Saturday, April 28, 2012

Went To A John Sayles Reading

Most people know John Sayles as a critically-acclaimed independent filmmaker, but he’s also a National Book Award-nominated and O. Henry Award-winning writer of novels and short stories. His latest book, A Moment in the Sun, is a gargantuan epic that revolves around the Philippine-American War.

Looks like a cinder block, actually a book.

Earlier today I attended a reading/Q&A/signing for A Moment in the Sun. I admit I’ve never read Sayles’s prose before, but I’m fairly versed in his movies, which are pretty great. My favorites are probably Eight Men Out and Matewan. I also saw Limbo on video eleven years ago during my formative years—cinematically speaking—and the ending still haunts me to this day.

When Sayles came out, he looked rugged, stout, worldly, and confident—everything you’d think he’d be based on the diversity, precision, and moral clarity of his films. Also, as the reading progressed, it was obvious that he’s very intelligent, not only about the historical events he was limning but also about the intricacies of story and character. He clearly knows more about storytelling than almost anybody—not surprising, considering he was a former MacArthur “genius grant” recipient.

The excerpt he read was brisk and lively, culminating in a not-quite-bare-knuckle brawl (hand wraps, but throws allowed) that ends direly for one of the participants. Most of the crowd seemed to enjoy it, but I got the feeling that it got a little too Paluhniuky for some of them toward the end, when the blood was flowing most freely. I thought it was really well done. Sayles has an obvious knack for the idiom of the time, and he gives each character their own syntax and diction. (He’s also great with the voices; he should be forced to do the audiobook.) With that said, he doesn’t go overboard with the antiquated phrases. My impression is that the dialogue is meant more to evoke the time period than to be a hard-and-fast literal representation of how people talked back then (turn of the 20th Century). If true, I think this is a good move—it triggers the imagination instead of restricting it, and ensures that the reader won’t get bogged down or overly distracted by the vernacular of over 100 years ago.

Anyway, I enjoyed it and look forward to tackling the book sometime in the future (I’m still wrestling with another huge book, War and Peace. About 350 or so pages into that one.)

(Another bonus of going to the reading was getting to meet Steve Bissette, who happened to be in the audience. Very cool, easygoing guy. I got to express my admiration for his work, specifically the Swamp Thing run he did with Alan Moore, which will always be regarded as a high water mark in the medium.)


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