds of mega-dollar deals that are sealed across tables in the four-star dining rooms that dot European capital cities, has been captured by masked terrorists on the way home from one of his lengthy dinner and dealmaking sessions. Over time, Gast learns more about the terrorists, European anti-globalist tech wizards bent on sensationalizing their act in such a way that they are guaranteed to cut through the white noise of world wide, 24-hour cable chatter and keep the public's attention rather than lose it to the next scandal or tragedy of the moment.

Some parts of this book are quite violent and troubling, in a way that could make for a profitable Saw spinoff rather than a thoughtful meditation on the nature of commerce and violence in this hyper-mediated age. The nature of the plot setting (a single small apartment) and the sequential dimensions to the violence make cinematic speculation impossible to resist, and indeed the film industry has already brought forth a straight-to-video horror porn version of the book, one that emphasizes (apparently) the reality tv dimension and minimizes the philosophical aspects of the relationship between tortured and torturer and avoids questions of meta-guilt.

Seeing Fitch's book turned into that kind of film is unsurprising, but still disappointing. When literary authors write about such issues, it would be nice to see their peers in the film world take the cultural high road, as well. Perhaps a more thoughtful version of the book will find its way into Hollywood soon. In the meantime, the book is worth reading, if only for its pre-9/11 version of terrorism as an act committed by highly educated westerners rather than the now stereotypical Arabic fundamentalist. Rather than otherizing terror, Fitch sociologically internalizes it, much to his authorial credit.

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