|tags:||Memoir & Essay|
JONATHAN LETHEM'S The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc. is a one-man omnibus, and you're either on it or you're not.
A shotgun blast of multitentacled musings, it splatters the author's obsessions across the cultural landscape in a kind of frenzied bookworm exuberance. There are dozens of essays. Essays on science fiction conventions and John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (as it relates to postmodernism). On actor Donald Sutherland's buttocks (as they relate to the author's sexuality), teenage boys, nude models, and Lethem's mixed feelings about his success. On the urgent need to take a shit while on book tour and the "eternal intertextuality of cultural participation." There are previously published reviews and rambles on 9/11, James Brown, Bob Dylan, death scenes in Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Norman Mailer, Spider-Man, and Roberto Bolaño, among others. Lethem even dusts off some of his early short stories, experimental fiction, and poetry.
Unlike a greatest hits collection — such as the Buzzcocks' Singles Going Steady or The Greatest Hits ... So Far!!! by Pink, or even Geoff Dyer's (albeit excellent) collection of essays Otherwise Known as the Human Condition — Lethem isn't just dumping a bunch of prepublished material between the covers and calling it a day. He may dabble in "nonfictions," but at heart he's a novelist and can't resist the novelist's impulse to craft a narrative.
Lethem begins beguilingly enough with a self-deprecating preface that reads as if a charming party host were anxiously trying to justify his interior design scheme while reminding his guests to use coasters when setting drinks on the coffee table:
Let me suggest a couple of organizing patterns not alluded to in my table of contents. A few preliminary termite holes I've bored into my edifice, to get you started on your own.
The subsequent collection is bookended by Chapter 1, "My Plan to Begin With," and the last chapter, "What Remains of My Plan." I would suggest you read it just like you'd read a novel.
First up are some nostalgia-tinged stories that establish the author's booknerd bona fides; tales of his youth spent working in used bookstores, his hippie parents, and his brief stint attending college with classmates Bret Easton Ellis and Donna Tartt. These early essays reveal Lethem to be a bit of a hipster — someone whose tastes run counter to the prevailing predilections of the masses — and this manifests itself in his devotion to science fiction and genre. He name checks everyone from J. G. Ballard...