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Pink Hardcover – September 15, 1997
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From Library Journal
Filmmaker Van Sant's (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho) fictional debut is a tepid tale of a director of TV infomercials and his adventures with a pair of would-be film types, perhaps from another dimension, one of whom resembles his dead lover; they are all surrounded by other slackers in places like Las Vegas and Sasquatch, Oregon. Whatever its small merits, the novel is made harrowingly pretentious by Van Sant's noodling of the medium?he employs footnotes, different typefaces, flip drawings, and the like. (It's not so much Tristram Shandy as just a shanty.) However compelling one finds the author's images on film and video, in print they're pretty flat.?David Bartholomew,
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Independent filmmaker Van Sant's first novel recalls his My Own Private Idaho's collagelike texture, its central male-male relationship, and, under the transparent pseudonym Felix Arroyo, its costar, the late River Phoenix. Dead from a drug-induced "misadventure in the gutter . . . in front of [a] nightclub" (sound familiar?) when the book begins, Felix starred in many of the "informmercials" made by 52-year-old still-aspiring director Spunky Davis. He was homosexual Spunky's obsession, too, and it isn't surprising that Spunky is now gaga over blond Jack, who greatly resembles Felix and who is inseparable from dark Matt (Phoenix was paired with Keanu Reeves in Idaho). As Spunky lives out his infatuation, he discovers that both young men are visitants from the Pink (the place referred to by the expression in the pink), where Felix is now permanently ensconced. Spunky tells most of what story there is, but other narrative continuums frequently interrupt him (two of these concern a dead rock star whose avatar Matt may be). Imagine a William S. Burroughs extravaganza without the grotesque sex, the drug taking, and the wild-and-woolly humor. That is Pink. How odd. Ray Olson
Top customer reviews
It is a very thinly veiled story about River Phoenix, even the character's name references him.
I would say this is probably left for the most diehard Zant or Phoenix fans.
I'm avoiding the inevitable - fairly bad book. I agree with much of the reviews. It's an homage, dedicated to River Pheonix (a rather roundabout dedication that I know is one only because I read it is, and the word "river" is in the verse), that references perhaps a number of the young men Van Sant works with or, perhaps predominantly, River and Keanu. I couldn't help but think Affleck and Damon read this and preyed on the "dirty old man" to pitch their script; he does love friendships between two young men--something that plays so beautifully in his films, and so poorly with a fifty-something narrator who's part of the story.
In "Pink" the main character writes in the first person, but in the footnotes refers to himself as his name. He's an infomercial maker in his 50's and not very successful. He meets two young boys, Jack and Matt, and is intrigued by them. They've got a secret. "Pink" is their secret and I won't say what Pink is because we don't find out for most of the book.
One of the boys is eerily similar to the dead infomercial-spokesman/teen-idol, Felix. Felix = River Pheonix. He even died in the street outside a nightclub (Felix, that is) while his brother called 911; he is 23-years-old; and his complexion, described in amazing technicolor detail, River's. We've got lots of detail about Felix here and, as someone else wrote, how much of that is non-fiction? Ouch. I've read, too, about Van Sant's attraction to River Pheonix during the shooting of "My Own Private Idaho" - a film I adore to the pont of speechlessness (and I admit I'd found this attraction sort of hot) but, while oh-so-romantic on screen and so beautiful to watch, this book reads too uncomfortably like the journal of the "dirty old man."
I didn't care for the footnotes thing - they served to slow the book down for me - the print is tiny and the information in them pertinent to the story - i.e., not footnote material. I enjoyed the drawings; they looked to me like a storyboard, as it's not hard to remember who's writing this book.
But, it misses the mark. Ah, if the narrator had been younger... okay, I won't start editing. Wonderful, amazing director. Not such a good author. If it's a love letter of sorts, or a memoir, or journal entry to the memory of a lost friend, I appreciate that very much and, actually, I find the book's redemption in that notion. I love Van Sant's filmmaking and artistic sensibility so much that, perhaps, I have the need to think this was something he needed to get off his chest - as well, I've read this is an homage to his loss of River Pheonix. But, it really is different in concept than to experience.
If you don't have an interest in him, don't believe the "similar to Vonnegut" or other statements on the book jacket. It isn't. If you're an auterist, and want to see it, do - it's not wretched, but disappointing coming from this artist.
Van Sant takes us on an interesting trip through his attempts to cope with the loss of River, who was a close friend. There are characters based on River, Keanu, Kurt Cobain, Flea, and others, and it's fun to try to guess who's who, and how much of the backstory is true and how much is, as the book is classified, fiction.
There's no doubt that Van Sant took liberties with his thinly-veiled characters, but if I had the chance to write about having a long-standing affair with Keanu Reeves, I probably would too, so I can't judge Gus too harshly for that self-indulgence.
What's clear is that Van Sant cared a great deal about the people he's written about, and that facing a sudden, senseless death of a close friend makes for difficult times.
I bought this book because I liked the cover.
It has a matte finish, and I love books like that. It usually signals that there is something important inside. And with this being written by Director, Gus Van Sant, I thought that my suspicions might be confirmed. After all, the blurbs on the back described "Pink" as being like the works of Vonnegut. Enough said! Vonnegut is one of my heroes, and since I've read everything he's written, I figured an author *like* him would be suitable for the time being.
Oh, how misled I was!
"Pink" is a jumbled, nearly indecipherable mess of a novel. It is littered with characters about whom we give not a damn. There are scenes that take place in Orlando, FL, where I lived for a few years. It is apparent that Van Sant knows nothing about the area -- talking about highways, for example, that simply do not exist. How hard would it have been to take a look at a map? This is just one way that his lazy, thoughtless writing is evidenced. It makes "Pink" look suspiciously like a first draft -- written once, never to be checked for such details, or larger things, like, say, plot or character.
There are clever allusions to dead rock stars and dead actors, like that is supposed to somehow make the novel thought-provoking. "Hey, isn't that River Phoenix? And didn't Van Sant do a movie with him?" Yeah, and who cares? There are footnotes, which, I guess, are meant to be clever. They are not. This is not to say that they can't be. Dave Barry knows how to use footnotes. "House of Leaves" uses footnotes to excellent effect. These are just a waste of time.
Much like the entire book, as a matter of fact.
Perhaps the only good thing about it is the flipbook cartoon, which may indicate that Van Sant should really stick with moving pictures and abandon the literary ones.
Not recommended. At all. Ever.