heydays are passing

(7 march 2008)

i had high hopes for kurt andersen’s heyday. over-inflated, fool-heartedly high hopes, largely based upon a catchy cover. in this i greatly erred. it was supposed to be a “joyful, wild gallop through a joyful, wild time.” “a thrilling voyage.” “a dickensian calliope.” “fiction at its finest.” and yet, heyday was neither joyful nor wild. it was ponderous. it was wearisome. it was there will be blood minus the milkshake. in essence, it was beyond boring as dirt.

in the weeks since i finished it- as i went on a restorative gallop of my own through classic fiction- i’ve wrestled with what exactly was wrong with heyday. why didn’t it work? what was wrong with me that i thought it didn’t work when every critic from baltimore to banff alleged that it did? i think i’ve finally nailed it. and i think it has a lot to do with there will be blood.

perhaps this is naive, but i think a novel and/or a movie has to build up to something. it has to be going somewhere, no matter where and no matter how seemingly inconsequential. and it can’t just show you where it’s going- it has to take you along. this doesn’t mean there must be some great societal point (though if it’s trying to make one, it sure as hell better), but there does have to be an engaging element beyond a lone oil rig explosion or sending an arrow through the antagonist’s eye on the final page. and, for me, that’s what that film and this book came down to. those were the moments where i sat up and thought, at last! maybe we’re going somewhere! alas, we didn’t.

for a book trying to capture the frenetic energy of 1848 new york and a film trying to the depict the internal unrest of an admitedly deplorable character, both were oddly stagnant. as though andersen and anderson simply forgot to instill their work with the movement and agitation that should have been at the very heart of what they were trying to do. there was tension, yes. tension restrained to the extreme. and exhaustion. but no energy.

if there will be blood had ended at the scene in the church where daniel is baptized, i would have been a believer. i would have walked out of there blabbing on and on about what an unbelieveably incredible film that was. but it didn’t end there. it went on and on and on. and yet, it went nowhere. the same with heyday. collectively, the pair of them were the very definition of running to stand still. and i guess what we learn here is that does not work for me. i have to go places. i have no patience for standing still.

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