The Pickup Artist - Terry Bisson

Shockingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, no one on either side defended the permanence of art. Museums as well as individuals were being overwhelmed by a world which produced more, not less, every year, and in which even ephemera was preserved.

My problem is that I want to do everything. I want to read all the good books, see all the good movies, listen to all the good music, eat all the good foods, go to all the good places. Of course, that's impossible, particularly now when, on average, a book is published every three minutes and over 400 movies are released per year in the U.S. alone. That's where the pickup artists come in: the Bureau of Arts and Information was created to prune the tree of art, so to speak. Books, movies, poetry, plays, and music are all selected for "deletion" to make room for new works of art. Hank Shapiro is a collection agent, sent to pick up hard copies of deleted items that weren't voluntarily sent in for destruction.

The problem of the glut of information and art was brought to a head by the Alexandrians ("named for the fire, not the library"), loosely-related groups and individuals who took it upon themselves to purge the art world by bombings, fires, and theft. Along the way there was a schism, and there's now another group of Alexandrians ("named for the library, not the fire") out to preserve art by secreting away hard copies before the Bureau can get them.

It's a fantastic premise.

Unfortunately, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The plot is a mess of subplots: Shapiro's dying dog, the many instances of Indian Bob, a Hank Williams album, Shapiro's mother/father issues, Henry (short for Henrietta) the librarian who's been pregnant for eight years, a bugging device that develops an emotional attachment to Shapiro (and vice versa). I also felt it was poorly edited; Shapiro (who narrates) often repeats himself, usually right after a chapter break. It's not clear if he's supposed to be reminding you, or if Bisson just simply forgot that he'd explained something already. There are also little typos throughout the book ("must" instead of "most").

The Alexandrians subplot reminds me of the VFD in Lemony Snicket's books: one half of the group puts out fires while the other half sets them. There's also a lot of foreshadowing which seems to be leading up to a big revelation that never occurs.

Every other chapter is more of a history section, explaining the formation of the Bureau and providing some backstory. Those are probably the most interesting portions, setting the premise and eventually explaining the rules of deletion. But following Shapiro as he drives out west, trying to rescue this missing album and keep his dog alive, never really hooked me.

As much as I wanted to like this book, I'd recommend you pass on it.

Fed to jonathan's brain | August 04, 2008 | Comments (0)


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