Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Show Up, Look Good

Show Up, Look Good is a soon-to-be-released novel by Mark Wisniewski. I read an advance copy of it that clearly states on the peach-colored cover, “Please do not quote for publication without checking against the final book,” so this is a personal response and not any kind of formal review.

Mark has said it’s OK to quote from it, as long as I don’t misrepresent the book, and his publicist has sent me cover art—looks good, doesn’t it?—and permission to use it. (Also, I found a typo for him! Maybe he had time to fix it before the book’s official release.)

You can find out more about the book here and here, and the scheduled release date is October 5, but I will be in the cemetery then, so I am writing about it on this Hump of the Week. Why?  Well, because this book starts with a bang, or, rather, a solitary act performed with a marital aid.

I also promised Mark “no spoilers,” and I don’t think that spoils anything or reveals too much. I don’t think it misrepresents anything, either, as the book starts out and continues with this kind of casual and blunt humor, and contains “sexual situations” and a bout of hilarious snarkiness on the “MFA-at-NYU.”  There’s also an early hint of some poignancy to come.

Literally, the book begins:

I know of a secret murder, and I’ve loved a speechless man, and sometimes I’d like to tell someone how death and love have changed my life, but any of three thoughts give me pause.

And then he, the author, speaking as she, the narrator (Michelle), lists the three obstacles to telling us all about it…and then proceeds to do so. And here’s where I point you to the interview that explains how the author/narrator are related, done with such charming transparency that I can forgive some things that usually annoy me:

1) thinly disguised autobiography
2) a man pretending to be a woman (to sell more books)*
3) blatant substitution of a visual art for literary art as the occupation of the narrator**

*But, hey, what a fine ironic reversal of the way it used to be, except that it did not actually solve Mark’s marketing problem (again, see interview), perhaps rightly so!

**But, hey, my husband, a visual artist, pursued me precisely because he had heard in college that poetry and painting were sister arts, so what’s my kecking problem?

***(yes, yes, I know there are no corresponding asterisks for this) Thirdly, I think Mark probably wanted me to read this because his narrator is a woman from Kankakee, Illinois who heads off to New York City and gets caught up in show biz for a time (before dabbling with visual art), and I am a woman from small-town Illinois who was caught up in show biz for a time in the big city of Chicago (before dabbling with a visual artist). So, of course, I am an expert.

And I say this is a book I would love to see as a movie because I think there is a core story, with the gentle wisdom of those opening lines (Mark is also a poet), that could be told efficiently, effectively, and well by a very good filmmaker. There are things Michelle must leave unsaid, so she says a lot of other things instead. Her ex-fiancĂ© says she “thinks too much” and, in dialogue, she doesn’t talk too much, so the meandering narration may substitute for a thinking-too-much aspect of her personality, even while it obscures and delays rather than reveals the core narrative. A film could show the whimsy, edginess, and absurdity of Michelle’s life with camera angle and selection of detail, and perhaps even a bit of voiceover, while also pursuing the plot of the core story. She’s the star of her own story, as we all are, I suppose, but a bit player on the edge of this other, deeper, more complicated story, one she’s not able to tell.

****(4 unaffiliated stars, so, if you want, you can call this a “4-star review”) I’m annoyed with myself for wanting a visual narrative this time beyond the verbal narrative that is offered, and I see all the irony of this, but, on the other hand, he’ll probably make lots of money off the film rights, right?

To reiterate & continue (& think too much/talk too much):

1) I wish Mark well on the release of his book and hope to see it as a movie!
2) I hope he sees how I am the perfect whimsical, meandering reader/responder!
3) I hope he doesn't think I am some literary bully and cover me with this week's dirt (sigh...), and I pretty much think he understands because we both love Mather Schneider.


Hannah Stephenson said...

Wonderful review, Kathleen! It does make me want to read the book, which is always good.

Kathleen said...

Glad to hear it, Hannah!