We were blackening pages, all of us, covering them with charcoal, leaving no traces of white showing, turning us black as Con Edison smoke, as abandoned subway station platforms and third rail rats. As black as the vacuum-packed blackness between stars.
So begins this love story, told by Nigel DePoli, an American-Italian art student desperate to escape (or at least ignore) his immigrant background, about his friendship with Dwaine Fitzgibbon (‘That’s D for Death, W for War, A for Anarchy, I for Insane, N for nightmare, and E for the End of the World’). A Vietnam vet, Dwaine pulls Nigel into his dreams of making movies and living life. These dreams become nightmares as Dwaine descends into madness and Nigel must decide whether he will follow his friend’s path or his own.
LIFE GOES TO THE MOVIES (Peter Selgin, DZANC Books) is one of the rare books that make me Pavlovian-giddy before I even crack the spine to return where I left off. And if it weren’t for that nuisance called life, I would have finished the story in one fell swoop, the novel is that good.
Perhaps my enthusiasm is biased; I adore stories about young mad men with artistic bents. Perhaps it’s the book’s upclose examination of an unexamined phenomenon – the friendship of two men that has homoerotic overtones but is not homosexual. Perhaps it’s the passion Dwaine and, later, Nigel, bring to their lives. Perhaps the book wows me because of all the pretty film frames. But maybe, just maybe, it’s all about the writing. Phenomenal. Like here:
Gulls wheel under a dome of powder blue sky. Dwaine hacks city smog and cigarette smoke from his lungs. Strands of seaweed cling to our tuxedoes. The morning sun invests everything with a lemony, prehistoric glow, the kind of light that I picture dinosaurs trouncing through.
I sat there watching the candle flame flicker, wondering: what happened to me, to my life? Where was it? Where had it gone? Plummeting back to earth, wings singed off, crashed into the ocean: that’s what happens when you fly too close to the sun.
I'm always a sucker for an Icarus allusion, but this line serves as the novel's fundamental: choosing to live in the glare of a charismatic other or making your own light. Nigel’s transformation from a gullible, beige being to his own person is the strand underlying this story, juxtaposed against the seeming unraveling of Dwaine’s life. Or is it unraveling? The novel prods against what it means to be insane, and insinutes perhaps there are gifts found in madness.
I finished the book 30,000 feet over the eastern seaboard, sobbing into my cocktail napkin, alarming the suduko-playing woman beside me. I didn’t want the adventures of these two wondrous characters to end – so I started in again.
LIFE GOES TO THE MOVIES is exuberant, lush, poignant, and funny and sad as hell. Please, read it…
About the Author: This may be Peter Selgin's first novel, but it’s not his first book. Drowning Lessons (University of Georgia Press, 2008), his first book of short stories, won the Flannery O’Connor Award. He also is the author of By Cunning and Craft: Sound Advice and Practical Wisdom for Fiction Writers (Writers Digest Books). LIFE GOES TO THE MOVIES has an autobiographical edge: read this interview of Selgin in Pif Magazine, then visit his blog Dreaming on Paper .
About the Press: DZANC Books is the good doobie press of the indies. Besides having a stand-up portfolio of literary fiction, short story collections, and poetry manuscripts, the press sponsors the DZANC Prize for excellence in literary fiction and community service, and sponsors a literacy program for young people in Michigan. They’ve just sprouted a new literary magazine - The Collagist - and Dan Wickett is the proud papa of the Emerging Writers Network. Some may say the small press is dead; DZANC Books throws that convention on its head.
About the Bookstore: This copy bought at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, the best independent bookstore ever. Period. Right around the corner? Grolier, the best poetry-only store.