1.26.2017

"Escapement" by J. G. Ballard




I'm seeing, sensing, absorbing the preternatural prescience and all-too-real surrealism of J.G. Ballard.  In one of his first published short stories, for instance, his gem "Escapement" (1956), a man watching the tele with his wife experiences a bizarre hiccup in time's immutable ticktock, during which he discovers himself reliving the same fifteen minute span from 9:00-9:15 P.M. over and over again.  As if time were trapped on a cassette tape that never stopped playing.

The television show our increasingly incredulous man is watching keeps repeating itself, but his wife doesn't even notice!  In fact, while her husband can't get past 9:15, it's almost 10:00 P.M. for her. Our man tries switching channels to escape.  Same result: Rewind.  He calls a quiz show to tell them he knows the question they're going to ask in order to try and convince somebody — anybody — that something very strange is going on with the clocks, that they're stuck in this maddening and impossible fifteen minute rerun, but no one believes him, and before he can convince someone, 9:15 P.M. arrives and he's automatically boomeranged back to 9:00 P.M. And then ...

The recursive time loop our now frantic man has found himself ensnared in starts speeding up: 9:03-9:12 ... 9:07-9:09 ... until its thirty second recursive timeloops, ten second timeloops, five seconds, four, three, two, and then










Here's a brilliant radio drama of "Escapement," dramatized by James R. Wallen in 1988 for the CBCs then long-running program The Vanishing Point.

Also, an excellent, modernized, short film adaptation of "Escapement" by Anthony Willis, from Antimatter Films, 2014.

And one last thing:  Escapement, for ten instruments by Oliver Thurley, a score written for the LS-Two ensemble, University of Leeds.

To say that J. G. Ballard inspires other creative artists might be the understatement of the millennium — and the last millennium, too.


1.13.2017

Appreciating Gray Foy's Cover Art for Lilith by J. R. Salamanca




Within the infinitude of available Lilith literature and art, seldom does J. R. Salamanca's(1922-2013) name or contribution to it — his novel Lilith  reap more than a footnote or brief mention in its evolving lore.  Rarer, still, is proper recognition afforded the artist, Gray Foy (1922-2012), responsible for Lilith's awesome jacket painting.


My copy, first edition, 1961


Gray Foy's artwork, in fact, is the sole reason I spotted Lilith's spine on the second-hand shelf — so artful and inviting it was, suggestive of something gothic and possibly serpentine — bait as novel and irresistible as the apple was for Eve to this hooked bibliophile.


*  J. R. Salamanca doesn't even garner a mention in Contemporary Novelists, 3rd edition (1982), the then go-to database of English language writers, edited by James Vinson and D. L. Kirkpatrick. People are more apt to remember the 1964 adaptation of Salamanca's Lilith, starring a host of Hollywood up-and-comers — Warren Beatty, Jean Seberg, Peter Fonda, Gene Hackman — than recall, as so often happens with even modestly successful adaptations, that a moving and far more memorable novel was there first. 



1.07.2017

The Hucksters by Frederic Wakeman




Found The Hucksters by Frederic Wakeman last month at the Bookman in Orange.   The dust jacket design caught my eye.  Though the cover designer's signature got torn off at the bottom right corner as you can see below, a friend was able to quickly identify it as one of the covers from the impressive portfolio of Arthur Hawkins, Jr., one of the finest cover artists, come to find out, of the 1930s and 1940s.  Simply had to have The Hucksters, solely because of its book cover, even though I knew next to nothing about it.  I'm afraid I did judge this book by its cover — and bought it.  The intriguing biography of the author on the back cover helped sell the book for me, too:
"Until his first book, SHORE LEAVE, was published, Frederic Wakeman belonged to that large army of professional writers who never see their names in print.  They are the reporters, the writers of advertising and of radio scripts.  In New York you see them leave their advertising agency offices on Park or Madison Avenue—and after a hard day, these anonymous but not inarticulate word-weighers will confess, nostalgically, that someday "I'll quit and write a book".  They never quit and few of them ever have, or take the time to write a book.  Except for the war, in all probability Wakeman would have conformed to the pattern of the New York advertising man, stringing together words for ads and radio shows.  He joined the Navy, was in for a year, spending a brief stint on Pacific duty and wound up in a naval hospital.  SHORE LEAVE was the natural result of a writer with time on his hands plying his trade ... He is thirty-five years old, with a wife and two children." 
Book covers have always sold books, and, more often than not, a great cover in my experience has indeed been indicative of a great book, no matter what Grandma used to say, offering a book cover as an object lesson about people, warning us grandkids not to judge them by appearances, because like these pages, "like these deckle-edged pages here, see," she said, and, fanning open the pages of the book she held, added, "feel these pages, you feel that there, how uneven they are? Some people are like that too — deckled, or inconsistent, like you're never quite sure for certain, if what they say is how they gonna do.  Are they strong of character? are they tough? well how are you gonna know until you open them up?  See how this book's spine is weak when I open it, how some of the pages — the 'leaves' is what they called them in the store — see how they're about to come loose and fall?  Well, shoot, how you gonna know if a person is damaged goods or not, that their spine is all broken up like this, like this book here, see, or that they're spineless to begin with, the way my first husband was, your Grampa Paul, if all you are is looking at, is their outward beauty, their appearance alone?"

I wish I knew if my imagined grandmother that I never knew ever sold a first edition of The Huckster by Frederic Wakeman, like the one above that I bought at the Bookman.  Plenty of readers bought it when it was published in 1946, just after the War, though the novel has become somewhat obscure today.  My copy is still sturdy of spine, has deckled edges, an interesting biography of the author:  A former "ad man," perhaps a huckster himself; that is, an expert exploiter of surface appeal, an inveterate salesman, an innovator of the campaign blitz.  Hucksters struck New York with billboards rather than bombs, launching jargon and jingle rockets into the air upon unsuspecting shoppers, essentially turning profitable tricks with these easily molded, proletariat minds.  But I'm likely exaggerating the evils of ad men, aren't I?  Or am I?  Keep in mind the brilliant cover artist's, Arthur Hawkins, Jr's., opinion of them, and note the sharp architectural angles he used, his choice of colors so suggestive of the era's non-democratic regimes, and his not-so-subtle use of the subliminal, perhaps parodying the Freudian lengths advertisers went to.