By MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & G & lt;/span & et Lit!? It's like we can't get enough lit around here this week. Three marquee writers will parachute into town, popping up at readings with fictive fists pounding and metaphorical guns blazing.
In a kind of citywide cage match for literati, Chuck Palahniuk's Buster Casey (from Rant) will duke it out with Sherman Alexie's Rowdy (the angry sidekick from Absolutely True Diary) -- and then both of them will take on some of Jess Walter's Mobbed-up wise guys from Citizen Vince. Think of it as Spokane's literary Fight Club.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & s for the main event -- "Spokane Is Reading" -- it's more like Spokane is snoozing. Sure, at Walter's dual appearances next Thursday, groups of us will assemble to discuss a book written by one of our own. And maybe Citizen Vince -- a violent, funny, thoughtful novel about reforming a derailed life -- will inspire some personal refashioning in a few listeners. But if life's a banquet, most of us are eating straight out of the can.
One of Walter's characters in the novel -- a Mafia hit man accustomed to New York cuisine -- can't believe that Spokane's sheep-people buy their burgers by the bagful: "That's what's wrong with this town, right there," he says. "Everyone here is so cheap, they don't deserve a decent meal. You people would line up to eat gravel and tree bark if you could get two for one."
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & f you're one of those who think the event ought to be called "Spokane Would Be Reading (If Only There Were Time), here -- in the Great Northwest tradition of bargain-hunting -- is an excerpt from Citizen Vince. Brief and delicious, it's like biting into a hamburger. For free.
It's Nov. 3, 1980 -- the day before Ronald Reagan defeated both Jimmy Carter and John Anderson for the presidency. It's morning in America, and Vince Camden, having taken decisive steps to refashion his life, is waking up too.
Vince walks with his head up, staring at the tops of the buildings -- a quick architectural survey to record it all -- the profiles of converted brick tenements, the handful of decent office buildings, and his vote for the best structure in Spokane, the nineteen-story, terraced Deco mass of the Paulson Building. There are a few other decent ones, sure -- the County Courthouse is impressive and the Davenport Hotel is nice, though the locals' affection for a fading old hotel is just a little bit over-the-top. Vince guesses there must be a hotel just like it in every city in America -- every city with its own tiny Plaza. He steps into P.M. Jacoy, the corner newsstand, and buys a good cigar for later. Checks his watch: quarter to six. First thing to kill is time.
Vince angles down Sprague Avenue and the best line of bars in the city. A person clings to the late sun of August and September, but when the fall turns, this early darkness is a nice surprise. Heels click on the cold, shimmering sidewalk. Vince walks past a couple of good candidates before turning into a hotel lounge with a small crowd and a color TV above the bar. He grabs a stool -- amazing how the feet fall naturally against a bar railing -- and catches the bartender's attention. "Beam and Coke."
When the guy delivers, Vince makes his pitch: "You think we could watch the news?"
The bartender looks from Vince to the TV, on a shelf above a rack of cashews and chips, jars of pickled eggs and sausage. "You kidding? It's Monday night. I touch that TV and I'll lose my arm." On the TV, Cleveland's quarterback Brian Sipe is warming up; Cosell is suggesting that he has a chance to break the Browns' career passing record tonight.
"The election's tomorrow," Vince says. "Come on. Ten minutes of news. Then we can turn it back to the game. What do you say?"
There are eight other men in the place, six of them saddled at the bar like Vince. One of them, a guy in a spackled sweatshirt and worn painter's pants, leans forward and catches Vince's eye. "We don't come down here to watch the news. We could watch the news at home."
The bartender is amused by the exchange. He stretches his hands out on his considerable gut and says to Vince, "Tell you what, friend. You find me one other guy in here wants to watch the news and I'll turn the TV for ten minutes."
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & V & lt;/span & ince gets his wish by persuading a man in the bar -- "aging like a farm kid or a boozy lawyer ... boyish and jowly," who sounds "like he's talking with a hunk of steak in his mouth." He's a congressman up for re-election whose last name starts with F.
Later on, Vince will vote for that same congressman. Because that's what citizens do: They don't steal from people or hurt them. They play by the rules. Citizen Vince is about making all our lives better.
"Spokane Is Reading" presents Jess Walter discussing Citizen Vince on Thursday, Oct. 18, at 1 pm at North Spokane Library, 44 E. Hawthorne Rd., and at 7 pm at the Masonic Temple, 1108 W. Riverside Ave. Visit www.spokaneisreading.com or call 444-5307.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & t Saturday night's reading, CHUCK PALAHNIUK is going to unbutton his shirt and expose a stomach wound, then rip away the stitches, reach inside himself and splatter the stage with gobs of spleen. The lectern will drip dangling ropes of intestine.
Have you fainted yet? Lots of Palahniuk fanboys already have, which nicely perpetuates the ick factor of his eight novels' philosophical gross-out contests.
His newest, Rant, is told in short-attention-span, postmodern snippets -- hundreds of short passages from a dizzying multitude of perspectives -- all exposing different facets of Buster Casey, one of those regular-seeming kids who likes to spend his nights hunting down people, infecting them with rabies and then running them over with his car.
Sharing the bill with Palahniuk is Portland writer MONICA DRAKE, presenting her debut novel Clown Girl. Sniffles has just purchased Balloon Tying for Christ (mostly because it's cheap) and hopes to recreate the Pieta "in a four-balloon extravaganza like a tangled link of sausages, or a Japanese bondage trick." Drake's sad-clown act, however, aims at more than just irreverence; once Sniffles gets involved in "corporate clowning" and self-abasement, Drake's novel is exploring the way all artists pit their integrity against selling out.
SHERMAN ALEXIE's young-adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian defines the parameters of your typical adolescent misfit: flawed parents, playground bullies, sadistic teachers, schoolboy crushes, and huge, inflamed nasal zits.
Except that Arnold "Junior" Spirit is atypical: He's from the rez, and he's trying to fit into a white kids' world. In Alexie's autobiographical account, the rich kids live in a big town like, um, Reardan, and Dad is usually, well, drunk. Full of pain and curiosity and jokes, Alexie's Diary reads the way loner kids think.
Chuck Palahniuk reads from Rant and Monica Drake presents Clown Girl on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 7:30 pm. Sherman Alexie discusses The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian on Tuesday, Oct. 16, at 7:30 pm. Free. Auntie's Bookstore, 402 W. Main Ave. Visit www.auntiesbooks.com or call 838-0206.