Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On the Radio: Louis B. Jones

Tonight, Wednesday June 16 at 8 PM on Bibliocracy on KPFK 90.7 FM in Southern California: Louis B. Jones discusses his new novel, Radiance.

Andrew Tonkovich writes:

His new novel marks the return of one of the most engaging characters readers of sincere literary fiction have met in recent novels: Louis B. Jones’ always flummoxed theoretical physicist Mark Perdue of Particles and Luck, a weird science wunderkind with genius and plenty of problems. To say that Mark Perdue’s mind wanders is about as gratifyingly obvious as saying that Louis B. Jones’s prose exploration of his wandering is elegant, funny, smart and affirming. Perdue is back, shakily, trying once again to figure out the place of place, of certainty, perhaps looking to redeem himself for a tenure of happiness, some setbacks, and no startling insights to report. His daughter is gifted a teenage “American Idol”-style reality talent show vacation, a costly sort of be-a-star indulgence meant to cheer her up, set in the epicenter of dream and falsity, Los Angeles. Mark is anxious, naturally, and finds himself in exactly the wrong circumstances in which to be forced to confront existence, certainty, and meaning. By which we mean exactly the right circumstance in this funny, elegantly structured and itself joyful novel.

Over at Three Guys One Book, Victoria Patterson writes this about Radiance:

"Death—not some spooky or religious or abstract idea of it but the practical everyday ingredient in nature—is everywhere close, everywhere a comfortable, cool medium to thrive in, right against the skin as it is.”

Thus begins Louis B. Jones’s novel, Radiance, a deliberation on death, meaning, space, time, religion, faith, marriage and more, all somehow set within the candy land, celebrity-and-ego-obsessed backdrop of Hollywood.

Mark Perdue, a forty-two-year old Lyme disease-stricken physicist, has a thing for death, stoked by his wife’s recent late-term abortion, a decision based on the fetus’s terminal medical condition. Perdue knows his choice to take his teenage daughter Carlotta on a “Celebrity Fantasy Vacation”—a three-day teen-ego-building event (reminiscent of the Rebecca Black phenomenon, which gifted us with the horrendously bad and thus culturally ridiculed and loved/hated song “Friday”)—is problematic, but he’s desperate (in his own quiet and contemplative way).

Mark Perdue is the kind of perfectly flawed and contemplative character that I love, quietly tortured over everyday events—like being put on hold on the phone: “And with a clotting sound in the earpiece, the intelligible universe everywhere was smothered and he was plunged into an insulted solitude. Worse than solitude, he was plunged, all unprepared, into the paucity of his life.”

Radiance is full of such gorgeously ripe sentences. Here’s Perdue contemplating male desire:

“…it’s fundamentally impolite, it’s fundamentally a very rude, very bad idea. What it wants to do to a female is to literally get on top and reduce her to mindlessness, maybe that’s not the deliberate intention, but it’s what happens in the end, and you have to want to undertake to do this to somebody with her own dignity and sensibilities and rights.” And Perdue on the assured angriness inherent in a fundamentalist-type faith: “…such people are poisonous because they do pretend to believe it. They pretend for their own spectatorship: they’re watching themselves “believe” something; they think the pretense might bring about the real thing, true belief. They know in their deepest heart none of it’s true. And call that faith. What they really like, though, is holding it up against others, like a candle.”

This is Jones’s fourth novel (his prior three novels were all New York Times Notable Books), and his sentences and language shine. Radiance is entertaining, profoundly meditative, and quietly moving. Jones is an astute chronicler of the intimate and the interior, keenly recording delicate shifts in feeling and tone. And Radiance manages to come together in a wistful ending that somehow reads as both solid and porous, sustaining this reader with a satisfaction and calm born of uncertainty.


Tune in. 8 PM on 90.7 FM in the So Cal area - or streaming live or archived on the web.


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