By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
In the Company of Friends
Neil LaBute — dis-fellowshipped (though not excommunicated) by his Mormon church for the content of one of his plays, criticized for his narratives that some say are obsessed with sexually frustrated male sociopaths, and frequently labeled “anti-woman” or just plain “anti-social” for his film work — has some fallacies to debunk: He doesn’t have a writing routine; he just puts pen to paper after, as he puts it, “some chick” has “pissed” him off. No friend of censorship, he claims Nazis “actually dig” him. And he still loves his controversial play Bash, even though, he says, “That little fucker cost me God.”
LaBute, who is best known for his film debut, In the Company of Men(about a vile exec who emotionally destroys a mute woman before devastating his male crony), makes these admissions before a mostly supportive crowd of Los Feliz literati Friday night at Skylight Books.
With the help of his friend David Schwimmer — a drawling, surprisingly engaging presence in the wake of NBC primetime — LaBute has just finished reading from his debut work of fiction, the short-story collection Seconds of Pleasure. And with the Q&A session nearly over, he’s almost made it through the night without an attack on his gender portrayals. Almost.
“Your women are absolved of identity while your men are static,” a middle-aged woman in the crowd tells him. LaBute, bearded and friendly, begins to respond when a more distressed female voice interrupts.
“Don’t you think it’s more misogynist than that? Your men find redemption in hating women. I love your work and its critique of male rage. But here it’s basking.”
“So you’re not going to buy the book?” LaBute asks.
Call it just another night at the opera for LaBute, quoted recently by a British journalist for extolling the “great good” that comes from “great evil.” (Incidentally, and one hopes not coincidentally, LaBute condemned that journalist for half-assedly repeating paraphrased soundbites instead of “doing his own research”).
“I only feel compelled to create a character that’s interesting,” he tells the Skylight crowd. “Here I’m exploring the same impotence that I apply to a lot of male characters — the inability to communicate.” Seconds of Pleasureis classic LaBute. He shares voice-y prose shorts about mostly male characters abusing prostitutes, hating their wives’ moles, and despising the 2.7-kid married life in Los Feliz (there’s also a woman protagonist who sleeps with an unfeeling man her mother used to bed).
But doesn’t the term “classic LaBute” mean more than the shock-value misogyny that sates the narrative hunger of hipster MFA grads? While literary fiction is turning away from edgy writers who conjure so-called extreme scenarios to achieve drama — and while LaBute has at times rightly been characterized as exactly that kind of writer — Seconds captures in print both the nuanced rhythms of contemporary speech and the pitfalls of dark I-Me-Mine gratification.
“I’ve just only been doing this, writing prose fiction, for the last 12 to 18 months,” says LaBute, who submitted a story cold to The New Yorkerand got a book deal soon after. “It was quite satisfying to finish something over the course of a trip rather than just have five or 10 pages of something that needed another 100 pages to make a whole.”
“I’m really just feeling my way,” he continued. “It doesn’t mean there’s a novel on the way, or even another book of these. It’s just that the collection grew and became enough to publish. I don’t know where it will lead.” Where it leads tonight is a mirrored-hall effect of laughs, grimaces, guffaws and snorts. Love it or hate it, LaBute’s stories work incredibly well in performance.
“I think it would be just wild if you and Eric Bogosian could collaborate,” says a starstruck 40-something male fan wearing a Dr. StrangeloveT-shirt. A younger woman happily adds, “I thought it was great to hear David Swim-Scwhim-whatever, say the words . . . , ‘Fucking shit!’”
On paper, a graveyard seems like a logical place for goths — those pasty-faced lovers of all things macabre — to gather. Yet the palm trees and manicured lawns of the storied Hollywood Forever cemetery, in balmy early-afternoon sunshine, make a somewhat incongruous setting for the monthly get-together of the Westside goth meet-up group, a loosely affiliated gaggle of gloomsters drawn together through online communities like Craig’s List and Meetup.com.
First arrival Bret Anthony Jordan parks his economy car (the license-plate frame reads: “I’m the goth that’s gother than all the other goths”) amid the hearses and groundsmen’s golf carts, immediately blurring the cartoon: In jeans and T-shirt, with shaved head and olive skin, this 35-year-old engineer is the image of a “regular guy.”
“You don’t have to wear black to be a goth,” he says. “We’re not all shoe-gazing, suicidal, absinthe-drinking maniacs!”
And, sure enough, though there’s a fair bit of dark garb among the nine who trickle in (out of 53 members of the Westside group), they’re an eclectic, eloquent, warm and funny bunch. They include a television subtitler, a researcher, a book dealer and an actress. Three bring their dogs, two carry parasols against the sun, some have brought the makings of a picnic.
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