Last Call in the City of Bridges Paperback – November 6, 2012
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Quite obviously, Salvatore Pane's mind has been dunked in video games, social media, comic books, the WebNet, and everything else our august literary authorities believe promote illiteracy. I d like to hand the authorities Pane's novel -- a funny, moving, melancholy, sad, and immensely literate book about what being young and confused feels like these days -- and tell them, 'See? Things are going to be fine!' --Tom Bissell author of Extra Lives: Why Video Game Matter
Like the comic book heroes he obsesses over, Michael Bishop has an origin story, the story of the first wound that makes his powers necessary and in Last Call in the City of Bridges, Michael at last faces into that tragedy, resurfacing suddenly at the mid-point of his twenties, those years of snark and expectation spent proofreading DVD subtitles, drinking literature-themed cocktails, and pining over preacher's daughters and college crushes. In this witty and charming debut, Salvatore Pane reminds us that while you can't retcon your past, you can perhaps learn to live up to its responsibilities, by using your powers not necessarily to save the ones you love from loss, but to care for those left behind in its wake. --Matt Bell, author of Cataclysm Baby
About the Author
- Paperback : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780615679327
- ISBN-13 : 978-0615679327
- Dimensions : 4.9 x 0.9 x 8 inches
- Item Weight : 9.6 ounces
- Publisher : Braddock Avenue Books; 1st edition (November 6, 2012)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : 0615679323
Best Sellers Rank:
#3,418,919 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #77,285 in Contemporary Literature & Fiction
- Customer Reviews:
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And so the marketing people (many of whom were now Gen Xers, natch--we make great manipulators) moved on to shape and perfect the consumer habits of the next cohort, the "Millennials" or "Generation Y". These poor kids--laser-targeted by television programming, raised on the World Wide Web, rarely far from the monitoring eye of anxious helicopter parents--never had a chance. They were molded into what Generation X was supposed to become; we now had the technology to make it happen. An entire generation, bred to be annoying hipsters. Their dominant modality, sardonic nostalgia; their preferred art form, pastiche; their emotional state, null. Gen X to the power of ten. Or so we are supposed to believe. Right?
Salvatore Pane is a little conflicted about this pat summary. In fact, he has a major problem with it. His characters, outwardly so cool and detached, so involved with not being involved, are showing the strain of not presenting as fully human beings. Their masks are beginning to crack.
Of course, this is not new ground for a first novel, especially for a Bildungsroman, which so many first books are. Pane's protagonist, Michael Bishop, beneath his weary posture of accidie, has the latent confused, wounded humanity found in every portrait of the young artist from Catcher in the Rye to Goodbye, Columbus, from Lucky Jim to Bright Lights, Big City. So what makes us keep coming back to the same formula, both as writers and as readers?
Maybe it's just one of those universal themes of fiction, a plot conceit that's as old as stories, one that fascinates us because we can all identify with it. Maybe it's that we're always somehow surprised and delighted that each generation has to discover the same truths anew. Though I sometimes prefer to think that there's a cynical part of every generation that simply can't believe the irredeemable younger generation has any extenuating virtues at all, and enjoys being proved wrong. (Right, Boomers?)
The source of the allure of this genre of fiction is beyond the scope of this review; let's just say that Pane's Last Call in the City of Bridges has it in spades. (Full disclosure: I know Mr. Pane personally, and my wife was his instructor and M.F.A. thesis adviser.) Michael Bishop is a complicated, well-wrought character, living in a fully realized milieu. He is seriously flawed, and he knows it, and he knows just how he hides it and compensates for it, although he's pretty good at hiding from himself how he hides and compensates for it. Growing up with electronic media made him viscerally aware, and his academic training gave him the conceptual vocabulary to articulate, that our reality consists of an infinite regression of perceptual frames, that there is reality and "reality" and meta-"reality" and "meta-reality" and so on, turtles all the way down. Michael holds in his head a fundamental cognitive dissonance: that nothing he cares about, Nintendo games and Kanye West and Spider-Man comics, is in any way consequential or deserving of serious attention, despite the serious attention he gives it (or pretends to give it; is there a difference?). But he also comes from old-fashioned Catholic working-class stock, and many of his problems arise from perpetually trying to cram the square peg of his blue-collar, faith-based heart into the pomo, tesseract-shaped hole in his head, all the while never letting the effort show, even to his conscious self.
The sleight of hand required to make all this self-conscious interior mentation comprehensible and enjoyable to the reader isn't easy for a writer to pull off while still maintaining what John Gardner called the "vivid and continuous dream" of the fictional world; or--what has become the far more common cheat--while distracting the reader from realizing the spell has been broken with some fourth-wall cleverness. Few have the skill to make it work. Pane does. His writing reminds me of early Pynchon, or of Richard Fariña's Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, full of such smart, exuberantly joyful blarney, such gonzo élan--you're laughing out loud, thinking "That was so dead-on!"and shaking your head in such wonderment that when he suddenly goes all Sam Lipsyte cynical and slides the hard cold truth in under your ribs, you have to double back and read the page again to figure out what just happened to your mental décor. Pane's voice is fresh and irreverent, and it does this crazy kind of B.S. jujitsu where the B.S. actually gets so thick that it turns itself inside out and transmits more real truth than a declarative sentence. Got it? No you don't. Read the book and you'll get it.
So, the writing is incredible, a necessary but not sufficient element, but what is Last Call in the City of Bridges about? This is where books by Millennials so often lose me , because once you scrape away all the attitude and hilarity, there's nothing there there. But there's plenty here. Love, sex, loss, fear--it's all represented, and what's more, it's all given fair, well-rounded treatment, no cop-outs. I have to admit--I had my own set of preconceptions going in--I was unprepared for the dearth of easy outs. Pane is hard on his protagonist, or Michael Bishop is hard on himself, whatever; the revelation for me was that under all the irony and bluster, things MATTER to this author, this character. The plot hinges on the long ago death of Michael's best friend, and how that death has eroded his ability to relate to the people close to him and to himself. "`Do you realize,'" he tells a friend (in vino veritas, which is the only veritas about himself we're going to see out of Michael for most of the book), "`that everything on this entire planet baffles and terrifies me? Do you understand how insanely uncomfortable I am in my own skin?'" He meets a girl, falls in love with her, but can't get past her spirituality, can't understand how someone could take life so seriously, could trust implicitly in anything or anyone, could buy into a worldview as "corny" as Christianity. (I can relate.) He watches as his close friend and roommate, a graduate student who studies electronic media--communication!--loses his grip on reality and slips away into a sort of aphasic fantasy world, eventually dropping out altogether. And he watches as his other best friend's fiancé slips away from her out of fear of commitment. In both Michael's roommate and his friend's fiancé, he sees reflections of himself, his inability to relate to other humans. And when a series of crises force him to finally do something to help these people in his life, and to help himself, he fails royally, but learns. And so this postmodern novel comes out the other side of its ironic distance and cutting-edge technology and finds itself grappling with the eternal verities that all art must address. And ain't that something--that in this day and age, we still have a few good writers around to address them.
We talked about the allure of nostalgia and pop-culture, uncertain childhoods and adult fears, and I realized one of the books that had really hit the nail on the head and helped me wrestle through some of that stuff was this book. So I loaned it to my friend and we've been talking about it a lot. It's a compelling book, worth re-reading, and Pane's characterizations are vivid, definitely his strongest suit. The plot is part love story, part coming of age in an era of arrested development.
I love it. The only caveat I'd have is, it really doesn't seem to click with anyone over 35, I've found. Maybe it's too pop-culture-y, but I think the characters are too unrecognizable for the older generation. When my mom was in her early 20s, she already had a career, and she didn't feel a compulsion to cling to childhood things. She didn't understand the protagonist's mindset or where he was coming from. This book deals with very current problems which hit home with me, but definitely aren't universal stories.