Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Some of the Dead are Still Breathing

This title by Charles Bowden made up for all the less than great books I've read for Amazon's Vine program. I was delighted to see this book offered for review, but also surprised and I expect it to get a lot of low ratings from readers new to him and just trying it out--this book is explicit and about subjects most people don't want to hear or think about. You often hear a book described as a love it or hate it experience--with Bowden's writing, it's possible to love AND hate it.

I don't have any interest in most of his books which follow from his experience as a crime reporter in Tucson--drugs, murder, sex crimes--but some like this one have more of a focus on nature, a word he has no use for, and a broader view of this time in history. Who are the dead of the title? Take your pick--war veterans, dying individuals, doomed species, collapsing civilizations, the comfortably numb, the quietly desperate.

Even in this book there are plenty of his usual topics mixed in
--I thought one section which makes up 1/4 of the book was tedious and repetitive. To be fair, perhaps it's meant to be that way as it describes life on the road, hotel room after hotel room, an obsession with proving that a man was murdered, and a dark period in the author's life. And elephants.

But this book is real and honest and self-examining and culture-examining to a degree you'll rarely find. Along with the drugs and violence and sex and thoughts of homicide and suicide, it's about cardinals, and New Orleans, and death and birth, and the future which is now and the end which is here, and rattlesnakes, and alienation from a civilization which is about isolation from other species, and desire vs. reason, and Sea Shepherd, and Melville, and drift nets, and too many people, and the acceptance which is not submission.

Because it is real and honest, it's not about economic systems or politicians or borders on a map (except for their consequences), or false illusions or denial or delusions that everything can be fixed, or future or past utopias, or editing out the rough edges of a book or a life so that everyone will approve. It's about life, the real one.

My copy's heavily marked and there's so much I'd like to quote here even though we're asked not to do that because the advance copy is not the final version and could change. I hope to buy the official book which is released today. Because as he writes repeatedly, it's about yes. Yes, even to what isn't pretty or reassuring. If you're up to it, and don't mind a free flowing writing style which circles back to what came before, and care about these issues and know these feelings, read this book.

And because, like Bowden, I don't always do as others want me to, I'm going to quote one section because it speaks for me so well.

When I try to speak of these matters, I cause pained expressions. The younger people tell me it does not matter, the world is fucked. The older people tell me they do not wish to think of such things. The officials tell me I am crazy. I am left with the beasts, and others tell me they do not matter because they are dumb. Or I am left with the trees and grasses and bushes, and others tell me they cannot feel and are beneath notice.

I have never believed in the Garden of Eden except for the one I live in.


Northland said...

Your review and excerpt left me looking at myself as one of the older ones who lives in a "dream of the past world" that I often choose to live in (indeed,I have lived in my thoughts in this earlier world since I was a boy); which leaves me bittersweet with loss when I look at the now of the future.

Good review of a complex book.

greentangle said...

The book stirred up a lot of complicated feelings and attitudes for me which I don't really feel able to put into words of enough significance or explanation. But yes, these are painful times to live in for those who care about more than the latest human trend.