"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
Welcome to the first session of Salon’s new Reading Club, everyone! For those just joining us, we’re going to be discussing Justin Cronin’s post-apocalyptic epic, “The Passage,” for the next three Saturdays, beginning today with pages 1 through 246. (Follow the link here for more information on the Salon Reading Club.)
I’m going to kick off the discussion with a few questions and observations, but please feel free to take the conversation wherever you like in the comments thread. Just remember to restrain yourselves from discussing anything that happens after Page 246 so you don’t spoil the story for everybody else. And it should go without saying that if you haven’t gotten to Page 246 yet and don’t want to be spoiled, then don’t read any further. (Personally, I’m not the kind of reader who minds being tipped off to future plot points, so if you’re like me, dive in.) And remember, if you have questions for Justin Cronin himself, don’t forget to post them, since we’ll be interviewing him at the end.
Now, I must confess that I fell for this book in the first chapter because the story of Jeanette and Amy felt so completely and intimately real and heartbreaking to me in a way that I didn’t expect from a nail-biting horror epic. After that, I could never be sure when or if the the novel was going to do that again, which in its own way was as unsettling as not knowing if a monster is going to pop out.
I also especially liked the grim, road-novel aspect of Wolgast and Doyle driving from crummy town to crummy town, staying in motels by night and talking death-row inmates into “volunteering” for scientific experiments by day. As crazy as it might sound for them to jump off the rails the way they did, you can see why they’d be up for bailing on that life.
Anybody else care to mention their favorite parts so far?
One of my biggest reservations about the novel is the character of Richards. He’s got to be a stone-cold bastard for the sake of the plot — who else would inject a little girl with some weird South American virus to see if she’ll turn into a supersoldier? But compared to the other characters in the book, who seem so carefully thought-out, his motivation was the least convincing. What do you think?
Finally, I think that while the nature of the virus is intriguing, it’s obvious that the most burning question raised by the first third of “The Passage” is: What is Amy? Who’d like to speculate?
OK, folks, have at it. Post your thoughts, questions, answers, predictions, complaints — whatever — in the comments thread.
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)
The Salon Reading Club is an opportunity for Salon readers to come together and discuss a new book. At noon on Saturdays, Laura Miller kicks things off with an article about the book, and readers continue the discussion in the comments.
Our second pick is Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. Here's the schedule: Along the way, we'll collect questions for author Jonathan Franzen. At the end of the month, we'll select the best questions and Franzen will respond.
• Saturday, September 4: Pages 1 through 187
• Saturday, September 11: Pages 187 through 382
• Saturday, September 18: Pages 382 through 562
Here's the schedule:
Along the way, we'll collect questions for author Jonathan Franzen. At the end of the month, we'll select the best questions and Franzen will respond.