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Joshua Baldwin

Joshua Baldwin grew up in New York City and now lives in Brooklyn. He is the author of The Wilshire Sun and Poems and Fake Book Reviews, which included a poem that was a semifinalist for the 3 Quarks Daily Arts and Literature Prize.

Blurbs

“Baldwin's characters search for fame in the shape-shifting landscape of Hollywood. He has a voice that follows the mirage even after it disappears. The Wilshire Sun is a surreal, giddily original debut that plumbs the myth of Los Angeles.”


– James Frey

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The Wilshire Sun

Alienation from Society and Loneliness

04/05/12

The dust jacket of The Wilshire Sun describes the book as an anti-bildungsroman. Since a bildungsroman is usually defined as the story of a person’s development into adulthood, Baldwin’s novella is ostensibly a story of a person’s failure to mature. A tribute to stasis, a paean to the flat-lining potential of the human spirit, The Wilshire Sun is similar in subject matter to Seinfeld. Indeed, its protagonist, Jacob, is more or less a younger George Costanza, although Jacob has vague writing ambitions that George never did.

The Wilshire Sun begins with Jacob heading west from New York to write film scripts in LA. There, he plans to meet his writing partner and only friend, who is coincidentally named Jerry. Sardonic and unreliable, Jerry fails to give Jacob the warm reunion the latter had expected, instead leaving only the following postcard.

Jacob,

I’m laid over in a small Arizona town right now, thinking, over a glass of seltzer, why don’t you like my novel? My opinion is that you’re jealous of me. But I am also jealous of you and that complicates the matter.

-Jerry

Jacob has little time to track Jerry down, for almost as soon as he arrives in Los Angeles he gets sick and has to return back home to Brooklyn. Four pages into the novella and the personal gains with which Jacob began the story have evaporated. Such a turn of events is typical in The Wilshire Sun; what appears at first to be a small step forward for Jacob actually proves to be two or three large steps back. As the minor tragedies compound into a major human catastrophe, one gets the sense that one is witnessing not stasis, but rather regression.

Indeed, in my opinion what Baldwin has created is less an anti-Bildungsroman than, to borrow Seinfeldian terminology, a bizarro-Bildungsroman. The Wilshire Sun actually does capture a young man’s development into adulthood, it’s just that the development is a shrinking instead of a growing, the resigned acceptance of permanent childhood instead of proud entrance into newfound maturity.

Despite its dark conclusion, The Wilshire Sun proves a light-hearted and whimsical read. Baldwin’s writing style is brisk. His sense of humor is deadpan, often challenging the reader to identify when his protagonist is being absurd. “Dreaming is good for writers - it’s the same as writing, really,” Jacob says at one point. At another point, he call the experience of making a sandwich “surprisingly difficult, yet deeply meaningful.”

From the quotations above one should see that Baldwin has mastered the rhetorical flourish of putting an additional emphatic phrase where it does not belong. That, along with the widespread use of inter-textuality, are in my mind what defines Baldwin’s authorial signature. In addition to the postcard from Jerry to Jacob found on page four, there are upwards of thirty letters peppered throughout The Wilshire Sun.

Of these, 23 are notes written by Jacob between characters that he himself has invented. These excerpts are, on the surface, self-contained vignettes that have little or nothing to do with the larger work. On reflection, however, it becomes clear that the epistolary material in The Wilshire Sun is not simply ephemera, but rather plays an essential dramatic role. The letters prompt the reader to wonder, “What sort of person would write notes between made-up people?” No doubt, someone fascinated by the possibility that people would have something to say to one another. Such a person would have to be one who felt he had nothing to say to anyone and that no one had anything to say to him.

The epistolary material in The Wilshire Sunfar from being a distraction from Jacob’s story, is actually a symptom of Jacob’s fundamental problem: his alienation from society and loneliness. It is a testimony to Baldwin’s talents that he was capable of making the widespread use of a risky device like inter-textuality actually work on a dramatic level. The Wilshire Sun is an accomplished debut from a promising young writer.

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