In this series of posts, I’m looking into some examples of “fictional fiction”. I’ve already spoiled the fun about books in Dr. Zhivago and Beetlejuice. Here’s some more:
Faster Than the Speed of Love, by Brian Griffin (2016) – Another damp squib
“Brian Griffin” is the name of the dog from the animated series Family Guy. He is supposed to be smart, so he quickly wrote a book, Faster Than the Speed of Love, which made him famous for about 15 minutes.
The blurb on Amazon describes it like this:
“When Roger’s father, an elite Air Force Pilot, is shot down by MiGs from a radical Middle Eastern state, no one seems able to get him out of harm’s way. Roger finds Skippy, an Air Force Colonel who is intrigued by the idea of sending in two fighters piloted by himself and Roger to rescue Roger’s father after bombing the MiG base.”
It’s 19 pages long, and published by Pewterschmidt Publishing, LLC (Feb. 15 2016). “Pewterschmidt” is the surname of the father of “Lois” in Family Guy, the big industrialist. So that’s not a real publisher. I don’t know what’s inside since I’m not going to spend $6.87 on the Kindle edition. But from the “Look Inside” preview the text seems more related the “Brian Griffin’s” other book, the self-help manual Wish it, Want it, Do it. And if you haven’t caught the joke yet, you can go buy that. One good thing that came out of the episodes where Brian had to start on his novel, is “Stewie Griffin’s” comments about the process. There’s some truth in that at least.
Stewie Griffin : [to Brian] “How you uh, how you comin’ on that novel you’re working on? Huh? Got a a big, uh, big stack of papers there? Got a, got a nice litte story you’re working on there? Your big novel you’ve been working on for three years? Huh? Got a, got a compelling protagonist? Yeah? Got a obstacle for him to overcome? Huh? Got a story brewing there? Working on, working on that for quite some time? Huh? Yeah, talking about that three years ago. Been working on that the whole time? Nice little narrative? Beginning, middle, and end? Some friends become enemies, some enemies become friends? At the end your main character is richer from the experience? Yeah? Yeah? No, no, you deserve some time off.”
I, Flathead, by Ry Cooder (2008) – Actually, pretty darn good
I, Flathead – The Songs of Kash Buk and the Klowns is a novella by musician Ry Cooder that is part of the liner notes for Cooder’s album with the same name, which came out in 2008. It is the final concept album by Cooder and the third in his California trilogy, Chávez Ravine (2005) and My Name Is Buddy (2007).
I came across it when I was looking for the lyrics to Little Trona Girl – which is just the saddest song. The album is, of course, beautiful to a fan like me, but it struck me that it was a lot of trouble to go to, to promote the album by writing a whole book. Because this is no amateurish, half-finished effort. The album was produced by Cooder, and all songs were written by him except Drive Like I Never Been Hurt, and Little Trona Girl and Flathead One More Time which he and others wrote together. So, I presume he wrote the book too. The book is actually integrated with the lyrics into the liner notes package, and is nicely designed. The album cover photo is from the Ron Kellogg Collection, the drawings are by Stewart Rouse and the maps are by Norton Allen.
The book is 97 pages long and I have read it quite a few times. It is a cross between a road trip narrative and Science Fiction. It partly consists of “transcripts” of tape recordings of interviews with people who knew “Kash Buk”. One of the narrators, called “Shakey” is an alien: “…this little dome-headed guy appeared. He spied us. Started in makin’ a buzzing sound, like a table saw.” Being about a singer and a band, the “Klowns”, there are many lyrics, references to music and being on the road, doing gigs, and of course, cars. Shakey comes to a bad end in a fast car.
“The car rode along up the grade: a hemi-head Chrysler Imperial, plenty horsepower and plenty low-end torque. I felt the gum kick in. It hit hard. “Da kine,” as Eddie Tanaka used to say. At that altitude, my brain started spinning around like a boomerang. I thought I was back in the Spacecar with Roxanne. They call me Shakey. I floored it and the car took off. 50, 60, 70. Hey Kash, how do I get this car out of second gear? 80, 90, 100. The heavy car started sliding through the curves, losing traction. The guy next to me grabbed my arm but he was weak and high from the gum. That’s all there is, there ain’t no more, the big tires screamed. I fought the wheel and the wheel won. Little Trona Girl, will you wait for me. There was a hairpin turn. I didn’t make it. Don’t think about her when you’re trying to drive.” (p.95)
Download the book of I, Flathead, here (pdf format).
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, by Joel and Ethan Coen (2018) – Not a novel, but real enough
In the film, “Buster Scruggs”, tells the story of his life in song, while talking directly to the camera. So, the book which is shown in the film and which introduces each story is appropriately named “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”. The film is a multi-award-winning American Western anthology film written, directed, and produced by the Coen brothers. It is made up of six vignettes that take place on the American frontier:
- The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
- Near Algodones
- Meal Ticket
- All Gold Canyon
- The Gal Who Got Rattled
- The Mortal Remains
Close on a heavy volume, morocco-bound. To the extent that the book does not fill the screen we see that it rests on a knotty, oaken table.
A hand enters the bottom of the frame and opens the book to the title page. With its opposite page the cream-colored vellum now fills the screen. The title reads:
The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
And Other Tales of the American Frontier
–With Color Plates–
The page is turned again. The page on the left side is the table of contents, the page on the right is the list of color plates.
Without pausing the unseen hand turns the page again to the title page of the first story:
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” (From the script of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs)
The plots of the stories are witty and delightfully different, and each is a little gem in its own way.
“BUSTER : I’m not a devious man by when you’re unarmed your might gotta be downright Archimedean.” (From the script of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs)
(“Archimedean”! 😄 Apart from referencing Archimedes of Syracuse, the Ancient Greek mathematician, physicist, and inventor, this line of the Coens also brings back memories of “Archimedes”, the smart-mouthed pet owl of “Merlin the Magician” in the classic 60s animated film, The Sword in the Stone – which I practically know by heart. So, Buster is devious and also has the gift of the gab.)
In tone, the film seems to reminiscent of the work of Cormac McCarthy or Larry McMurtry, classic writers of Western novels – economical, dry, and deliberate. As a result, I was convinced these were original novels that had been filmed. But no, it was based on Western-themed short stories that the Coens had written over a period of 20 to 25 years. The title page of the published screenplay states that two of the stories were sourced from existing books: All Gold Canyon is adapted from a short story by Jack London with the same title, (you can read the whole short story here) which was originally published in 1906, and The Gal Who Got Rattled was drawn from a story by Stewart Edward White (which you can read here). Considering the strong similarities between the screenplay and these stories, I did wonder how original the other four stories are.
The Coens intended the stories to be seen together, structured them that way in the script they submitted to Annapurna Pictures, and shot the script as written. So the book that is available on Amazon is not a short story anthology, but the screenplay of the film. The film has a classic Western look and feel and atmosphere and these can, unfortunately, not be depicted in detail with a few phrases in the screenplay. To have done that, the Coens would have had to write complete short stories.
You can download the plain script of the film, from netflixguilds.com here.