25 Points: Panorama City

pc_cover_smallPanorama City
by Antoine Wilson
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
292 pages / $24.00 buy from Amazon








1. Panorama City is narrated by Oppen Porter, begins with the death and burial and unburial of his father, deals much with working in fast food restaurants, a suspect Christian coffee shop, and a beautiful psychic; the book primarily chronicles a forty day period when Oppen lived with his aunt in Panorama City. There is something Biblical about it.

2. The book is a monologue. Each section is divided up into paragraphs. There is a space between each paragraph. Oppen, on what he expects to be his deathbed, is trying to record his collected experience for the benefit of the son he is about to have. He is talking into a cassette recorder; you can tell he is talking very fast, through nearly the whole book it seems like he is going to run out of air.

3. The sentences in this book sprawl, stretch, snap, expand, loop, twirl, and collapse back in on themselves like exploding stars.

4. There is a scene in which a character falls through a ceiling. It is probably worth reading the whole book just for that scene.

5. Usually when people say that a book demanded to be read, or reached out and grabbed them by the throat, or got them in a chokehold, or some related metaphor for attention-grabbing, I shrug my shoulders. Not every good book demands to be read. In fact, a book has never demanded for me to read it—and this is what is cool about books. They’re not loud; they have no quirky camera cuts. All books, at least those in traditional form, are handheld, but unless you have gotten your book very wet the text stays exactly in the same spot on the page no matter what angle from which you look at the book. This is good.

6. Panorama City split me open. It is full of beauty; it is full of truth. I think John Keats would’ve liked it.

7. This book demands to be read, #5 be damned.

8. I’ve heard that one of the main pleasures of reading good fiction is that of recognition but I haven’t heard many people express that it can be one of the chief pains of reading fiction, too. I felt like the book was examining me.

9. This book is full of characters that spout what seems like cheap wisdom that instead actually turns out to be pretty fucking wise. Oppen Porter should speak for himself:

10. “The revelation of an eternal soul should occasion drinking of beer and looking at the sky, Paul’s words, because word eternal means, above all, that we have time.” I wish more religious people would realize this. I wish I could realize this.

11. “When I was a boy I would sometimes pretend that a catastrophe had wiped all other people from the earth. I pictured not having to go to school, and instead going into town and picking out any bicycle from the shop and riding it up and down the aisles of the grocery store and eating whatever I wanted to eat. The pretending stopped, usually, when your grandfather’s voice reminded me I was not alone, your grandfather’s voice calling me to breakfast. But somewhere along the line he stopped calling me to breakfast, he started staying in bed through breakfast, and so I could keep the pretending going past the door of my room, past the porch, even keep pretending as I rode my bicycle to school, until I saw the first car cruise past in the distance or someone in their driveway fetching the newspaper. For a while it was thrilling to imagine having the world to myself. If there’s nobody, there’s nobody to tell you what to do. But the thrill wore off, Juan-George, the thrill turned into something else, which was that I needed to feel the presence of other human beings, even if it meant I couldn’t do whatever I wanted anymore.”

12. This book is an avalanche. Be careful.

13. “At first [the Christmas lights] bothered him as too festive for sober thought, his words, but then he realized that all the colors added up to white, and that the separation of colors was conducive to splitting the brilliant white glow of revelation into individually colored bands of thought.” The logic here is so screwy, so beautifully odd, that I wanted to immediately purchase Christmas lights and hang them up all around my house.

14. I had an apartment in Seattle once that had Christmas lights hung up all around. It cheered me up quite a bit.

15. “Paul explained that nonthinkers, those who weren’t going to move history forward in any way, those who preferred to let others do their thinking for them, loved the term slippery slope, he explained that slippery slope was a favorite term among those who wanted to erase distinctions between discrete things in order to better control those around them.”

16. I, who grew up in a rather conservative-Christian household, heard this sort of thing all the time, and have an ingrained paranoia of sliding down the slippery slope myself, I almost feel like there’s a fucking vacuum at the bottom of wherever the slope ends, and it’s sucking me downward into the center, the truly depraved center of my self.

17. I have wondered how to avoid this. How to avoid feeling like this. Every bad behavior is a sign of my true nature. Or, at least, feels like it.

18. “It is an insult […] to compare a person’s behavior to a slope, it is degrading to one’s sense of agency.”

19. Goddamn, I wished I’d known how to say that when I was eight. Also, I feel like I am filling this review chock-full with my own baggage. I am sorry for that. It would be accurate to assert that this book made me think about my own baggage. In fact, it is possible that I spent some time contemplating my life after finishing this book, and that the time spent contemplating included some eye-watering, as in, I may or may not have cried.

20. I want Oppen Porter to be my friend.

21. I hope I never see him (this last is the most likely), so that he doesn’t fuck up my life by making me think too much about my it. But goddamn I wish he would.

22. As I read this book, I realized that the internal drama it caused me was very similar to that of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot; I wonder if Prince Myshkin is a long-lost relative of Oppen’s, or the other way around. Both characters are innocents, both characters are gentle, both characters want the world, want the whole wide world, in a way, to love them. More importantly, they both love the world first, before it loves them back.

23. I don’t know that I would compare Antoine Wilson to Dostoevsky, but not many works of contemporary fiction have punctured my lungs quite like this one, left me breathing heavily and sucking air and rethinking large sections of my memory, clawing through the soil within myself.

24. “For my part I can only say that my feelings for Maria and my feelings for your mother reside in two different parts of my heart, and that except for putting my life down on tape, except for telling you my experiences, I haven’t done much visiting of the part with my feelings for Maria in it, I haven’t seen any reason to, she is gone, long gone, I wouldn’t even know where to find her, and besides, I am happy in the part that belongs to your mother.” A partitioned heart, to me, implies a weak heart, a heart that would collapse under stress, but this image shocks me in its sadness and its fullness, in its trueness. Perhaps we lock away those beautiful shattered parts of our lives in our hearts, but everything that passes does not truly pass away. And though the heart must be a semi-permeable organ, or, yes, it will fail, there are many chambers within it.

25. Oppen Porter’s heart is a strong one, folks. Antoine Wilson has imbued this book with life, has imbued it with many pumping blood cells, and it is alive, it is breathing, it is like a cold gasping bullet of air hitting the lungs as you emerge from the fever-sea that is your life.

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  1. Alex Kalamaroff

      Dear Nathan,

      Your point #5 about how books are supposed to violently ensnare a reader’s attention is pretty legit. And it’s definitely true that “[n]ot every good book demands to be read.”

      This point made me think about books attacking people, like literally leaping out and attacking them with spin kicks and elbow jabs. That’d be quite rude. Then I thought about Henry James’s books doing crazy WWF moves on the reader, which would be ridiculous, and it made me reflect on how, well, pleasant it is that so many books are calm, lacking “quick camera cuts” and attention-grabbing BS.

      Anyway, I’ll def snag this Panorama City from the library.

      Best, –Alex K.

  2. Nathan Knapp

      Thanks for the kind words, Alex. You made me laugh just now: I’m thinking of a gaint copy of The Turn of the Screw dropkicking, say, a crusty old literary critic. On a more serious note, I think that maybe it’s the quietness of books, the silence of books that are the primary virtue of them as an art-form, at least these days.

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