Tag Archives: mother

Son of Amity by Peter Nathaniel Malae

DEAR MALAE: I swear I offered this to a bunch of publications in the straight community but no one wanted it, at least not from me, so here it is on an insignificant blog. I tried! Feel free to use. –N

Peter Nathaniel Malae’s new book Son of Amity begins with themes familiar to his readers: violence, incarceration, cultures tangled and erased by poverty, hatred for the consumer and the less-dedicated, and perhaps the Californian writer’s greatest contribution to twenty-first century literature: an identifiable search for the use of masculinity in our time.

As before, the economy of description is refreshingly socio-economic. Malae’s mission to portray common people brings us undernourished, overfed, jelly-spined poor whites, but also dignified and convincing portraits of men forgotten in prison and in Bush’s Middle-East conflict, and women rejected, imprisoned, by the ignorance in their environments.

But this is no rerun of What We Are: like Jimmy Baca before him, the author’s own evolution since he disappeared into the “Pacific Northwest” makes the reader an attractive offer to evolve according to his characters’ examples. There are three males in this dialect-rendered story. Which is the titular Son of Amity?

Here Malae repurposes his previous characterizations to disarming effect. For a start the writer’s voice, mercifully, is separating from the narrator’s. Malae always demonstrates an ear for specific slang, something that really impresses academics, but in Son of Amity, especially the memories of prison, we finally get to observe what this slang, in its various pressure and quantity, really means between characters.

Central to the three adults’ seemingly-doomed cohabitation is a highly-realistic evolution of characters’ wills and desires, something unfit in What We Are’s immediacy. Starting with revenge for a rape, the characters’ common ground shifts under them as the victim of the violence takes the will to both choose forgiveness and transform the violence into a child: Malietoa to his Samoan uncle, Tophat to his veteran father, the latter crippled by the former.

The use for masculinity is found in a shared faith in family centered around the child Benji, and not in an act or a gesture. The outcast’s longing for a family to serve –and worth serving –in previous work has arrived. As What We Are’s exasperation before an expanded mind rouses similar feelings to Immigrants in Our Own Land, so this meditation on refocused life approaches the glorious beauty of Black Mesa Poems.

Throughout the book, Malae turns his previous work’s conceits against themselves using time and natural renewal: here we hopelessly serve our past even as the future offers us a ride without reservations, in this case the innocent child at the lead. The book’s greatest charm lies in watching the three adults reluctantly choose the boy’s inspiration over their baggage. Who, then, is the Son of Amity? I would argue that it’s the boy, and I propose that the narcissistic masses of this country read this book and follow their own Malietoa, their own Tophat.

Malae never neglects the portraiture of people trying to both live up to the past and make some way of living in the present. Perhaps the clearest symbols of this are Pika’s Samoan umu Thanksgiving turkey at the book’s finale and Michael’s worship of the Vietnam vets. But the conceit and the dignity lies in Sissy’s internal monologue throughout, in which the urban, feminist, progressive reader must coexist with the fact that Sissy’s post-rape decisions come from a need to move forward without any plan.

Highly recommended for those needing an immediate dose of reality.



Recommendation of Aronofsky’s Mother!

Felt it may be useful to someone to strongly recommend seeing Aronofsky’s new film Mother!, and commend it for almost hitting true surrealism. Obviously I’m not a film critic, but this may be useful yet, as I consider Mother! not be popcorn, but art.

The film is essentially a critique of the Will, definitely in the nietzschean sense, and not so simply a plea for mother earth, et cetera, as some better-circulated critics have proposed. Javier Bardem is the artist husband of Jennifer Lawrence’s architect, the latter of whom has rebuilt the husband’s burnt-up huge country manor. We learn throughout the development of the plot that “life itself” is threatened by the cost of the will of humans to create according to their own perceptions and appetites. The reader may disregard the reportedly partly-intentional comparison to Rosemary’s Baby, a marketing ploy that was vulgar, off-point and doubtlessly made up under a deadline.

The house that the wife inhibits is her own skin, as she bloodily explores whenever unwanted guests cause little gashes to appear in it. Aronofsky takes us under her skin, into the scary cellar, and then pulls the scares right when the audience thinks it needs one, only to show us that what matters now is what happens above the skin. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer deliver a hilarious metaphor for the disruption of one’s sense of safety, and the photography has the house darkening and yellowing with each disturbance, only clearing up to bright and white (the wife’s daylight bathroom is a sort of relief two thirds in) when the wife is pregnant and left alone.

Meanwhile the husband seems to nourish himself artistically from the chaos and destruction of the kitchen, but we all know that he suffers from a basic will to be needed and loved by his audience. Indeed one of the most effective elements of the film is that, when unwanted guests nightmarishly gain access to the house before the wife’s complaints, she is met with either incomprehension or rage, as if the universe did not contain a rule for ordering or understanding what she wants.

I commend the film highest, as mentioned, for coming close to surrealism. In the beginning, especially, I was getting huge hints of Gilman’s infinitely-interpretable Yellow Wallpaper, and until the end of the second act I was feeling the beating heart of Luis Buñuel’s long post-Mexico phase. I have no idea if Aronofsky intentionally reached out to grab hands with Buñuel and Lars von Trier, but if you’re going to get help, get help from the best, right? The dialogue and action effectively render the unconscious terror of having no privacy, of bearing alien responsibilities foisted upon us from nowhere, of being the stage for the will of others.

Lawrence has a lot of lifting to do, and she does it as quietly and wordlessly as possible, and I don’t blame her. Bardem works ultimately like an archetype, and that works. The real fun is in the hands of Pfeiffer and Harris, who stoke the insecurity of the two stars. Although Bardem’s character is the closest to a clef that the story is going to get, we are stuck in the film with Lawrence’s perspective, militantly photographed with her face at front and center, the plot elements beautifully whirling around her with a perfect balance of narrative force and the wife’s psychological echoes.

The film has rather a heavy shift in the third act; it’s not a tonal shift but rather a tonal acceleration, to put it synasthetically; some viewers may not go for unless in for some straightforward symbolism. For this reason I also caution the viewer not to spring for the Biblical reading, which simply is not enough nor any fun for the quality of this movie. The final scene elegantly closes the conceit about our will to have things as we imagine them, and what destruction it’s caused the world. I’ll leave the reader to figure out what it’s all modeled on.

Personally, I interpreted the incursion of the late-capitalist scarcity warzone into the couple’s house to be possibly an attempt by Aronofsky at a re-do of the somewhat awkward evolution-into-selfishness-equals-war riff at the finale of Noah, and I respect that. The final scene elegantly closes the conceit about our will to have things as we imagine them, and what destruction it’s caused the world. I’ll leave the reader to figure out what it’s all modeled on.

Ultimately I for one will give the film a lot of slack for some of its more decadent moments, because honestly I grew up watching Aronofsky, starting with Pi, I know how he works, and I’m a fan. But regardless, I encourage any lover of artistic effort to slide down to the cinema and keep the auteur in business, savoring the photography, the slices of film history and the wide variety of possible interpretations.