Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Smothered in Transparent Blue

About a month ago I read Dennis Cooper's Smothered in Hugs, a collection of "essays, interviews, feedback, and obituaries" that were previously published in the likes of the Village Voice, Interview Magazine, Spin Magazine and more. Covering Courtney Love, Derek Jarman, River Phoenix, Nan Goldin, William Burroughs, Clive Barker and John Waters, just to name a few, I found Cooper's non fiction to be revealing and of course well written- sometimes staggeringly well written. The standout pieces for me are the investigative/reportage works 'Too School For School' (about students completing their graduate degree in Fine Arts at UCLA in 1994) and 'AIDS: Words from the Front,' a poetic and heartbreaking look at hustlers living with (and dying) from AIDS.
Cooper's taste in outsider art is impeccable and I made a list of music, literature and cinema to explore based on his recommendations and praise in Smothered in Hugs. The hilarious 'Hipper Than Thou: Ryu Murakami' documents Cooper's failed interview with the cool and controversial Japanese writer and film director, Ryu Murakami. The planned interview apparently went awry and spiralled into a farce due to the language barrier between Cooper and Murakami and a somewhat inept translator. Miscommunication aside, Cooper eloquently describes Murakami's work and hooked my interest enough that I did some research. I was surprised to discover I had bought and already read one of his books called In The Miso Soup. It seems that the novel didn't make a very strong impression on me.

However, I was intrigued by the reviews of Murakami's first novel, the Akutagawa Prize winning Almost Transparent Blue, originally published in 1976. Newsweek called the book "A Japanese mix of A Clockwork Orange [one of my favorite films] and L'Etranger [one of my favorite books]"- so I had to check it out. The novel is a slim 126 pages but packs a powerful punch as it brutally details the violent, drugged out, over sexed and dangerous lives of a group of Japanese youths living in a port town close to an American military base. Murakami's writing is often (and sometimes especially) beautiful as he describes the grotesqueness of the youths' reality and the bizarre hallucinations of the main character. The Washington Post listed my favorite things about the book, calling Almost Transparent Blue "a combination of exotica, erotica, and indigenous literary technique...Bugs and mucus, cheesecake and semen, rain and runways- all lovingly described."
I found a paragraph on page 113 particularly striking and true and though I would post it here:

"I remembered a friend who'd died of a bad liver, and what he'd always said. Yeah, he'd said, maybe it's just my idea, but really it always hurts, the times it don't hurt is when we just forget, we just forget it hurts, you know, it's not just because my belly's all rotten, everybody always hurts. So when it really starts stabbing me, somehow I feel sort of peaceful, like I'm myself again. It's hard to take, sure, but I feel sort of peaceful. Because it's always hurt ever since I was born."

Almost Transparent Blue is a surprisingly strong book that I highly recommend.

The End

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