Saturday, April 24, 2010

Son of Steve - Sean Conway

Summary: Son of Steve, Sean Conways' debut novella, sits somewhere between prose and poetry, has no characters except for Jesus and Elvis, and talks about pop culture and sex, creating a sense of suspension in time and space. It isn't surprising that Sean is a film-maker: the pages read like highly evocative scenes or snap shots that bring us back to something primal, beyond categories and labels. If we could bring literature back to its deepest roots, it would probably look a lot like Son of Steve.

There is no story, no characters, nor an ending. As a young filmmaker, Sean creates images, evokes scenes, drills a hole through our bored collective unconscious with a sense of timeless worlds, nameless individuals, and desacralized spaces where we can at last get to the heart of things. He IS the Son of Steve. (Summary from publisher - image from revengeink.com - review copy courtesy of publisher (DVD not included and not reviewed))

My Review: Let’s get one thing straight right off—you will hate this book. It is pretentious, disgusting, perverse, crass, disjointed, ugly, morally bankrupt, often unintelligible, and occasionally boring.

Now that we have that out of the way, there’s something to be said for a book that is pretentious, disgusting, perverse, crass, disjointed, ugly, morally bankrupt, often unintelligible, and occasionally boring. Son of Steve does, in fact, achieve that rare literary quality, a clear and honest view into the unhallowed depths of the author’s mind—and, I suspect, the minds of more of us than would care to admit it. If seeing things “as they are,” without whitewashing or rationalization, is a mark of insight and wisdom, then this book has more to offer than appears at first sight. In this view, the book’s major failing is that it doesn’t have the patience to let its material develop, or the restraint to sort the well-putrified wheat from the chaff of the author’s mental processes. In attempting to be honest, it often verges over into mere stream-of-consciousness reporting of minutiae.

To reiterate, none of this means that you won’t hate Son of Steve—but if you have the proper where-angels-fear-to-tread mentality, you may find it worth reading regardless.

Star Rating: 3 stars. Expect to be offended.

Sum it up: The demons of one man's mind, dried and pinned like bugs in a collection, but without any labels.

5 comments:

Editor said...

Daniel,

I'm afraid I completely disagree. If you "hate" it, you don't get it. Conway is way ahead of the game here.

You say "the book doesn't have the patience to let its material develop". It is as developed as it needs to be, or should be. Re-read the summary. "There is no story, no characters, nor an ending." What needs developing?

Sweet Em said...

Editor - reread the review. He didn't say he hated it, he said "we" would hate it.

On this site a 3 is an average review. I think that Dan's review sounds pretty positive all things considered...

Daniel Nighting said...

Editor--To clarify my position:

First, hating or liking a book doesn't depend on whether the book is "ahead of the game" or not. Personally, I don't care to look at literature and self-expression as some game in which authors are trying to get ahead.

Second, he's not "way ahead of the game." Similar methods and themes have been being used throughout the twentieth century by a wide range of writers, from Allen Ginsberg on.

Third, "development," as I used it, does not mean adding more words, developing plot, etc. It has more to do with deepening the thoughts and perceptions behind the words. At times, was full of insight; at others, it was like tea that hadn't steeped long enough--it lacked the punch and bite it could have had.

Finally, as Em said, I didn't claim to hate the book--but given the general readership of this site, it's a fair call that most of the readers would find this book unbelievably offensive.

Editor said...

Sweet Em - I didn't phrase my thoughts particularly well. I meant "you" more as "one". My apologies.

Daniel - "ahead of the game" isn't a literal expression. I'm not talking of any 'game' or trying to get ahead. What I mean is that Conway is on the cutting edge of reintroducing the shocking honesty of a Finnegans Wake/James Joyce-style internal monologue. An honesty that shocks by its truthfulness to the outrageous goings-on in someone's mind.

I know what development means. But the fact that this is essentially a continued stream of consciousness means that the ideas within the book simply can't be developed any more. They are thoughts and perceptions at the moment of their conception. To attempt to further develop them would simply falsify them. I am surprised that you didn't find "punch" or "bite" in the rawness of these perceptions. That is what I meant by not getting it.

I can't help but feel that if you find the book offensive, you are reading it and interpreting it on too shallow a level. The point of the offensive words is that they shouldn't be noticed. They don't represent offensiveness here, just internalised expression.

Thank you.

Daniel Nighting said...

Finnegan's Wake was perhaps the most carefully and artfully crafted novel in modern literature; its apparent stream-of-consciousness honesty is the result of the most thorough and subtle artistry--artistry that is lacking from Son of Steve.

Conway's work is closer the Cliff's Notes version of Naked Lunch, minus Burrough's insight, imagination, and drug-fueled paranoia.
I gave it three stars because, unlike Burroughs or Joyce, it has nothing more to offer than unedited glimpses into one man's rather unexceptional psyche.

Note: Again, I was not offended by this work; I'm pretty jaded. But whatever the literary rationale, sentences like "Jesus is a member of the large penis internet support group" are not likely to win many friends on this blog.

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