Sunday, June 27, 2010

Know Your Contemporary Authors- Scarlett Thomas

Scarlett Thomas
"One of the paradoxes of writing is that when you write non-fiction everyone tries to prove that it’s wrong, and when you publish fiction, everyone tries to see the truth in it."
 Scarlett Thomas is the author of eight novels.  I've only read two of those eight novels (so far, and it has been one right after the other) and I feel that she is an essential contemporary author to bring to your attention.  She's that good.

Her earlier novels are murder mysteries, but her two recent "breakaway" novels are Popco and The End of Mr. Y. They are, quite simply, works of genius. Popco deals with marketing, capitalism, codes, math, and manipulation. Part of what I find wonderful about her work is being highly intelligent out of the abundance of her heart without making it overly precious. It reminds me of something one of my theater professors said while I was in college. Being drama students, when someone would have a breakthrough, a great performance, actually produce real tears on-stage and so forth, the other students would fall all over themselves saying, "Let's build an altar here to this place where you have produced tears on-stage." The professor told us that we probably shouldn't make such a big deal over these things because these were the things we are supposed to do. In Thomas' world (and, I would argue, in our shared consensus reality as well) people are supposed to be highly intelligent and thirst for knowledge.
"I'm very much someone who wants to work out the answers. I want to know what's outside the universe, what's at the end of time, and is there a God? But I think fiction's great for that--it's very close to philosophy."

I gravitate toward contemporary fiction which blurs reality, also known as "meta-fiction," to employ a term in need of retirement (in light of my recent genre fiction rant, I should probably point out that meta-fiction is not a genre.  It's more of a form or device or mode of storytelling or tool to effect a specific outcome or response in the reader.  It's one that requires a masterful hand.)  I think I'm always looking for the book that will change everything, literally change reality, drive me mad, or make me able to see through time or alert the goblins to take me away as their king (one of the simplest examples of meta-fiction, if you've ever seen it, was a children's movie from the 1980s called The Neverending Story, which was about a young boy who reads a book in which he quite literally becomes part of the story. When I was a child I watched that movie with the obsessive repetitiveness that only children and other sociopaths are capable of. Also, I would add, there was a wonderful film a few years ago called Stranger Than Fiction. You'll also want to check out the oeuvre of Charlie Kaufman.) I know that every book changes one's life and that is an experience I like to have turned up to the highest possible frequency until I break through to the universe next door or something. There are some excellent books that actually really do, in my experience, grab you by the throat and force you down the rabbit hole. House of Leaves, Philip K. Dick, Robert Anton Wilson, Caitlin Kiernan's Murder of Angels and The Red Tree, Infinite Jest, Jonathan Carroll does a bit of it, as did John Gardner, to some extent some of Alan Moore's better work, certainly Lovecraft was looking for something along these lines too. Your father's version was Thomas Pynchon, your grandfather's was Kurt Vonnegut, your great-grandfather's was James Joyce and your ancient ancestor's was Chaucer's own tale in the Canterbury Tales. The End of Mr. Y is one of those books. I cannot recommend it highly enough and I will not tell you anything more about it. You do not come out of it the same person you were going into it. That, for me, is the mark of a great book.

Her upcoming book is called Our Tragic Universe. Its press is promising big ideas and a paradigm shifting story as well. I have no doubt it will be excellent and no hesitation, based upon past experiences, to recommend it without yet having had the pleasure of reading it.

In spite of her teaching position at University of Kent, I couldn't find any cool audio or video files of speaking engagements for this author. However, on her website is a nice trove of texts.

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