The Ambivalent Protaganist

by Casey Baker

Recently, Huffington Post published an article (link:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/claire-fallon/great-male-protagonists-w_b_4044741.html) naming a few male protagonists from famous novels that no one would really wish to befriend if they existed in the real world. While the piece is an interesting, rather pro-feminist examination of generally brutish male characters, it leaves out an entire gender and examination therein.

Which led me to consider, of all of the characters I’ve met in the great Imagi-sphere that is the act of reading, which ones have I encountered who were both entirely compelling and also incredibly off-putting? Here are my top five.

1. Esther Greenwood, The Bell Jar – While Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel is a strong examination of the stilted social mores of women during a specific time in history and the effects of those mores that still holds great weight today, Esther is someone I would never want to simply ‘hang out’ with. This isn’t to say she is an uninteresting protagonist, rather the opposite – as the old adage goes, “Misery loves company” and Esther’s way of thinking is so relatable to anyone who has lived under the oppressive, patriarchal hetero-normative society that still informs our culture today. A day with Esther would involve venting together, crying to let it all go, and then feeling miserable for the rest of the day. The novel is enough catharsis.

2. Tyler, Shampoo Planet (Douglas Coupland) – Tyler is what Coupland labels a “Global Teen” and part of Generation Y, a generation that I unfortunately belong to simply by a matter of years. Tyler embodies everything I dislike about my generation, including a mindless adherence to consumerism that even reaches into a desire to be a corporate CEO simply because corporations control so much of the consumer media, a misplaced admiration in Reaganomics, flightiness in both life and love, and a copious amount of hair products to keep up a facade of stability and self-assuredness. By the end of the novel, Tyler finally realizes that his interests are transient and not based on anything real or sincere, but by then he has already ruined things for himself in many ways. I suppose a part of what I dislike about Tyler is that he does remind me of some elements of myself at a much younger, more naive age.

3. Clay (Bateman?), Less Than Zero (Bret Easton Ellis) – Clay is a spoiled, rich Southern California jerk. His friends are detestable, his life is by and large meaningless, and he is generally an amoral bit of driftwood, floating along a tide of drugs, sex and unhappiness. While Clay is fascinating because his life does well to satirize much of the LA culture and its excesses in a very dark series of parties and meaningless relationships, he is also someone who would casually sit across a dinner table with you, coked up and barely paying attention. A real sleezeball. It doesn’t help that his brother is possibly the one and only American Psycho, Patrick Bateman.

4.  Shannon McFarland/Daisy St. Patience/Bubba Joan/Whatever, the narrator of Invisible Monsters (Chuck Palahniuk) – After getting her face shot off, the narrator of Invisible Monsters meets the queen of train-wrecks, Brandy Alexander, and the two go on a pill-stealing, soap-operatic crime spree of epic proportions. While the narrator and her story are hilarious and continuously compelling throughout the several ridiculous plot turns of the story, she’s also incredibly psychotic and someone you wouldn’t even trust with your dying houseplant. Steer clear of this brand of crazy, despite how fabulous she seems.

5. Ms. Valerie Frizzle, The Magic Schoolbus – While the idea of shrinking into microscopic sizes and exploring the cells of the body or diving deep into the dark, black ocean with a bus submersible seem incredibly fun for any kid, the reality of the situation is that this woman is more than a little deranged, willing to put her students right into the jaws of danger just to teach them a lesson about plant chlorophyll or the inner workings of stomach acid. Ms. Frizzle is a dangerous woman with dangerous ideas.

What are your type five fiction frenemies?

Forum Magazine Presents…Fiction and Poetry from CCSF at Lit Crawl 2013.

For the first time ever, Forum Magazine will have a presence at Lit Crawl!  Our readings will take place at the Latin American Club (3286 22nd St.) from 6pm to 7pm, and feature artists from our Fall 2012 and Spring 2013 issues including Charlotte Hull, Real Lapalme, Seth Luther, Natalie Saunders, John Silverman, and Jerome Steegmans.

If you don’t already know about it, Lit Crawl is a citywide event during which venues such as art galleries, bars, bookstores, bowling alleys, cafes, community spaces, restaurants, stores, and even police stations host simultaneous live readings around the city in just over three hours.  In some cases, artists can show up to read their fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and more at these venues to live audiences from their areas.  (Hint: Look for the ‘Open Mic’ listings!)  So whether you’re an artist, a connoisseur of art, or both you can get something out of it.  Each and every event is free, though they will be accepting donations and every little bit helps! 

For more information, please follow the above link.  We hope to see you there!  

Dystopian Top 3

Hello Forum Magazine readers!  Today we’re talking about Dystopian art and stories, or, more specifically, your favorites within the Dystopian genre.  Whether we love, hate, or carry a lukewarm temperament toward it, we must admit that Dystopian art is definitely popular, right now.  We can argue the reasons for or merits of this amongst ourselves later, but for today’s discussion is about your top three Dystopian pieces (whether visual or written art).

So our question to you is: do you have three favorites that you consider the best in the genre, or even just the best representatives of it?  What do you consider the three art pieces, stories, novels, plays, what-have-you that are the first three Dystopian pieces that someone new to the genre should see?

I’ll start:

1)      The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

2)      1984 by George Orwell

3)      The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins is a very close runner up to this list.

But enough about my favorites, what are your favorites?  Please, comment below so that everyone can see, and possibly appreciate your top three.

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

The Bus Ride By Britannic x.o. Zane (Jul. 8th, 2007)

I sat down to wait for my bus and a Samoan woman approached me. She kept staring at me and I was getting nervous about it because she was intimidating like she could squash me like a grape. She waited till everyone around us seemed occupied with other things before she spoke to me.

“You know, in my village you would be considered a holy man because of your facial tattoos. The fact that you got facial tatts that reflect something about you makes you a wise man in my eyes.”

I smiled and thanked her for the compliment and we started talking about her tribal tattoos. The bus came and we both got on continuing the conversation. We sat down next to a black woman who looked upset about something. The black woman’s 16 year old son was yelling and goofin with his friends in the back of the bus. He came up front and started going off yelling at his mother and calling her a bitch because she would not give him five dollars. The Samoan woman got up and told him to back off.  He gave his mother a dirty look and called her a bitch again. He then went back to his friends. The mother looked frightened and embarrassed.

Continue reading The Bus Ride By Britannic x.o. Zane (Jul. 8th, 2007)

A House at the End of the Street by Jordy Lynch

Lewis Arnold had always hated his father’s name. Not his father. No other trait of his ever bothered Lewis; just his name, which in most cases is decided by forces distant to the person who is to don said name. Lewis knew this and held no grudge towards his father.

Yet if there had been anything he could have changed about his old man, it was his name. Arnold. Lewis couldn’t ever justify his dislike with a specific reason, and truth be told, he probably didn’t even have a good reason. It was like a bad taste or a rancid smell, a base reaction to something foul. Something foul sat in front of Lewis, and Lewis displayed his disgust like a mask.

Sitting across the kitchen table was Lewis’s father. His skin was drawn tight around his face, his teeth peeking through his slit of a mouth. He was wearing a black suit, a suit that looked like a good one to be buried in. A red tie and white undershirt complimented the rich darkness of the coat. Through decayed lips and teeth like gravestones, his father started singing, and from somewhere nearby a band struck up, accompanying the dead man’s vocals.

Continue reading A House at the End of the Street by Jordy Lynch

The Last Stand by Shelly Davis

Brenda looked forward into the mirror with all of her vigor and intensity. Apparently, she possessed her own personal self bias because the convoluted figure standing before was not what she thought she resembled. This past year had been the year which defined her life. She had been diagnosed with ALS and subsequently entered into the severe stages warranting complete body paralysis. The myelin isolating her axons was deteriorating with every passing second of each day and there was not a thing she could do to stop this indelible force. Even if she desired to form a plan of attack there would be not a soul willing to help her, but just a hearth to surrender her fight on.

When she was first diagnosed she strategically placed a picture of herself when she was twenty-five years old and she was in her prime on her wall so the spirit of her pat would still remain inside her even through the worst of times. Right beside her picture was her PhD in Biotechnology from Columbia University. Before the onset of her ALS she ranked among the five most successful scientists manipulating stem cells to cure neurodegenerative conditions in the U.S. She once again turned her attention toward the mirror which reflected not herself, but a victim who society had failed. She had lost her identity and ultimately herself worth in this colossal pool of wires and tubes which extended her life. They would not extend her life to the point where she could execute municipal activities, but she survived only to remain trapped in the hellish vessel of her body until the next day. She intensely eyed her voluptuous figure underneath her black satin dress which was very risqué. That Satin dress despite being overzealous beat the hell out of the flowing white spotted gown which probably could have been uncovered in a junkyard for all she knew.

Continue reading The Last Stand by Shelly Davis

Discarded, by Chaz Anderson

His right hand strums out a complicated rhythm while his left dances up and down the neck, forming complex shapes. A low hum rumbles up from his throat, a counter-melody to the throbbing voice of the guitar. Eyes closed, he sits cross-legged on the moist grass, rocking back and forth, trying to give birth to the melody rolling through him.

The instrument screams in dismay. Sorely taxed by the man, it fights the strain of the contorted chording. The pick in his hand ravages the wooden body, making it shake, bend, and fall out of tune.

When the two first met, the man had been a young boy. His lap had been much smaller, and the stroke of his fingers had been soft and clumsy. In those days the guitar had been placed carefully on a stand when not in use, frequently re-stringed, polished and buffed daily. The boy had loved the instrument, had treated it gently, with care and respect.

Continue reading Discarded, by Chaz Anderson

Gray Rock by Seth Luther

Grandma likes her rock garden to be neat and orderly. She doesn’t have to water it or have it mowed, and those pesky neighborhood kids can’t run and play all over it. A trip and fall and a skinned knee will teach them that.

The kids like to take a single gray rock from the outer section of the garden and carefully place it into the center circle full of all white rocks. They run and hide and wait for Grandma to come out. They watch and listen. She bitches and moans as she struggles across the garden of rocks with her bad hip, slowly bending over to pick up the gray rock and put it back with the others.

The End

Gray Rock, fiction by Seth Luther

© Copyright Seth Luther

Protected by Copyscape

 

 

A Reading at L’s Caffe (May 31st (Updated!)

L’s Caffe have been kind enough to sponsor a reading/fundraiser for Forum.

Reading will be crime novelist and teacher Seth Harwood and poets Nic Alea and Aimee Suzara and possibly others (watch for updates). There will also be the usual open mic, maybe a raffle and, excitingly, the latest issue of Forum will be out so you’ll have your first chance to see (and/or purchase) the latest batch of poetry, prose and art from the CCSF community.

Thursday, May 31

L’s Caffe

2871 24th Street, SF CA
between Bryant + Florida

at 6:30 pm

Mostly Harmless and May 2nd

by Ayo Khensu-Ra

May 2nd has long held a sort of special aura for me. Improbably I reckoned some years ago that this was the date I picked up a certain book in the Hilo Public Library. While I wouldn’t say that book changed my life, it’s still one of my favorites — a strange mixture of science fiction, humor and gloom.

Anyone familiar with the series of which the book is a part will probably have guessed by now that I’m referring to the late Douglas Adams’ Mostly Harmless which was (amazingly) published some twenty years ago. I say amazingly because I was in middle school around that time an awkward, uncertain kid (it might be argued that I’m an awkward uncertain adult but that’s another story.)

The book is Adams’ final chapter in the series that began with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy , a novel that was based on Adams’ own BBC radio program of the same name. Three books sit between the first and Mostly Harmless. They all center around the misadventures of Arthur Dent a fairly ordinary Englishman who just happens to be the last male survivor of the destruction of the Earth. I’ve enjoyed all the Hitchhiker’s books quite a lot but Mostly Harmless was the first I read and so is extra significant but something else I think draws me to that book in particular.

There’s a certain brilliance in Adams’ style. In each of his books he referenced and played with science fiction conventions bringing a kind of order through craziness. The books are very funny. Adams’ narrative voice is often calm, almost dry while discussing something completely absurd. But beyond that, Mostly Harmless has a rather intricate, intriguing plot. There are a number of threads to the story and there is a certain bigness to it that one might not expect from humorous science fiction novel. The elements of the story tie together wonderfully, everything falling right into place for the conclusion. It must also be said that the conclusion is far from a happy one which is something else that intrigues me about the novel–its mixture of comic and tragic. That mixture is something I later came to appreciate in the work of writer and director Joss Whedon (Whedon is probably best known as the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the much-praised and oft-analyzed TV series; his take on Marvel’s The Avengers just arrived in theaters). While Whedon’s work is certainly more serious in tone, humor is one of his trademarks. I don’t want to get too carried away with analysis or overstate what Adams was trying to do but I do think Mostly Harmless and the other Hitchhikers’ books are more than mere light entertainment.  Mostly Harmless is wildly entertaining and it is extremely well-written, smart, witty and yes, a little grim. But if the arts are always on some level an attempt to make sense of life, the universe and everything then the comic and the tragic must inevitably meet.

Douglas Adams died in May of 2001, he was 49. I’ve often wondered what he would’ve written had he lived longer. He indicated that he might write another Hitchhikers’ book, that perhaps he might’ve liked to end the series on a happier note. A sequel to Mostly Harmless has been penned by Eoin Colfer. I haven’t read that book yet and while I probably will at some point, I can’t imagine it will be quite the same as reading Adams. At any rate, when May 2nd rolls around, I’m still reminded of picking up that book that evening in Hilo 20 years ago, the days and months afterward as I read through the series.