Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award


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Getting compared to your idols

This past week, the Chicago Tribune ran this review of my novel, The Fugue. The reviewer, fellow Chicagoan Dmitry Samarov, called the book “magisterial,” said it goes for all the marbles and compared it to Dostoevsky.

Other commentators have compared my writing to other writers that I love, including Nelson Algren.

All these conversations are insane. They don’t feel real. I’m certain a moment is arriving when a director or other puppet-master will say, “We’re finished, thank you,” then turn off all the lights, unplug the equipment and send all the players back to reality.

I have so many questions about how this all happens. How is it that you read the books of the writers you love, write your own book and then end up getting compared to them? The comparisons are obvious compliments. But what’s going on? Have I internalized these forms, or are they attractive to me because I found parts of myself swimming in them, parts placed in a text long before I was born?

Today, I’d just like to nudge the director or puppet-master, if s/he’s reading. Don’t turn off the equipment. Not for a while, anyway.  I’d like to keep this insane conversation going.

Here’s a self-portrait I took of myself in Queens, NY.

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I saw Godzilla

I went to the cinema for the first time since my daughter was born in 2009. I usually can’t justify it, not with writing deadlines and grading due and children to care for. But yesterday I was met with some writers block, and I chose to go see a film.

What intrigued me about Godzilla was essentially one scene in a 30 second trailer; it shows Godzilla screaming down into the camera while juxtaposed to Chinese lanterns. The scream and dark mise-en-scene really affecting my feelings, and I felt the film might actually be frightening. I think monster movies, while accessing our deepest fears, are usually really stupid, but I also think their stupidity is important. There’s only so much you can do with the plot of a monster movie. Then again, there’s only so much we can do with our monsters.

I did not expect a film full of candy for cinephiles. It includes off-hand references to Kurasawa and Kubrick (Gareth Edwards, the director, uses Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna, one of my favorite compositions, in a masterful sequence depicting paratroopers jumping from a plane and falling through a gray and orange sky). It’s also full of delightfully ironic and blithe meta-film, screens depicting newscasts of monsters tearing up Vegas while clueless gamblers focus on slot machines. The film takes itself just seriously enough to offer important commentary on our human arrogance before nature and our belief that technology—specifically military technology—can solve all our problems. But it retains the whimsy necessary to make a monster movie. In the end, its entire premise—I won’t get into it, because it’s part of the delight, but the film deals with nuclear technology and uses the history of nuclear testing and atomic warfare as part of its plot—is absurd. To pretend it isn’t would be folly.

I also did not expect the film to present a Zen argument. This is still a Hollywood film, a remake of a Japanese monster movie. The Zen lesson amounts to pop-Zen, perhaps a good step above the kind available in Tron Legacy, but it’s still rooted in lessons that are sincere and wise. Essentially the lesson is that our self-inflation is the problem, larger than the monster we perceive, a creature that is actually benevolent. I felt the lesson provided a refreshing counterpoint to the usual themes of Biblical apocalypse and redemption at the heart of most monster or disaster narratives that come out of Hollywood. It was also fun to be part of a community for whom this film was clearly meant.

In short, I really recommend it. There’s a lot more to it than what monster movies usually bring, and it includes some really poetic cinematography.