Friday, April 8, 2011

Mall: A Novel / by Eric Bogosian

A graduate of Oberlin College in Ohio, Eric Bogosian was actually born in Massachusetts to first generation Armenian-Americans. Following college, he moved to New York City where he's worked as an actor and writer and been called one of the most influential conventional playwrites of his generation. His 1987 off broadway play "Talk Radio", based on the real life of Denver Disc Jockey Alan Berg, won him a Pulitzer Prize with Bogosian later starring in the Oliver Stone film version of the same name. Another play, "suBurbia", about a group of slacker college-age kids who never left their hometown, was adapted to the big screen by Richard Linklater in 1996. Mall, published in 2000, is his first novel.

"The mall was the same, fully lit up but devoid of its warm-blooded content." (p. 243).

Malcolm "Mal" is a thirtysomething slacker who lives in his mom's basement. A speed freak who cooks his own methamphetamine, he's gotten so sick of his mother's consistent prodding and nagging that one day he shoots her dead, sets fire to his home and sets off to the local mall with a sackful of loaded weapons and a frenzied plan to implement further destruction. Among the shoppers and pedestrians on this particular day is Danny Marks, a jet-setting businessman with a fetish for underwear models and a penchant for peeping at girls in department stores. Danny's been scoping out the action in JCPenney's when he's caught by mall security and taken into custody. Elsewhere, Jeff is a mopy teenager who's just dropped another acid and is casually doing his people watching, sort of a habit of his, from a local bench. Donna is lonely housewife who's looking for a man and Michel, a Haitian immigrant, is a mall security guard who only wants to work hard and live honorably. As Mal and his personal armory converge on the mall and pandemonium invevitably ensues, all 5 characters, their needs and wants seemingly drawing them together, cross paths at the modern promenade of possibility in the most unlikely of ways.

Whether he's writing or acting, Bogosian seems to be at his best when he's jumping around from place to place at warpspeed. Something about a lot of characters, multiple backstories and a conflux of motivations converging over a very small window of time is where his ability really shines. "Talk Radio" and "suBurbia" were like this; both elucidating with candid, visceral authority the quiet desperation of malcontented middle-classers. But in the post-Pulp Fiction era, where hell-bent characters, drug-addled rage and trigger-happy lunatics are something to almost be expected in media of all forms, the approach can be risky. It doesn't matter. Bogosian's writing, his terse alternating sections thrust out by an omniscient narrator, ring true even as much of the time the action does the talking. Easy to read, with concepts and internal psyches that aren't hard to grasp, Mall is a candid look at the most normal of normal lives in the most pedestrian of places, illuminating a world in which we live and an atmosphere we think we know. (FIC BOGOSIAN)

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