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I Am Not Jackson Pollock: Stories Paperback – April 1, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Haskell evades definition in his audacious debut collection, creating an innovative blend of fact and fiction and deliberately eliding the difference between them. Most of the nine stories are imaginative extrapolations of the lives of real people (or, in some cases, real animals), such as the eponymous painter and his wife, Lee Krasner; Psycho stars Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins; Laika, the first dog in space; and Saartjie, the early 19th-century South African woman brought to London as the famous sideshow attraction the Hottentot Venus. Haskell mixes anecdotes from the lives of these artists and celebrities with fictitious events to compose deceptively simple vignettes in which he distills and clarifies moments of intense psychological struggle. Jackson Pollock sees a beautiful woman as he enters a bar in "Dream of a Clean Slate," "but he was feeling a thing he called nervousness, a feeling in his body that he didn't like, so he stopped at the bar for a drink, a whiskey... part of him--his desire-goes to the girl, and the rest of him stays at the bar, drinking and trembling." In "The Faces of Joan of Arc," Mercedes McCambridge, the voice of the devil in The Exorcist, tries vainly to stop drinking; actress Renee Falconetti tries to understand her role as the title character in The Passion of Joan of Arc; and an aging Hedy Lamarr shoplifts a tawdry department store dress. "Elephant Feelings" weaves together the stories of the Hottentot Venus; Topsy, the elephant whose electrocution was famously captured on film in the 1900s; and the Indian god Ganesh, half man, half elephant. Betrayal and humiliation, coupled with an inability to communicate, drives all three to acts of violent rage. Haskell subtly explores questions of exploitation and agency through the eyes of his celebrity characters, winking all the while at his own attempts to get into their heads. His hypnotic writing creates its own genre, unsettling and quietly bizarre.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Jackson Pollack created images of passion and mystery and sparked a new fervor for abstraction in the art world. Similarly, Haskell's collection of stories--not quite fiction, not always true--equally tells of passions, mystery, and abstraction. He takes real-life situations: Pollack himself trying to separate the man from the artist in "Dream of a Clean Slate"; the infamous Coney Island man-killing elephant, Topsy, in the year 1900 and the fabled Hottentot Venus, an African woman whose body was a Parisian circus spectacle, both seek the true love of a man in "Elephant Feelings"; Janet Leigh's character in Psycho and her relationship with Anthony Perkins' character is analyzed and romanticized in "The Judgment of Psycho"; Glenn Gould's hypochondria is examined in "Glenn Gould in Six Parts"; and the tribulations of Laika, the Russian dog that was the first animal in space, are addressed in "Good World." These are just a few of the wonderful, quirky, even extraordinary tales that intersperse Hollywood gossip with plumbing the depths of the human spirit. Michael Spinella
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
His premise, though, turns the "stories" into more analysis of moment than a narrative. Occasionally, the stories become bogged down and feel like essays, though this is itself is intellectually stimulating.
He gives the reader a look inside Jackson Pollock's head in one piece, granting you the opportunity to follow Pollock's reasoning.
In "Elephant Feelings," the best of the stories, Haskell takes three figures from culture and history and draws parallels between them. (It feels like a shorter version of "The Hours," even, except with mythical characters and an elephant playing the Virginia Woolf part.) But not enough is done with the premise, in my opinion.
As with all the stories, I felt like the characters and moments were well-drawn. But, to justify going into all this detail, I wished it'd featured less analysis and more plot.
None of these pieces (though in a sense the complete book has an inviolate structure of its own) was transcendent, however. I was interested but not rapt. No sirens or fireworks went off. But Haskell is nonetheless an artist in the best sense; he is after something beyond the familiar confines of fiction, is following his own muse without apology or a need to ingratiate himself with the reader, and I have a strong hunch that his best efforts lie ahead. He is original, focused, and definitely a writer to watch.
This isn't just good literature; it reaches into your being and forces you to respond.