Saturday, June 04, 2005

FURY

I’ll come back to my Japan Adventure in a moment, but please join me in this quasi intellectual commercial break.

Upon finishing the book "FURY" by Salman Rushdie, author of the "Satanic Verses" and the award winning "The Ground Beneath Her Feat" among many others, one comes to the realization that the critics and book reviews don’t do this book justice.

Logging onto Amazon.com one can find a surplus of opinions which don’t mean anything when it comes to reviewing a book with such potent visual detail and meaningful content. People all argue their acute point of view of the book, or how it was different, or not, than the last book. They all do this as if propelled to prove to themselves that they have brains enough capable of opening an intelligent dialogue only to argue the redundant point that each consecutive book by the author is different than the last without realizing that, perhaps, the point of the author was to write a different book and not so entirely repeat himself unlike the blathering critics which do not get it.

Then there are those who say Rushdie is using the same old formula which he has used on his past novels, and these people refuse to acknowledge the vivid new elements which make the novel unique. Both of these categories argue why the book is worth reading without actually questioning why they found it worth their while to read.

One such critic even complained about Rushdie’s disdain for American pop culture, and I had to laugh out loud at such a comment, because having met Mr. Rushdie personally the one thing I know for certain is that he has a stupendous love of pop culture in all of its cultural forms. From music, cinema, and every cultural trend in-between, Rushdie’s book "Fury" contains what I would consider homage of not only American popular culture, but also an ode to pop culture in general. The fact that the critics misread the message doesn’t mean they are bad readers (although highly likely) but it does mean that they are bad at being critics. Everybody has got an opinion, so why not keep your's to yourself until you grow a brain. That's a lesson all critics should learn.

The story starts with Professor Malik Solanka fleeing his past and running to a world he does not know and which with all probability doesn’t care to know him. Upon arriving in New York City the visions of himself standing above his beloved wife and child’s bed holding a murderous knife so frightens professor that he continuously suffers nightmares. A rage within himself builds and becomes uncontrollable, and the entire time he questions why these mythical Furies of Greek lore haunt him so. He blames the fury within, the fury that stalks him, the fury that hovers over his every waking hour; he blames it all on his current condition and never onces concedes to the fact that his grief of what he himself, and himself alone is accountable for, is the same maddening force that hounds him. The dark cloud of shame confounds him, the fear which chased him half way around the world keeps him from going back, the fear of his past keeps him from going foreward, and his inadequacy to get past his own ego continues to propel professor Solanka into a spiraling mode of self destruction. Until one day he meets a girl... or rather, several.

Solanka not only happens to be a professor of Cambridge University forced into self retirement by the surmounting responsibilities of success when he creates Little Brain, a media mogul of a celebrity. His creation, a doll, ends up owning him through a series of capital gains and financial security. Solanka of course blames Little Brain for part of his trauma, but as we find out later, it is his past which catches up to him. Little Brain is just the side effect of forgotten child hood nightmares, although a very lucrative ally for the immediate.

Upon meeting the Indian goddess Neela and the cyber vixen Mila, Solanka is torn between the three women in his life. The wife he left back home, his obsession with the Mila who plays to his every fetish including dressing up for him as a doll, and Neela the princess of beauty personified, who sooths the professor both emotionally and physcially, and whom causes natural chaos to be unleashed in her wake of distracting beauty.

This is when all of the meaty stuff of the story begins; including the unveiling of the professor’s second mega hit The Puppet Kings. A science fiction story of cyborg dolls which rebel against their makers. To professor Solanka’s dismay, this successful property launched by new technologies and boasting Internet access grows bigger and more out of control than his Little Brain creation. Meanwhile a string of rich girls begin to be murdered around NYC in a weird cult like serial killing spree in which Solanka’s closet friend is attached. Each girl murdered was a modern made women, practically capatalistic royalty, each happening to resemble living dolls. The metaphors of each character pile on in weight and meaning as the story progresses and soon enough Solanka finds himself in the web of human suffering, chaos, and fury all over again.

As the professor’s creation start to take a life of its own the overwhelming fantasy begins to become the new reality, and half way accross the world a third world nation on the brink of civil war gains new daring with the coming of the Doll Maker. With the lines of reality and fantasy blurred the professor must make quick decisions and hopefully end up breaching the grasp of the fury which surrounds him without losing himself or the people he loves.

Yet if this story sounds like a mix-match foray into the human psyche and the jumbled up human relationships in-between the cracks of multiple story lines then you’ve only begun to comprehend the complexity of this novel.

This is of course where the critics stop analyzing and begin arguing the various meanings forgetting that with so many contexts and sublayers there is a vast multitude of conclusions which can be made. Think of this novel in terms of the tip of geneology tree, the numerous forking branches of the storylines and persona histories woven within this book ask us to question who the greatest story weaves of history are. Arachnea? Penelopea? Homer? Rushdie, perhaps?

Some even complained about feeling let down by the ending. That the confusion builds and builds without ever peaking at a climax, and then poof, the book ends. Personally, I think Rushdie wants the reader to tie the ending up in their own minds. Immediately after breaching the first few chapters you realize the density of the book and its intellectual demands. People who don’t want to "think" about their novels will immediately brush past this aspect of the story, and their expectations will ultimately let them down when they don't get the all too cliche triangular structured story telling. If you go into this novel expecting pure adrenaline entertainment with no strings attached then you forgot one important thing, this is a book about puppets and dolls. Also you may be forgetting that weaving five or six stories is by far more complex writing then one beginning, middle, end nusery rhyme. This book is for the serious reader who demands something greater than the white noise that passes for storytelling today. Rushdie of course challenges all the conventions of story telling and once again opens new horizons for how stories can be told. No triangles here, just intricately woven hoops which link together like chains of mythic proportion.

The thing I think I like best about Rushdie’s first American novel is its imagery. One critic came close in explaining that the level of detail of New York City matches that detail of late greats such as Charles Dickens. Upon conversing with Rushdie privately, I too found that this was his goal, and that Dickens is Rushdie`s favorite author. Yet the level of detail doesn’t end with the description and depiction of the tangible, but he goes on to intricately list all of the popular culture which makes up the American psyche. Not since James Joyce's novel "Finnegan’s Wake" has a book made a relationship of all the myriad of relevant cultural events and texts which create the foundation of the human immagination. The relationship between the contemporary imagination and the past one which sponsors new growth. Rushdie delicately and quite deliberately makes references to almost everything under the sun. Where as some may find the overload of information a taxing strain on their minds, the stronger better read readers will get the bigger picture, if you will.

You have cultural references of every kind, and just like Joyce, Rushdie weaves the references in seamlessly into the greater text of the book without ever seeming like a bore. Everything from Batman and Robin, the Pope’s driver, George Gush and Al Bore, Starbucks Coffee, Opra, William Shakespeare, the great science fiction writers of our time, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory, Solaris, The Terminator films, CNN news, the Star Wars Trilogy, SUV’s, Steve McQueen, Lara Croft, 2001 Space Odyssey, Eddy Murphy, Brier Rabbit, Rock'n'Roll music, Rodger Rabbit, Jessica Rabbit, from Hollywood to Toon Town to Broadway musicals Rushdie lists an array of influences both past an present which American culture embodies and sponsors as part of its rich cultural identity.

To me this is where the heart of the novel lies. This is why it is a jambalaya of visual and textual information. It is a novel which propels our minds to imagine the things to come by requiring us to have a firm knowledge of the things of our past. Each page reeks of nostalgic cultural historicity without ever making us feel bad if we don’t get the reference. Rushdie leaves many behind in the dust who can’t keep up with his constant interweaving of plotlines and references of every type, but it is this very means which allows the author to so masterfully tie together such a vast story in a new and refreshing way. Moreover, he fact that he does all this in one of his shortest novels to date proves that he is a master at honing in on exactly what he has to say, and he trims all the surplus out this time to make the epic fantasy a literal one instead. This time the mythic characters come to life in a very human and plain way, and whilst the critics may be wining about their inability to keep up with the author's intellectual prowess which this novel demands, it is by far one of the greatest and most satisfying reads anyone could have. Regardless of whether or not you take the time to think about the deeper meaning, there is definitely a deeper meaning in this book. Political, social, cultural, humanistic, part preachy and whole heartedly honest, this whirlwind of storytelling allows "Fury" to come onto the scene with a purpose as it pushes the boundaries of what a modern novel can do all the while staying true to its classic ties to literature. One word to describe it would be triumph.

Salman Rushdie remains one of today’s foremost greatest story tellers. I highly recommend this book and any others by the author.

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