Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Novel of the Year

PRIVATE SCREENINGS by Lawrence Richette
--a book review by King Wenclas--

"She had become one of those beautifully unreachable women you saw on the Upper East Side wearing a secular halo composed of utter poise and a frightening lack of need."

"The usual gargoyles: God, it takes far less time to get tired of the rich than they would ever dream. Not that this bunch even looked particularly well-dressed: stripped of their plastic and their family names, they'd have rated, at best, a corner table at Wendy's."

"I walked home in an effervescent mood, the kind you enjoy even while you tell yourself it isn't going to last. The rain stopped by the time I reached One Hundred and Tenth Street. Broadway gleamed darkly in the light that poured out of the markets, through the windows of saloons."

I don't like giving quotes from novels, because novels count for their effect not on a well-written sentence, but an accummulation of sentences put together in the right way to create a picture; an experience. For Richette's latest novel, a love story set in New York City at the end of the 1980's, I could give a hundred such quotes which by themselves don't mean a great deal, but placed artfully in-and-out of a compelling narrative in short bursts they add a three-dimensional depth to the tale.

It's a story about a struggling young screenwriter and his struggling young actress wife; but really it's a story about New York, the variety of settings, people, incidents, jammed together like a mosaic; variety which gives the glittering island its appeal. Private Screenings captures this magical, awful place better than any novel I've read. Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City in comparison is an outline, a sketch; while Richette's, covering roughly the same time period, is a deep-hued painting.

The three things I loved about this book:

1.) The narrative voice of the main character-- the screenwriter-- falling in-and-out of love with several women, including his wife. The narrator has the mad unpredictable energy of an artist; doubts, analysis, scorn, sarcasm, jubilation, disappointment: temperament. The final stage: wisdom; appreciation of the things of life. The novel is first the voice: fast-paced nonstop wit and energy, like the city.

2.) I loved the characters, wonderfully portrayed; likeable, maddening, real. From Victor the quack filmmaker to Quentin the jaded friend to rich girl Jill and Holly the prize-- Tony's wife-- toward which he seems to be fighting the entire book; to other quirky types found only in New York like Manfred the Eurotrash pimp. All rendered humorously, as types, yet by the end of the novel becoming to us real people.

3.) This occurs through the novel's warmth, the quality I enjoyed most about the book; a quality obtained through the author's love of humanity, and, for all his satirical jabs at it, of the city he's writing about.

One can finally say it's an accomplished novel, a whole; carrying resulting aesthetic effect-- the artistic power of accomplishment. Form: the novel in balance, so that this incident in Chapter One touches that occurence in Chapter Fourteen, the harmony conveyed to the reader subliminally, not kicking-in fully until the end. Each part of the story, each character, fits, with nothing extraneous. Richette creates not flash, not smoke-bomb rock show pyrotechnics (though the story has pyrotechnics), so much as a sustained vibration of intensity and mood.

Most needed from the American novel today is this novel's optimism; a realistic optimism which comes from enduring the knocks of life. Tony the main character survives crazed and desperate scenarios to arrive back at the starting point of life that is the culmination of experience.

Brilliance is an effect that lingers after the object which created it has passed from view. Private Screenings achieves this.

(The book is available through Xlibris and Amazon. Buy it!)