Saturday, October 5, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Peckinpah: An Ultraviolent Romance by D. Harlan Wilson

Life in Dreamfield, Indiana, is a daily harangue of pigs, cornfields, pigs, fast food joints, pigs, Dollar Stores, motorcycles, pigs, and good old-fashioned Amerikan redneckery. The decidedly estranged yet complacent occupants of this proverbial smalltown go about their business like geriatrics in a casino ... until their business is interrupted by a sinister gang of outsiders. Angry, slick-talking, and ultraviolent to the core, Samson Thataway and the Fuming Garcias commit art-for-art's-sake in the form of hideous, unmotivated serial killings. When an unsuspecting everyman's girlfriend is murdered by the throng, it is up to Felix Soandso to avenge her death and return Dreamfield to its natural state of absurdity



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Filmstrip inserted into the projector of the subconscious, the raw violence of a land where law has been murdered for the sake of art; “Peckinpah” is a beautiful Leone-Tarantino hybrid that might be a glimpse into the lingering fantasies—or nightmares—of artistic vision desensitized and transfigured by shades of blood in the glare of a rising sun. The “philosophy” of ultraviolence is more about the poetry of ultraviolence—the aesthetics of prose and chaos swirling through sentences that are chapters, or chapters that become sentences. D. Harlan Wilson has constructed a wonderfully designed piece of art—it almost doesn’t make sense to say that he’s “written” a great story.

There is indeed a story and a plot—it’s located in the synopsis on the back of the book, and in the description. To explain what Peckinpah is or means is to ruin the concept and scar its beauty. Wilson may have found a roll of film and described what he found on each frame. Our cultures is obsessed with violence and has been attempting to “remedy” the situation by blaming all the entertainment mediums rather than being held accountable for this question: Why do people want to buy it? In the wake of major video game releases that feature protagonists who can beat up police officers and soldiers who can kill random people with well-aimed headshots, I find it interesting that readers would find parts of this book funny. I perceived moments of ironic hilarity that might provoke laughter, but instead, I found myself wondering why I should think this is funny in the first place. 

Several sentences are woven into the narrative that seem to bind the piece in a theater of splatter rather than a medium that’s exposed and “open”; I mean to say that the structure underlines, defies, and defines the properties of violent art and our attraction to it. This book, in its own way, is anti-art and anti-violence. This is one of those few works for which I might be able to write an entire essay; I could dissect individual phrases and deconstruct the book to find more depth and meaning, a sign that Wilson’s intelligent work can withstand the test of time. 

Wilson may not have intended this to be anything more than an entertaining, wild ride through an ultraviolent-romance story. Part of the book’s package is the cover art—yeah, I’m analyzing the cover art, which seems to be “shot” from far away by the camera, rather than the extreme-close-ups Leone (and in homage, Tarantino) have used for dramatic purposes. This makes me think that Samson Thataway and the Fuming Garcias are the shark-toothed, metaphoric reflection of America’s chivalric knights (cowboys). Each chapter in this book is a poem, a swimming pool fool of blood that Plato and Aristotle would have jumped into without bathing suits.