"Art is not a thing; it is a way."

Elbert Hubbard

Sunday, March 28, 2010


As I sit here at my friends' table, Justin Timberlake playing in the background, the doors open in front and behind, I can feel myself in the mirror to my right. The sliding door to the toilet is ajar and in the far right-hand corner of my right eye, I can make out the dark smudge that is my hair and the black of my singlet. A noisy silence abounds and Jason sits looking at his computer with Amanda hidden on the floor on the far side of her bed. In a sense this picture is indicative of the urban road-trip, that is, the quiet times where each is doing something on his or her own in the context of something they are doing together as a whole without necessarily actually really concentrating on doing that task as a whole.

An observer of this situation would notice the direction in which Jason is faced or the fact that Amanda has escaped upstairs; or the way that the Havianas sit near the door - the blue pair askew; or the way that the volume of the music has increased since last being on; or the way that Eisha, the skin-and-bones cat content with her seventeen starts to new years sits behind it all, foetal-like atop a maple leaf-lined kerchief. None of this is related to anything in particular other than to point out that whilst people co-exist they must in effect exist singularly first.

Beyond the parent-child relationship when a child is first born - and even this is questionable - there are no relationships that exist where at least one party starts with nothing. Everyone comes with something. Those things are what make some relationships work and what make others fail. They can also be what set some up for the seemingly easy-ride and others up for an adventure of the nature of tour-de-force. What then makes one want to write about this? For is it not a situation we all find ourselves in? Is this not a situation that is almost rites of passage in nature? Do we really need someone telling us about this in the narrative format yet again? Ethan Hawke thinks so and in his second novel, Ash Wednesday, he brings forth Christy and Jimmy, a young couple on an actual road trip to the destination of their shotgun wedding to investigate the pains and pressures of letting another in on the journey that is self-discovery.

Jimmy is about to go AWOL on a cross-country journey chasing after his recent ex-girlfriend, Christy, when we meet him delivering news of death to a fellow army family. Stoned and unable to string more than a few words together we are left with a rather unfavourable picture of this man on the doorstep of thirty. Where is his sense of responsibility? Where is his sense of will? Where is his sense of simply being real and good? Well, these questions are answered as the story progresses and as the news of Christy's impending birth of their child is passed on to him.

Reminiscing about familial realtionships - failed and troubled - the two begin to encounter a chance to actually get to know each other as they decide to marry and head for Houston to return Christy home one last time. The interest lies here for each of them. For is there anything beyond just sex that bonds these two? Will the tension and fear of the unknown claim them? Or will the situation somehow right itself in time for the two to begin the role of parents towards which they are seemingly headed?

This sounds typically 'Hawkeian' in the sense that his persona within film and press is one of an affected, artsy type, who likes to pose questions about the potentially inane. This was what dogged his debut novel, The Hottest State, in that for every little gem he managed to create he bordered with an overwhelming sense of self-righteousness. And Ash Wednesday doesn't escape this either. His proliferation of the word faggot and its derivations and his tendency to rely on the woe-is-me defence wears thin very quickly and helps very little to keep a discerning reader interested in what's going on throughout the 221 pages.

And this brings us back to that question I posed earlier. Do we really need someone telling us about this in the narrative form yet again? Hawke suggests in his own words towards the end of the narrative that he is in fact aware of the lack of originality of his story.

"I know you think I'm a walking bag of cliches, but the reason cliches are true is that none of us is unique, all right? Our experiences are not in the least bit fuckin' exclusive."

That still doesn't make it okay to say nothing new or nothing at all as some may argue is the case here; however, there is enough to know that within Hawke is a story of actual heart that relies not upon what he thinks the literary world wants him to say but rather what he, himself, finds true. When that happens he will have something along the lines of a success.

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