Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Strange World by Frank Edwards

Truth be told, Erich von Daniken was a johnny-come-lately in the field of extraterrestrial visitation. Still, just about the time his "researches" were hitting the paperback racks of the nation's drugstores, I was a curious and impressionable 12 year old looking for some mental stimulation. I discovered some new editions of two books by a Mr. Frank Edwards that promised to be a wealth of knowledge on the odd and paranormal (what with their Chariot of the Gods typeface and all), and I begged my parents to snag them for me. Happily, they heard my plea and the paperbacks popped up in my Christmas stocking that year, along with a pair of Groucho Marx glasses.

Flash forward a couple of years. I was now living in Roswell, NM, the interplanetary ground zero for Planet Earth. As the greater Roswell Chamber of Commerce hadn't realized the income potential of this fact, I was blissfully unaware. Still, in a little junk shop I found, among the crystal candy dishes and doilies, several back issues of FATE, a little pulp magazine out of the fifties, dedicated to the weird, the paranormal , and the sale of advertising space to the Rosicrucians. And there was good old Frank, a chunky meat-and-potato kind of guy, with his BCG's and portly frame. It seems Frank had a regular column in FATE, from which most of the pieces in his books had been lifted.

So, I found this book recently, in a lovely 1964 edition complete with dust jacket, and all the old favorites were there: "UFO Explodes Over Nevada", "UFO Over Hawaii", "The Search for the Hairy Giants", "The Monster Apes of Oregon", "The Enigma of the Atomic Tornadoes", "The Ghost Was Right!", "Monster on the Beach", "Ramu the Wolf Boy", "Bobby the Wonder Boy", "The Coffins are Restless Tonight!", "The Runaway Coffin Comes Home", "Exploding Fish Bowl", and the viral classic "Our Martyred Presidents".

Some of these pieces have the whiff of possibility, some seem suspiciously like Mr. Edwards had a deadline, and most seem like sources of Roky Erickson lyrics. No matter. Don't believe everything you read in a book, but at least stay awake to the possibility that the world is stranger, much stranger, than the evidence of pedestrian reality might suggest.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Dark Room by Junnosuke Yoshiyuki

Shuichi Nakata is a middle-aged writer living in 1960’s Tokyo. A widower, he has established a small network of available women with whom he meets for occasional sexual trysts, free of the concerns and constraints of commitment. Nakata maintains a chauvinistic attitude towards women, and, specifically, has a certain horror of the vagina, which he considers “has something very evil about it.” Still, he confesses in a magazine interview that he would “like to achieve a state where something evil looks like a rose.” It is this transformation, thorns and all, which gives this book its momentum.

In the course of the novel, most of the women in his network fall away for one reason or another, and he is left with Natsue, a woman in her early twenties. It gradually dawns on Nakata that he is beginning to form an attachment to this girl, a state which is abhorrent to him. Still, there is fascination in that Natsue is an outlet for his psychological aggression towards women. Like many young adult women, she has discovered The Story of O, and is fascinated by the themes of bondage and submission as a means of exploring sexuality. Nakata has little interest until he discovers that, by acting out, he can manifest in the flesh his ambivalent feelings towards Natsue. Envisioned perhaps as a means of maintaining distance from Natsue, the master/slave relationship ultimately pulls him emotionally closer to her, to the dark room of commitment.

In its essence a misogynistic novel, The Dark Room is interspersed with discussions of lesbianism, abortion (one of the female character states “I would love starting a kid and getting him [the doctor] to drag it out again"), prostitution and female sexuality, discussions which reflect, I assume, attitudes towards the increasing independence of women that may have been coming forth in 1960’s Japan. On the other side of it, it is a chronicle of a classic middle-age crisis, of a man sensing loss of vigor, physical stamina, and personal power, with the chill breath of decline and death on his neck. An interesting, if uncomfortable, novel of conflicted sexuality.