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Zeroville

by Steve Erickson
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Europa Editions
  • Publishing date: 01/11/2007
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9781933372396
  • ISBN: 1933372397

Synopsis

"Erickson is as unique and vital and pure a voice as American fiction has produced."--Jonathan Lethem

A film-obsessed ex-seminarian with images of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift tattooed on his head arrives on Hollywood Boulevard in 1969. Vikar Jerome enters the vortex of a cultural transformation: rock and roll, sex, drugs, and--most important to him--the decline of the movie studios and the rise of independent directors. Jerome becomes a film editor of astonishing vision. Through encounters with former starlets, burglars, political guerillas, punk musicians, and veteran filmmakers, he discovers the secret that lies in every movie ever made.

Questions for Steve Erickson

Jeff VanderMeer for Amazon.com: Could you describe where you are as you're answering these questions?

Erickson: At the moment I'm in my home office in Topanga Canyon, which I can see outside my window.

Amazon.com: How do you feel your fiction has changed over the years, beyond the changes that occur from acquiring greater mastery of technique?

Erickson: Well, being a novelist yourself, you probably understand this is something it's better for a writer not to think too much about. While I do believe I become a technically better writer over time, in others ways writing gets harder because inspiration is finite. On the other hand, though energy and inspiration diminish, experience grows--the theme of parents and kids, for instance, which lurked under the surface in earlier novels like Days Between Stations and Rubicon Beach and Arc d'X, has come to the forefront over the course of my last three novels including Zeroville, just because my own personal experience has become more first-hand.

Amazon.com: Because you've got more ways to tell a story now than when you were first published, does that also make it harder to write? Do you ever find yourself debating the merits of more than one approach to the same material?

Erickson: The material dictates the approach. I tell the stories in the way that feels natural to tell them. Certainly the last thing I want is to be "difficult." In my previous novel, Our Ecstatic Days, a lake has flooded Los Angeles and a young single mother believes it represents the chaos of the world that has come to take her small son. She dives down into the water to the hole at the bottom through which the lake is coming--and at the moment I wrote that scene, I had this idea she should "swim" through the rest of the novel, through the next 25 years of the story, and the reader sees this in the form of a single sentence that cuts through the rest of the text. A lot of people identified this as "experimental," but to me experimental fiction ultimately is about the experiment and I'm not interested in experiments for their own sake, and if anything I've always steered a bit clear of that kind of thing, because it seems gimmicky to play around with text rather than do the work of telling a story and creating characters. In the case of Our Ecstatic Days, it was just a way of conveying the world of that particular novel. A number of people have noted that Zeroville is more "linear" than the earlier novels but that was calculated only in the sense that I thought a novel about the Movies and why we love them (as opposed to a "Hollywood novel" about the movie business) should have the pop energy of a movie. People have mentioned how fast Zeroville reads--that's because I felt it should move the way a movie moves.

Amazon.com: What really sparked Zeroville? Was there a moment where you suddenly realized you had a story to tell?

Erickson: The idea was born in a short story I wrote for a McSweeney's anthology, but the novel really fell into place when the character of Vikar came into focus, when I got a handle on this guy who shows up in Hollywood in 1969 on what happens to be the day of the Manson murders, with a scene from George Stevens's A Place in the Sun tattooed on his head. He's identified by one of the other characters in the novel as not a cineaste but "cineautistic"--movies have become his religion after he's rejected the one his father imposed on him, and he sees movies through the eyes of an innocent. Once I had Vikar I had everything--the story, the approach, the perspective, the tone.

Amazon.com: How difficult was it to layer in all of the movie information that's in Zeroville? For example, you include several real movie people in the novel, sometimes anonymously so the reader has to guess who they are. Was that all there in the initial drafts?

Erickson: The whole novel wrote itself from beginning to end, including the film stuff. It was the easiest novel I've written. I almost feel like I can't take credit for it--it was like the universe said, Here, you worked pretty hard on all those other books, so we're giving you this one. You type, I'll dictate. If anything, when I went back over the novel, I took film stuff out. The stuff about movies had to support the story, it had to support the characters and be informed by them -- the novel couldn't just be a compendium of movies I happen to like. It's not a DVD guide.

Amazon.com: Did you know going in that this was going to be a very funny novel? And do you think reviewers have, in the past, missed elements of humor in your work, or is this new for you?

Erickson: I knew it was going to be funny once I knew who Vikar was. Once I knew we were going to tell the story pretty much from his vantage point, it couldn't help being funny. There are moments of humor in earlier novels like Tours of the Black Clock and The Sea Came in at Midnight that probably are so dry and dark that some people didn't understand they were funny. But with the exception of Amnesiascope, which generally is considered a funny novel, the humor usually hasn't been this overt.


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  • Astonishing
    From Amazon

    I just put the book down. My head is spinning. Haven't read anything like this in a while. If ever. The gentleman who gave it a one-star review and hates it and threw it away after only 50 pages is likely to find my fawning blather unfathomable. Whatever. I'm not even sure what to say about Zeroville, other than to warn you: you could hate it, too. It's fractured. It's unusual. It's literate. It's impressionistic. It's pop-cultural. It's funny. It's intense. It could be mere mind candy. It could make you really, really angry. It could set your world back to zero. It could make you a believer in Steve Erickson. I say: surreal homage to the movies by a man who probably has an unhealthy obsession with them and knows how to channel it for our reading pleasure. (For the record, I found it neither boring, nor nostalgic, and certainly not overly erudite--an evaluation that's kind of a head scratcher. Nor am I a "yupped out baby boomer." Far from it.) Especially if you love movies and aren't afraid of literary pretensions that stray from convention, spool it up.

  • Ah, to be a vexing stranger in Hollywood
    From Amazon

    So, is this a novel about how we are all narrowly focused on creating our own story from the things we accidently see? That we are all editors, creating our own language for what we select and reject. Is this a novel about how things mass produced still require personal interpretation? Is this a novel about how seeing is not the same as looking? Fabulous deconstruction of the great American novel. Well written. Fresh. Unique. But I have to admit that I didn't get the ending. That he really had his finger on something there, that he had the reader right by the throat, that he was about to say something truly profound about time and love. And he lost me.

  • Less Than the Sum of its Parts
    From Amazon

    I'd heard of Erickson's books, but never read anything by him until a friend gave this to me as a birthday present, knowing my love of books and film. It's an interesting novel, both easy to read and not at the same time. Set largelt amidst the Hollywood film industry of the 1970s and 80s, it's saturated with film references, but not really about film at all. Film is just used as a way to explore larger themes of -- among other things -- fate, communication, linearity, meaning, and belief. The story revolves around Vikar, a blank 20something who has fled his claustrophobic religious upbringing and studies at seminary for the world of cinema. He is one of those ultra-naive fictional characters who wander the world either not understanding it, or perhaps understanding it better than the rest of us. His only frame of reference with the rest of the world seems to be through films, and as a result, what little plot exists, is largely driven by Vikar's adventures both working on and watching films, as well as his strange relationship with a mysterious small-time actress (possibly the daughter of Luis Bu?uel) and her daughter. Being familiar with most of the film references sprinkled through the book, it's hard to imagine those less steeped in cinema enjoying the book very much. Not only are there lots of discussions of the meaning of particular scenes or films (including an interesting debate about the end of Casablanca), but the book is studded with real life Hollywood figures who are never named. The colorful writer/director John Milius pops up as an influential recurring character in Vikar's new life under the nickname "Viking Man," and those who are tuned in will recognize other Hollywood figures (including Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Brian DePalma, Robert DeNiro, Michael Cimino, and Margot Kidder bestowing some kindly fellatio). Over time, these allusions grow rather tiresome, as Erickson seems to coyly recognize that to use real names could be problematic (legally speaking), but can't resist the cameos. In any event, even if you're not a film buff/geek/aficionado, I would strongly suggest at least familiarizing yourself with a few key films before starting the book. There's A Place in the Sun, a scene from which is tattooed on Vikar's head and becomes a running motif. There's Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, a lost cut of which becomes central to his quest. And there's Goddard's Alphaville, from which the book's title and circular construction comes. Similarly, one's enjoyment of the book may well be enhanced by reading two acclaimed histories of the "New Hollywood" cinema of that era, Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and Mark Harris's Pictures at a Revolution. There's a lot of other stuff besides film mixed in as well, such as the Manson murders and the rise of the New York and LA punk scenes (again, with bands that remain unnamed but recognizable, such as X and The Germs). However, by the end I felt much as I did at the end of another notable experimentalist novel, Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves -- rather unmoved by the whole enterprise. Both books contain lots of interesting ideas, neat scenes, solid writing, but are somehow less than the sum of their parts. A much more interesting work of experimental fiction that revolves around Hollywood cinema is David Thomson's Suspects.

  • American Fiction at the end of Empire
    From Amazon

    This is another in the long list of boring, nostalgic and overly erudite books in a long string of them in contemporary American fiction. In this case the erudition is of the sort only a yupped out baby boomer could love. I made it through fifty pages before closing it with a thud, never to be opened again. If fiction is any true indication of a culture, and judging by the influential people and publications that liked it, it is, we don't have a lot of hope for what we'll leave the archaeologists. A very bad book. Don't waste your time or money, no matter what Thomas Pynchon says.

  • Zeroville
    From Amazon

    This piece of art is written in a style so original and with such great mystery that it becomes a cinematic experiance right in your hands.Hard to put down and it dares you to read page after page without a rest.

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