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Memorial: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 5, 2006
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
[Signature]Reviewed by Kurt AndersenLike Wagner's previous books, Memorial is set in a Los Angeles descended from Nathaniel West's and Joan Didion's but played for laughs as well as existential dread. It's an L.A. novel the way Short Cuts and Crash are L.A. movies: a set of loosely connected stories rather than a tight single narrative. Like Wagner's other books, too, it refers frequently—compulsively, even—to celebrities and includes passages of breathtaking viciousness about some of them.But because the heroine (and authorial stand-in), Joan Herlihy, is a high-end architect angling for a commission to design a billionaire's memorial to two American victims of the 2004 tsunami, the insidery trash talk is mainly about the stars of architecture and art. Richard Meier resembles "a well-heeled dentist, the type with something questionable on his hard drive," Daniel Libeskind is "a relentless pussywhipped kike in python boots and a Yohji trench," and Zaha Hadid has an "unkempt Fat Actress kohl-smeared gypsy-soprano" look that works for her.Despite the customary Wagnerian savagery and ultra-knowingness, however, Memorial is also earnest and even life-affirming, more like I'll Let You Go (2002) than his purely comic novels. The main characters are the members of an ordinary middle-class family—Joan, her feckless older brother, their sweet mother and sweet runaway father. Three of the four are spectacularly victimized, but every one is also the recipient of a financial windfall, and achieves redemption—which amounts either to slightly overdetermined coincidence, or karma. India is a major leitmotif in Memorial, and although Wagner satirizes InStyle Buddhism (like he did in 2003's Still Holding), he seems also to be taking Eastern religion seriously, as if to say: modern life is grotesque and funny as ever, but tenderness, honor and glimmers of wisdom are possible as well. Wagner is a very good writer, and Memorial is filled with beautifully observed turns of phrase ("a big-voltage desexed smile like a nun gone to rut"). His deconstruction of newscasters' special disingenuousness is virtuosic: "Wolf Blitzer talking about a plane that just went down... all necro'd out, breathy and methy and cockstiff for Death, a husky-voiced fratboy Peeper...." But the stylistic fanciness can also mask imprecision (an architectural design "grafting failed skinsketch onto gauzy somnambulist constructions"), and sometimes simply goes over the top—such as a 238-word-long sentence ("ambient absence, sounds and swellings, screams and shadows") about sex. His weakness for puns ("natal attractions," "Restoril in peace," "Hello, Dalai!") is... a weakness. But this is an ambitious, engaging, satisfying book. While his fans will find all the demonic intelligence and fun they expect, Memorial might also attract a new cohort of readers who want more than all-dark-comedy-all-the-time. (Sept.)Kurt Andersen's new novel, Heyday, will be published by Random House in March.
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From The New Yorker
In this ambitious novel, four members of a Los Angeles family grapple with loneliness and pain while seeking financial and spiritual fulfillment. Joan is a minor architect striving to land the contract to design a memorial for two victims of the 2004 tsunami; her brother Chester hopes, after being injured during a prank reality show, to sue his way into a windfall. Their father, Ray, has his own lawsuit in the works, following a mistaken police raid on his house. Meanwhile, Marj, the matriarch, falls victim to an elaborate scam. Wagner sets up a delicate structural plan that mimics the family's progression from estrangement to a kind of intimacy. He comes close to overwhelming his characters with his own inimitable, trivia-dense voice, but ultimately he creates a tender vision of modern life, one in which preoccupations with popular culture are an imperfect carapace for the vulnerable hearts underneath.
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There are a lot of writers who try to impress with their "smarts" and usually come off as stiff and overthought. It was great to read a book that really is by someone who is a lot smarter than I am, who brings his considerable experience (and a lot of remarkably APPALLING jokes) into play to tell a complicated atory that steers clear of cliche.
I didn't know that people were even allowed to write such exciting material in the "post 9-11 world" but were rather required to simplify and coddle the frightened masses! This book is harsh and terrifying. It is as clear and surprising as monologues from under the influence of morphine. I laughed but kicked myself for it! I cried and nearly couldn't stop. I am haunted by "MEMORIAL" and delighted to have been jolted into such a visceral and emotional response.
This book is MAGNIFICENT!
Mr. Wagner- I can't thank you enough!
This may be the best of Bruce Wagner's novels. I'm finding it hard to put down but it is certainly no bromide that we are rational creatures living in the best of all possible worlds. What it is is an outstanding portrait of our collective insanity -- stuffed full of celebrity fever, besotted with desire for wealth and fame at any cost (Robin Williams has just hung himself -- if anybody could be happy with wealth and fame, it should have been him), keeping up with mythical billionaires and fantastic hoarder pathology, full of feverish plans, schemes, expectations, fears, quick plunges from hope to bottomless despair, feeling unjustly enriched one second and fraudulently impoverished the next, or overextended and overwhelmed with good fortune and self-assurance on recreational drugs and a cornucopia of “entertainment” until we get flattened by the antic gods and crucified in a hospital bed on life support, victims of the medical or the legal establishments, full of envy, jealousy, lust, specious bonhommie and factitious love for our fellow beings, picked clean by every con artist (this is the golden age for them!) who trains a speculative eye our way or waylaid by intoxicated, enraged death angels committing crimes of opportunity. Attention deficit disorder is so rampant along with pathological self-absorption that it takes the most extreme events – tsunamis of the spirit – to catch our attention for even a minute...
This novel is all about the deceptive siren call of our particular Whore of Babylon – in an irreality, so unreal, so superficial, so hysterical and divorced from any kind of authenticity, that we all become wraiths ourselves, so that even the inevitable specter of death is deflected and turned into a super animated cartoon and our death is a run off a cliff like Wily Coyote to a non-death pratfall.