The reason we want stories to make sense is because stories are a way of speaking about reality – and reality makes sense. This is a wonderful thing about reality that we don’t appreciate enough. When you see something in reality that doesn’t make sense it’s only because you don’t know enough about it. You naturally want to find out more in order to find out what sense it makes.
In the wake of reading Andrew Klavan’s The Nightmare Feast, I decided to pick up his collection of essays and speeches from last year, The Art of Making Sense.
In four pieces, entitled, “Can We Believe?”, “Can we Be Silent in a World Gone Mad?”, “The Art of Making Sense,” and “Speaking Across the Abyss: Building Culture in an Age of Unbelief,” he discusses the crisis of western, post-Christian civilization from the perspective of a creative, Christian mind.
I was delighted – but hardly surprised – by the way Klavan constantly returns to the central idea, that reality exists, that it is created by God, and that in the end the truth glorifies God. Knowing this, the Christian artist should be fearless.
I, of course, am not fearless. But ideas like this encourage and delight me. I enjoyed The Art of Making Sense very much, and recommend it. Especially for Christians in the creative arts.
If you recall the plot of the previous book, Another Kingdom, Austin Lively is a pretty unremarkable Hollywood loser, working as a studio script reader. All that really distinguishes him is his dysfunctional background – neglectful academic parents who ignored him and his little sister but heaped attention on his golden boy older brother. Only recently has he learned the full extent of their betrayal – they are part of a world-wide conspiracy organized by a power-hungry multibillionaire, Serge Orosgo.
But Austin has chanced to get a look at a rare manuscript, a book called Another Kingdom, which Orosgo will go to any lengths to get his hands on. Austin’s brief reading of it somehow bestows on him the power to pass through portals into a medieval world called Galiana. In Galiana, Austin has become a knight and been sent on a quest to deliver a plea for aid to the distant Emperor. On the way he must fight monsters and magicians and sinister illusions (interrupted, of course, by unexpected forays back into our own world, generally just at the moment someone is trying to kill him). In our own world, after somehow eluding multiple assassination attempts, Austin comes face to face with Orosgo himself, and draws closer to locating his sister, who is in hiding with the manuscript.
Andrew Klavan is a past master at plotting an exciting story – readers of The Nightmare Feast will need to make time to catch their breath, because the author gives them none. Granted, as a fantasy snob who approves very few authors besides Tolkien, Howard, and myself, I found the fantasy elements just a little thin, though at least the horse gets a rubdown this time out. Anyway, stuff keeps happening so fast, who has time to nitpick details?
I got a kick out of The Nightmare Feast, and eagerly await the next volume. Not for younger kids.
Though I am not least among Andrew Klavan’s fanboys, I’m not a huge fan of Young Adult fiction, being a serious grownup and stuff. So I skipped Nightmare City when it came out. Now I find it on sale on Kindle, so I gave it a shot. I’ve got to say, it’s some ride.
Tom Jordan is a high school student, a reporter on his
school paper. Along with his mother he’s still mourning the death of his
brother, who died in service in the Middle East.
Then one morning he awakens to a world right out of a horror
movie. His home is empty, his mother has disappeared, and the house is
surrounded by a strange white fog, in which malevolent, zombie-like creatures
wander. They attack Tom when he goes outside, but seem to be restrained from
entering his house – at first.
A message from Tom’s dead brother is broadcast from a television set. There’s something he’s supposed to do, but he doesn’t understand. Then his girlfriend appears, urging him to go to an old ruined monastery above the town. There’s also a voice he hears from time to time, which he learns – almost at the cost of his life – not to trust.
His searching will take him out into the fog, to his school,
and to the old monastery. Along the way he’ll realize that he’s dreaming – but it’s
a serious dream. The choices he makes here will have life and death
consequences. There’s a story to be reported, and only Tom can report it.
I wasn’t sure what to think of Nightmare City at first. The beginning read like a standard teenagers vs. zombies movie script – lots of scares and chases and gore, not a lot of substance. But that was just the hook. The story got deeper and deeper as it proceeded, and in the end it was profound and deeply moving.
Reviewers compare Nightmare City to Stephen King, but I’d say it’s more like Dean Koontz. And that’s a good thing. I highly recommend Nightmare City, for teens and adults both.
I’d been told that Hollywood was where you went if you wanted to sell your soul to make movies. I went, but I never sold my soul. No one would buy it. I just got tired of carrying it around.
As a fantasy writer myself, I resent the way an interloper, like thriller writer Andrew Klavan, can just waltz in and write a compelling fantasy without (apparently) breaking a sweat or learning the secret handshake.
I comfort myself by finding a few nitpicks in my generally
The hero of Another Kingdom is Austin Lively, a lowly Hollywood “story analyst.” A story analyst reads unsolicited scripts, and novels under consideration for script development, for Hollywood studios. Austin wrote a very good script once, but it died in development purgatory. Now he just gets by, a Hollywood drone, the despair of his high-achieving family.
But one day he has an impulse to re-read a book he “analyzed”
a while back. The author withdrew it from consideration, but it stuck in his
mind. He can’t find it on Amazon, and no bookseller seems to have it. On his
way to check out another possibility, he walks through a doorway…
And finds himself in a tall castle window, teetering over the edge. He has a bloody dagger in his hand, and a beautiful woman lies dead, stabbed to death, on the floor behind him. Armed men break in and arrest him, dragging him off to a dungeon. There he nearly loses his mind with fear, until the guards come to take him away for torture. As he passes through the door again, he is transported back to Los Angeles…
Where he soon finds himself being hunted by a sexually
ambiguous hit man, who works for a billionaire – who just happens to be the man
who employs his father, his mother, and his brother. Who also owns the studio
where Austin works.
Somebody will be killed, and Austin will be blamed. And all
the while, at uncontrollable intervals, when he least expects it, Austin will
be dropped back into the world of Another Kingdom, where he is now part of the
resistance to a tyrannical government, fighting to bring back the rightful
Each time he passes into Another Kingdom, he learns
something – something that helps him survive in the “real world” of Los
Angeles. And gradually he matures, becoming the man he always wanted to be, but
never believed he could be.
Because this is Klavan, I assume Another Kingdom is Christian fantasy. But it’s not like your ordinary Christian fantasy (not even mine). There’s foul language, and sex scenes without any reference to Christian morality. I’m expecting the lessons to be deeper, and to become apparent later in the trilogy.
I had a few quibbles, as I mentioned. The medieval fantasy world of Another Kingdom seems to me pretty much pro forma, a city boy’s imagination. It lacked verisimilitude, for me. I don’t expect a medieval manor house to have glass doors (too expensive and fragile). A horse is lent to the hero, and all he does with it is ride it – he doesn’t feed it or unsaddle it or rub it down or check its feet. It’s just there for his use, like a car.
But the trademark Klavan storytelling delights are all here –
the action never lets up, and one deadly peril follows the other in breathtaking
style. This book will not bore you, not for one moment. I recommend it (with
cautions for adult stuff) and look forward to the rest of the trilogy.
While reading Andrew Klavan’s autobiographicalThe Great Good Thing (which I reviewed a couple weeks ago) I was reminded of his novel The Uncanny, which I had enjoyed a great deal, though I understand that opinion isn’t universal. I thought I’d read and review it again, even though I’ve already reviewed it here.
The story is of Richard Storm, a Jewish American movie producer who has made a fortune doing horror films. After hearing shocking medical news, he has traveled to England to see the locations that inspired his love of the horror genre. There, while reading a story called “Black Annie” out loud at a Christmas party, he beholds – and falls in love with – an Englishwoman named Sophia Endering. Then she walks out of the house and out, apparently, of his life. But he will meet her again, as he assists an elderly English woman friend, Harper Albright, in chasing down the origins of the Black Annie story. That story shares elements with other legends and ballads, and inspired Richard’s own movies. The truth of the legend carries a threat with it, that of a monomaniacal cult leader with a macabre plan for the future of humanity.
On a second reading, I can see how some critics might find fault with The Uncanny. When I first read this book, I marveled at how the various story elements clicked together to set up an inexorable climax. But some might find that plot choreography implausible, as depending too much on coincidence. I think the coincidences are just the point. “The Uncanny” of the title is more than a feeling or a setting – it’s a force operating in the world. Klavan wrote the book as he was beginning to recognize the real existence of the supernatural. It may be that people resistant to that idea might find The Uncanny unpalatable.
Anyway, I liked it a lot. Cautions for language and sexual situations.
(As an added note, information Klavan has provided in his blog posts indicates that the Harper Albright character was based on a real woman he knew, who was an aunt of the actress Olivia Wilde.)
For years, maybe most of my life, I had languished in that typical young intellectual’s delusion that gloom and despair are the romantic lot of the brilliant and the wise. But now I saw: it wasn’t so…. The hungry can’t eat your tears. The poor can’t spend them. They’re no comfort to the afflicted and they don’t bring the wicked to justice. Everything useful that can be done in the world can be done in joy.
Has Andrew Klavan written Surprised by Joy for the 21st Century? I’m not qualified to say. But I will say The Great Good Thing is a wonderful book, a book in the great tradition of spiritual autobiographies like those of Lewis and St. Augustine – but with a modern edge.
You already know I’m wholly sold out to Andrew Klavan as a writer. He may be the best author of mystery/thrillers alive. You probably also know that he converted to Christianity from secular Judaism a few years back. In Klavan’s view these two facts aren’t unconnected. As he internalized the elements of storytelling, he reports, he was drawn ever closer to eternal truths.
Klavan tells us of his youth – economically comfortable – in a Jewish neighborhood in Great Neck, Long Island. His family seemed normal – he himself believed it was normal – but in fact it was deeply dysfunctional. His father was angry and a bully. His mother was a disengaged, frustrated social climber. The first real motherly love he experienced was from a Christian Ukrainian nanny, and her influence lingered. A smart but lazy kid, Drew Klavan faked his way through school and then college, buying the assigned books but never reading them, bluffing in classroom discussions and on tests. Continue reading ‘The Great Good Thing,’ by Andew Klavan→
But perhaps most important for a novelist who insisted that ideas should make sense, Christ came to me in stories. Slowly, I came to understand that his life, words, sacrifice, and resurrection formed the hidden logic behind every novel, movie, or play that touched my deepest mind.
I was reading a story when that logic finally kicked in. I was in my 40s, lying in bed with one of Patrick O’Brian’s great seafaring adventure novels. One of the characters, whom I admired, said a prayer before going to sleep, and I thought to myself, Well, if he can pray, so can I. I laid the book aside and whispered a three-word prayer in gratitude for the contentment I’d found, and for the work and people I loved: “Thank you, God.”
“But Klavan is not only a provocateur—he’s also, Stephen King says, ‘the most original American novelist of crime and suspense since Cornell Woolrich.’ And Werewolf Cop (so I say) is his best book yet, one that starts with a rush and never lets up, dark and funny, with the bittersweet taste of the knowledge of good and evil.” John Wilson of Books and Culturepraises Andrew Klavan and his latest novel–naturally.
He parked in a little neighborhood near the service road. He sat behind the wheel with his eyes shut, his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose. He told himself that this would pass. He’d track Abend down. He’d “confront” the dagger, whatever that meant. After that, he’d be free to turn himself in or die or… do something to make this stop. Meanwhile, though…. The guilt and horror were like thrashing, ravenous animals in him. Guilt and horror – and grief too. Because he’d lost something precious, something he’d barely known he had: he’d lost his sense of himself as a good person. Even death wouldn’t restore that. Nothing word.
As you know if you’ve been following this blog for a while, I’m a confirmed fanboy when it comes to Andrew Klavan. I discovered him after he’d become a conservative, but before he became a Christian. I consider him one of the foremost thriller writers – and one of the best prose stylists – of our time.
Still, although I’ve praised all the books he’s written since then (specifically since the Weiss-Bishop novels, which I consider unparalleled) I’ve honestly thought he’s been kind of treading water, not quite sure where to go with his art.
Who’d have thought he’d hit his next home run with a horror-fantasy book? But Werewolf Cop, in spite of its William Castle title, is an amazing reading experience. Klavan has moved in on Dean Koontz’s turf, and done the genre proud.
Zach Adams is the hero of the book and the titular werewolf cop. He’s a Texas native relocated to New York City, where he works for a shadowy government police agency called “Extraordinary Crimes.” Along with his partner, “Broadway Joe” Goulart, he’s become a legend and a sort of a celebrity. He has a beautiful wife and a family he loves. But his life isn’t as great as people think it is. He’s worried about his partner, who has come under suspicion for corruption. He’s afraid of being blackmailed by a woman over a mistake he made. And he’s got the murder of a gangster by a mysterious, almost legendary European criminal to solve.
And that’s before he gets mauled by a werewolf.
I could quibble a little about the fantasy element in this story – werewolves here are pure Universal Pictures, rather than the genuine folklore article. But Klavan mines that old movie scenario for amazing psychological – and spiritual – insights. I was riveted from the first page to the last, and deeply moved at the same time.
You should be cautioned – there’s rough language, as in all Klavan’s books, and the gore element is what you’d expect in a werewolf story.
But if you can handle that, and wish to see old material raised to new levels, Werewolf Cop has my highest recommendation.
The movie project about America’s worst serial killer is moving forward with the announcement that Andrew Klavan will write the script. He says the challenge will be writing a movie that people will want to see, because the base story is almost too repulsive. He tells NRO what’s most important about the Gosnell story:
I’m a crime writer. It’s a great crime story. But you know, I notice I’ve gone through this whole interview without saying the words “abortion” or “abortionist.” But that’s a part of it too, a central part. I’m in a sort of — I won’t say “unique” but certainly strange position on this. I’m a natural-born libertarian. With every fiber of my being, I want people to live the lives they want to live, whether it suits me or not. You want to be gay? Have a good time. You want to condemn gays? Knock yourself out. You want to dress up as Beyonce and get a tattoo of Louisiana on your forehead? I’m the guy who’ll buy you a drink and say, “Nice tat, Yonce.” I know a lot of women who’ve had abortions — people I like and love. I know a lot of people who are pro-abortion, likewise. But moral logic has convinced me that this is wrong — more than wrong – as wrong as a thing can be. It’s not about your feelings versus mine. It’s not about social conservatism. It’s not about libertarianism. And it’s not about feminism either or “women’s health care.” What nonsense that is. It’s an actual question of good versus evil. And listen, in the end, that’s what all great stories are about.
The death of James Garner this weekend has affected me more than is reasonable. I certainly didn’t know the man, and we very likely wouldn’t have gotten along if we’d met. He was a lifelong lefty, and by all accounts a pacifist. His favorite movie of his own was “The Americanization of Emily,” an anti-war film whose message (as I recall it) was that anybody who fought in World War II was a chump.
I read Andrew Klavan’s laudatory post today, along with our friend S. T. Karnick’s more equivocal one. Klavan sees Garner’s Maverick and Rockford characters as laudable examples of American individualism, lost today in a flood of cop shows. Karnick finds the anti-heroism of those same characters a sign of cultural decline.
For me, although I like Maverick, The Rockford Files is a personal touchstone. I consider it the best network detective show ever produced in America. Over a six year run the characters remained lively (often very funny), the acting excellent, and the scripts only slipped a little at the end.
I read a critique once that described the Jim Rockford character as “pusillanimous.” I don’t agree. What he was, in my view, was a believable good guy. Unlike the standard American TV hero, he had no illusions of invincibility (you could sometimes detect the limp that came from Garner’s real life bad knees). Like any sensible man in the real world, he didn’t fight if he could talk his way out, and he’d run away if he had a chance. Because fights with other guys are rarely a good idea. But when he had no choice, or when a principle, or a friend or client, was threatened, Jim stood up and gave as good as he got.
The relationships made the show work. Jim’s father (the great Noah Beery, Jr.) loved him dearly and worried about him, and Jim clearly reciprocated. Nevertheless they nagged and teased each other all the time, and did not hesitate to trick each other out of a free meal or a tank of gas. Jim’s old prison buddy Angel (Stuart Margolin) was a brilliant addition – a man with no redeeming qualities whatever, but Jim remained loyal to him. We never knew why, but we loved him for his grace. His lawyer, the lovely Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett) admitted she was in love with him, but had accepted the fact that the guy couldn’t be domesticated. And Sgt. Dennis Becker of the LAPD (Joe Santos) put up with a lot of flack from the department in order to maintain a sometimes stormy friendship with the low-rent PI. It was an ensemble effort, and a thing of beauty (by the way, I pulled all those actors’ names out of my memory without consulting Wikipedia, which will give you an idea how many times I’ve watched the credits).
The rusty trailer on the beach at Malibu. The copper-brown Pontiac Firebird. The wide-lapelled 1970s sport coats. The gun in the cookie jar. The answering machine. It all felt, if not like home, like a friend’s home to which we were welcome once a week. It meant a lot to me. Still does. I watch it every Sunday on the MeTV broadcast channel.
Jim Rockford made me want to be a better man. And it didn’t seem impossible to do it his way.
I’m not sure I want to live in an America without James Garner in it. We take ourselves too seriously already.
Today, Andrew Klavan announced the release of his new young adult thriller, Nightmare City. In an interesting post on his approach to writing for that market, he makes some cogent points:
Criticize the selling of self-destructive behavior to the young and you’re “puritanical,” or “slut-shaming,” or being “unrealistic about the modern world.” But in fact, this effort to normalize the degraded is itself perverse in the extreme. It’s the incarnation of that imp within who urges us to do ill to what we love the best: ourselves and our children. The people who peddle this trash curse those who dare to criticize them so loudly precisely because they know they are doing wrong and can’t stop themselves. Believe me: the person who accuses you of “slut-shaming,” is herself deeply ashamed.
The term “The Imp of the Perverse” is a reference to story by Poe.
The controversy over Andrew Klavan’s praise for Game of Thrones rumbles on, and I follow it with the fascination of a reality show fan, except for wishing both sides well.
A few days back I linked to Klavan’s column at PJ Media, “Eyes Wide Shut: Christians Against Art.” In the course of an argument – with which I generally agree – that Christians need to produce art that seriously addresses the real world, rather than some PG world we’d like to believe in, he mentions his own fondness for the HBO series, “Game of Thrones,” seeing it, apparently, as the sort of thing we ought to be trying to produce ourselves (though I’m sure he wouldn’t insist on including all the skin). In my own response, I expressed my own deep disillusionment with “Game” author George R. R. Martin’s books, a disillusionment which has prevented me from watching a single episode.
On Monday Dave Swindle, another PJ Media writer, responded to Klavan’s article in a similar vein:
You’ve known me since not long after I started editing full time. I was 25 and was only a defense hawk and fiscal conservative but still “socially liberal.” Since then, for a variety of reasons (particularly my return to belief in God), I’ve come further in my ideological shift. I’m genuinely embarrassed by some of the socially conservative positions I find myself now arguing. Never in a million years did I foresee myself as the type that would ever side with those cautioning against pornography’s downsides and the “shocking” content in art. You’ve talked in the past about how you disagree with our mutual friend Ben Shapiro about his Orthodox Judaism-inspired approach to culture and sex. I used to also — and I still disagree with Ben from time to time on issues and tactics (particularly on gay marriage. This is a theological difference deriving from an interpretation of scripture. He and I will just have to keep arguing about it). But on the fundamental issue, the social conservatism he explicates from his traditional reading of the Torah is correct: sex is sacred. It’s impossible to have “casual sex” with someone — every sexual act is transformative. I came to this understanding differently than him, though, through first-hand experience and painful mistakes.
Andrew Klavan posted a thoughtful article today called “Eyes Wide Shut: Christians Against Art” which ought to spark some discussion. Klavan is rare among Christian fiction writers in that he learned his craft first, and then embraced the Faith. That places him in what must be at times an awkward position – he knows what makes for a good story, and sometimes that’s something that his fellow believers don’t like.
An artist’s job — even if he’s a Christian artist — is not to sell Jesus, it’s to depict life truly. A Christian’s faith is that Christ lives in real life, not only in pastel greeting cards with Easter bunnies on them. Thus any honest and good work of art should be capable of strengthening a believer in his belief — even if it strengthens him by challenging him, by making him doubt and then address those doubts.
Art only goes wrong when it lies. Pornography is so deadening (and so addictive to some!) because it depicts human intercourse without humanity — something that never occurs in real life, not ever. Most bad art does something similar — and some good art includes dishonest moments that need to be confronted and rebuked.
But good art can be about absolutely anything and still lift us heavenward….
I can’t, frankly, share his approval of the Game of Thrones series, but I do so with fear and trembling, fully aware that Klavan understands stories at a much deeper level than I do. Still, after reading the first four GOT books, I grew wholly disillusioned with George R. R. Martin’s (to me) cynical and nihilistic approach. If I were to watch the Game of Thrones series (I haven’t), my only motivation would have to be seeing the female nudity, because I can’t work up any other.
Klavan might be comforted somewhat – though the example is an old one – to read the Science Fiction Fantasy Writers of America’s current Bulletin, which includes what may be the last “Resnick & Malzberg Dialogue.” (See my Wednesday post.) Barry Malzberg reminisces, in view of recent attempts to muzzle the two of them: Continue reading Sticky questions on Christian art→