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Panorama City by Antoine Wilson
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Panorama City (edition 2012)

by Antoine Wilson

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396292,072 (4.19)None
Member:davidabrams
Title:Panorama City
Authors:Antoine Wilson
Info:Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2012), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 304 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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Panorama City by Antoine Wilson

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The Short of It:

Oppen Porter is probably one of my favorite protagonists since Owen Meany. In fact, you could say he’s a cross between Owen Meany and Forrest Gump. Witty, funny, brutally honest yet likable.

The Rest of It:

What a wonderful book. Where do I even start? You know it’s good when I can’t even formulate my thoughts.

After a mysterious accident, Oppen finds himself in a Madera hospital, in traction and on the verge of dying. Well, to HIM, the end is near which is why he is recording a letter to his unborn son, Juan George. The events of his 28-years are unremarkable in one sense, and spectacular in another. At 6’6″, he is a grown man and intelligent in his own way, but his simple curiosity allows him to befriend all sorts of strange characters. Riding everywhere on his bicycle, with a pair of binoculars around his neck, Oppen exists by asking the questions that no one else wants to ask. He’s blunt, far from innocent yet gullible, but even when people set out to take advantage of him, his goodness seems to rub off on them just a tiny bit. Enough to make you wonder if there is good in everyone.

From his hospital bed, Oppen tells his story.

When his father dies at home, Oppen takes it upon himself to fulfill his father’s wish, which is to be buried at home in his own backyard. This seems perfectly logical. Why would anyone have a problem with it? When the authorities catch wind of it, the body is exhumed and buried to code. Frustrated that he is unable to do the one thing his father requested, he suddenly finds himself living with his Aunt Liz in Panorama City, California. If you’ve ever visited the San Fernando Valley, you know how dry and boring Panorama City can be. It’s “strip mall” city, crowded, and eternally stuck in the 70′s (if you ask me).

Aunt Liz believes that what Oppen needs is a job to fix him right up, so she gets him a job at a local fast food joint. There, he is forced to interact and consider, those around him. Both customers and coworkers become objects for analysis. Oppen’s desire to please the customer could mean giving them the chosen fry, the one that’s a bit longer than the others just to see if they are paying attention but what it usually does is get him in trouble with whoever he’s trying to analyze at the time. But his fill-in-the-blank personality saves him, in that no one ever thinks he’s trying to be annoying on purpose; quite the opposite actually.

As Oppen moves through life in Panorama City, his time there becomes an Odyssey which lasts 40 days and 40 nights. He finds Christ through the Lighthouse Christian Fellowship, learns about fleeting youth from his freethinking friend, Paul Renfro and although many attempt to take advantage of him, in the end, Oppen seems to always come out on top.

"I don’t run, because when you run people chase you. People and animals. Always better to extend your stride."

This is a charming read in many ways but what I found most charming, was Oppen himself and yes I’ll admit it, even Panorama City was a lot more interesting with Oppen in it. His ability to take it all in, distill whatever it is right down to its essence, and then regurgitate it back up for his unborn son’s benefit… priceless. To me, this book reminded me so, so much of A Prayer for Owen Meany, which is a book that I hold dear. So for me to even compare this one to Meany means that this one is pretty special.

I wanted to include some gems from the book but there are far too many to mention. I suggest you pick-up a copy and just read it for yourself. I, for one will be reading Wilson’s other book, The Interloper as soon as I can get my hands on it.

Audio Note: I listened to a portion of this on audio and it was just as fabulous on audio.

For more reviews, visit my blog: Book Chatter. ( )
  tibobi | May 1, 2013 |
“In my ideal world everyone knows everyone else, bicycles and binoculars get the respect they deserve, there is no such thing as money, thinkers have time to think, everyone is as lucky as I am, and people are buried where they want.”

It is that last little bit of Oppen's ideal world that initially gets him into trouble. Oppen is, his own words, a slow absorber. He considers the town bullies to be his friends despite their treatment of him. He tries to make an order of French fries into a wonderful experience. That, not surprisingly, backfires. When he gets overwhelmed, he breathes his own air. And he travels to Panorama City to become a Man of the World, while living with his aunt. You want to know how that worked out for him?

The book is written as a tape recording for Oppen's unborn son because Oppen, lying in a hospital bed, is sure he is dying by the next sunrise. The writing is charming. Oppen is charming. Some of the characters, not slow absorbers, are not nearly as smart and good as Oppen. His view of “professionals” is unique and in the case of some professionals, a little too close to the truth.

While I use the word “charming” to describe this novel, don't mistake it for maudlin fluff. It is sweet and gentle but not saccharin. This world needs more Oppens, and more stories like this one.

I was given an advance reader's copy of this book for review. The quote may have changed in the final edition. ( )
  TooBusyReading | Feb 27, 2013 |
When one grows up insulated and with not much world experience, you would assume that the world will both be an oyster and possibly swallow that person whole at the same time.

I personally can’t say that is something I’ll ever get to experience. Seeing the world for the first time as an adult, since my parents starts making me my own man at a young age, I learned the appreciation at a young age as well. The not knowing what you have till it’s gone or once having it realizing it wasn’t what you wanted. That all came to me young, long before I ever had to consider it or worry about it. Not to say I faltered here or there, but luckily I’m also quite smart. Not to try and sound egotistical even, I have a good brain. I catch on quick, I know what’s happening, I’m aware of my surrounding.

Unlike some classic fictional characters who have been both locked in their own world and not very smart till the world hits them head on. The most notable of these of course would be Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump, but to completely use him as a reference to discuss Antoine Wilson‘s PANORAMA CITY would give its protagonist disservice.

Oppen Porter is definitely not the smartest guy in the world, he’s quite naive indeed and it takes him awhile to process things, but he’s not completely a lucky clueless fool. In a shirt time he experiences what to some would be years of experiences. Love, heartbreak, religious awakening, spirtual founding, job promotion, switching careers, oppression, new friends, old friends, losing friends, death. All in less than two months, two tumultuous exciting months that he relays to his unborn child through tapes.

This device of first person narrative through what could be conceived as transcripts is a clever way to get pulled into Oppen’s viewpoint while also feeling like a listener who knows that it is only one viewpoint. This is a theme of everything Oppen tells his future son though, varying viewpoints and how no one way is right or wrong, they just are.

Life in many ways always seems to work in circles, but not perfect circles. Circles with spikes and protraction. I was reminded of this throughout PANORAMA CITY and yet it also gave me a feeling of hope. Antoine Wilson’s wordplay and semblance of sentiment and wonderment through Oppen causes one to see the world with new, more open (slight pun intended) eyes and a desire to live life to its fullest whatever that means for ones self.

The book also really made me want a bicycle more than ever.
  ReidHC | Feb 4, 2013 |
The first person story of Oppen Porter, narrated as tapes to leave to his child before the child's birth, mostly telling the story of Open's time in the big city, "Panorama City." Oppen calls himself a "slow absorber" and his is naive enough that his naivitycould be diagnosed a a disability, though the book stays away from that. As is the case with literary naifs, his naiviety becomes a comment on the society he enters. Oppen's slow absorption proves a useful corrective to the faster-paced influences others succumb to more fully.

The principal satisfaction of the book is Oppen's voice, which is delightful in its rhythms and personality. Very enjoyable.
  Capybara_99 | Dec 3, 2012 |
Oppen Porter, a "slow-absorber", reviews his life for his unborn child one night when he thinks he's dying. Despite his disabilities, he shows amazing insights and exhibits courage and resourcefulness that many "normal" people could envy. It's a delightful read and one that I would recommend to anyone wishing to read something a little different. ( )
  ReluctantTechie | Nov 28, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0547875126, Hardcover)

Author One-on-One: Antoine Wilson and Curtis Sittenfeld

Dani Shapiro

Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of American Wife, The Man of My Dreams and Prep, which was chosen by The New York Times as one of the Ten Best Books of 2005. Read her exclusive Amazon guest review of Panorama City.

Curtis Sittenfeld: Oppen Porter is endearing and often insightful, and he also has significant cognitive disabilities. How did you decide you wanted to tell his story?

Antoine Wilson: I wanted to write a novel from the perspective of someone who seemed, on the surface, to be a fool, an idiot, a doofus. I was inspired by Sancho Panza and Candide. But I let Oppen do something those forebears weren’t able to do: speak for himself, in his own voice. As for his so-called cognitive disabilities (he’s illiterate and preternaturally naïve), they provide a kind of detour around two distractions of contemporary life—information overload and mistrust of others—to arrive at something essential and true.

CS: Do you feel as if you know how a doctor would diagnose Oppen? If so, why did you choose not to mention what that diagnosis would be?

AW: I don’t believe in diagnosing literary characters. As useful as diagnoses can be in real life, they tend to reduce even living, breathing human beings into a list of symptoms and treatments. Apply that kind of constricting language to a literary character—who is after all only a cluster of words—and it’s like letting the air out of a balloon.

CS: Oppen has many entertaining philosophies about the world and its inhabitants. Are any of his views ones you especially share?

AW: Most problems can be solved by waiting. People who walk with their arms swinging look like apes.

CS: Much of the book is, directly and indirectly, about father-son relationships. Could you have written this novel if you weren’t a father yourself?

AW: While I was writing this book, my father died and my son was born. Never before have I felt so much like a link in the chain of generations. It’s no coincidence that Oppen finds himself in the same position, with a father just dead and a little boy on the way. I didn’t approach Panorama City as a transcript of my experience, obviously, but without these experiences I would never have written this particular book.

CS: Oppen finds himself in some interesting sub-communities, including as an employee of a fast food restaurant and a member of a Christian fellowship, and you depict these settings very convincingly. Do you have personal experience with them? Did you do research to get your details right?

AW: I have had enough personal experience with those sub-communities that what little research I did came after the draft was done, in the form of a kind of fiction-writer fact-checking. I’m not a research-first kind of novelist, mainly because I have trouble injecting facts into the part of my brain that generates fictional worlds.

CS: On a similar note, did you spend much time in Panorama City while writing this novel? Would a resident recognize the city, or did you fictionalize it?

AW: Any resident of the San Fernando Valley (or greater Los Angeles) would recognize the world of Panorama City, I'm certain. There’s a Babies R Us in Panorama City, so I tended to kill two birds with one stone, parental duties and novel research. The setting is not 1:1 with the real world, though, so there won’t be any Ulysses-type walking tours, I’m afraid. Maybe for the next book.

I shot a lot of photographs, too. Some went into a book, Shopping Carts of Panorama City, by my alter ego Jean-Jacques Arsenault.

CS: In addition to writing fiction, you maintain a few side projects on your website, including the oddly fascinating "Slow Paparazzo," which shows photos that purport to be places celebrities have just left. Is this really, as the site claims, “100% for reals,” and can you explain its genesis?

AW: Slow Paparazzo (http://theywerejusthere.tumblr.com) is indeed “100% for reals!” Basically I kept seeing celebrities while I was out for the day, mostly around my writing office, which is on the border of Santa Monica and Brentwood. I got a kick out of my sightings but didn't want to skeeve out the famous people, so I started tweeting them as #mentalpaparazzo. Then, after nearly walking into Dave Grohl outside our local toy store, I thought I should take a picture of where he’d just been and tweet that. That was the genesis. A Slow Paparazzo book is in the works.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:19:36 -0400)

A self-described "slow absorber" named Oppen Porter records everything he thinks his unborn son will find useful in becoming a man of the world.

(summary from another edition)

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