A novel set in Baker City? Now that would seem an unlikely setting for a literary endeavor. Or maybe the perfect one.
“I guess the story starts three years ago in a small town in Oregon,” author Bobby Hall opens “Supermarket.”
“I suppose every goddamn town in Oregon is small as towns go. Baker City, White as f***, surprise, surprise. Not far from Idaho. Barely 50 kids in my graduating class. You know what that means.”
To Seasiders, Baker City, population 15,980, might be a home away from home, or a stop on I-84. Seaside attorney Dan Van Thiel hails from Baker City. EO Media Group just purchased the Baker City Herald, a tri-weekly since 1870.
But as a location for “Supermarket,” “there’s no connection that we’re aware of” between the author and the remote Eastern Oregon community, said Kelly Sullivan a publicity rep from Simon & Schuster.
Ultimately the book has far less to do with Baker City or supermarket operations and much more to deal with a modern psyche caught in a matrix of their own making: replete with demons, monsters, self-realization — and romance.
Rapper and an author
Bobby Hall, aka the rapper “Logic,” is the first rapper to become a New York Times’ No. 1 best-selling author with his novel “Supermarket.”
When I picked up ”Supermarket” at Powell’s, I wasn’t familiar with Logic, whose “Black Spiderman” won an MTV award in 2017 and whose “1-800-273-8255” was nominated for best song in 2018.
The first and outer layer of the plot involves a writer unable to finish his novel, living at home with his mother, a girlfriend who unceremoniously dumps him. The character Flynnagin A. Montgomery — Flynn — has no prospects, no future, an author with a mountain of rejections.
When a high-powered publisher responds to his latest pitch — a “realist novel set in a suburban supermarket” — Flynn needs to follow through on a book that promises “to mimic how life is lived, in all its boring and profound mundaneness.”
Let’s put it this way: Flynn’s adventures, as narrated from his days as a “floater” at Muldoon’s Supermarket is anything but boring or mundane.
The author creates a world of precisely drawn characters that provide romantic possibilities and dark despair — with reality shifts, fourth-wall breakdowns between reader and author, and some heartbreaking soul-searching that ends in a mental health clinic and a battle-to-the-death with Flynn’s evil doppelganger. Frank.
“It felt like something out of a twisted movie,” Hall writes. “But I guess even the craziest movie concepts stem from real life.”
Into a ‘fantasy’ world
Hall isn’t the only author whose characters literally jump off the page.
Haruki Murakami’s “Killing Commendatore” is set on the North Japanese Coast, in the Sendai region, a terrain very much like the one we know on the North Coast, with mountains to the sea, with wildlife “including the wild boar and the monkey.”
It is in the years before the March 11, 2011, earthquake that was to destroy much of the region and take thousands of lives.
A portrait painter makes a retreat from his daily world after a separation from his wife, to paint and regroup in the empty house of a childhood friend whose father is confined to a nursing home.
In the attic is a canvas, sealed and boxed — “Killing Commendatore.”
As the protagonist gazes upon the canvas, a series of supernatural events begin that lead him into a “fantasy” world that slips in and out of what we might call normality.
“As if on cue,” Murakami writes, “weird things have happened one after the other since I stumbled on this painting.”
Murakami’s dramatic odyssey ends with an underworld journey through stifling darkness and a flowing river “along the interstice between presence and absence.”
As in Hall’s “Supermarket,” art doesn’t imitate life, and life doesn’t imitate art, but they become one. Each book reaches plot climaxes where the authors battle not other people — but creations of their own mind.
Each protagonist is forced to “kill” in order to survive. Unlike noir writers like Jim Thompson, who’s “killer inside me” is a “sociopath with sadistic sexual tastes,” these characters are well-meaning creative types (writer, artist) battling mythic inner demons in hand-to-hand combat.
in “Supermarket,” it is “Frank,” a bedeviling voice in Flynn’s head that appeals to his deepest insecurities; and in “Killing Commendatore,” the character in the portrait must be vanquished.’
“The Commendatore had died to make my quest possible. I had stabbed him with my own hands.”
Meanwhile: “I had been Frank all along,” Hall’s narrator Flynn laments. “I made Frank up and made him real in my own head. He was a complete illusion, a hallucination, an apparition.”
And that is the way it is for these two authors, who recognize in their structure that the plot is limited only by our layers of imagination and power of creation.
It’s not that these authors are scoffing at our physical world and our conventional frameworks. They’re simply asking, what lay beneath, and then, beyond that.
For writers, for portrait artists — anyone who considers themselves to possess the power of imagination — these are questions that lurk in all of us. If we open up our creative juices, if we look to the inspirations of the world around it, what will come in? And how will we handle it? Are we a match for own imaginations?
Best for readers of these two contemporary novels: they keep you turning the pages. Both are filled with surprises of exhilaration and self-discovery.
“I wanted to write something I’d want to read,” Hall writes. “And isn’t that what art is about, anyway? Expressing yourself the way you want to.”