New year/new updates
One Question: Daniel Falatko
Do you ever get bored with writing stories that take place within the boroughs of NYC?
Absolutely. Bored to tears and uninspired.
My first novel, Condominium, took place exclusively within the glass and steel confines of BK and that graveyard they call Manhattan. Fortunately, there’s a lot of rich material to be mined from this city, a lot of weird little hidden realms and micro-cultures to exploit for plot support, color, and laughs. So it didn’t really bother me when writing that novel. If anything, all the subway hassles, street scenes, junkie interactions, trust fund Williamsburg chatter, and nightmare neighbors through thin walls added an element of claustrophobia and fear to the novel which ended up being the key ingredient that tied it all together. I’m not saying the novel was entirely successfully executed, but if it held together in any way then the glue was definitely the NYC strain of neuroticism, which is deeper and stranger than any neuroses you will find anywhere on the planet.
With the new novel, Travels & Travails of Small Minds, that claustrophobia and neurosis started to come around on ME instead of just the characters. I mean, how many ways are there to describe the smell the Chinatown fish vendor stands in August? How many times can one be forced to Google such lame little details as “Is there a cool bar called North Korea off the Halsey L stop in Bushwick” (OF COURSE there is) without disintegrating into a depressed and irritated puddle as grey and self-obsessed as the city itself? The book started off within this NYC holding cell, and by page ten I was already plotting the lead character’s escape.
So where did the lead narrator escape to?
Well, that’s a bit tricky. First he is off to a fictional town in England that I’m already catching heat from British people about. “Mate, there’s no such village as Wolfton,” they say to me with their complicated accents, some posh, others working class, others from “The North” and still others from somewhere called “The Black Country”. “There is no village where the townsfolk howl at one another like Wolves. Are you having a laugh, mate? Surely you should stick to writing about what you know, innit?”
The cool thing about fiction, I tell these Brits, is that one can weave whatever world they wish.
I’ve received far less heat from the denizens of the other location the lead character escapes to, Russia, which is strange since I’ve never actually been the country at all, ever. This is most likely because I know very few fine Russian folk, and the ones I do know wouldn’t bother to read the drivel I produce. Oddly, the Russian passages in the novel are some of the only writing I’ve ever produced that didn’t cause me to cringe while re-reading it. This is why I’ve chosen a piece from the Russian section for my excerpt here. If you want to read about Wolfton, you’ll have to check out the book.
You don’t really have to know about the plot or the character or anything else when reading this, because it is actually the very first pages of the novel even though it was one of the last pieces of content produced. Hopefully you’ll be able to feel the sheer escapist glee that bleeds through, the joy of taking a character away from the NYC discomfort zone and into alien lands free of bodegas and L Trains and heart attack bagels.
An escape from new York, Kurt Russell style.
Find out more about Travels and Travails of Small Minds and Daniel Falatko HERE.
Wrote this article promoting peace and love to all my Russian brothas and sistas. Check it out here at The Weeklings or read below.
RUSSIA: WHY YOU GOTTA’ HATE?
IT ISN’T A SPOILER to tell you that roughly 10% of my upcoming novel, Travels and Travails of Small Minds, takes place in a vast and troubled land of vodka and pickle chasers, provincial cannibalism, extreme oligarchical excess, tweaked-out Phil Dick-ian hackers, and witch house DJs with eerie contact lenses.
That’s right, Russia, currently the most hated place on Earth. Rush-a. Just whispering those two syllables in a crowded elevator will cause shivers to run up necks and eyes to narrow with suspicion. Try saying it out loud at a dinner party sometime and watch the invective and spittle fly. Or worse, try defending the place for its rich literary history and surreal nihilist vibe and you may have to duck some reactionary punches. What is clear is that the land of Dostoyevsky and steaming borscht is currently far more hated and feared than even during the Cold War.
So why is everyone hating on The Motherland these days? Is it not true that in today’s “be politically correct or die” sanitized culture that it’s a definite no-no to single handedly dismiss an entire country of 144 million individuals? Why clamp the blinders down on a rich and vibrant culture stretching back to the year 862? Like with any prejudice, it all starts with negative imagery that has been implanted on the collective minds of all haters. After all, racism and prejudice are generally learned traits, and there has been a lot of hateful learning implanted on the thought processes of otherwise open minded and accepting liberals for many generations.
Beware! The Commies!
For those alive today who were born in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and early 80s, the images planted in your mind concerning Mother Russia most likely fall under the “Cold War Shit” category. You envision long breadlines with snowflakes falling over hunched babushkas with gypsy headscarves. You envision some weight challenged drunk with a satanic birthmark on his bald head threatening to nuke your home. Your mind recoils at the thought of heartless KGB squads in dark suits making people disappear in the dead of the Siberian night. You think of tapped phones, of honey traps, of atheist comrades willing to live spare for the good of The State. You think of the unsettling, bold visuals of a propaganda flag involving an intertwined hammer and sickle.
Even those cultured enough to be into history have their minds polluted with images of insanely bloody revolutions and cunning assassinations, of dead-eyed mystics leading the empire astray, of genocidal dictators and free thinkers cast into eternal exile.
Like with nearly all stereotypical or flat out racist concepts, much of this imagery has strong footholds in the truth. But is this imagery alone enough to convince you to nonchalantly dismiss 144 million living and many billions of deceased individuals spanning hundreds of centuries as evil Vlads and Kashas? When it comes to Russia, the answer has always seemed to be, “Fuck yes, it is.”
2017: Russophobe Overdrive
If the Russophobe instinct was strong before, then the extremely lame events of the past couple of years have really just kicked this thing into complete, uncontrollable overdrive. The flimsy dam is fully broken and the hate spews forth in waves. Much like with the historical aspects haters can latch on to, these current prejudicial footholds certainly do have truthful elements. Vladimir Putin, for example, is a person who actually exists (we think) and t.A.T.u. really are a Lolita-inspired pop sensation coasting on incestuous imagery. But hey, nobody’s perfect, right?
As if this new wave of Russia hate wasn’t enough already, then along comes The Donald. Now, don’t get me wrong here. Of course I am in agreement that if the asshole was indeed conspiring with other assholes such as Putin or Assange then he should be cast into a supermax facility where his jumpsuit will perfectly match his complexion. But if you take just a slight step back and truly observe the situation from beyond your initial reactionary instinct, it’s easy to see that the hip new wave of Russophobia has been going, and is likely to continue going, just a bit too far. It seems that any politician, businessman, postman, or factory worker that has ever been photographed, anywhere, with some sort of Russian is being called out for having (cue the sinister music) “Russian Ties”. And once you have “Russian Ties” you can pretty much assume that this will follow you for the rest of your life as if you were on the sex offender list. So think twice before Instagramming that shot of you with the half-drunk bottle of Stoli and you may want to ditch that significant other of yours with Russian ancestry. After all, that person will understand. It’s not them. It’s the times.
The two headed Trump/Putin beast has cast forth a whole new wave of negative imagery that makes it easy for otherwise PC and accepting liberal individuals to actively promote the abject hatred of an entire nation and all of their ancestors. This is, after all, a land chalk full of seven-foot-tall Nazis wearing strange medals, of mass homophobia and uprisings squashed with blood in the streets. Neighboring countries are randomly attacked and swallowed into the fold. Gangs of skinheads descend on Halal food vendors in random strikes. Obscure border wars rage on for decades. Dissenting journalist accidentally fall out of 20th story windows or drown in bizarre hot tub accidents. Protesters are locked in provincial prisons to protest away until the end of their days.
In some very striking ways, your average modern day liberal RESISTter has become today’s cold war era Republican. Not only is there an instant dismissiveness and suspicion of any and all Russian-related individuals, objects, or ideas, but there are even hints of downright racist or even low key genocidal thought patterns creeping into play. If you were to go on Twitter right now (I’m not suggesting to actually do this, so please don’t feel obligated to visit this cesspool. Just take my word for it, please.) you will be confronted with a full force front of hatred on the Russian people which, if it were against any other people or country, would come off as extremely racist and get the tweeter blacklisted to the fringes of society. Take for example the simple insult of referring to a Russian individual as an “Ivan”. Just taking a cruise of Twitter right at this moment (yes I’m taking the hit for you) I’ve found the following missives. The handles have been omitted to protect the woke as fuck REISTers in question:
“He’s just your average Ivan-come-lately.”
“I wonder how many Ivans he knows. LOL”
“Oh great, another Russian tie. How many Ivans do we need to dig up on this guy before he has to go?”
“Of course these Russian hackers will work for the campaigns offering $$. Starving Ivans go to the highest bidders.”
Now what would happen if you substituted that “Ivan” with, say, “Habib” to refer to all Indians or “Abdul” to encompass all individuals from the Middle East? That would be rather prejudicial and wrong, wouldn’t it? Much like with the right wingers during the cold war, right now it is simply seen as a fine and admirable thing to viciously slander many millions of individuals just because of a handful of assholes associated with them. And just where exactly does this all stop? Where is the line drawn? Are proudly liberal individuals actually going call for a return of the cold war? Or will they just go all the way and advocate a real war on the “Ivans”? Will nukes be brought into the dialogue, perhaps? And if so, then what exactly separates today’s lib RESISTers from yesterday’s right wing?
Why Russophobia Is Dead Wrong
Although it’s never been proven that hate causes cancer, it certainly can’t help, can it? But this isn’t the only reason to not spew feral hatred at the land of borsch and striking blond tennis stars. It isn’t even the fact that that smirking the word “Russia” in political discussions at dinner parties makes you appear incredibly unattractive. No, the true reasons to not sneer at the Motherland have nothing to do with your health or general unattractiveness. Even in the midst of an era when you are being told by various facets of the press and late night TV that Russia as a whole is responsible for the rapidly declining fate of your country, please take a moment, take a breath, practice some deep sea visualization, and consider the following.
You Can’t Judge An Entire Nation Just Because Of Their Leader (Ahem)
Starting in January of this year, this isn’t too tough of a concept to sell anymore, is it?
You Can’t Judge An Entire Nation Because Racism and Misogyny Exist In That Nation
This is another argument we don’t really need to make, but let’s just humor ourselves here. Is every Russian man an Arab-attacking skinhead or a wife beating, vodka pissing brute? Is every Russian woman a honey trap green card seeking gold digger? There are some people who fall into these high profile categories, of course, but for each bear-fisted abuser there are many thousands of people just trying to make it through another day. Some are blond, others brunet. Some are old, others young. Some are in good shape, others overweight or malnourished. Some are of chipper dispositions, others brooding. Some are artistically inclined, others practical and scientific. Some are horrified by current events, others apathetic. Some feel their lives are stable and on track, while others are searching or lost. In other words, they are just like you or I. And you shouldn’t dismiss them because some hackers from their country that they’ve never even met stole a few emails.
Lots Of Cool Literature and Art Has Come From Russia
Do you remember the hair metal band Gorky Park? No? Well that’s ok because tons of cool cultural awesomeness has boiled up from the frozen ground of the Motherland. I’ve already mentioned the literature, but really, what a rich legacy this is. Not only do you have indisputable literary titans you’ve heard of from your undergrad world lit elective such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Pushkin but you have left of center oddballs of the Gogol and Bulgakov variety. You have Nabokov. You have modern dissidents like Eduard Limonov, a man who makes Hunter S. Thompson seem like Chuck Klosterman. The post apocalyptic, Blade Runner vibe of Moscow seems to bring out good things in expat writers as well, as anyone who read The eXile in the 90s could attest to, and even though Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi continue to slog away in the American journalistic abyss, it doesn’t take too keen of an eye to see that they are shadows of their former selves since they stopped covering Russia.
It is often overlooked that Russian artists played a significant role in the surrealist movement of the 20s and 30s. Cubists Jeffim Golyscheff and Mark Slodki were even displayed in the earliest Parisian Dada exhibitions, and it has been pointed out that futurists such as David Burliuk, Kazimir Malevich, Ivan Puni, and Vladimir Mayakovsky most definitely preceded the movement with their absurd and exaggerated works. There was indeed a recognized and popular Dadaist journal founded in Moscow in the early 20s espousing such rhetoric as “Throw Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoi etc. overboard!” and “Read nothing, write nothing, publish nothing. No more manifestos. Stop talking.” Pretty punk, huh? And if you’ve never checked out the tripped-out works of Boris Zemenkov, the headless drawings of Pavel Fedotov, or the flat-out bonkers works of the over-the-top mystical Mikalojaus Cuirlionis then you are certainly missing out. It only makes sense, since Russia is now and has always been an incredibly surreal and mystical land. There has never been a more fertile ground for surrealist, mystical, nihilist, and just plain trippy art and literature.
These are strong people who have lived through everything
The “Russian spirit” has long been spoken of, and it boils down to a festive, resilient endurance of even the harshest of day-to-day conditions. This is a history chalk full of Siberian gulags, tyrannical leaders, exiled or executed artists and dissidents, flat out genocides, bloody uprisings, brutal winters, food shortages and rationing, blatant governmental corruption of an almost comical extreme, mass murderers, joy killings, mafia ultra-violence, lawless provinces, cannibalism, oligarchical godheads, oppression of minority groups, and dated fashions (people still wear stonewashed jeans there, and not ironically). These are individuals who have, ancestrally speaking, lived through nearly every imaginable horror.
And there you are ready to nuke them all just because their current tyrant supports your current tyrant.
Chill on that. Russia may not be for the faint of heart, but neither is any current or past non-neutral superpower. Your average citizen living within those vast and contended borders has absolutely nothing to do with any of the horrors that came before and will have nothing to do with any of the horrors still to come. A little sympathy and understanding in the face of a mass hysteria lynch mob would go a long way.
And besides, commie hating is soooooooo 1986.
Not so sure about that, but great review of the new novel over at The Coil. Read it here or down below.
At first I thought that Daniel Falatko’s Travels and Travails of Small Minds would be just another tale of eccentric places and vagabond lifestyle, of living on the edge of poverty and starvation while the protagonist embarks upon some soul-searching adventure in the manner of beats like Jack Kerouac. It manages to be this, but much more, and in a delightful, not pretentious way.
The title is deceiving. This is not a tale of a small minds. It’s the tale of an intelligent, observant mind, one who in the manner of most postmodern heroes, can’t seem to fit into the world around him, or at least can’t find motivation to be anything greater than himself. Initially, we only see our protagonist react to the world around him, or not react much at all. I didn’t really know what “travails” meant, other than a word that is usually followed after “travels,” so I looked it up. It means “a painful or laborious effort,” which indeed is the heart of this novel. There is travel, but certainly more travail than anything.
Set primarily in hipster/crust punk-infested New York, the narrator, Nathan, works for a former English professor, Dr. Behr, who inherited some real estate and a fortune from his father and now runs a shady leasing business and refuses to use computers. At first he’s nothing but an eccentric prude for Nathan to complain about, but it turns out he has an obsession with a fictional beat writer, James Salanack. Salanack primarily writes “decadence for the sake of decadence”-type works, surreal, bizarre and William Burroughs-esque. Nathan shrugs this off as crap, which it probably is, but nonetheless, he is fascinated by it.
Then Dr. Behr gives Nathan an assignment: he must travel to England with $150,000 in cash, have payments made by a colleague of Dr. Behr’s, and meet with a Salanack fanatic, who is determined to own everything that Salanack ever touched, including old syringes, pool sticks, and most importantly, the properties where Salanack lived. Turns out the money he’s delivering is payment for an apartment of one of Dr. Behr’s tenants, whom he will illegally evict and whom Nathan accidentally meets and begins to root for.
The conflict takes a long time to build up. We begin in an unfamiliar weird, wild Russia. The first chapter and subsequent Russia chapters that follow read like notes of a world that to us seems bizarre and foreign, but for Nathan has become his everyday. Falatko has a talent for detail and world-building. Wherever you are in the book you will hear, see, and feel the world.
Gone is the cell phone chatter of cream-skinned blonds and the controlled hum of black SUVs, left now to walk amongst shards of colored glass from smashed soft drink machines, listening to the gnashing of my own teeth,
he writes. The only problem is that paragraphs and paragraphs of description slow down the progress of the novel. Even if the lines are beautiful, to quote another famous beat poet, he’d do well to kill a few darlings.
The environment is described superbly. You know exactly where you are down to dust mites on the corners of the walls and chipped coffee mugs — all things that Nathan, in his sad postmodern boredom, has nothing else to do but notice. There’s a certain joy taken from misery that the prose illuminates. Pages go on and little happens. Nathan is surrounded by academic snobs, burnouts, hipsters, and dull old people and rarely has much to say about it other than to report it to the reader, both unflatteringly and flatteringly. He doesn’t seem to like anything and ends up being perhaps the dullest object or character because he’s never more than an observer, there to report, but not to participate until the last 50–100 pages or so. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it makes us feel the longing and boredom Nathan feels by becoming so surrounded and flooded with details.
The novel is a diary of loneliness from the mind of a charming young man, desiring to escape the monotonous life he lives yet uncomfortable to break away from it. Along with this, we occasionally experience a certain meta-fiction self-awareness:
You’re a very unaware narrator,
Nathan’s coworker tells him, which naturally he is not. This sort of awareness seems to be added as a little wink, instead of a consistent joke.
Nathan’s relationship with Cally, the soon-to-be-evicted manic pixie dream girl, develops a little too quickly, with only one night of lovemaking to fuel his compassion and determination to make things right. It’s hard to tell what he likes about her so much. If time had been taken to develop their relationship, it would be more compelling, but for the most part his mission to do the ethical thing and keep her from losing her apartment is that morally it’s the right thing to do.
What Falatko lacks in structure he makes up for in character. Nathan meets some petty, wild old men in England who are fascinatingly grotesque. What Bukowski did for poetry, Falatko does for prose. The only thing more unpleasant and unlikeable than the whackos and lowlifes of skid row are the pretentious professors and wealthy capitalists. These men are perhaps the real scum, whereas the working class tend to be friendly and delightful, like Bilky, a drunken meathead who ends up being a deus ex machina, or Milton Perth, the millionaire Salanack obsessive who turns out, despite his silly fixation on an underground writer, to be a decent guy when he’s not bragging about his possessions.
Funny, even repugnant and vulgar at times, but overall enjoyable, Travels and Travails of Small Minds is a story that seems to go nowhere and ends up going somewhere very fast. Falatko has a talent for rich, strange detail and keeps us engaged, even if we’ve only walked two blocks in Nathan’s life. Personally, I prefer the original title, One Thin Dime, as it brings more curiosity to the novel, and now that I’ve finished it I know why those three words were originally chosen. But for the reader, the story itself is no travail.
Thanks to Lovely Bookshelf for publishing this, and shout out to Francoise Hardy. Sorry I forgot to write your blurb, but you’re the best songwriter on this list by far.
Travels & Travails Of Small Minds out October 1st, baybee.
Travels & Travails Of Small Minds Song List by Daniel Falatko
My brand new tome, which comes with an unwieldy title that can be acronymed as T&TOSM, takes place in a number of disparate locations. Some of these places are fictional. Others are ever so real. I’ve never written anything previously that wasn’t 100% static in location (NYC only), so easing through the scenery changes wasn’t quite so simple and made me gain a keen amount of respect for someone like the dude who wrote the Bourne series, constantly jumping from one exotic location to the next and having to capture the vibe of each as the plot unfolds.
Like always, music helps. I already wrote about the whole albums I was bumping in order to get through T&TOSM, but there were some location-specific individual songs I used as well in order to sink into each location in the book.
There may have been others that I’ve forgotten, so spare us with the “Hey how can you write about the Lower East Side without name checking the Velvet Underground?!” dogma, ok please?
Below find a list of each location covered on the list, plus the songs that helped vibe out that location.
The Lovin’ Spoonful, Summer In The City
Nothing captures an NYC August like this Spoonful classic.
The Strokes, Reptilian
“The room is on fire while she’s fixin’ her hair” Ah, to be young and dating part time models from the East Village.
The Grateful Dead, Shakedown Street
Paranoia. Desolate urban decay. Open air drug markets. Somehow a Californian hippy named Jerry managed to capture this vibe a lot better than a bunch of native GBGB’s 70s punk bands ever could.
The Rolling Stones, Miss You
This song glides like the 7 Train through Queens on a Saturday night, full of dressed up people heading into the city.
Whiskeytown, Bar Lights
Bars are open until 4 AM in NYC, and then there are the after hours clubs. Ryan Adams seemed to know this quite well in his heyday.
VietNam, Welcome To My Room
Captures the hedonist, pioneering spirit of the Burg as it was in its early 2000s, pre-safe space prime.
DIIV, Healthy Moon
Have you ever watched a full moon rise over McCarren Park? Well, you never have to if you listen to this song.
Son Volt, L Train
Celebrating the lifeblood of the neighborhood, the eternally fucked up but much loved L Train.
Jesse Malin, Brooklyn
Captures perfectly the pouty sense of hurt Manhattan enthusiasts have felt as they’ve watched all of their friends, girlfriends, and fun move migrate across the East River.
Beach Fossils, Window View
This track really hits at the surreal, kaleidoscopic possibilities that lay just outside any apartment window on a sunny weekend day in the Burg.
The Yardbirds, For Your Love
Like a girl in a DayGlo miniskirt striding through a grey council estate, The Yardbirds captured that moment when a black and white postwar London ran full on into the psychedelic swinging 60s
“Talk over gin and teacups and leaves on the lawn, violence in bus stops and the pale thin girl with eyes forlorn” Say no more, Peter.
Ride, Leave Them All Behind
Trippy and defiant yet still gentile, this is swirling British paisley rock in its purest and most potent form.
Vashti Bunyan, Diamond Day
Capturing the essence of the ancient English countryside with a simplistic guitar line and a lyric about seeds and grass.
Led Zeppelin, Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp
Goin’ on up the country, English rock dude style. I wonder how many drunken roadies fell in the fire when Jimmy and Robert came up with this one while sipping hot cider on a cool country night in the North Country?
Serge Gainsbourg, Bonnie & Clyde
Serge’s voice on this track is what it sounds like when you’re getting off the Paris Metro on a gloomy winter day and the most gorgeous person you’ve ever seen is gliding past. You lock eyes for an instant. In that moment you envision a kiss, a shared apartment, a commitment, children. Your soulmate’s lips curl into a lingering smile. You take a drag off a cigarette. It’s all too much effort. And besides, this moment is more potent than a lifetime together. You keep walking. You don’t turn back.
Francoise Hardy, Tous Les Garcons Et Les Filles
Sisters of Mercy, Black Planet
When you’ve been on a redeye transatlantic flight, sleepless, watching out the plane window during the darkest hours before dawn. “So blaaaaaaacckkkkkkk all over Europe…..”
Breath Of Life, Nasty Cloud
If you’ve never been in a Berlin after-hours club in the mid-80s where goth chicks smoked angle dust in corners as mascara ran down their cheeks, then just listen to this song.
Slinky and strange and propulsive like an empty neutral-country expressway to your skull lined with exit signs in foreign script and the glittering skylines of cities you’ve never heard of.
Hawkwind, Master Of The Universe
There’s a reason The Hawk was massively popular in Eastern Europe in the 70s at a time when Pink Floyd was ruling the West. A poor man’s Floyd, mired in the dirt of the populace but aching to soar, Hawkwind’s sci-fi-tinged, scorched spacescape anthems just resonated better when smuggled behind the Iron Curtain than a bunch of genteel dudes in paisley sitting backstage discussing the prices of Aston Martins.
The Rolling Stones, 2,000 Light Years From Home
Although allegedly about space travel, Keef and crew were far too earthy to really mean it. Instead, this is an anthem for being stoned in a strange country far from home, longing for something more than just a lover, just a home, something just out of reach in another realm.
Teatr Dada, Das Produkt
The cold, dead land of Gogol and Rasputin, of Stalin-era architecture and kiosk counters behind bulletproof glass, where tenement blocks stretch for miles under crushing winter skies. This song is Russian nihilist glee in a bottle.
Forest Stream, The Crown of Winter
Black metal with a theatrical bent, like if Kiss grew up in Siberia. Representing grim and frostbitten kingdoms everywhere, Forest Stream’s mission to capture the essence of a February night in a land near the Tundra. When this track storms into its final march around the ten minute mark, like fur-clad armies facing off on a desolate winter plain beneath a crescent moon, they truly succeed in their quest.
Boney M., Rasputin
Can a feel-good disco number about a dissolute, dead-eyed mystic who single-handedly caused the downfall of the world’s mightiest empire really reach number one on the European charts? Why yes it can.
If you listen to the above tracks in order, you can get a feel for the locational arc of the novel. Perhaps the music and the book will even synch up like Dark Side Of The Moon and the Wizard of Oz. Or perhaps this track sequence only make sense to the author and you would instead be hearing a disassociated jumble of noise? Whatever the case, definitely check out the obscure 60s English blues band Led Zeppelin and the criminally overlooked Rolling Stones instead of going right to the acknowledged superstars like Teatr Dada and Vashti Bunyan.
And no, I didn’t once listen to the Velvet Underground.
PS: Why does every character in a book or film have to be “relatable” in order to be accepted these days?
The Ardent Writer Press, 2017
“I feel like I’m stuck in a mystery novel written by an unhinged individual, Amy.”
There’s a lot of truth to that lament Nathan makes to his girlfriend, Amy. In the same conversation, she had a different take on it:
“Mystery Englishmen? Ever-evolving eccentric casts of characters? Intricate layers of plot involving absolutely nothing? Two unaware and wayward employees leading the story? Nathan, you are living in a Wes Anderson film. And I’m not sure if I like it. You’re definitely more Life Aquatic than Rushmore at this point.”
There’s a lot truth to that, too. At the same time, neither of them is quite right (and please, don’t go looking for a Wes Anderson/unhinged mystery writer kind of book, you won’t get it. But you may get something that appeals to someone who’d like that kind of book). Just these commentaries on Nathan’s life during this novel shows you just how strange this is.
I don’t want to say there isn’t a plot — there is one; nor do I want to say that it’s not important, or nonsensical — there is a good amount of sense and it is a pretty good story; but compared to the experience of spending time with Nathan, his friends and colleagues, as well as those he meets over the course of the novel outweighs the story.
You’ve got Nathan; his girlfriend, Amy; his boss Dr. Behr, an elderly gentleman who just might be the living incarnation of “eccentric”; his coworker, Edward, who has spent far too many years working for Dr. Behr; and Nathan’s neighbor, who seems to do little other than use recreational pharmaceuticals. Throw in the study of a beatnik novelist of dubious quality, the attempted illegal eviction of a young woman, and some strange British citizens, and then step back and watch the lunacy begin. There’s a real estate deal at the core of this — which allows Falatko to indulge his fixation on NYC rental properties (and seals my conviction that I’ll never move there) — the sheer number of things that are wrong with the deal and that can go wrong with it. And here we are, proof that I can’t talk about this book in a way that makes a whole lot of sense.
This is a funny book, but not a comedy. It’s absurd in the best sense. It’s a wild ride, with a very human — and relatable center. Relatable might not be the best word, because I can’t imagine that any reader will have an experience like it. But even at the strangest moments, you’ll find yourself nodding with Nathan’s actions and reactions, saying to yourself, “yeah, I can see why he’d do that.” Even the conclusion that the plot careens to — for most of the book you’d say that wouldn’t work at all, but by the time it happens, it seems pretty perfect.
The illustrations are a nice touch — I don’t know that I needed them, and I don’t know that they really added all that much. At the same time, I enjoyed them. At what point was it decided that only kids could use a picture every now and then in their books?
I wasn’t a fan of Falatko’s previous novel, Condominium, but I thought it did display an element of talent. Travels and Travails put a lot more on display, and kept me entertained and engaged (and frequently smiling) throughout the novel. Although, I should note that I also spent a good deal of time wondering what I’d just read and why — but I was having such a good time that I really didn’t care about the answers to those questions. You won’t read many books like this one, but you’ll wish you could.
Travels and Travails of Small Minds follows the sideways trajectory of an unambitious career temp worker occupying the most nowhere of nowhere jobs. Nathan spends many a hungover morning and afternoon fetching coffee for his senile slumlord boss in a dust-choked office on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Between gossiping with his lone co-worker in their dangerously untidy office, hanging with a drug-addled neighbor, and dealing with a jealousy-ridden girlfriend, Nathan stumbles headfirst into a clumsy property scam which finds him unknowingly at the center.
With a cast of characters including a dead beatnik legend, an eccentric and pompous collector of the beatnik’s works, a new love interest in the form of a tenant with unclear intentions, and a network of sociopathic former literature professors, a saga unfolds over eight days in August which sends Nathan careening through lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, the suburbs of England, and Beyond in a swirl of comedic intrigue.
Travels & Travails Of Small Minds excerpt, in which an American temp worker escapes from the henchmen of a sociopathic literature professor with the aid of some English lager louts.
OUT ON THE ROAD, bearing down toward the freeway, there were empty bottles all over the van’s floor, clanging off of one another at every turn. I was riding shotgun with Bilky lying down on the floor in the back, moaning. In the filthy side mirror I saw one of Oxford Man’s men gunning down on us, smirking and shaking his head at the state of the vehicle he was chasing, his bony face set in determination. He was inching closer and closer to the back bumper of the van. “Who is this tosser?” Milly laughed, staring the spy down in his own mirror.
“He doesn’t like me very much.”
“Well, I know where to take him, then.” Milly snorted.
Swerving with absolutely no warning onto a country road instead of pushing forward toward the freeway, the rental car chasing us almost losing it on the unannounced turn, I watched a smile spread out across Milly’s face.
“Oh my God, Mill!” Bilky was shouting from the back. “Not the bloody golf course!”
The car seemed to linger on the road behind us, hesitant to follow, after Milly jumped the small hill and started tearing off across the course. Due to the fog, there weren’t that many golfers on the links, though two men in a cart drinking gin and tonics had to swerve out of the way when the van came tearing out from behind a row of trees, roaring directly at them. The car finally set out after us, half-heartedly at first, hanging fifteen yards behind us, unsure how to navigate the green terrain filled with sand traps and flags. Once we hit a long, flat link he sped up, gaining confidence, catching up to us almost bumper-to-bumper.
“Why are you letting the bastard catch up?” Bilky was looking out the van’s round back window. I clutched the satchel close, half-expecting the man to utilize an expanding robot arm to reach into the vehicle and snatch it from me.
“You’ll see.” Milly grinned, rapidly approaching a bend around some perfectly manicured bushes.
Rounding the bend, a deep, long sand trap suddenly loomed in front of us, visible through a break in the fog, gleaming white and wet from that morning’s mist. Both vehicles were traveling too fast to avoid it. There was a small hill in front of the trap. Milly’s eyes grew wide. I held onto the satchel and ducked down as Bilky let out a frightened groan. He gunned it at the hill, bearing down fast.
With two sickening thumps, the van’s front and back tires hit the hill a split second apart. We were clumsily air-born, wobbling violently. Milly let out a warrior’s shriek as the van came bashing down on what I hoped was the grass on the other side. The vehicle’s shocks were not enough to absorb the hit. My teeth knocked together and my chin hit my chest, wrenching my neck as the bottom bounced off the ground with horrific force.
Milly yanked hard on the wheel, throwing his considerable body weight behind it, managing to bring the rattling apparatus to a sideways halt. We had cleared the trap. Bilky had been hurled against the back door, on the floor with his white Reebok Classics sticking up from a pile of beer bottles.
“I’m alright!” He held up his hand as if in surrender. “Think I’ll stay down here for a while.”
The pursuing car had not been so lucky. He hadn’t hit the jump at the full, fearless speed required to clear the trap, breaking at the last minute, plunging front-end-first into the wet sand, kernels rattling in the grill, front tires sunk deep in the crud while the back tires spun helplessly. The man got out of the car, standing next to his now useless vehicle. He sat down in the sand, flipped us a two-finger salute and spit.
A man sporting a green uniform emerged from a nearby utility shed. Screeching hysterically, he came running for the sand trap wielding a long rake. Their pursuer got up and crouched into a karate pose as the man descended upon him, swinging the garden tool wildly.
Milly stepped on the gas, aiming the shaking van back toward the road.
“I’ll leave them to sort this out.”
The pre-order for my new novel is now up at Amazon. Find it here
Official Release Date: October 1st
Travels and Travails of Small Minds is hilarious,entertaining, and weaves a compelling mystery. I expected good things from Daniel Falatko after Condominium and he didn’t disappoint with this book. This is well-worth picking up.
Those cultured vultures have offered up a nice first review of the new novel, coming October 1st. Read it here or the full thing below.
Travels And Travails Of Small Minds By Daniel Falatko REVIEW
Daniel Falatko returns with a hipster noir for his second novel.
Nathan is a temp worker currently assigned as a glorified secretary for the eccentric literature professor turned slumlord Dr. Behr. One day, Dr. Behr dumps an assignment on his desk with no explanation for it.
Nathan tries to unravel exactly what the hell the old man wants from him. He soon learns Dr. Behr is involved in a shady property deal involving a former colleague and a rich, fanatical devotee of Beatnik author Thomas Salanack. His assignment takes him from New York City to Northern England and, finally, to Eastern Europe.
“For a man sitting on some of the most potentially lucrative property in Lower Manhattan, you’d never know it by looking at Dr. Behr. His main stylistic reference point seemed to be the homeless men that hung around the Bowery, not the schizophrenic crackhead variety but instead the semi-sophisticated-burnt-out-old-hippie philosophers, with their ancient stained khakis, moth-eaten button downs, and wild head of Einstein-grey hair jutting out in all directions as if pulsed by electric current.”
Falatko’s second novel reads like a hipster noir. It’s got all the elements; the two-timing dame, the intrigue, the shady characters. Here, however, the anti-hero hangs out in barcades instead of smoke-filled bars, the two-timing dame sells her ex-boyfriends vinyl collection, and the mystery involves a collector of Beatnik author memorabilia.
I previously reviewed Falatko’s first novel, Condominium, and while I enjoyed the humor, I found the plot lacking with it being about a rich couple having existential problems. Travels and Travails of Small Minds retains the humor Falatko previously displayed while having a much more compelling plot. One scene earlier in the book is where Nathan accidentally pops Adderall thinking it’s anti-anxiety medication. This results in him going to work and running amok, cleaning and organizing the whole office.
“By ten o’clock that morning I had reorganized not only my desk but the entire front half of the office. The paper sediment which had once lined the floor was now neatly piled into towering stacks next to the filing cabinets. If Edward had not forbade me, I would have gone through the cabinets as well as with the intention of discarding any deeds or bill copies from before 1990.”
The plot takes a little time to kick in, with Nathan spending a few a pages meandering around New York. Once it does, it becomes a fun, hard-to-put-down read. Falatko keeps the mystery of Dr. Behr’s shady property deal interesting, even in spite of how silly it gets. I mean, the climax has Nathan running from an old, naked Oxford professor with the help of a couple of north English drunks. Goofy, yes, but goofy in a way that’s highly entertaining to read.
The book also includes illustrations with each chapter, but they aren’t very good. They’re very amateurish looking. Some are passable, but many just look laughably bad. This book deserved better if the publisher was going to go that route.