Saturday, September 18, 2010

Joan Frances Turner

Joan Frances Turner was born in Rhode Island and grew up in the Calumet Region of northwest Indiana. A graduate of Brown University and Harvard Law School, she lives near the Indiana Dunes with her family and a garden full of spring onions and tiger lilies, weather permitting.

Dust, her first novel, is a story of the undead from their own point of view, as they battle time, decay, the loved ones they left behind, encroaching humanity and each other. Or, think Watership Down with zombies instead of rabbits.

A week or so ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
A Way of Life, Like Any Other, Darcy O'Brien. I have a great weakness for writers who specialize in the Rotting Underside of Fantastic L.A.--James Ellroy, Joan Didion, James M. Cain, Nathanael West--and A Way of Life, Like Any Other reads like a more acerbic, male version of Play It As It Lays. The unnamed protagonist, the pampered son of two 1940s Hollywood B-players (O'Brien, the son of actors George O'Brien and Marguerite Churchill, knew his material well), watches his entire life slide into the drink, literally and figuratively, before the age of ten when his parents' careers don't survive the advent of television. They turn to various addictions for solace--alcohol, compulsive spending and horrible men for his mother, right-wing Catholicism for his father--and their son, our narrator is left not only to raise himself but to clean up the increasingly nasty messes his "caretakers" leave behind.

A Way of Life
does something else I have a great weakness for, namely, it starts out funny--exceedingly funny--and remains that way all throughout, but near the end our perceptions are suddenly, casually flipped and we see the rage and frustration that produced all those offhand jokes laid bare for what it is, indelibly coloring everything that came before it. O'Brien's narrator, when still a spoiled precocious child, sounds too wiseacre for the room but by the end, when he's barely eighteen, all that growing up too soon's given him the weariness and cynicism of a much older man. Recommended to anyone who likes either Hollywood decay or unsentimental coming-of-age stories with a knife in the back.

Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music, Rob Young. A long, sprawling, fascinating study of folk and psychedelic movements in British pop music, from the revivalism of Edwardian folklorist Cecil Sharp through the "Romantic rock" of the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Kate Bush. This isn't, however, a story of music (though it's a wonderful book if, like me, you love folk, psychedelia and/or sixties rock) so much as of a mood: the strain of romanticized bucolic utopianism that crops up again and again in the collective British consciousness, expressed in forms as diverse as Donovan songs, William Morris wallpaper designs, The Time Machine and The Wicker Man. Unlike the American frontier myth, Young writes, "the British road is a road to the interior, of the imagination rather than a physical coverage of distance… There is the sense that one wants the landscape, and the history it contains, all to oneself." I'm only in the early chapters of the book, but it's a revelatory journey already.
Visit Joan Frances Turner's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue