You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: SHOW UP, LOOK GOOD,, by Mark Wisniewski

Show Up, Look GoodShow Up, Look Good by Mark Wisniewski
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This may be the book that gets me into and out of the Rumpus Book Club in a single month. For the Rumpus club, you pay good money for an advance copy of the book of their choice, and then have the chance to discuss it on forums and eventually have a live web chat with the author,

I was left so cold by Show Up, Look Good that I am not inclined to participate in either of those activities. The advance copy come slathered with praise from notable readers who possibly read a different book than I did. I did not find it the "laugh-out-loud romp" described by Ben Fountain. Wisniewski's was not Jonathan Lethem's "riotously original voice." T. R. Hummer is right that the book is "part Carson McCullers, part Truman Capote, and part Elmore Leonard," but those parts never come together in a dynamic way.

The opening paragraph promises all the readerly pleasures Wisniewski's book delivers at best half-heartedly.

I know of  a secret murder, and  I have loved a speechless man, and sometimes I'd like to tell someone about how death and love have changed my life, but any of three thoughts give me pause. For one, if I talk about the murder, I myself could be killed. I can't know how true this is, but the speechless man said it was, and even though he disappointed me, I trusted him. Two, if someone's murdered, she's murdered, and talking about her will never change that. Then there's the reality that very few people care to face: unless you have majestic beauty and power, your secrets rarely matter to anyone but yourself.

That's the best part of the book.

Michelle is a thirty-something who breaks up with her boyfriend of eleven years when she catches him masturbating with a plastic vagina. She leaves Kankakee, Illinois for New York City, and promptly begins to live the life and have the kinds of -- somehow adventures doesn't seem the right word -- that Midwestern transplants should have in their twenty's. There's the offbeat, bizarre yet friendly living arrangement that must be traded in for an apartment shared with posers possessing their "MFA's from NYU." She nonchalantly earns money by scalping tickets to David Lettermen. She moves in with a an older married couple in Astoria who have so much love in their marriage that need to share it with others. (She really should have seen that one coming.) She works for a horrible boss in a Queen's supermarket. Back in Manhattan she moves into a tiny apartment where her only job is to free it up for lunchtime and afterwork assignations between businessmen and their pick-ups. And there is that murder.

When towards then end of the book, Michelle proves be an unreliable narrator, the revelation does not cast the preceding events in a more interesting light, they simply make her more irritating,

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