Dog Soldiers

Books December 24, 2022


I devoured Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone this week. It had me up past my bedtime, racing toward the end. In this rather literary thriller, we join lightly shell-shocked American journo John Converse in Vietnam, writing for “Nightbeat, which his lawyers described as A Weekly Tabloid With a Heavy Emphasis on Sex,” as he gives up on ever writing his novel to try his hand at running heroin instead. It fits squarely into one of my favorite subject areas in American literature – the clash between the state and the psychadelic spirit, war and counter-culture, conspiracy and love, or, how the 60s were lost.

Dog Soldiers opens with a feverish Converse on a park bench in Saigon, reading a letter from his strangely disaffected wife who recounts a recent trip to New York, where she and some friends “went to a parade which was for the War”:

Three of us—me, looking relatively straight, and Don and Cathy looking modified freaky. We weren’t too well received. You had to see that action to believe it. … My flash was that these people are freakier than we ever could be. One tends to think of them as straight but when you see them they’re unreal.

(This observation is every bit as true in the Trump era as it was then.)

This sense of unreality pervades the novel – if the States have become “funnier,” as characters warn each other repeatedly, Vietnam itself may be the corrupting influence. Converse converses with an American missionary sharing his park bench between reading snatches of his letter. “‘Satan,’ she called to him, ‘is very powerful here.’ ‘Yes,’ Converse said. ‘He would be.’” Or, as Sergeant Janeway says to Converse as he arranges a pretext to see his pal Hicks, who can transport the dope – “Every day in this place … we entertain the weird, the strange, the unusual.”

The Banshees of Inisherin

Movies December 18, 2022

Colin Farrell and Kerry Condon in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Photos by Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.


Movies December 14, 2022

Berendson, Woodman and Voze – Disney

Amsterdam (2022, David O. Russel, streaming on HBO) is a big, starry, saggy romp through the sad and scary aftermath of World War I. “A lot of this really happened,” the film declares in the opening moments; in the end we are treated to a side-by-side of Robert De Niro (as the fictional General Dillenbeck) and the real life General Smedley Butler, reading his infamous testimony on the Business Plot, in which he alleges that a shadowy group of wealthy industrialist fascists wanted to stage a coup appointing him the military dictator of the United States.

It was fun. The film seems to think of itself as addressing Important Themes, and to be afraid of doing so with any subtlety. This makes it kind of painful to watch. I was particularly irritated by a couple of voiceovers that seemed only to restate what we just watched, in case you didn’t get it. I just now realized that Disney made this movie, which makes perfect sense in retrospect.

Confidence Man

Books December 12, 2022

And then I came to the end of Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America (2022), New York Times journalist Maggie Haberman’s biography of Trump.

It took me months – I bought this to entertain myself on a flight to Chicago back in September. Thinking what? That I would find some insight here? Truth and reconciliation? Look, The Power Broker (1974) this is not.

If anything, I’m left mostly with the sense that things … just sort of happen, and there’s not much you can do about it. Revisiting these names and events, no deeper meaning is revealed to me. Bannon, Miller, Scaramucci, Guiliani, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice! People are venal and craven, not only but especially the ones in power – not a surprise – and it turns out that examining this in close detail will not enrich your life.

I don’t know who needs to hear this right now, although I’m sure it’ll be important to future historians or whatever. Recommended if you like reliving outrage through dry reportage.

Few Good Things

Music December 11, 2022

Saba has been my favorite Chicago rapper since Bucket List Project (2016). His latest, Few Good Things, is one of my favorite records of 2022.

Saba’s a deft storyteller with brilliant flow. The (self)-production is on the whole kicked-back and buttery. Saba rides trilling snares and rounded keys with an easy, crisp delivery. Thematically, Few Good Things can still be found on a Westside stoop, nostalgiac for the recording studio in Grandma’s basement, alternately just chillin and chilled by violence. Saba does nostalgia better than anyone, but it’s cut now more than ever with a sense of achievement. It’s well deserved.

Bullet Train

Movies December 10, 2022

Momomon in Bullet Train - Scott Garfield

I had, like, all of my clothes to fold, so for a bit of ambiance slapped on Bullet Train (2022), the new beat-em-up from David Leitch (John Wick, Deadpool 2, etc), streaming on Netflix.


Books December 6, 2022

I slogged through Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland (1990) over the past couple of weeks.

Vineland is about systematic repression – of unions, of the revolutionary spirit of the psychadelic 60s, even of law enforcement itself as the Hoover-Nixon heyday of the 70s gave way to fiscal austerity in Reagan’s 80s. After reading it, I think I understand better what it might have felt like to live through the end of the dream of the 60s.

Getting In The Mood Jams

Music November 29, 2022

It’s hard to get started, you know? I guess you just have to pick somewhere. Why not with an oldie made new?