Saturday, May 11, 2013

My Review of Austin Nights by Herocious and/or the new ending to Blue Valentine starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

Plot is overrated. That's one the many things I thought when finishing Austin Nights by Herocious (AKA Michael Davidson). Why do we always need drama? Why can't we just read a book about people's lives that's not tragic or melodramatic or full of made up problems for the sake of story.
The only plot to speak of in Austin Nights is that of a young couple moving to Austin from Miami Beach and everything that happens before, in the middle, and after the trip. Yet even with that, I found myself captivated for the prose was that good.
The best test of a good writer is how much story can they pack in the most minimum of words. Do we always need epic tomes when we could tell the same story with a bigger punch in less words?
Camera by Jean Phillippe Toussaint has an unnamed protagonist that takes driving lessons, falls in love with a receptionist, takes a trip and nothing much else happens. But if you read this slim novel closely a lot does.
Austin Nights has the same intimacy on the pages. You recognize these characters because at some point in time or perhaps as you're even reading it, you were or are those characters. Michael and Bridget are dealing with all the same problems of this generation like school loans, unemployment, and an unknown future. There is an intimacy in every section that endears the characters to the reader. You care about them and want to be assured that things are going to be alright for them. Michael Davidson skirts a fine line of anticipation in the book that could have made it unreadable. He knew that there was only one plot point of which the story would gravitate around and that was the big move from Miami Beach to Austin. Mixing the chapters gives the story the feeling of being in the cusp of a great discovery. Imagine Carter and Herbert the moment before they open King Tut's tomb. Now freeze that feeling. That's the feeling that runs through the whole book. The prose gives you a happy feeling and you think or expect something really bad or good to happen and nothing does. And you read the next section and you're back to the same feeling again. This book emphasizes the journey and not the destination which is what's so wonderful about it. But you really have to listen to it and pay attention because the whole text is like a beautiful little folk song being sung by two people in love. Yep, kind of like a nice little 2 minute Bob Dylan ditty. And there are sections that are even as intimate and song-whispery as THIS.
But real life in books is more interesting when you can relate to it. Huge decisions like: what am I going to do for the rest of my life? Who will I love for the rest of my life? Who will choose to love me for the rest of my life? How big is a risk to move thousands of miles away to Austin to be with the person I love while she follows her dreams? What are my dreams? Am I writer? Am I bum pretending to be a writer just to push off real life? And when will this real life creep up on me?
Michael walks around Austin happy go-lucky yet scared of this real life sneaking up on him. He questions his choices. He eats. He goes to the library with Bridgett. He mistreats Honeyed Cat. He explores his new surroundings wanting to find this real life before it creeps up on him. He's searching for the prize, lost in Austin bicycling, avoiding drunk bums that end up dead later, his eyes opened wide-eyed and curious for his future while appreciating the present.
In a way, Austin Nights almost felt like a book written by a Buddhist. The narrator despite worried for his own future, lives mainly in the present like we all should. Michael and Bridget, though far from perfect people seem to exist in a little bubble of love that most of their neighbors can't penetrate. There's a juxtaposition between Michael and Bridget's own life together in Austin and the lives of the crazy neighbors, hard partying college students, and weird leprechaun library dwellers that turn out to be ambitious entrepreneurs. And there's even a Larry McMurtry cameo which is hilarious.
Austin Nights also reminded me of the best parts of the film Blue Valentine by Derek Cianfrance. The shifting back and forth in story is a great device but it works best when a clear theme is followed as in Austin Nights and Slaughter House Five. As a matter of fact, this book almost seemed like Bizarro Blue Valentine. Where in Blue Valentine the drama almost seemed forced. And as viewers we were forgiving of that melodrama cause we were so satisfied with the brilliant happy scenes with Ryan Gosling courting Michelle Williams with a ukulele. But in Austin Nights there was no jarring moments between scenes like going from an extremely happy scene to a sad scene. So almost imagine Blue Valentine if shit hadn't gone down the way it had. Austin Nights is Blue Valentine without the forced drama. So if you loved Blue Valentine for its happy moments and hated the ending, you should run and buy Austin Nights. Who didn't want Ryan Gosling to man up, stop his drinking and become a responsible husband and step father? And what would have been so wrong with that being the ending of the movie? Picture Ryan Gosling going to AA meetings and then taking an hour long drive for a job interview that goes just okay and then on the way back to his family he gets a flat and the closest establishment is a bar where he has to go in to borrow a phone for a tow truck. So Ryan calls the tow truck and he takes a seat cause it's gonna be a while and it's raining outside. So the bartender naturally offers him a drink and Ryan Gosling stops and smiles for a second, and without saying it, we, as the viewers know what he's thinking about and he politely declines the bartender and asks for a piece of apple pie. Pie says the bartender? Yes, do you have apple pie? Or any kind of pie? As a matter of fact we have Cherry Pie, will that do for you? Yes, let me get some cherry pie. The End.
It also felt like Davidson wrote his own perfect version of On the Road for his narrator's sentimental look at the world and naivete reminded me a lot of Sal Paradise. Both On the Road and Austin Nights are full of sentimental love but the latter never gets too sentimental. Michael keeps it in check and that's a good thing. The same love of America can be found in Austin Nights. The same optimism for our one saving grace that is our multicultural society.
There were also many excerpts in Austin Nights that reach Jack Saunders greatness and can go toe to toe (no pun intended) with the great Florida writer. It's refreshing to read a love story where the main character is the love and not the problems surrounding it. Who knew there would be people like Michael Davidson to write books like these? 
In closing, like Proust long before him, Michael Davidson is allowing intimacy to become an art form and that is a beautiful thing. Austin Nights is a book for the careful reader that hates noisy prose. It is a quiet book that makes a loud statements about the everyday moments we take for granted and the ones that matter most. There are no literary tricks or monsters or serial killers just a couple in love and a temperamental cat and the city of Austin, Texas. It's the equivalent of an angel whispering in your ears: it's the little things my friend, the little things.

Austin Nights is published by Tiny TOE Press and is available for purchase here in a hand-pressed with linocut cover version or for your Kindle:

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