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Zeroville Paperback – November 1, 2007

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My Struggle: Book Four
Eighteen-year-old Karl Ove moves to a tiny fishing village in the Arctic Circle to work as a school teacher. As the nights get longer, the shadow cast by his father's own sharply increasing alcohol consumption, also gets longer. Read the full description
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Editorial Reviews Review

"Erickson is as unique and vital and pure a voice as American fiction has produced."--Jonathan Lethem

A film-obsessed ex-seminarian with images of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift tattooed on his head arrives on Hollywood Boulevard in 1969. Vikar Jerome enters the vortex of a cultural transformation: rock and roll, sex, drugs, and--most important to him--the decline of the movie studios and the rise of independent directors. Jerome becomes a film editor of astonishing vision. Through encounters with former starlets, burglars, political guerillas, punk musicians, and veteran filmmakers, he discovers the secret that lies in every movie ever made.

Questions for Steve Erickson

Jeff VanderMeer for Could you describe where you are as you're answering these questions?

Erickson: At the moment I'm in my home office in Topanga Canyon, which I can see outside my window. How do you feel your fiction has changed over the years, beyond the changes that occur from acquiring greater mastery of technique?

Erickson: Well, being a novelist yourself, you probably understand this is something it's better for a writer not to think too much about. While I do believe I become a technically better writer over time, in others ways writing gets harder because inspiration is finite. On the other hand, though energy and inspiration diminish, experience grows--the theme of parents and kids, for instance, which lurked under the surface in earlier novels like Days Between Stations and Rubicon Beach and Arc d'X, has come to the forefront over the course of my last three novels including Zeroville, just because my own personal experience has become more first-hand. Because you've got more ways to tell a story now than when you were first published, does that also make it harder to write? Do you ever find yourself debating the merits of more than one approach to the same material?

Erickson: The material dictates the approach. I tell the stories in the way that feels natural to tell them. Certainly the last thing I want is to be "difficult." In my previous novel, Our Ecstatic Days, a lake has flooded Los Angeles and a young single mother believes it represents the chaos of the world that has come to take her small son. She dives down into the water to the hole at the bottom through which the lake is coming--and at the moment I wrote that scene, I had this idea she should "swim" through the rest of the novel, through the next 25 years of the story, and the reader sees this in the form of a single sentence that cuts through the rest of the text. A lot of people identified this as "experimental," but to me experimental fiction ultimately is about the experiment and I'm not interested in experiments for their own sake, and if anything I've always steered a bit clear of that kind of thing, because it seems gimmicky to play around with text rather than do the work of telling a story and creating characters. In the case of Our Ecstatic Days, it was just a way of conveying the world of that particular novel. A number of people have noted that Zeroville is more "linear" than the earlier novels but that was calculated only in the sense that I thought a novel about the Movies and why we love them (as opposed to a "Hollywood novel" about the movie business) should have the pop energy of a movie. People have mentioned how fast Zeroville reads--that's because I felt it should move the way a movie moves. What really sparked Zeroville? Was there a moment where you suddenly realized you had a story to tell?

Erickson: The idea was born in a short story I wrote for a McSweeney's anthology, but the novel really fell into place when the character of Vikar came into focus, when I got a handle on this guy who shows up in Hollywood in 1969 on what happens to be the day of the Manson murders, with a scene from George Stevens's A Place in the Sun tattooed on his head. He's identified by one of the other characters in the novel as not a cineaste but "cineautistic"--movies have become his religion after he's rejected the one his father imposed on him, and he sees movies through the eyes of an innocent. Once I had Vikar I had everything--the story, the approach, the perspective, the tone. How difficult was it to layer in all of the movie information that's in Zeroville? For example, you include several real movie people in the novel, sometimes anonymously so the reader has to guess who they are. Was that all there in the initial drafts?

Erickson: The whole novel wrote itself from beginning to end, including the film stuff. It was the easiest novel I've written. I almost feel like I can't take credit for it--it was like the universe said, Here, you worked pretty hard on all those other books, so we're giving you this one. You type, I'll dictate. If anything, when I went back over the novel, I took film stuff out. The stuff about movies had to support the story, it had to support the characters and be informed by them -- the novel couldn't just be a compendium of movies I happen to like. It's not a DVD guide. Did you know going in that this was going to be a very funny novel? And do you think reviewers have, in the past, missed elements of humor in your work, or is this new for you?

Erickson: I knew it was going to be funny once I knew who Vikar was. Once I knew we were going to tell the story pretty much from his vantage point, it couldn't help being funny. There are moments of humor in earlier novels like Tours of the Black Clock and The Sea Came in at Midnight that probably are so dry and dark that some people didn't understand they were funny. But with the exception of Amnesiascope, which generally is considered a funny novel, the humor usually hasn't been this overt.

From Publishers Weekly

Set primarily in Los Angeles from the late 1960s through 1980s, this darkly funny, wise but flawed novel from Erickson (Arc d'X) focuses on our collective fascination with movies. Vikar Jerome, whose almost deranged film fixation manifests itself in the images of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift tattooed on his bald head, wanders around Hollywood, where he gets mistaken for a perp in the Charles Manson murders and is robbed by a man who turns out to be a fellow film buff. After Vikar becomes a film editor, he's kidnapped by revolutionaries in Spain who want him to edit their propaganda film. Later, he wins a Cannes Film Festival award in France and receives an Oscar nomination, with strange consequences. Vikar repeatedly crosses paths with actress Soledad Palladin and her daughter, Zazi, though ambiguities in his relationship with this enigmatic pair, along with a recurring dream of his, derail this black comedy toward the end. The sudden point-of-view shift and possible supernatural element jar in an otherwise brilliant, often hilarious love song to film. (Nov.)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 329 pages
  • Publisher: Europa Editions (November 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933372397
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933372396
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #411,422 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Steve Erickson is the author of nine novels including 2012's THESE DREAMS OF YOU and two nonfiction works. His books have appeared on best-of-the-year lists in Newsweek, the Washington Post BookWorld, the Los Angeles Times, the Village Voice and the New York Times Book Review. He is the editor of the literary journal Black Clock, published by the California Institute of the Arts, and he teaches writing at the University of California Riverside; he also writes about film for Los Angeles magazine. He has received the American Academy of Arts and Letters' award in literature, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By T. LeBeau on November 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
I am putting together a new Freshman level class for the Spring semester, and after reading Zeroville and several other of Erickson's books, I want to toss out all the textbooks I have assigned and replace them with Erickson's novels. He is so passionate about digging through different historic events, exploring America's bizzare and dangerous obsessions with its own exceptionalism and millennial fantasies, that Erickson outshines just about any academic text on American history and meaning (it doesn't hurt that he writes better than historians).
But specifically, the way in which the character Vikar approaches reality and movies is as a complete innocent: he sees horror movies and thinks they are comedies; after watching The Sound of Music, he believes the An Trapps are a re-invention of the Manson family, trailing songs and terror throughout Europe. This narrative choice allows the reader to experience the last four decades of history and movies with completely new eyes, revealing just how odd a place and time America really is.
Vikar's innocence is balanced by his violence (smashing a hippie in the head with a dinner tray because the man mis-identified the Taylor/Clift tatoo on Vikar's head) suggesting, at least to me, the public claims to innocence that the U.S. has historically claimed while it has been engaged in some of the most violent actions of the modern period.
But, again, Zeroville stands up to readings on multiple levels and calls out of multiple readings. It also sheds light back on Erikson's earlier work, suggesting the linked but non-linear continuity of all his works.
If you like movies, punk rock, beautiful narrative prose or just flat out, off-handed weirdness then Zeroville is the perfect drug.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By John A. League on February 22, 2008
Format: Paperback
There are several things I want to say about Steve Erickson's Zeroville, but none of them really describe what's going on here. The first would be that you really need to love and know vintage movies to get this, but that's not entirely true. Yes, it would add to the experience to know the difference between Rio Bravo and Red River, and to understand what Vikar means when he says that Travis Bickle is in another movie where he's a boxer. But that's also completely unnecessary to get into the quest--and that's what this story is, a quest--that Vikar undertakes. The second is that this story, with its piles upon piles of coincidence, wonder and desperation reminds me, more than any other book, of House of Leaves. I think Vikar and Johnny have a lot in common, but Vikar's quest is absent the unnamed menace of Johnny's.

Vikar knows movies. In fact, that's all he knows. He finds his feelings in them, but learns how to communicate with others not through what is said during movies but rather what the people around him say about the movies. That's the thing about Erickson's writing that makes this book so hard to pin down: it's not a book about the movies, it's a book about how we feel about the movies. And in a way, it's a book about how the movies feel about us. Vikar gives his whole life to unspooling a cosmic reel of questions--saying that makes the book sound lofty and sanctimonious, but Erickson brings it down to earth with the grit of Vikar's obsessions, appetites and fears.

Like House of Leaves, I'm still not entirely sure that what I have written about Zeroville is even accurate. But to its credit the book was fun to read, even through its ruminations on God and sacrifice, so that I am ready to revisit this, and soon.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on August 4, 2008
Format: Paperback
I'd heard of Erickson's books, but never read anything by him until a friend gave this to me as a birthday present, knowing my love of books and film. It's an interesting novel, both easy to read and not at the same time. Set largelt amidst the Hollywood film industry of the 1970s and 80s, it's saturated with film references, but not really about film at all. Film is just used as a way to explore larger themes of -- among other things -- fate, communication, linearity, meaning, and belief.

The story revolves around Vikar, a blank 20something who has fled his claustrophobic religious upbringing and studies at seminary for the world of cinema. He is one of those ultra-naive fictional characters who wander the world either not understanding it, or perhaps understanding it better than the rest of us. His only frame of reference with the rest of the world seems to be through films, and as a result, what little plot exists, is largely driven by Vikar's adventures both working on and watching films, as well as his strange relationship with a mysterious small-time actress (possibly the daughter of Luis Buñuel) and her daughter.

Being familiar with most of the film references sprinkled through the book, it's hard to imagine those less steeped in cinema enjoying the book very much. Not only are there lots of discussions of the meaning of particular scenes or films (including an interesting debate about the end of Casablanca), but the book is studded with real life Hollywood figures who are never named.
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