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October 19, 1989 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1989-10-19

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01

Page 8 - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, October 19, 1989

Accidental

novelist

Russell Banks abandons visual for literary art

BY CAROLYN PAJOR
RUSSELL Banks' achievements and accolades reach as
far and wide as the places he writes about. His latest
novel, Affliction, has received critical acclaim on both
coasts and points in between. The New York Times
says this novel "breathes cold from every page" and
calls it "magnificently convincing." Banks has written
six novels and four books of short stories and was a
nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1986.
From blustery winters in New Hampshire to sticky
trailer homes in Florida to boats filled with bilgewater,
Haitians and rats in the waters near Jamaica, Russell
Banks writes about poverty. His characters are the peo-
ple one would see yet look through in hopes of finding
someone more pleasing to the eye, or at least someone
not so average. Poverty is the black dog lurking behind
the corner waiting for the chips to fall before it bites
again - and his characters can't escape it. Russell
Banks' successes have not come without a price: he
writes about what he knows. "I grew up in that kind of
environment," he says. "My family has spent many
generations trying to escape that condition. It isn't re-
ally an ideological commitment to start with... that's
what I end up with as a subject."
Banks continues, "What I want readers to do is to
imagine and come to respect the lives of people they
might otherwise have not imagined and might otherwise
have only treated as stereotypes." These are fair words
from a man who originally wanted to be an artist, a
painter. In his early 20s, he "came in by accident" and
found himself writing poems and stories, and that's
what he continued.
As the author of Searching for Survivors, Fa
Life, Continental Drift and Success Stories, Bank;

plains the difference between writing a short story and a
novel in terms of time: "A novel is inside the flow of
time, a short story takes a moment out, a moment that
looks both ways - forwards and backwards. A novel
imitates time, whereas a short story is just a snapshot."
His writing is bitterly emotional and bleak, though not
depressing. Readers come to an understanding of seem-
ingly thoughtless violent actions committed out of des-
perate urgency as Russell Banks leads us through the
minds of characters who try to escape some part of their
lives. With full blown sympathetic characters and com-
plex novels not easily reduced to a paragraph or two,
how is it, then, that Russell Banks can say he's "not
necessarily happy with what he's doing"?
Despite his Guggenheim fellowship, his many out-
standing awards for literature and his current teaching
position in the creative writing program at Princeton,
like any serious artist he's never finished nor adequately
pleased with his work. "It's almost an old saw to say
you don't ever finish anything, you abandon it, but ac-
tually it's true," he says.
He's currently immersed in another novel, and hav-
ing finished Affliction nearly a year ago, sees it to be
"full of flaws." But he doesn't think his writing will
change dramatically in the future, though he hopes it
will become "more emotionally and intellectually ma-
ture and coherent." He also hopes to be more
"artistically ambitious, writing bigger and better."
These words don't come as a surprise from a man whose
characters spend their lives yearning and seeking out a
better future. Though for Russell Banks, an auspicious
future will probably come easier than did his past.
RUSSELL BANKS will read today at 5 p.m. in Lorch
Auditorium.

Little Charlie and the Nightcats seem greasy, but don't be fooled: it's low-cholesterol oil. Biting social criticism
and searing emotions are conspicuous in their absence on the Nightcats' new album, The Big Break.

Little Charlie and the
Nightcats
The Big Break
Alligator
Hey, it's Little Charlie and the
Nightcats - champions of bub-
blegum blues, wonder group of the
marriage circuit - with their new
album, The Big Break. They're not
bad. They're not good. They aren't
much of anything. They are safe,
they are inoffensive, and they are
sponsored by the Miller Brewing
Company.
Little Charlie seems more like a
record executive's idea to promote a
middle-of-the-road blues band to a
soul-less white audience than a
group of hardcore blues artists. The
band plays a recycled brand of blues,
with little of the power or punch of
their predecessors. With guitar, bass,

drums and harmonica, they have all
the ingredients but half the meaning
of your regular blues band, sort of
"light blues." It's as if the Stray
Cats sat in on a Stevie Ray Vaughn
session and everyone was half
asleep. Every song is good for either
one guitar or harmonica solo of
equal length, each similar enough to
give ammunition to those people
who think that all blues music
sounds the same.
But there's no law which states
that all blues music has to be filled
with primal screams or biting social
commentary. Little Charlie just says
to those who cause him problems:
"that's OK, you'll get yours some-
day." He's clearly not trying to make
any sort of significant social state-
ment with his song "Hurry up and
Wait," where he smirkingly be-
moans: "I was late for my job/ down

to the wire/ stuck on the highway!
someone's changing a tire/ ooh if
there's one thing I hate, it's to hurry
up and wait." But with lyrical gems
like "I'm going to get up when I
wake up/ and go to sleep when I lies
down," it's hard to see what appeal
this band could have. Not quits
funny, not really driven, Little Char,,
lie and the Nightcats are, in a word,
dull.
With the existing blues musician
population either dead, aged, or do-
ing commercials for McDonalds, it's
up to blues-oriented labels such as;
Alligator to find and promote a new:
generation of talent. But in selecting
a band for its easy listening charac}
teristics rather than its ability, Alli-
gator is sterilizing over a hundred,
years of musical tradition.
-Bill Fink

A

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