Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Pink and Read

By Sid Moody

FEBRUARY 23, 1998: 

by Gus Van Sant

(Doubleday, $21.95 hard)

Pink, written by veteran independent film director Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, To Die For, and most recently, Good Will Hunting), is a charming and inventive first novel. It is perhaps best described as a postmodernist book of dead and not-so-dead celebrities that has been injected with generous dosages of lighthearted camp and is framed by sci-fi elements that seem more concerned with inner space than outer space. The unconventional novel is filled with references to Nineties pop culture and uses multiple typefaces to indicate shifting points of view.

The story begins in Las Vegas, where infomercial director Spunky Davis has just wrapped an infomercial for Japanese knives when he discovers an invitation to travel to other dimensions.

Spunky feels homesick for the quasi-fictional town of Sasquatch, Oregon, and the story follows him there as he becomes the focal point for an assemblage of oddball characters from the fringes of Sasquatch's independent film scene. These characterizations of minor figures are vividly and comically painted - often with supportive footnotes - and then abruptly vanish from the narrative.

Spunky meets an enigmatic pair of transplanted Austin hippies named Jack and Matt who appear to be slacker filmmakers trying to hustle money for their next student movie. Yet Spunky is struck by the amazing physical resemblance between Jack and the late actor Felix Arroyo, Spunky's megastar infomercial presenter who "died by misadventure" in front of the Thundermountain nightclub in downtown Las Vegas. Matt, on the other hand, seems to be a doppelgänger for a shopaholic rock star named Blake, front man for the band Speechless, who is hopelessly addicted to purchasing bulldozers and other forms of heavy machinery. Woven into the fabric of the narrative is a series of epistolaries from Jack addressed to "Dear Brutha" that provide an interesting counterpoint to Spunky's version of the story. Spunky intermittently toils away on Great Skull Zero, a screenplay he's trying to sell to Hollywood for big bucks. Yet Spunky seems to be less interested in commercial success than he claims - his bizarro fantasy/action script reads more like something written by Salvador Dali than Joe Eszterhas. Spunky doesn't learn that Jack and Matt are actually interdimensional travelers until rather late in the narrative, when he's offered the opportunity to get an interdimensional driver's license and blast into the dimension of Pink.

Pink is also sprinkled with Van Sant's illustrations. They include a flip-book of a man eating a flower and then becoming a flower, which echoes the novel's theme of transformation. Pink should, however, contain a warning label: If you see Jack and Matt while walking down the Drag (their illustrated portraits appear in the book) you may have inadvertently wandered into the Pink dimension!- Sid Moody

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