Suffused with Jim Carroll's humor and sharp wit, his delicate yet hallucinatory imagery, and his cool, sophisticated, streetsmart voice, The Petting Zoo is a frank, haunting examination of one artist's personal and spiritual quest. Billy Wolfram, an enigmatic thirty-eight- year-old star of the late -1980s New York art scene, views a show of Velázquez paintings and is so humbled by their spiritual power that he suffers an emotional breakdown and retreats to his Chelsea loft. In seclusion, he recalls the most emblematic moments and figures of his childhood and early career as he searches to recover the spark of inspiration in his own work and life.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.54(w) x 8.44(h) x 0.71(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
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All the trouble, of course, began with Velázquez. Billy Wolfram was running recklessly down the wide steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Craning his head backward, he saw the huge banner with the old master's self-portrait hanging from the limestone façade. Billy was certain those cocksure eyes were fixed directly on him. Mocking him. The slick leather soles of his new shoes slid beneath him, but he recovered before falling. He sped up, watching the yellow streaks of cabs passing down Fifth Avenue. Then he turned his eyes upward to the lights swinging over the traffic like hanging torsos, frozen on red. He heard snatches of conversations from men poised on the steps, smoking in tuxedos: "So I told her it looked more like a pie chart." "I don't get these old masters…; there's something so Catholic about them…;"
He took the last nine steps three at a time, then sped south on Fifth Avenue until he reached the entrance to Central Park. His legs were straining to outrun the images in his brain and find some equilibrium in speed. A doctor friend once told Billy that he was prone to "racing thoughts." He moved slower now on the path beside the dog run, sweating through the seat of his tuxedo trousers. He was thinking about the sound of traffic out of view, and how alien the body seemed, how senseless and capricious. Nauseous, he started shaking so badly he wanted to collapse into the grass and rest, anything to lose the images of Velázquez, every detail in his paintings, every brushstroke now stuck in loops of racing thoughts.
He wondered what kind of man the old master was. Billy knew little about Velázquez in any biographical sense. Staring up at the trees, he resolved to change that, vowing to thoroughly research the maestro's life by the next day.
Billy Wolfram fixed his eyes directly at the sky, which was filmy and disguised by the lights and melancholy of the city. The cause of his outrageous behavior that night wasn't buried in some biographer's footnotes, but in the paintings themselves. It was their spirituality and haunting arrogance that had attacked Billy. The characters in the paintings still shouted out, and the volume grew until their seventeenth century voices sent him dropping to his knees. As if genuflecting in prayer, he remained in the grass and the sound of peasants, cardinals, and children of the aristocracy continued to taunt him now for the shortcomings in his own work and his frivolous life.
Billy raised himself up, returned to the path, and moved on. He had no idea how much time had passed, but despite the knees of his pants being soaked, he felt calmer. Some of the lampposts gave off light, others had been snuffed out by vandals' stones flung through the opaque casing. It was the type of bare, low light that encouraged danger and disguise, but in his present state of mind, rejuvenated by his rest in the grass, Billy walked south on the pathway without qualms or fear.
Moving through one of those semicircular brick underpasses, the ground filled with puddles and the walls with moss no matter what the weather, Billy recognized that, in his circumstances, there was no better place for him to be. In these shadows, this part of the park had no reference to time or place. He passed a homeless old couple sleeping beneath strips of cardboard. They looked up at him, both toothless, the man with a patchy gray beard. They could have been from any era or country…; the French Revolution, resting after a day among the crowds gathered to watch the guillotine do its work, finding their only entertainment in its simplicity and precision.
He was speeding up, his body finally falling comfortably into place with his mind's delirious, disheveled drive. It's amazing and terrible, he thought, distinguishing the ironies out of control within you, and not being able to do a thing about them. What he needed was something to take his mind in another direction.
There was a fork in the path; Billy recognized that the turn to the left led to the zoo, remembering for no reason that the Latin word for "left" was "sinister." Within minutes, he was on a hill overlooking the zoo.
This was fate, he thought; this was exactly what he needed. Billy had loved zoos all his life. The Central Park Zoo was antiquated. It hadn't expanded its cages for the spacious simulacra of natural habitats that many modern zoos boasted. Nonetheless, there was a unique sensation walking around its minimal confines. It was the counterpoint of all those wild, exotic creatures existing right alongside the aloof residents of obscenely priced buildings on Fifth Avenue. Creatures strutting with such certainty a few short blocks away from the neurotic and trendy. This was what passed for irony in midtown Manhattan. It was all the irony people wanted in their lives, and it was all they could handle.
Halfway down the path leading into the main zoo's north entrance, Billy was confronted by an orange DayGlo sign, surrounded by a chain-link fence: CLOSED FOR RENOVATIONS.
Billy circumnavigated the barricaded site by following the grass beside the carriage path leading directly to the petting zoo. He picked up a flyer and read that it was still operating despite the reconstruction of the larger zoo. The fact that it would be closed for the night did not bother him in the least. Billy knew that animals would provide the perfect diversion to redirect his obsessed thoughts, and nothing was going to stop him from that necessity. He stopped for a moment and looked down at what remained of the old zoo. The tall spiked fence that once enclosed the polar bear still stood, and the huge centerpiece, the pool for sea lions, was all drained and dry. It wasn't as deep as he had imagined when he watched the seals circling the gray water and diving down until they were out of view. Now there were just two homeless men, barely visible in the moon shadows.
Though most of the lion house had been leveled, some of the cages were still intact. Billy felt the ghostly presence of cheetahs restlessly pacing. Beyond the brick tier of the monkey house, which remained standing, he could see the petting zoo. He moved down the rocks toward it. He could feel the animal spirits diffusing the dilemma of Velázquez, but not completely. The streetlight from Fifth Avenue played on the red and yellow leaves of the trees, and in them he saw the canvases from the museum. If he stood before a painting long enough, Billy had always thought he could reconstruct every moment of its creation. He could tell which were the starting strokes, the defining cuts of a palette knife, the transcendent afterthoughts in the thickness of pigment. It was as if he were standing in the painter's studio with him. Yet, despite the strange, shocking quality that he had seen in the maestro's canvases tonight, recreated now in the trees, he couldn't pull off that feat…; not with Velázquez. He was blocked. "This is how it should be," he whispered to himself, before stumbling down the hill to the petting zoo.
There was a metal shutter closing off the entrance, secured at the base by a huge padlock. In his current state of mind, this didn't bother Billy. He walked around the side, where his only obstruction to the zoo grounds and the animals was an old black metal fence. Actually, at second glance, it looked rather imposing…; a row of ten-foot-high rods, sharpened at the top. There was an old elm to Billy's left, however, growing right up against the outside of the fence. It might as well have been a stairway leading to a slide into the zoo. Its limbs were low to the ground, extending outward into the zoo, only about ten feet from the pond, where a duck floated alone in the dazed, diffused moonlight.
He climbed the tree with ease, but once he reached a suitable height to scale the fence, it was somewhat trickier finding a branch that would both carry him into the zoo and support his weight. He tested one, and though it began to bend precariously, he realized it would only take one more step before he could lower himself into the zoo. He took it, and the branch snapped beneath him, quickly and loud. Billy lurched forward, miraculously sidestepping the pond and landing on his feet. His tuxedo was barely wrinkled. It was amazing.
Billy surveyed the place, walking toward the glass-encased pavilion at the entrance. The lampposts offered just enough light for him to see clearly, accentuating the atmosphere of the place. The little zoo was a remnant of a bygone architectural agethe Candy Land school, circa Cold War 1950s. It had a theme, an odd mixture of fairy-tale and biblical references, and abounded with details. There were the "Three Little Piggies," with houses of wood, straw, and brick. Of course, the actual pigs themselves lived in a rusting tin A-frame and were hardly little, but gigantic sows, pushing the 300-pound mark. They were also extremely unattractive, their bodies a bloated pink, with a few bristly clumps of thick hair.
There was a small Noah's ark, cantilevered out over the entrance to the pond. The pond was the centerpiece of the petting zoo, normally filled with ducks and geese. Near that was an exhibit of tropical fish housed within a glass window encased in a huge blue whale. The whale looked like something on top of an Eisenhower-era drive-in restaurant with waitresses on roller skates. Most of the fish were dead or dying. The whale's exterior paint was peeling badly, but its schizophrenic eyes still stared above a lunatic white smile.
The petting zoo rattled Billy's painterly instincts. On the day it opened, everything about it had had a postwar flamboyance, the colors lurid, artificial, and bright. Now, from time and the city's exhaust, they had faded like the decorations on a birthday cake that had sat far too long in a bakery window.
There were ponies in their red stable, locked away for the night, along with a recalcitrant llama that was fond of—and accurate at—spitting on onlookers while standing in his cramped, sorry quarters. The tops of the lampposts were shaped like buttercups. There was a black wrought-iron birdcage crowned with a wire sculpture of a robin swallowing a worm. This cage was fairly large but hardly large enough for the two fully grown birds inside, hunched sullenly on their perches.
Billy didn't have to break into Noah's ark, since there was no door on it. He quietly slouched up the gangplank and entered. There were ten small cages. Eight were empty; the other two held two shaggy rabbits. They looked rabid. "Rabid rabbits," Billy whispered to the cowering bunnies. It was a fairly pathetic attraction. Why did they call it a petting zoo? he wondered. Everything was encased; you couldn't pet these rabbits if you wanted to, and it was doubtful anyone would. Still, Billy reached a single finger through the wire mesh as best he could, and one of the furry creatures actually moved closer. With the tip of his pinky, Billy managed to flick off some of the ubiquitous crud caked beneath its left eye. He tried to get to the other eye to clean it as well, but the rabbit withdrew to the back of the cage. That was enough time for Noah's ark, and he headed for the exit.
About to step onto the gangplank, he forgot to duck while moving through the kiddie-sized doorway. Crack! Billy smashed his head just above his eyebrows. He saw brilliant comets emerging and cracking apart from a deep cherry-red background. The red then dissipated and was replaced by spirals of nausea. He almost went out, his legs buckling beneath him as he reached out blindly and grabbed on to the wood casing of an empty cage.
Lowering himself to one knee, Billy waited for his head to clear. He was thankful that the impact had thrown him backward rather than straight ahead. He imagined the embarrassment of tumbling forward down the gangplank of Noah's ark, directly into the pond, flopping and splashing about, not to mention the ancillary pain of being attacked by obstinate geese. He hesitantly checked his forehead as he began to rise, squeamish about confronting the size of the lump. It was large, worse than he expected. Also, there was blood on his handlots of it. He could now feel its slow traverse downward into his eyes and past his nose. It was time to leave.
Billy came to a halt near the birdcage. He gave a quick look around and, to his dismay, discovered that he was trapped inside the petting zoo. There were no trees growing from the inside over the fence, so he was not going to be leaving the way he got in. He decided to circle the edges and see what his options were. On the outside edges of the zoo, dozens of trees grew right beside the fence, but there wasn't the scrawniest sapling rising within the zoo to help Billy boost his way over the fence.
He was about five feet past the cage when he first heard the voice: "Quite a whack you got there, eh?" It was a strange-sounding voice, and though it was slightly high-pitched, he knew immediately that it was male. Billy chalked it up to the effects of a mild concussion. Billy heard the voice again, this time infinitely more distinct: "You have to remember where you are, and when to duck. A painter should have a better understanding of scale. By the way, if you're lost for a way out, there's a ladder over there leaning against the ponies' so-called stable."
Billy turned around to face the birdcage only a few feet behind him. It was the only place that the sound could have come from. He circled the structure and found nothing and nobody. He surveyed every direction and there was no hint of any speakers, microphones, or amplifiers. Besides, there was nothing electronic, no matter how sophisticated, about that voice. In the cage were perched a sparrow hawk and a raven, the raven's talons dug so deeply into a wood branch that the bird could have been stuffed. Nonetheless, as Billy looked down, he could have sworn his peripheral vision caught the black bird opening and closing one eye. Quickly turning back, he saw the bird's eyes were once more tightly shut. Now, Billy assumed, he was dealing with visual as well as auditory delusions.
It was all some form of passing insanity, he was about to conclude, but whoever had done the speaking in this elaborate trick was, thankfully, as good as his word. Across the park and in the shadows, Billy saw a large painter's ladder on the side of the red pony stable. He turned and headed for it. As he was dragging the aluminum ladder toward the tree where he had entered, Billy heard the voice one more time: "I'll be seeing you soon. Good luck with your quest."
Billy found a path leading out onto Fifth Avenue. He crossed it and began speeding across 64th Street toward Madison. The voice was right, he thought; he did have a quest before him. Only now he wasn't just seeking equilibrium in speed, but sanity as well. His thoughts were racing, but his legs could no longer keep up with his brain. He was exhausted. He stopped at the traffic island on glittering Park Avenue, looking downtown, the chain of lights there, red, yellow, and all that green, all ending with the golden-lit façade of the huge Helmsley Building. It seemed like an Aztec temple. They offered their heroes and losers to the gods. All the colors kept repeating, mixing with racing thoughts of bloody Aztec sacrifices, crude stone knives, and buttercups in nursery rhyme. It caused a feeling of vertigo and settled in his mouth with nausea. Leaning over the well-tended hedge, he puked onto the flower bed and collapsed to his knees.
Billy's forehead rested on some cool shrubs. He was just beginning to feel his body settle when a twig sprang out of the bush and slapped him in the eyelid. He saw stars…; literally, stars in black and white clusters scanning galaxies dripping paint, old as the big bang, fresh as the cans of acrylic in his studio. The voices in his mind were giddy. More nursery rhymes. Sharply polished daggers of milky quartz crystal, dripping with blood. Golden rays and human sacrifices in the glowing Helmsley Building. Still on his knees, Billy vomited again and pressed his hand to his face. He finally opened his eyes and saw nothing but a blank expanse. Good, he thought. I'm blind.
To Billy Wolfram's immediate regret, sight was returning to his eyes. First he saw an abstract field of colors beneath the bright streetlights, then there was a return to tear-swelled focus. It must have been an optical trauma from the whacking by the shrub branch, or perhaps a hysterical symptom of his racing thoughts. That didn't matter at the moment. As he wiped the fluid blur from his eyes, he realized that he was sitting in the back seat of a police car, speeding uptown with lights and siren on full tilt. Yelling above the spinning red noise, he asked the cop in the passenger seat what was going on. The cop, playing with the foil from a gum wrapper, didn't even move his head to face Billy as he curtly informed him that he had been deemed a danger to himself and to others. This, by law, meant that they were forced to secure him to the nearest psychiatric hospital for evaluation, and they were at that moment on their way to Metropolitan Hospital Center on 97th Street. "You can't be out on the street yelling to every passerby that you're about to sacrifice them in a ritual stabbing," the cop said, still staring forward. "That's known as making threats. Can you grasp what I'm saying, sir?"
"I wasn't doing that," Billy replied. Authority figures scared the hell out of him. "I wasn't threatening anybody. I was making a joke was all it was…; saying that this is what people were doing in the Helmsley Building. There was no harm intended."
"It wasn't a very funny joke, sir. The doorman who called it in said you had a knife. Now, we looked around and did not find any knife, but that doesn't mean you didn't toss it and we just couldn't come up with it."
"I didn't have any knife." Billy had grown from scared to confused. "Surely you searched me and found no weapons. I was talking about those ancient stone knives that the Aztec Indians of Mexico would use in their sacrifices. That's what I meant was going on in the Helmsley Building. The way it was lit up it reminded me of one of those Aztec temples."
"Forget about the knife." The cop finally turned and spoke to Billy in profile, squinting at him through one eye. "Nobody saw a knife, so we're not going to worry about that. The threats you were shoutingwhich were substantiated by witnesseswere enough. Anyway, I thought you were blind. You kept yelling you were blind. And what's with the gash on your forehead? Is that where the blood on your frilly white shirt came from?"
"I'm not blind! That was just a temporary thing from getting poked in the eye by a bush…; and as far as this cut on my forehead, that was another accident, running into a low, uh, tree branch. This whole thing is all a mistake. I was just a little confused and upset, and certainly had no intention of hurting anyone. It was nothing more than a bad moment, a kind of fugue state I guess you'd have to call it. You see, I was having a bad reaction to these paintings I was looking at. I'm an artist and the perspective broke down into an essence I couldn't sustain. They just freaked me out and I began to run and…; well, that's not important at all. It was all a bad moment, man. Really, my head is quite clear now. I don't need to go to any hospital. I'm fine. If you'd just be kind enough to take me back to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I'm quite certain that my dealer would vouch for me."
"Your dealer," the cop said, perking up. "You're beautiful, pal. I'm sure your dealer would vouch for you. I mean, you must be one of his best-dressed customers. We don't even know who you are for certain. You have no I.D. on you…; just four thousand in cash. That's serious money, especially for an artist. We got the line on artists, and most would be doing well holding four dollars."
"No, no, no," Billy burst out nervously, seeing this was all taking a truly bad turn. "I mean my art dealer. I'm a painter, and he works for me, selling my finished pieces. He owns one of the largest galleries in New York. You guys thought I was referring to some kind of drugs thing? That's ridiculous. I pride myself on never having taken any drugs. I have a lot of friends that abuse various drugs, but I've never touched them. See, this is all really some big screw-up. I never carry I.D. on me, but you can call up the Met on your radio and check me out. Please, turn your car around, or just let me out. I'll get a cab and go straight home."
"We can't do that, sir," the driver said, speaking up for the first time as he turned onto 96th Street. "People signed complaints, so at this point you are in the system and we're just doing our job. You can take it all up with the doctors. Don't be upset, now. I'm gonna bet that it's all gonna turn out to be all right. By the way, would you care to give us the names of some of these friends of yours? The ones who take all these drugs?"
The other cop began to shake in silent laughter. Billy saw that his fate was sealed. He was going to be checked out by head doctors in some ratty psycho ward. He sank into the back seat, resigned, wishing that the blindness had lasted longer. "Fucking Velázquez," he whispered.
Excerpted from "The Petting Zoo"
Copyright © 2011 Jim Carroll.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Petting Zoo tells the story of Billy Wolfram, a successful 38 year old NY city artist, who is in crisis and searching for more meaning in his work and his life. The story moves back and forth in time from his childhood through the present, introducing us to a myriad of characters including best friend rock musician Denny, mentor art dealer Max, assistant love interest Marta, and a talking raven. Yep, a main part of the dialogue comes from the talking raven.And while the novel holds the seed of brilliance in its pages, overall the writing is uneven. It suffocates under some of the run-on dialogue. This may have to do with the fact that Jim Carroll---artist, poet, punk musician and the author of The Basketball Diaries (later made into a film by the same name)---died in 2009 while apparently "in the midst of putting the finishing touches" on his latest novel. That task then fell to someone else.It's still a book worth reading. Especially if you're a Jim Carroll fan, a lover of art and the mind of the artist, or just someone who appreciates a good story. You'll just have to savor the good and race through the unnecessary.
The Petting Zoo is the novel that poet and musician Jim Carroll was working on when he died in September 2009. The book starts well. The premise has legs, and the first forty pages are written with promising energy and rich detail. But soon the work begins to struggle.The author makes mistakes that published novelists and writing instructors consistently warn against. All the characters speak in the same voice with a similar lexicon; nothing makes their speech distinctive. A great deal of exposition is written as dialogue, making much of it awkward to the reader's mental ear. The secondary characters lack development, the narrative patterning is cumbersome, and the themes and symbolism are treated ham-fistedly. There is an ambitious vision in this book, but the telling is so flawed by amateurish narrative issues and the writer's hyperbolic infatuation with his main character that the vision cannot be realized. Much more substantive editorial work was required to bring this book to a publishable standard. As a book editor, I know how difficult it is to work with posthumous manuscripts. Having read the book, I believe the decision to publish the manuscript was an error, one that won't add to Jim Carroll's artistic reputation. I doubt an unsigned writer who submitted a manuscript of this calibre would be put under contract, and if he were, the book would not be published until the major flaws were corrected. There are some strong moments, particularly early in the text, but overall this book is unrewarding.
In this sadly disappointing and quite forgettable work of fiction JC lingers about to no avail. In the end, was this 'unfinished' mess of a book churned out by the publishers to simply capitalize on Carroll's death??!!??P.S. His memoir 'The Basketball Diaries' was extremely overrated IMHO
I had the pleasure of seeing Jim Carroll read at a local college in the 1990s. I was hooked. During that reading, he talked of this idea for a novel about an artist who is caught in a spiritual dilemma and is visited by the raven from Noah¿s Ark. He then told the unfortunate events surrounding the artist¿s sexual awakening, which was hilarious and shocking. You can hear a very similar telling on the spoken-word recording Praying Mantis. It¿s a fascinating premise. That idea is the core of The Petting Zoo.The novel opens with the protagonist, 38-year-old Billy Wolfram, rushing out of a Velázquez art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Billy is a mysterious star who quickly rose to the top of the New York art world in the 1980s. His work has never really been criticized, and he keeps virtually everyone at a safe emotional distance. He sees some form of spirituality in Velazquez¿s paintings that causes him to question his own art and ability. He immediately has an emotional breakdown, which is the beginning of his inner journey to finding his own artistic spirituality.After blindly running from the museum, Billy finds himself at a closed, run-down petting zoo and climbs the fence. There he encounters a talking raven who becomes something akin to Dante¿s Virgil. This isn¿t just any raven. It¿s the raven Noah sent out before the dove, and the bird only shows up at just the right moments to try to guide Billy. Billy is forced to spend a few days in the psychiatric ward of the hospital, and then goes into seclusion in his loft. It is during this seclusion that Billy broods and meditates on his life and his art, and the reader learns what has brought Billy to this point.While the book was in the final stages of editing last year, Carroll died while working at his desk. I¿ll be honest. I don¿t know that I can truly write an objective review. The novel is so infused with Carroll¿s style, voice, and humor that I imagine anyone who already loves Carroll¿s work will like the book, flaws and all. The writing is beautiful, as you would aspect from a poet of Carroll¿s caliber. It¿s full of everything that is infused in his poetry- hallucinatory imagery, artistic intelligence, street smarts; and references to religion, history, and mysticism.Unfortunately, anyone who has never read Carroll will probably dislike the book. The first 80 pages or so of the novel are riveting as a traditional novel, but once Billy goes into seclusion, the book becomes Carroll¿s meditation on art and the inner workings of the artist¿s mind more than it is a traditional novel. I don¿t know if that was his intent or if that would have changed with more editing. Billy¿s seclusion is filled with long inner dialogues and memories that serve as characterization but make the narrative seem disjointed. The plot slips away as the novel progresses, and the end feels very unfinished and unsatisfying as a novel.As a fan of Jim Carroll¿s writing, those long inner dialogues and seemingly disjointed memories are important. They seem to give insight into Carroll¿s own thoughts on the artistic mind and on his own life. If you know anything about Carroll¿s life, it¿s impossible not to see the biographical elements in his characters. It¿s unfortunate that the book bears the flaws of an unfinished novel and will likely not garner much praise from critics or the casual reader, but I¿m glad we have it.
I'm not sure how I feel about this book. Like 'The Basketball Diaries' this book has a strong element of autobiography running throughout, though the protagonist is a celebrated artist rather than writer. Frightened into a panic attack by a piece of art at an exhibit, he is committed to a hospital's psychiatric ward. His panic attack has led him to flee the art show and end up in a closed petting zoo, only to hear a voice speaking to him, a raven he sees in a tree while in the zoo. In his confused and manic state he ends up at the hospital.Billy spends the novel trying to push through his memories and urges to create his new canvasses for his upcoming show. The raven continues to visit him.Parts of the book were reminiscent of other books. For instance, in dealing with his past he confronts memories reminiscent of Phillip Roth's 'Portnoy's Complaint'. Carroll's language and construction prevents it from seeming derivative or copiest, and his ability to use language to create mental pictures is what keeps this looking fresh and new. He has taken on a huge task with this book, in trying to show the pain and instability of the protagonist, the dark labyrinths of the mind of the artist. I can't picture this as anything other than autobiographical images of his own life.As I said, I don't know how I feel about the book. It took me a while to get to read it. It took me a while to continue to read it. I struggled with it a bit. I found it troubling, somehow, as if I were a voyeur, watching someone's life struggles and pain. While I appreciate his ability with language and image, I can't say that I loved this book. Perhaps it may be more true to say I admire it. Still, I won't likely read it again. I don't usually invite such feelings.
The late Jim Carroll's The Petting Zoo, which tells the story of Billy Wolfram, a popular artist living in New York City, had potential. The story is interesting enough - Billy suffers a mental breakdown while viewing a Velasquez painting and spends a couple of days in a mental hospital. This breakdown makes him feel as if he has lost his ability to paint and create, and thus he retreats into isolation in his loft. Much of the story details Billy's younger life and what has made him the quirky, creative person he is. I would have like to have seen more development of Denny, Billy's lifelong best friend, and Marta, his live-in assistant. Both of these characters seem like they were very important to Billy's life, yet I've walked away from reading this novel without much of an impression of them. Part of the problem is Carroll's use of extended monologues by all of the characters. There is nothing to distinguish between the speech styles of the different characters. Since Carroll was only putting the finishing touches on this work when he died, it is possible that more refinement of the dialogue was intended.Overall, this book was okay. I enjoyed the overarching story, but the mechanics and the journey to get through the story were unrefined and distracting.
Billy Wolfram's art has shot him into the dazzling New York limelight. As the story opens, he has just viewed a Velasquez painting and is so overwhelmed that he experiences an emotional breakdown. The upshot is a few days confinement in a mental hospital, courtesy of the police department, followed by weeks of reclusive soul-searching and reflection.Jim Carroll has written a story that is atmospheric and entertaining in a poignant sort of way. I sympathize with Billy and there are a few times when I can almost - but not quite - understand what he is thinking. Although Billy's offbeat life is described with inventive imagery, events are so disjointed that the story does not flow easily. And I have to admit that I did not fully understand the role of the illusory talking raven. My take on the raven was purely guesswork.The Petting Zoo is written in the third person, producing the odd effect of a memoir written by someone other than the subject. The story wanders and creeps along in places. I'd like to think that if Jim Carroll had lived to finish the book to his satisfaction, it would have been substantially different. Disappointing.
This was a very enjoyable novel to read. At times it mesmerized me and at other times I found myself quite concerned about the main character. This is what a novel should do for the reader, not just entertain but rivet the reader's eyes to the page. But then stories of artists and musicians have always interested me. I found that the raven as a character was most interesting. He shows up occasionally to talk to Billy Wolfram, a painter with an international reputation and a lot of personal problems. The raven claims to be immortal and tries to guide Billy on his journey through life and eventually through his death. So while this novel is not perfect, it gave me lots to think about and I didn't want to miss a word. This was Jim Carroll's only novel and for that I am sad.
Sits beside. I am Forest! What is your name. She places a huge vole next to him.
"O great creator of being/grant us one more hour to/perform our art/& perfect our lives" An American Prayer, Jim Morrison "The Petting Zoo" is a poet's look back, not only at his life, but the art, celebrity, and the ideas that guided him. "The Petting Zoo" was Jim Carroll's first and last novel, he died shortly before putting the finishing edits on the book. For those fans of Carroll's or books with a poetic bent, "The Petting Zoo" is a must read. Most people are aware of Jim Carroll through "The Basketball Diaries" either the 1978 book or the 1995 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Carroll also fronted The Jim Carroll Band which released one album "Catholic Boy." But Carroll was foremost a poet, and had his poems published and lauded while still in his teens ("Living at the Movies"). I've been a fan of Carroll's work since The Jim Carroll Band, and have read most of his poetry. When I ran across "The Petting Zoo" I was a little hesitant because sometimes poets don't come across well when they move to the novel. The esoteric ideas that work well in poems just don't translate that well to fiction. But I over came that objection and let curiosity and my liking of Carroll's earlier work to sway me, and I bought it, and I was glad I did. "The Petting Zoo" is an artists look backwards at his life. Carroll's character surrogate is Billy Wolfram a New York painter who at mid-life is suffering a crisis of just about every order from insecurity in his work, to women problems, and even the lack of spirituality in his work. During an opening, Billy is driven into the New York night by these newly manifested demons where he meets a crow that talks to him. Billy is then taken to a mental hospital for observation. Upon his release Billy reassess every area of his life with the occasional guiding insight from the crow, a crow that is older and has a much more complicated relationship with humanity than it at first seems. "The Petting Zoo" isn't "The Basketball Diaries" the middle aged years. If anything, it reminds me more of Patti Smith's "Just Kids," it has the same feel. Maybe that shouldn't be too surprising, New York as a locale is a highlight of both books, as well the artists looking back at their careers, Smith non-fictionally at the early, optimistic years she shared with Robert Mapplethorpe, and Carroll at the whole career of an artist and aspects of a career that Smith in "Just Kids" would have considered their wildest dreams. Writers have cast themselves or their fictional alter egos as artists before, Hemingway and Vonnegut to name a couple. It seems a good simile for a writer especially a poet to identify with. Poets have to use words thickly like the painter's colors, words thick with meaning, and Carroll doesn't waste any words, each seems carefully chosen. I usually read fast but I found myself slowing down to enjoy the lyricism of Carroll's writing, enjoying the sensation of Carroll's words soaking in like a drug. There's almost a tactile feel to Carroll's imagery. He remembers sensations and translates that sense memory very ably to the reader. I rarely highlight passages in books or make annotations, but I found myself doing both throughout the book, finding passages either strikingly insightful or poetic. Such as the story of why a baby cries upon being born is mesmerizing and a beautiful perspective. This is a book I didn't want to finish, not because it was bad but because I wanted to savor, to maximize the ecst
A touching reinterpretation of the life and observations of the late Jim Carroll, as portrayed through the fictional character Billy Wolfrom. The spirit of all life's influences on Carroll are woven throughout, and communicated with his usual rich use of the English language, mixed with his own New York vernacular. This final work, was in his hands to the day of his passing; leaving us here alone to ponder the meaning of life through his words.