Monday, December 6, 2010

The Petting Zoo by Jim Carroll

I can't believe it's been almost a month since I last posted anything. I guess I've been taking a bit of a break. But now I'm back (hopefully more regularly).

The Petting Zoo, which was released just last month, is Jim Carroll's first and last novel. He's of course published many volumes of poetry and two collections of his journals--the famous Basketball Diaries and the perhaps lesser known Forced Entries (I actually prefer the latter one). He died a little over a year ago, after turning in a draft and revising the first two parts of The Petting Zoo. A literary scholar was able to finish revising the novel based on Jim's detailed notes.

I'd seen him read part of this book about nine years ago, and according to his website, he first began reading pieces of it aloud in 1989. In other words, the book has been a very long time in the making, and I was really looking forward to reading it.

The protagonist, Billy Wolfram, is a painter who has achieved a high level of wealth and celebrity in the 1980s New York art world. Some say he's essentially a version of Jim Carroll without the sex, drugs, and rock n roll. Yes, Wolfram is a hugely successful artist...and a 38 year-old virgin, due to unresolved sexual neuroses dating back to his mother walking in on him during his first and only attempt at jerking off. (I've purposely left out a few amusing'll have to read it to find out the rest.)

I hate to say it, but I was disappointed with this book. It may be a result of others having to finish it for him, or, similarly, perhaps the book would have required a lot more rewriting on Carroll's part had he lived longer, but was published prematurely upon his death. The writing style feels flat, lacking the kind of poetic virtuoso one might expect from him, and the dialogue seems unnatural and a bit stilted at times. I'm also not sure how I feel about the talking, immortal raven that keeps appearing throughout the story (there seems to be an implication that it's the same one that knocked at Edgar Allan Poe's chamber door).

On a more positive note, the cover art was illustrated by Raymond Pettibon, which might be the only reason I'm keeping the book.

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