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In a recent interview with Microsoft's online magazine Mungo Park, director-producer Oliver Stone said of his soon-to-be published novel, A Child's Night Dream: "I hope that it has a universal appeal as a story of a boy passing through his youth into his young adulthood. That is, to me, its universal strength. It's classical. I hope it has a classical tone to it."
Classical? Well, no -- unless I missed the parts of Horace and Virgil that contain sentences like "Smell me, eat me, dip me in the boilers of the moon, but don't let it out, keep it in, keep it in, force it up me, fuck me good!" But this book is definitely a classic of a kind. A frankly autobiographical tale of a pretentious, angst-ridden adolescent's coming-of-age, it's sure to be hailed as a camp masterpiece, an unintentional comedy that makes even the most embarrassing examples of Stone's cinematic output look like milestones of sophistication and self-restraint.
The book, written when Stone was 19 but recently revised and "edited," has already attracted early gossip for its excruciating scenes of fantasy incest involving the protagonist -- one William Oliver Stone -- and his French-born mother. ("And it was my mother's face staring down at me, as she was doing this to me and me to her, both of us entwined like snakes of desire. My penis in her hairy hole. O how thrilling! How exciting!") But for anyone who cares about books, the real story surrounding the novel is not what it says about Stone's psyche (tortured, bathetic, innocent of irony -- just what we already knew, in other words), but rather what it says about the increasingly cynical tenor of the publishing industry. Let's not mince words here: From the erection that begins the book ("Do come. With your erection. It may wish to emote. In tune with Truth.") to the erection that ends it ("My penis sprouting to an enormous length. Like a decadent French flower. In the garden calling, 'Oliverre, Oliverre.'"), A Child's Night Dream is the most howlingly awful book I have ever read. The fact that a reputable New York publisher like St. Martin's Press has chosen to print it -- at a time when, according to the New York Times, excellent midlist authors cannot get their second and third novels published -- is the biggest scandal of all.
My intention here isn't to make fun of Oliver Stone -- but hell, how can anyone resist? No other response seems appropriate when confronted with paragraphs like this: "Woo! The alchemy of the magicmind. Teeth pushing out from my ass. Cursed piper. I ply the musical pipe. And prance along through taverns of country greenery. Tralala. And then, when the East sets in the West, I put my pipe down. And look back. And see. Nothing but useless creativity."
Useless creativity indeed. One can read for pages and pages in this novel without having the vaguest notion of what the author is talking about. Strangely, the simplistic, easy-to-follow moral schemas we have come to expect of Stone's cinematic diatribes -- in which ugly, old, evil, hard-drinking, right-wing conspirators face off against handsome, young, dynamic, progressive idealists -- are entirely absent here. Instead, we get occasional stretches of concrete narrative (rich boy clashes with American father and French mother, drops out of Yale, takes off for Vietnam to find himself, sees horror and corruption of war, returns to U.S., then goes to Mexico to write autobiographical novel and go mad) punctuated by endless oratorios on Grand Subjects, replete with smug schoolboy allusions to the most famous lines of Shakespeare, Hemingway and T.S. Eliot and other bits of high-flying absurdity. (My favorite? "Squeeze me, you fleshridden pythons of eternity.")
The following excerpt from the author's ramblings, however, is far more telling about the motivations of those involved in publishing this novel: "And for all of my Herculean adventures of the mind, who cares. Who cares? Greed. Greed." It's the only honest line in the book. St. Martin's is obviously expecting Stone's notoriety to sell plenty of copies of A Child's Night Dream. Publishers Weekly reports that the planned first print run of the book is 100,000. One hundred thousand copies of this? "Eek! Ook!" as young Oliver himself is wont to say. You can only wish that those fleshridden pythons had squeezed harder. -- Salon