December 20, 1998

“The Gates of Eden” by Ethan Coen

Reviewed by Mark Lindquist
New York Times Book Review

Ethan Coen and his brother, Joel, have made some of the more interesting movies of the last two decades: ”Blood Simple,” ”Raising Arizona,” ”Barton Fink” and ”Fargo.” Ethan Coen writes and Joel Coen directs. And while Ethan Coen isn’t quite as stylish with language as his brother is with a camera, he does have a distinctive voice and an offbeat worldview, both of which come through with varying degrees of success in his first collection of stories.

”Have You Ever Been to Electric Ladyland” is a brilliant monologue by a record executive trying to figure out who had a motive to castrate his dog. But ”Johnnie Ga-Botz,” composed of nothing but dialogue and stage directions, is the sort of exercise that talented, undisciplined creative writing students pound out at 3 A.M. The title story is a good example of what the Coen brothers are known for: a leap into an off-kilter yet fully imagined world in which a bureaucrat with the California Department of Weights and Measures thinks and acts like a hard-boiled detective.

All of these stories take place in Coen Brothers Land, a parallel universe similar to our own — except it’s weirder, funnier and better edited.


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