‘If I Vanish’ by Stuart Dybek

Dybek, Stuart 2007

If I Vanish by Stuart Dybek, 2007

The magic trick:

Combining high art with cheap pop culture

“If I Vanish” is a good example of using cheap pop culture references within a story that is attempting some pretty upscale literary maneuvers. We expect the latter from Dybek; that’s why we open the book in the first place. He is a modern master of high-concept symbolism. But here he also builds the story around the 2003 Kevin Costner cowboy epic, “Open Range” (certified a surprisingly high 79-percent on Rotten Tomatoes, in case you were wondering). Now that’s a pretty silly thing to put at the center of a story. He also writes a scene in a Dunkin Donuts, using the store’s security cameras as part of a camera/lens/point of view/memory theme that runs throughout the story. The fancy literary devices help create that fuzzy Dybekian fantasy world. The pop references place the story in a recognizable mid-oughts reality. And that’s quite a trick on Dybek’s part.

The selection:

The phrase “vanishing life style” catches Jack’s attention. He wonders if vanishing is a motif in the movie, a theme echoed in the love story between Costner and Bening, prompting the odd question: What if I were to vanish?

Other reviews are less enthusiastic. The movie’s panned in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune. Rolling Stone despises its “insufferable nobility,” and Newsday complains of “the man’s-gotta-do-what-a-man’s-gotta-do excesses” of the script. A couple of reviewers find that it mirrors Bush’s cowboy Presidency, with his bring-it-on war on terror and “Wanted Dead or Alive” rhetoric. It makes a Worst Movies of the Year list: “a Harlequin Romance with a gunfight at the O.K. Corral.”

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