Some people grow up loving movies so much they become filmmakers. Others become film critics. Masha Tupitsyn has taken a less traveled route by channeling her cinephilia into a short story collection. Beauty Talk & Monsters features 19 stories devoted to movie love at its most hallucinatory. This intensely personal book blurs the line between screen and self to an extreme degree, allowing cinematic free association to take precedence over plot and coherence. The overall effect can be alienating but not entirely unpleasant, suggesting a late night spent surfing IMDb in a haze of pot and romantic yearning.
Navigating the book’s web of cinematic references demands a fluency in contemporary movie culture. (Tupitsyn devotes ample space to Mean Streets, Jaws, Dirty Dancing, and other touchstones from her youth.) Beauty Talk also requires tolerance for the kind of impenetrable prose style that often gives experimental fiction a bad name. “Whenever I watched
Jaws I thought it was about the relationship between the wound and the rage,” says one character. Narrated by a series of nameless female thirtysomethings, who may or may not be the same person, the stories indulge in a kind of ruminative stasis. Nothing happens per se, unless you count movie-watching as an epochal event, which the author clearly does.
Tupitsyn writes best when she allows her inner film critic to dominate. Her dissection of The Night Porter‘s concert scene, in which Dirk Bogarde furtively eyes Charlotte Rampling, is spot on. So is her lengthy analysis of Catherine Deneuve’s icy blondeness in The Hunger. It’s puzzling why Tupitsyn chose fiction to express her ideas about the movies when nonfiction is clearly more suitable for her purpose. Like the proverbial dancing about architecture, this creative endeavor comes across as incongruous and ultimately rather silly.