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The Pinball Theory of Apocalypse: A Novel Paperback – July 24, 2007
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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Isabel Raven should be aglow. Rare among painters, she has made it big in L.A. A major exhibition is set to open, and a billionaire racked by guilt over the 9/11 death of his business partner is avidly collecting Isabel's kitschy work (she inserts celebrity faces into masterpieces; picture Martha Stewart in The Scream) to please Cordelia, his raunchy-beyond-her-years 13-year-old adopted daughter. But instead of basking in her success, Isabel is a complete wreck along with her postearthquake apartment. Her chef-to-the-stars boyfriend has taken up with a Latina teenage diva, her sleazy gallery owner has posted nude photos of her on the Internet, her mother is "pathologically chatty," and her physicist father has done the math that proves that the planets in our solar system will start crashing into one another in 2049. Selwood's laugh-out-loud madcap debut mocks today's digitized, hard-sell, sex-obsessed world as it teeters "somewhere between carnival and riot." With high appeal for hip young readers attuned to "the bittersweet feeling of exhilarated alienation," Selwood should have a bright writing future. Seaman, Donna
About the Author
Jonathan Selwood grew up in Hollywood. He received an MFA from Columbia University and is married and lives in Portland, OR.
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Top customer reviews
Since other reviewers have summarized the premise here, let me concentrate on why it is so funny: Jonathan Selwood's eye for absurdist touches and wild spins of the moral compass. LA's celebrity and near-celebrity culture is pretty well-worn territory, after all, as are the ups and downs of pop art popularity, but this novel leap-frogs past the expected, races past the edgy, and goes straight for the oh-my-God.
This book would be easy to dismiss as yet another celebrity comedy if it were merely outrageous, though, and it isn't. Its pace and intricate madness reminded me of the carefully-constructed mayhem of Laurie Foos' Portrait of the Walrus by a Young Artist: A Novel About Art, Bowling, Pizza, Sex, and Hair Spray. The chaos here is far from accidental, nor does the plot come across as a surreal take on an imaginary world: this book read at times like a storyline excerpted from a meganovel about a very real Los Angeles; at the end of this story, I wanted to read the rest.
In short, this isn't just a satire: it's a portrait of a world in constant flux. Instead of making fun of a culture so shallow that couples issue press releases when they are breaking up, Selwood embraces it so thoroughly that everything from a pop tart diva's empty threats to ambient wildfires to purloined dinosaur bones feel symbolically integral to the underlying question of what success and desire are.
Don't expect the answers to be easy. Do expect the answer to provoke the kind of laughter that makes strangers stare at you in public places.
Selwood spins an very entertaining tale, I found myself spending a little too much time daydreaming thinking of what the exact details of the pinball theory would be, and I was shocked to learn that vaginal rejuvenation surgery (which is in the book) is actually a real procedure.
For me the fun (or is it scary) thing is, that all of the self involvement of the characters could easily be true. I would bet some of the recreations of famous paintings (with stars inserted) already exist. I'm scared to think about how many have had VR.
At first glance, Isabel Raven really seems to have herself together. Her artwork is suddenly the hottest thing around, the money is rolling in hand over fist, and she's dating a famous chef. In reality, however, her whole life's a mess and she can't help but feel that she is quickly losing control. For one thing, her true artwork never met with success - the only money she has ever made came first from forging famous pieces and now from painting celebrities into well-known images (e.g., American Gothic with Tom and Katie Cruise). Then you have the fact that her agent is a shallow, greedy, possibly insane brute who's pushing her to take every kind of ad campaign he can get his slimy hands on (including vaginal regeneration ads); Dahlman's the kind of guy who posts under-age naked photographs of Isabel on her web site and fails to understand why she might not be happy about it, and he constantly makes liberal use of graphic threats to get her back in line with his own ambitions. As for Isabel's boyfriend, Javier the famous chef, he's currently taking on more than the cooking duties for a little sixteen-year old starlet who sees herself as a "Latina Britney Spears" (despite the fact she's a Mormon from Utah). Even the very universe is out of control as far as Isabel is concerned, for - according to her physicist father's Pinball Theory of Apocalypse - life on earth will come to a crashing end in 2049. I haven't even mentioned the fact that the whole story takes place against the backdrop of massive forest fires, or that Isabel's biggest fan and possible new love interest comes with a 13-year-old drinking, drug-pushing, fossil-stealing daughter. Yep, you could definitely say that Isabel's life is really the pits - almost literally so, as her apartment building is slowly sinking into a tar pit following the area's most recent earthquake.
I've been struggling mightily to come up with a way to adequately describe this quirky, satire-rich read, but I am obviously at quite a loss to do so. It's just too brilliantly - and intellectually - wacky to ever let its unique spirit be constrained in the form of a mere few hundred words of description. All I can do is recommend The Pinball Theory of Apocalypse most heartily to anyone who enjoys seeing the blinding light of satirical truth shone upon many of the most ridiculous aspects of popular culture. Just because we live in a delusional, schizophrenic world doesn't mean you have to forge your own delusional path to survive and get ahead - although that would probably make life much easier. In a world where nothing is real, you have to make your own reality. I'm trying to be witty here, and it really isn't working - just go read Selwood's novel; this author has all the wit you could ever want and then some. I guarantee you'll get many a good laugh out of the experience - unless, of course, you're one of those high-minded, overly pretentious caricatures of a person that Selwood excels at ridiculing. If you read this novel and don't "get it," you would do well to take a good, long look at yourself in the mirror.
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