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A Year of Reading, Week Seven

Books read (all or part of) this week:
The Painter by Peter Heller
The Great Good Place: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community by Ray Oldenburg

Just yesterday evening I reached the end of Peter Heller’s upcoming new novel, The Painter but I haven’t quite had time to fully digest it yet. (A longer review is forthcoming, I promise.) Here’s the really-short of it: 

Jim Stegner is a famous Colorado/New Mexico painter & and an infamous loose cannon/badboy. He’s divorced, his teenaged daughter died recently under dire circumstances, he’s a recovering alcoholic, he’s been in prison. He also likes to fly fish. One afternoon, up in the mountains of Colorado, he has a run-in with a horse-abusing asshole of a poacher. Blood gets shed (from a punch in the nose) and feelings get hurt. (Horse gets rescued.) Later the following evening, Jim finds himself fishing in the middle of nowhere again and coincidentally in close proximity to the roughneck poacher. Naturally, Jim bashes the guy’s head in with a rock. Moral dilemmas ensue. Here’s the thing: despite the fact that Jim has a violent past and just killed a guy, he’s a pretty sympathetic soul. Honest. There’s a great, gnarled up morality play at the heart of this novel – even if you think Jim did “the right thing” by killing this guy, is it just? I, for one, could never get my head around that moral quandary. Watching Jim screw his new girlfriend/model, go fishing in the mountains, and make thousands on his paintings left me feeling greasy, rather than wholly sympathetic. But he’s our narrator, so… thus ensues the dilemma.

I will also say this: don’t expect The Dog Stars. Alas. But still, it’s pretty solid. More on that later.

Meanwhile… last weekend I really didn’t read much at all, partly because we were hosting a group of rowdy friends who comprise a 10-person “Film Club” on Saturday night. (Hot Saturday night for the over-35 crowd!) We meet intermittently in different homes to vote (ie: argue) over which film to watch (typically the host provides a voting slate, maybe five films) then we watch the “winner,” and then we talk about it. Sometimes we talk during the movie. Honestly, we all think we are film snobs (witness my unused cinema/photography degree, thank you very much), artistes, & high-brow snooty-types, but we did pick Cedar Rapids once. And Cabin in the Woods another time.

Anyway, since Jen and I were hosting this time, we were cobbling together a slate of Oscar-nominated films to vote on – we pulled from different categories, avoiding the big ones with movies people were likely to have seen already. In my searching, I discovered this…



The Voorman Problem is a 13-minute film directed by Mark Gill, nominated for this year’s Academy Award for Best Short Film (Live Action.) Why is this interesting to Book Catapult readers?

Because it’s based on a section of David Mitchell’s novel number9dream, that’s why.

For a refresher – or if, for some bizarre, stupid reason you have NOT read this book, despite the pleadings of The Book Catapult – the UK’s Guardian has a rather large excerpt online that you can check out. (This is from 2001, when the novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. And the excerpt is a little choppy… I’d strongly recommend you read the actual book, of course.) In the section in question, Eiji Miyake, narrator of number9dream, has followed Akiko Kato to the Ganymede Cinema where he watches her secretly meet with his own father, while the strange film PanOpticon shows on the screen. PanOpticon – where our interest lies in this particular instance – is about an encounter in a prison between a doctor and a “problem” inmate. See, inmate Voorman claims, rather boldly, to be God Himself. (This would be problematic.) Of course, Dr. Polonski doesn’t believe a word that Voorman says – including the claim that the universe is only 9 days old and that his days are filled with “postcreation maintenance” – until Voorman literally makes Belgium cease to exist. (Polonski checks the map when he gets home and there’s nothing but a big lake called the Walloon Lagoon there between France and Holland. And his wife thinks “Belgium” is a cheese.) Then Voorman swaps bodies with Polonski and walks out of prison, presumably to do naughty things to Mrs. Polonski. “I intend to make her smile in a most involuntary way.”

This whole film within the novel is part of the head-exploding David Mitchell meta-verse that is continually unfolding within the pages of his books. Other than the trickery with the word “panopticon” (“all-seeing”) and its continual appearance in Eiji’s world, I’m honestly not sure what the true importance of the film sequence is in the novel. The scene itself is of Eiji watching Akiko and his father, interspersed with chunks of the film playing in the background. There’s also the fact that Eiji fantasizes throughout the novel to the point where we really have no idea what is real and what is dreamscape. (I’m convinced that the whole thing is a dream sequence.)

Anyhow, none of this really matters as far as the Mark Gill film goes, of course. The film is only 13-minutes long and I haven’t seen it (it’s in full internet lockdown), so I can’t really speak to it’s quality or integrity as far as the Mitchell piece goes. And it probably doesn’t matter. I do think it’s great that there’s some other Mitchell nerd out there who plucked this gem of a sequence from the book and turned it into an Oscar-worthy short film. And I’ve gone on long enough about the universe of David Mitchell. But still, the adaptation is pretty cool – and I’m picking it as my “steel pipe lock,” as they say, in my Oscar pool.

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4 comments on “A Year of Reading, Week Seven

  1. heather
    February 18, 2014

    Ok Seth this is not relevant to your article and by the way it is so great to see you writing again – but it made me want to recommend a book to you. Jenni Fagan, a young scottish writer, wrote a book called “the panopticon” about a young girl in a detention centre. It has this great line where the narrator refers to her social worker: “helen reckoned she was a liberal – but really she was just a cunt”. Hilarious! And the book is also gut punching, which I know you like. Regards.

  2. heather
    February 18, 2014

    Oh god I just read over my post and I hope that bad word isn't offensive to anyone. It was just so funny to me when I read the novel 2 months ago that I am still laughing about it. Heather.

  3. Anonymous
    February 20, 2014

    OK, but I also want to hear what movies you guys chose for the club! 🙂

  4. Seth Marko
    February 20, 2014

    Heather, anything about books is relevant. 🙂 I also give you extra points for using one of the few curse words never before seen on the Catapult! Nicely done! I'll check out Jenni Fagan – I remember that book, but hadn't heard anything one way or another about it.

    And Anonymous, we watched the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom that night. Totally awesome.

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This entry was posted on February 14, 2014 by in David Mitchell, Number9Dream, Peter Heller, Ray Oldenburg, review, Voorman Problem, year of reading.
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